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Netflix video streaming is as easy to connect to as it is easy to subsequently enjoy.

There are a lot of different devices that can route the Netflix video to your television.

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Netflix Streaming Video Service part 2

What You Need to Get Netflix Streaming in your home

The Sony Play Station 3 is only one of many different devices that can connect your tv to the internet and to Netflix.

This follows on from our two part article, 'Warning - The End of the Internet as We Know It'.

Part 2 of a two part article about Netflix - see also part one 'Netflix - a Wonderful New Entertainment Paradigm'.



Unlike many new types of home electronics, you're not faced with any large costs to add Netflix video streaming to your current home entertainment system.  Maybe you even already have internet capable Blu-ray disc players or game consoles or televisions.

If you don't, you've a wide variety of choices from about $60 and up.  In addition to the connection box, well, you've already got an internet connection, right?  And joining Netflix takes all of a couple of minutes to do; best of all, they give you a free month of service to trial the system, and - in case needed - provide helpful responsive support, 24/7.

So what are you waiting for?  Stop buying and renting movies, and switch to the new way of watching video.

How to Get Netflix Video Streaming Service

You need three things to get Netflix videos playing on your home television or computer or whatever other device.  One of these you almost certainly already have - an internet connection.  We discuss, below, whether it is fast enough for high quality video streaming.

The second is some sort of a device to connect from Netflix, via your internet connection, and to the television.  If you're connecting via a smart phone, a tablet, or a computer, you don't need this intermediary device, it is all built in to the hardware you are using.  There are a wide range of devices, costing as little as $60.

The types of devices available to connect a tv to the internet are also discussed, further below.

The third thing is as easy and obvious as the other two.  You need an account with Netflix - this link takes you to their rather bland home page.  Choose the 'Not a Member' option, then from the next page, you'll be told about a lovely one month free trial you can instantly sign up for, and off you go.

How Fast an Internet Connection Do You Need

The faster your internet connection, the better the video quality you'll get when watching a Netflix video stream.

Currently it seems the best quality streaming rate offered by Netflix is at a rate of about 4800 kbits/sec (a recent increase from their former maximum speed of 3600 kbits/sec).  And so, at a simplistic level, it would seem that to get the best possible quality experience, you should have a connection that promises a similar or higher speed internet connection.

You'll still get reasonably good viewing experiences even down to about 1500 kbits/sec, although visibly inferior to the faster connection speeds.  Once you start to drop below about 2000 kbits/sec, you'll start to have noticeable quality degradation and pauses while the video rebuffers up and starts playing again.

There are several additional issues to keep in mind.

The first is that most internet connections do not guarantee the 'headline' speed they claim.  If you read the fine print of your contract, you might find that your 10 Mbit/sec internet connection actually only guarantees you a for-sure connection rate of possibly as low as 128 kbits/sec.  The headline numbers are more a claim for the maximum speed you can expect, not a guarantee of the minimum speed you are assured.

This is particularly the case with cable connections.  DSL and fiber are better, but cable connections have a lot of 'last mile' sharing - the bandwidth available to you is probably being shared with the family next door, and the family two houses over, and several other houses too.  If you're the only person watching a streaming video, that is fine, but if all of you want to watch streaming video simultaneously, you may have problems.

It is a good idea to get a fast maximum speed internet connection in the hope it translates to a better overall speed and the ability to 'catch up' faster after times when the data is streaming slower than it needs to (see the discussion on buffering).

The rest of the internet impacts on your experience too

Maybe you've a really really fast maximum speed on your internet connection (I've seen some promising as much as 50 Mbits/sec).  But that is a bit like a freeway with an 80 mph speed limit when you get on the on-ramp, but during your journey you encounter patches of severe congestion along the route you want to travel, and have occasional detours onto surface streets at 25 mph.

The whole concept of the internet 'cloud' is that there's a fuzzy and vague, ever-changing pathway from you to Netflix.  Your high speed connection only applies to the 'last mile' of the internet, from some nearby connection point to your house.  Beyond that point, you're equally sharing the bandwidth of the 'internet cloud' along with everyone else.

The rest of the internet cloud will seldom or never support the speeds that you might have on your 'last mile' connection to your house.  Here's an interesting chart prepared by Netflix that shows the typical ongoing average connection speeds provided by various different ISPs in the US and Canada.  You'll see that typical rates are in the 2500 kbits/sec - 3000 kbits/sec range, meaning that the maximum quality 4800 kbits/sec stream from Netflix will not be able to consistently play.

The good news is that you will almost never notice the shifts in video quality, and just because the average speed of an ISP is comparatively slow, that doesn't mean you'll occasionally get higher speeds, which together with some decent buffering (see below) will give you as much of the movie as possible at as high a quality as possible.

The main point here is that if you already have, eg, about a 10 Mbit/sec connection speed, you'll get no extra improvement by increasing this.  The only exception would be if you want to have multiple people in your house all watching different movies on different devices at the same time.

Netflix automatically varies its data rate

The Netflix streaming service intelligently monitors the speed of the data stream between it and you.  If it detects extra bandwidth capacity, it increases the quality of the video to make best use of the bandwidth available.  And if things slow down, it will reduce the video quality so as to keep the video playing, albeit at slightly poorer quality.

Note that if Netflix slows down the data rate, it will increase it again as soon as the bandwidth goes up again - maybe a second or two later, maybe a minute or two later, or whatever the situation ends up as being.


In reality, your instantaneous internet connection speed between you and Netflix is very variable.  Rather like a busy freeway, it has occasional sudden mysterious slowdowns, then it opens wide up, then it slows down, and so on.

To allow for this, the video stream first loads a 'buffer' into your computer/player's memory.  This buffer has several seconds of movie in it.  And then, when playing the movie, if the internet connection briefly slows down below the rate at which the player is taking movie data out of the buffer, the movie will keep playing while the buffer is depleted.  Hopefully the internet connection speed gets back up fast enough before the buffer is fully used up.  And then, when the connection speed exceeds the rate at which data is being taken out of the buffer, it starts to refill the buffer back up to its maximum capacity, ready for the next temporary slowdown.

Even a five second buffer is actually quite a lot, because typically the internet connection will not stop completely, but merely slow down.  So the five seconds of video would represent an ability to play for 10 seconds without interruption if the internet dropped down to half speed, or an ability to play for 20 seconds if the internet dropped down to 75% of the needed speed, and so on.

But from time to time, you might deplete your buffer completely.  In such a case, the movie will pause and a message will appear that it is waiting for the buffer to be refilled.  Usually in five or ten seconds, you'll be up and playing again.

How often does this happen?  There's no universal standard.  It depends on your internet connection.  Some people report that they only have an empty buffer pause once every five or more movies.  Other people experience it a couple of times on every movie.

Watching away from home

Maybe you're in a hotel or somewhere else, and have an iPad or other Netflix capable tablet device or laptop/netbook computer.

Netflix allows you to have six different devices registered to your account, any/all of which can accept their video streams.

But you'll be dependent on the bandwidth and reliability of whatever network you are using to access the internet.  Hotel networks in particular are problematic in terms of having sufficient and reliable bandwidth to support movie streaming.  If you're the only person wanting to watch a Netflix movie, it should be okay, but if you're in a 250 room hotel and if 50 of those people all want to watch movies, that requires something like 150 Mbits/sec of bandwidth just for the movie watchers, and some extra for everyone else who may be surfing the internet, downloading email, remotely accessing their work network, or doing who knows what else.  In other words, the hotel needs to provide about a T1 of capacity for every two or three guests, and for sure there are no hotels that provide that sort of internet bandwidth.

While Netflix has the potential to be a massive comfort for travelers, the network capabilities are lagging behind the demands Netflix makes on them.

What Equipment to Watch Netflix Streaming Video On

One of the great things about Netflix is that you have a wide variety of different devices that can manage the connection between Netflix and the internet at one end, and your television screen at the other end.  Maybe you even already have a device that is 'Netflix ready'.

If you don't, the best solution for most people will be to buy a new Blu-ray player that is internet aware (about $150 or less).  Alternatively, you can simply buy a dedicated internet video connection box such as the Roku, for as little as $60.

In general terms, you can choose from a growing number of 'internet capable' televisions, a growing number of Blu-ray players, dedicated devices such as the Roku player, Tivo and Google TV, and even some gaming systems (Xbox 360, Wii and PS3).

In addition, you can directly watch Netflix on Mac and PC computers, on iPads and other Apple iOS devices, and also on Windows Phone 7 phones as well.

Strangely, there is not yet an Android app, although Netflix say one is currently under development.  It is understood this is due to the lack of tightly locked down 'digital rights management' features on Android and the relative ease that hackers have in avoiding the current copy protection schemes in Android, and this is scaring the movie studios into refusing to allow their content to be streamed to Android devices until better copy protection schemes are in place.

If you don't already have a device that will support video streaming from the internet, you have several choices and issues to consider.

First, not all devices will play Netflix video at the same quality level.  Play Station 3 units are currently the will support the highest 1080 line resolutions, other devices won't go over 720 line resolutions.

Second, not all devices support the recently added Dolby Digital Plus surround sound capabilities.  Again, the Play Station 3 can do this, and additionally Google TV units may support this as well (according to Ryan at Netflix) and also Roku players (per Venkat at Roku).

The Play Station 3 is therefore - at present - probably the best choice of device.  But it is also the most expensive (about $300).

For those who don't want a gaming platform, don't want to spend $300, and don't want to buy a new television, you have two primary choices.  The first would be to buy a Blu-ray player that offers internet connectivity, and the second is to buy a dedicated device such as a Roku player.

Blu-ray players and Roku Devices

You can get Blu-ray players for as little as $155 that come with both the internet connectivity and also a built in Wi-Fi unit.  I have a Sony BDP-BX57 that is available on Amazon for $155; it seems to be about the best buy at the time of writing (May 2011).

You can get lower priced Blu-ray players that don't have built in Wi-Fi but which will connect via a regular wired internet connection, such as this $85 player from Panasonic (May 2011) but unless you have an ethernet connection by your Blu-ray player, choosing one with a built in Wi-fi transceiver is probably more convenient.

Maybe you already have a Blu-ray player, but if it is not connected to the internet, you're potentially missing out on additional bonus content and features on many of the Blu-ray discs you already watch, so it makes sense to upgrade your present Blu-ray player anyway.

And if you don't already have a Blu-ray player, well, gosh, you should.  They'll play all your DVDs too, and now that Blu-ray discs have come down in price (sometimes even less than $10) there's no great cost penalty for getting the visibly higher quality Blu-ray versions of movies when you want to own a movie rather than just watch via Netflix.

So generally we'd recommend buying an internet and Wi-fi equipped Blu-ray player as your best way of getting Netflix on your system.

But if you want a less expensive option, the Roku players are also interesting devices and cost less than $100, and give you full access to Netflix and various other internet/video streaming services too.  The entry level Roku device is only $59, the mid-level is $79 and the top of the line model is $99.  If you're seeking a low cost way of trialling Netflix (other than simply on your computer) then the $59 device is excellent; and in general, the $79 unit (available on Amazon and elsewhere) is a great performer.

Google TV is another product, but we feel its time has yet to come and you might be best advised to hold off on investing in Google TV until it has become more stable in form and format.

Wi-Fi on your Player/Streaming Box

The best way to connect your internet streaming box to the internet is through a 100 Mbit Cat 5e ethernet cable.

But the chances are you don't have your house conveniently wired for ethernet, and so you'll probably choose to use the great convenience of Wi-Fi.  Wi-Fi is an acceptable alternative in most cases, but you may find yourself with some bandwidth problems if you have a weak Wi-Fi signal and/or if you are connecting via an 802.11b type connection (which has a maximum bandwidth of 11 Mbits/sec - a speed which seemed unimaginably fast when it was first released in 1999, but these days is slower than many of our broadband internet connections).

If you are going to connect by Wi-Fi, you should ideally get a device that supports 802.11g or 802.11n protocol - and of course, please make sure that your Wi-Fi router also supports these newer and faster protocols.

Be warned - many Blu-ray players refer to themselves as being Wi-Fi 'ready' - what this means is you have to buy an extra device to connect to the player to make it work with Wi-Fi.  Make sure you get one that has the Wi-Fi already installed, otherwise you could be up for another $40 - $80 and an extra piece of equipment and complication. 

Competitors to Netflix

There are a number of companies scrambling to play catch-up to the lead Netflix has created for itself in this new distribution system, but all competitors suffer from the same challenges Netflix has itself experienced and struggled to resolve - getting content rights from movie and television studios to stream their titles.

Present services offered by other companies include Hulu Plus and Vudu, but neither has anything like the diversity of content offered by Netflix.

Another soon-to-be competitor is Redbox, currently offering rental movie service through vending machines often seen outside convenience stores.


Amazon has a different type of service where you can get digital viewing/streaming rights to a wide range of different movies and television shows.

Some programs require you to pay a fee per movie you watch, and some of them are available for free if you belong to their 'Prime' shipping program (a $79 a year cost applies).

This looks to be a great new product, but the range of movies that are included in their Prime program is very small.  I use it as a supplement to, rather than replacement for, my Netflix service.


Yes, in addition to being a repository of an extraordinary miscellany of video clips, Youtube now offers video streaming.  But unlike Netflix and Amazon, it does not have an unlimited streaming for a fixed monthly price option - instead you pay per movie - usually $3 per movie viewed, and $4 for new release hits.

At this price point it is a worthy competitor to renting a video from a video rental store, but it is not in the same marketplace sector as the Amazon and Netflix 'all you can watch' services.  At least, not yet, anyway.

Should you wait before joining Netflix or a competitor?

Happily, if you choose to join the Netflix streaming service now, you'll not be locking yourself into anything - quite the opposite.  You'll get a one month free trial.

Netflix don't require you to sign any annual or longer contract, you just pay on a month by month basis and can cancel at any time if something better comes along in the future.  Indeed, they will even allow you to pause the service if you will be traveling out of town for a while and not able to use it.

So our recommendation is to give it a go now.  If something better comes along in the future (and how much better than $8/month for unlimited viewing of 20,000+ shows can it get?) then you're free to change services (or to add extra services) if you wish.

This follows on from our two part article, 'Warning - The End of the Internet as We Know It'.

Part 2 of a two part article about Netflix - see also part one 'Netflix - a Wonderful New Entertainment Paradigm'.

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Originally published 18 Feb 2011, last update 21 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.



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