Netflix just keeps on getting better, making a more compelling case for your money at every turn. It’s everything you want from a video streaming service: simple to use, available on your preferred platform and filled with content you want to watch.
But it's now got more rivals than ever and they've also upped their game, so is Netflix really the best video streaming service out there?
Netflix subscriptions start at £5.99 ($8.99, AU$9.99) per month for standard-definition streams to a single screen. Up your spend to £8.99 ($11.99, AU$13.99) per month and get high-def stuff available to watch on a couple of screens.
Or go the whole hog (provided you’ve already gone the entire pig on a 4K Ultra HD TV) and spend £11.99 ($15.99, AU$19.99) per month for 4K content on as many as four screens at a time.
It goes without saying not all content is available in HD (720p) or Full HD (1080p), let alone Ultra HD or 4K. One of the great pleasures of a Netflix subscription is happening upon classic films such as Vertigo and old episodes of cult TV shows such as Peep Show, and it would be optimistic in the extreme to expect them to represent the state of the technological arts.
But there’s now a huge stack of 4K content available, from The Irishman and Tiger King to Sunderland Till I Die and The Stranger, and that stack is forever growing.
In terms of bespoke content, Netflix distances itself from any nominal competition.
Netflix now prioritises its own content to such an extent that it seems less committed to adding blockbuster films from other studios than its main rival Amazon Prime Video. And now that Disney+ is on the scene, it'll likely never be the first streaming service to add a Disney, Marvel or Star Wars title to its catalogue. But Netflix still has a strong selection of older favourites and not-too-aged blockbusters such as, at the time of writing, John Wick 3. And as a content provider in its own right, Netflix goes from strength to strength.
And if you have an HDR (High Dynamic Range) compatible TV, there's now loads of HDR content on Netflix too. It's not immediately obvious, as there isn't an HDR section anywhere in the menus, but if you type HDR into the search box you'll find a list of HDR content such as After Life, The Crown and White Lines. You'll see an HDR logo (or Dolby Vision logo, if you're TV supports it) on relevant content.
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Provided your broadband connection is up to the task, it has always been a fuss-free and stable experience, and its broad compatibility is a strong sell too.
PCs and Macs, Google Chromecast, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV devices, Roku streamers, any smart TV worth its salt, games consoles, Blu-ray players from all the big brands, tablets and phones, whether iOS, Android or Windows, are all on the menu. In fact, there's a string argument that if a smart device doesn't have Netflix, it can't really be considered smart at all. It's certainly the first app we look for whenever testing a new streaming product.
There's good news for mobile users too. In the early days it wasn't possible to download anything from Netflix to watch offline. Since November 2016, though, content can be downloaded to your phone and tablet to watch, glitch free, at your leisure on the Netflix app – and it does not count toward the limit of how many screens you can watch on at the same time. You can't download literally everything, but there's plenty of choice and lots of the most popular content is there for you to stick on your device.
Ease of use
Ergonomically, things could hardly be simpler.
Aside from the TV app’s rather retrograde A-Z keyboard (rather than QWERTY) search function, it’s straightforward to browse, create a shortlist and enjoy Netflix’s more-hit-than-miss recommendations based on your previous viewing habits.
You can establish multiple user profiles, including parental locks to prevent the kids stumbling onto Zombeavers or similar.
Whether 4K, Full HD or standard definition, Netflix serves video streams at exactly the sort of quality you expect. Watch a 4K HDR stream such as Better Call Saul on an appropriate display and it’s prodigiously detailed, vibrant and stable.
Colours pop, contrast is punchy and the sheer amount of information available for your enjoyment is thrilling. It almost goes without saying, but if you own a 4K TV or 4K projector, the top tier £12 ($16, AU$20) subscription should be considered almost compulsory.
It’s all equally high-contrast, steady-motion, fine-detail good news for Full HD too. Native 1080p content looks accomplished, though obviously the exact amount of detail revealed in dark scenes (for instance) is to an extent dependent on the source material.
Given a fighting chance, though, Full HD stuff such as Inception is vivid, stable and eminently watchable. As regards standard-def stuff, you take your chances.
The majority of decent TVs – and certainly all the screens we recommend – are equipped with effective upscaling engines and won’t make you regret your partiality for schlocky thrillers such as Humanoids from the Deep.
5.1 audio is now available on many titles, and Netflix serves it up in the same manner as it does pictures: robustly and positively.
Provided you've got the necessary home cinema set-up (or even the right soundbar) at home, Dolby Atmos is also available on a goof portion of Netflix's own TV shows and movies. It presents an altogether more substantial and immersive sound than anything you TV’s integrated speakers can manage.
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It’s difficult to think of a downside to Netflix. Set your mind to it and you can search for plenty of films it doesn’t have, but the same is true of any movie streaming service and Netflix is better than almost all of those when it comes to the combination of original content, cherry-picked classics, video and sound quality, usability, and individual recommendations.
Disney+ will have turned many a head, but there are plenty who are left cold by the House of Mouse's output. Besides, at £5.99 ($6.99, AU$8.99) Disney+ is really intended as an add-on, rather than alternative, to a primary video streaming service.
And in the world of primary video streaming services, Netflix is still king.