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How to stream Netflix in the highest possible quality

Published Dec 10th, 2015 3:40PM EST
Netflix Video Quality

With the famed browser wars now nothing more than a footnote in the annals of tech history, you might be surprised to learn that your current browser of choice can directly impact the quality of your Netflix video streams.

If you’re keen on viewing Netflix content in full 1080p HD quality, you’ll have to use either Safari on OS X or Microsoft’s Edge browser (or even Internet Explorer) on Windows. Meanwhile, watching Netflix on either Google Chrome, Opera, or Mozilla Firefox limits you to just 720p HD video.

DON’T MISS: When did Apple products get so… ugly?

While the difference between 720p and 1080p on a typical laptop screen is somewhat negligible, switching over to either Safari or Edge is an idea worth keeping in mind if you happen to watch Netflix by hooking up your laptop to a big screen HDTV.

Of course, if you’re dead serious about enjoying the best quality video Netflix has to offer, you’ll want to make sure that you have an Internet connection that can keep up. To that end, Netflix recommends a connection of 5 Megabits per second for consistent 1080p HD video quality.

Now that’s all well and good, but if you happen to be a videophile who prefers – nay, demands! – even higher quality video (read: 4K), well, Netflix has got you covered there as well. While Netflix still isn’t teeming with 4K content, there are a few shows and movies in 4K available, including House of Cards, Breaking Bad, and Daredevil. 

That said, if you want to enjoy a 4K viewing experience on Netflix, you’ll have to do two things. First, you’ll have to make sure your Internet connection can support a steady download stream of 25 Megabits per second. Second, you’ll need to upgrade to Netflix’s Ultra HD streaming plan which costs $11.99 per month and, as an added bonus, supports viewing on up to 4 screens at a time.

Now, no matter what plan you’re signed up for, it’s worth mentioning that you can easily adjust the quality of your video stream by going here and choosing what type of playback quality you prefer. While having your device auto-select the appropriate playback quality based on the current state of your Internet connection is a solid option for most viewers, switching to ether ‘low’ or ‘medium’ might be something to keep in mind if you happen to be running up against your ISP’s data cap limitations. If you’re unsure how much bandwidth varying levels of video quality eat up, Netflix estimates the bandwidth usage per each setting as follows:

  • Low (0.3 GB per hour)
  • Medium (SD: 0.7 GB per hour)
  • High (Best video quality, up to 3 GB per hour for HD and 7 GB per hour for Ultra HD)
  • Auto (Adjusts automatically to deliver the highest possible quality, based on your current Internet connection speed)

Another point to keep in mind: even if you sign up for Netflix’s Ultra HD plan, you’ll want to make sure you have a device that can support 4K. While the brand new Apple TV doesn’t fall into that category, Netflix highlights the following devices with 4K support: Nvidia Shield, Roku 4, TiVo Bolt, and the latest version of the Amazon Fire TV. If you want to stream 4K video through your HDTV directly, you can find a list of compatible Samsung HDTVs here, Panasonic HDTVs here, Sharp HDTVs here, Sony HDTVs here, Vizio HDTVs here, Toshiba HDTVs here, and LG HDTVs here.

To its credit, Netflix is absolutely obsessed with delivering the best programming in the absolute best video quality possible. In fact, Netflix has even taken to future-proofing its content, having shot the most recent season of House of Cards in 6K resolution, providing approximately 9 times as many pixels as traditional 1080p HD content.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.


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