Netflix is the king of online streaming, using more global bandwidth than cat videos and piracy combined.
According to Sandvine, at peak times it’s using 37% of America’s peak-time internet bandwidth, compared to just 4% for Bittorrent. It’s becoming a big deal elsewhere too, accounting for a huge amount of Europe’s downstream traffic.
That means it’s bigger than everything: bigger than YouTube, bigger than The Pirate Bay, and much bigger than any other streaming video service, including Amazon Prime Instant Video.
And the competition…
It’s got some 65 million subscribers across sixty countries around the world. By the end of 2016 it plans to be in 200 countries.
But does biggest mean best? Let’s find out.
How much does Netflix cost?
Netflix is one of the simplest streaming services around, you pay a monthly fee – which you can cancel at any time – and then get unlimited access to its full range of movies and TV shows.
The only real complexity comes with the three different subscription options available, though the same volume of content is available across all of them.
The Basic package is £5.99 / month, which makes it a little cheaper over a full year than the Amazon Prime subscription which nets you its Instant Video service.
That gives you access to the standard definition streams – so no HD for you – but if your bandwidth is limited that’s no biggy. It also limits watching to only a single device at any one time.
The next step up is the Standard package which will deliver the Full HD, 1080p streams. At £7.49 / month that also allows you to watch on two discrete devices at any one time. That’s a great option for sharing within a small family.
If you’ve got a bigger family the Premium subscription might be for you. At £8.99 / month you can watch on up to four different devices concurrently, but this higher tier is also the one which will allow you to watch Netflix’s burgeoning 4K Ultra HD content library.
So long as you have a compatible TV anyways.
How can I access Netflix?
There are a huge range of devices on which you can access your Netflix account and, impressively, they will all synchronise too. Watch a show on your desktop browser and you can pause it and pick up in the exact same place when logging back in on your big screen TV.
As well as your computer and built-in TV applications there are also Android and iOS apps as well as a whole suite of set-top boxes that will give you access to Netflix’s video library.
Chances are that if your device has a screen on it then you’ll be able to get Netflix running.
When you log in to your Netflix account you will have to choose your profile, which can be password locked to avoid people stealing your account or your kids getting in and watching things which might not be appropriate.
There’s even a dedicated Kids profile which gives an alternative layout and discards inappropriate content.
What are Netflix’s key features?
There is another reason for having discrete profiles and that’s because Netflix’s recommendation algorithm will learn your preferences in terms of what you watch. It will then be able to tailor what it places highest on the home screen more towards the sort of content it thinks you prefer.
Netflix was also the pioneer of binge-watching, partly thanks to its habit of putting its own shows live in their entirety as soon as they arrive on the service, but also because as soon as an episode of a show finishes the next one is ready to play in a matter of seconds.
You don’t have to do anything but sit back and let the entertainment flood in.
Netflix, like Amazon, is going to a huge amount of effort to create its own TV shows and has also recently started making the move into movies too, with Beasts of No Nation.
It has also struck a major deal with Marvel to create its TV version of the Marvel Universe – making discrete shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, as well as the upcoming Iron Fist and Luke Cage, before they combine in The Defenders ensemble.
Disney has also been courted by Netflix, striking a deal which means all the new Star Wars films (bar The Force Awakens) will stream globally on Netflix first.
On the technological side Netflix’s dynamically-scaling streams mean you don’t need to choose the quality level you want to watch. If your bandwidth is low it will deliver just the standard definition versions, but if you’ve got the hardware and the capacity it will go all the way up to 4K Ultra HD resolutions if available.
And next year we’ll also see Netflix following Amazon Prime Instant Video in delivering high dynamic range content to our homes too.