With over 50 million subscribers in 40 countries, Netflix is the most popular TV show and movie streaming service. During peak evening hours, the service is using up to 34% of America's Internet capacity.
While Netflix may seem simple on the surface, though, the reality is that Netflix is one of the most complex services on the Internet - from the massive amount of HD videos it has to stream to its formulas for deciding what videos to recommend for each subscriber.
That means Netflix sometimes doesn't work as well as you'd want. I'm going to share some of the lesser-known Netflix secrets that will help you track down problems and make it work the way you want.
1. Streaming speed affects video quality
A side effect to Netflix's massive popularity is that it overwhelms Internet providers' networks - or so the ISPs claim. Some providers have even gone so far as to throttle, or slow down, their subscribers' connection to Netflix.
If you're paying for a hyper-fast Internet connection and getting lousy video quality, this might be the cause. Take a look at Netflix's ISP Speed Index Chart to quickly see how your ISP stacks up.
To know for sure, open Netflix and search for "Example Short 23.976." This video is an 11-minute series of random clips so it's not very entertaining. But it does hold the keys to one major secret.
If you look in the corner of the video, it shows your video bit rate and resolution. The bit rate is how fast the video is streaming and the resolution is the quality. The faster the bit rate, the better the quality you can get.
Typically, Netflix streams 1080p resolution at 3 Megabits per second (3,000 kilobits per second). That's ideally what you want to see.
Make a note of the highest numbers you see during the clip and then check the bit rate against what Netflix says your provider averages. That will tell you if you're getting the streaming speed that Netflix thinks you are.
If your bit rate is much lower than Netflix says it should be, then it might be a problem with your Internet. Run a speed test to see if you're getting the Internet speed you're paying for.
If you aren't getting the speed you're paying for, call your provider and let it know. Once it gets your speed where it should be, Netflix streaming should improve.
If you are getting the speed you're paying for, and it's faster than the Netflix bit rate, call your provider and let it know there's a problem with Netflix streaming. You might find out that you're being throttled.
2. Time of day affects video quality
Poor video quality and streaming speed might have another cause, though. Remember when I said at peak hours Netflix uses 34% of the U.S. Internet? That's a lot of information moving around at once. Traffic jams are bound to happen, which slows things down.
To keep things flowing, Netflix and ISPs might both decide to drop the video quality - and thus the amount of bandwidth needed - a little.
So, you might still get HD video from 7 to 9 p.m. in your area, but you probably won't be getting full 1080p quality. If you are testing Netflix for quality using the methods above, be sure to do it throughout the day.
Consistent quality is actually the one area where traditional TV has streaming beat. If you want the best possible at all times, then you might want to consider flipping to regular old TV during primetime hours.
Consider buying an indoor HD antenna that will let you watch local news, syndicated shows and sports.
3. Tweak your recommendations
Netflix takes every movie you watch into account when developing your Taste Profile. This helps it recommend videos from a pool of 76,897 genres. Sound like a lot? Well, Netflix has genres like Quirky Sci-Fi Comedies and Dark Independent Police Dramas.
The way to change your recommendations is by rating what you watch. When you're first starting Netflix, you'll see a lot of surveys called Taste Preferences that ask you to rate movies, shows and genres you've watched recently.
Handy tip: If you have several people in the house using one Netflix account, be sure to set each person up with their own Netflix profile to avoid conflicts. On the Netflix website, click Manage Profiles in the top right corner to get started.
Taste Preferences are important to fill out so Netflix can build your Profile. After a while, you won't see as many of these, however.
If you want to revisit your preferences, go to the Netflix site and under Your Account load the Taste Preferences survey.
A few minutes tweaking your ratings can mean less time scrolling past movies you'd never watch.