Throughout its sometimes bumpy history, Netflix has remained one of the foremost players in video-on-demand arena. With a huge catalog of content, including more and more original programming (House of Cards, Lilyhammer, the upcoming revival of Arrested Development), good account controls, and excellent value for its primary plan, Netflix is an Editors’ Choice here at PCMag, a service I think the wide majority of people should happily pay for every month.
Certainly, Netflix could be better—customers gripe about the recommendation engine in particular, which would benefit from a redesign that leverages more social options rather than purely relying on user ratings and odd categorical parsing—but the value is there nonetheless. You won’t find cutting-edge releases, which you can often buy à la carte from Amazon Instant Video Store (no Prime account required) or iTunes for a few bucks, or even a consistent set of features across the many apps through which you can watch Netflix videos, but really, the Netflix experience delivers way more than I would ever expect to reap from an $8 per-month plan.
What’s in the Catalog?
Netflix’s catalog of content casts an extremely wide net, but it changes all the time. Shows that are available one day may be gone the next. A movie might be available by disc only, until it unexpectedly appears as a featured new film in your streaming view. It’s difficult to state authoritatively what is and is not in Netflix’s catalog because it changes all the time. For more analysis on the breadth and quality of the catalog as compared with other services, see “Netflix Instant vs. Amazon Prime.”
Plans, Prices, Perceived Value
A basic Netflix account, at $7.99 per month, gives you the ability to stream unlimited hours of movies and TV shows from anything you can find in the “Instant” catalog. Netflix no longer brands this streaming section as “Netflix Instant,” as it once did, instead positioning it as its primary offering. Officially, it’s now called the “Unlimited Streaming” plan, but you’ll typically only see that term if you dive into your Netflix account settings. Otherwise, it’s just Netflix.
A lesser known option is the Limited Streaming plan, which costs just $4.99 per month and comes with so many miserly restrictions that it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which it would be worthwhile. With the Limited plan, you can watch content from a limited version of the catalog only on PCs and Macs and only for a total of two hours per month. Next!
Netflix began as a DVD-by-mail service, and the company does still offer physical discs if you pay extra. In other words, you first have to pay for an Unlimited Streaming (or Limited Streaming) account first, and then add to that cost an addition chunk of change per month for discs. The main reason to opt for a DVD-by-mail add-on is that it expands the Netflix catalog immensely. When you can’t find a particular TV show or film to stream, you’ll often find it in among the DVDs. Prices for DVD plans start at $4.99 per month for one disc at a time for a maximum of two discs per month. (Postage is included in all prices.) To get unlimited DVDs per month, but only one disc at a time, you’ll pay $7.99 on top of your other Netflix base price. Want more discs at a time? The most expensive plan costs $15.99 per month ($19.99 if you want Blu-ray discs), and that gets you up to three discs at a time with no limits on the number per month.
At those prices, you might as well check whether you can buy or rent the same content through Amazon Instant or iTunes instead. You won’t have to wait for an envelope in the mail either.
Ways to Watch
With a Netflix account, you can stream movies and TV shows from the Netflix catalog onto an ever-increasing number of devices. Practically every mobile device, set-top streaming box (a.k.a. media hub), and smart TV supports Netflix. Several devices even have a Netflix button built onto their remote controls.
In all cases, when an app is required, the app is free, as it should be. To watch content or access your viewing history, you merely have to sign in with your Netflix account. The Netflix app experience includes: Netflix for Android (including a Kindle Fire app in the Amazon Appstore for Android), Netflix for iPhone, Netflix for iPad, Netflix for PlayStation Vita, Netflix for Windows 8, as well as Roku, Apple TV, and all the major video game consoles that double as a media center.
Family Content, Controls, and Extras
Netflix does offer a wide range of family-friendly content in its instant catalog, as well as specific content for young children. In your account settings, you can access parental controls that restrict what content is available to view (the options read as: “G and below,” “PG and below,” and so forth).
Many of the other controls you might find in Netflix, like the ability to add close captioning, are only available when you watch Netflix content in certain apps, which is why PCMag reviews different Netflix apps separately. Closed captioning is one such feature. The ability to edit your instant queue, or list of content that you want to watch, is another. Sorting available content by the language in which it is subtitled is yet another.
Another buried feature in your account preferences, called “Manage video quality,” lets you choose good, better, and best streaming quality. These toggles limit Netflix’s streaming to 0.3, 0.7,and 1.0GB per hour (or 2.3GB per hour for HD content),respectively, which is good to know if you have limited data from your Internet service provider.
Get Your Fix With Netflix
It’s fair to say that most Americans I know have a Netflix account—whether they are cable cord-cutters or not. Over the years, Netflix has pervaded North American households, and crept into those in Mexico, Brazil, the U.K., Ireland, Sweden, Norway, and several others in Latin America and Scandinavia. Netflix’s catalog may not wow film lovers with the latest releases, but it does stock an enormous array of quirky 80s TV shows, British cult hits, family favorites, comedy specials featuring well-known performers, and much much more. For everyday viewing, it is my go-to service, and I know I can count on there being a Netflix app for every device I own. The monthly subscription price is a bargain for Unlimited Streaming, a huge reason it’s an Editors’ Choice, although some of the other plans don’t offer the same amazing value—so unless you’re an outlier, stick to that plan. Regardless, any household looking to kill a pricey cable bill ought to sign up for Netflix today and add it to the many ways you can stream video content.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc