Optimize Your Router
Netflix relies on “adaptive streaming” technology, which means the service automatically adjusts the bit rate of the video stream based on bandwidth--the speed of the user’s Internet connection. However, Netflix has no control over how your router distributes the bandwidth that’s available. And if you have a lot of Internet-connected devices in your home, the Netflix stream might not be getting as big a pipe as it should.
Many routers offer Quality of Service settings, meaning that they can customize how they handle network traffic. Let’s say you’re streaming Netflix to a Blu-ray player. That device should have a fixed (as opposed to dynamic) IP address on your network, and you should configure that address so that its traffic receives priority over other devices (which can deal with comparatively less bandwidth).
Configuring these settings is different for each router, so consult your manual to determine how to tweak QoS for your Netflix device(s).
Adjust Video Quality Settings to Save Bandwidth
If you routinely watch Netflix on a 3G device--for example, your smartphone or tablet--you run the risk of hitting your carrier’s data cap. In fact, many cable and DSL providers limit users' monthly data consumption, so even heavy Netflix usage at home can burn through your allotted bits and bytes.
If this limitation proves to be a problem (that is, you’re receiving nasty warnings from your service provider), you can dial back the video quality so that you consume less data. Just fire up your browser, head to your Netflix account page, and then click Manage Video Quality. On that page you have three quality choices: Good, Better, and Best, which consume roughly 0.3GB, 0.7GB, and 1GB of data per hour of video, respectively. (Interestingly, HD chews through a hefty 2.3GB per hour!) Drop back to Better, and see if that helps you stay under your data cap. On a small screen, you might not notice much difference in the video quality.
Find the Latest Watch Instantly Releases
Netflix regularly makes new movies and TV shows available for streaming, but the site’s New Arrivals section tells only a fraction of the story. If you want lots of hard data on what’s new and popular, head to InstantWatcher.com.
The site catalogs every single Watch Instantly title in the Netflix library and lets you sort them any number of ways, by top-rated and lowest-rated movies, the New York Times Critics' Picks, the newest additions, the most popular movies, foreign films, and much more--all with an endless variety of filtering options. Another perk: It lists the movies that are coming soon to Watch Instantly.
A great way to use InstantWatcher is to click the visual link in the red toolbar up top. That will show you all the latest movie and TV-show additions, but with thumbnail artwork images instead of just text. Warning: It’s easy to get addicted to checking this site on a daily basis.
This story, "How to Get the Most From Your Netflix Streaming Subscription" was originally published by PCWorld.