(Pocket-lint) - Netflix needs no introduction. The company quickly gained momentum in the US with its DVD rental service that evolved into video streaming on demand, before spreading its wings to the UK in 2012.
So impressive has the rise of Netflix been, that it's become a generic term, even a meme. For those who have Netflix, it's one of the central aspects of daily entertainment. For anyone on the outside, it's probably about deciding whether to commit, or how long you can resist.
Let us walk you through the ins and outs of being a Netflix subscriber.
The question of whether you should subscribe to Netflix offers an easy answer: it's unquestionably a yes.
Netflix has made itself an entertainment essential, providing access from all quarters, along with easy navigation and great features like multiple accounts and syncing - so it's easy to pause and resume no matter the device you're using - as well as series autoplay for ultimate binge watching comfort.
Chromecast support, as well as Dial support (an alternative casting platform offered by Netflix), means it's very easy to get Netflix on your TV, with a huge outlay on another box to offer it.
The best Netflix offering is through those 4K-capable apps, on the Xbox One S, YouView 4K box or through native smart TV apps (where applicable). This is where Netflix really cements itself: it provides you with rich ultra-high definition 4K content in glorious HDR, meaning you can really get the best from your TV.
Netflix is synonymous with entertainment in 2016. If you don't Netflix and chill, you're missing out.
- Netflix Originals programming offers some must-see titles
- Access to 4K and HDR content
- Great handling of video streams
- Netflix available on pretty much every device
- No download options for watching on the move
- Not great for the latest blockbusters
- Don't forget the competition - namely Amazon Prime Instant
Netflix review: Access everywhere
Netflix is the de facto feature of many connected devices. More than any other entertainment company, Netflix has pushed to get its service on every device and that's part of its success over other services that offer streaming video on demand.
Pick up a new set-top box and Netflix will often be emblazoned across its accompanying remote control as a quick-access portal into the app. Those devices that don't offer Netflix from day one, such as Sky Q, are quickly pulled up on it.
For those in the UK, Netflix not being available on Sky Q is perhaps the biggest omission of that service, but there's a good chance that your smart TV has it, your Blu-ray player might have it, your games console will have it, as will your PC, Apple TV, Roku, Android and iOS tablets and phones.
Ultimately, it's hard to not have access to Netflix in the UK, which is one of the most appealing things about the service.
Netflix is also fully compatible with Chromecast - so even if you're living in box-free bliss, you can connect Google's HDMI dongle to your TV and watch on the big screen, controlling it from your phone, for very little hardware expense.
Netflix review: The apps are smartly connected
One the other appealing things about Netflix is the consistency of the apps across all these different platforms. The visual presentation of Netflix is similar across them all so you pretty much know where you are at all times.
Because you're working within your own Netflix account - which can be split into different profiles for different members of the family - and one that syncs in the background, you'll always find yourself presented with the last programmes you were watching, paused where you left off. That means pausing in one place and resuming elsewhere, like stopping watching on the big TV and resuming watching on a tablet in bed.
It also means that if your partner or kids opens up Netflix, they can select their own profile, without having to skip around the content you were watching.
Netflix also allows you sign into as many apps as you like, although you can only watch in as many places as you have a subscription for. There are three tiers: one screen (£5.99/month), two screens (£7.49/month), or four screens (£8.99/month).
All tiers offer the same content, but there's a key difference on what you get for your money at the top level. The close proximity of levels two and three are a big hint at where Netflix wants to push people.
Netflix 4K and HDR: The future, now
The big difference between those top Netflix subscriptions is 4K (ultra-HD resolution) and HDR (high dynamic range) content. This is where Netflix has perhaps made a much bigger impact on the market than you might initially perceive.
Let's rewind a little. When TV manufacturers started pushing "Full HD" or "1080p" televisions, there was very little content for them. There was no streaming, it was optical discs or broadcast television and only Blu-ray provided the content at that standard. TV manufacturers pushed Full HD as better, encouraging you to buy a new TV to be ready for the future.
In 2015 and 2016 this position has been reversed, because companies like Netflix and Amazon have been pushing 4K and HDR content - in many cases before those TVs have found their way into homes. In this sense, Netflix hasn't been meeting a content demand, it's been pushing the adoption of higher-spec televisions by making sure that content is already there.
The only catch is that you have to pay more for it, by opting for the top-tier £8.99 subscription, but just look at the prices and you'll the difference is only £1.50/month.
Netflix wants you to watch this 4K ultra-high definition content, without price being a barrier. The same can't quite be said of the emerging Ultra HD Blu-ray market.
The 4K content that Netflix offers is really the crown jewels of the service. Most new Amazon Original content is appearing in 4K HDR, too, meaning those high-performance skills of that new TV you just bought can be set to task (assuming it has the 4K Netflix app; typically it will, but there are some exceptions to this - ones that ought to be corrected by software update in the future).
The detail from 4K is a noticeable bump over the Full HD offering, the only downside being that things can be a little grainy because there's just so much resolution on display, which highlights the limitations of capture sometimes.
Netflix's move to adopt and offer HDR again repeats this position. More than sheer resolution, HDR has the advantage of widening the contrast and the colours for greater visual effect. Again, it gives you the opportunity to use your TV to maximum potential, where Blu-ray and broadcast currently doesn't go.
Netflix is also good at telling you what quality a programme is available in. Although this doesn't apply to phones or tablets, when you open a programme on your TV, Netflix will report the quality it's available in - Ultra HD 4K, HDR, Dolby Vision - for you to view. This is a great guide to know what to expect.
Netflix streaming: Variable bitrates and network demands
The downside of streaming 4K content is that there's a lot of data needed to bring those wonderful visuals. Although this is compressed compared to the content you'll find on a typical Blu-ray disc, there's still a lot of data to move. Netflix says that an Ultra HD title uses about 7GB an hour - so you'll want to make sure you've got a service provider (ISP) that can deliver the necessary services in your area.
Netflix uses a variable bitrate solution which changes the quality of what you're watching based on a number of connection factors. Wrapped up in this method is the ability to start instantly watching with very little buffering. In the olden days, you'd have to wait for enough video to cache before you started watching. The modern approach, however, is to start in low quality and ramp it up once the stream is established.
Netflix's system is reliable and works well. We've been using the service for a number of years and, generally speaking, it works better than rival systems from Amazon, Now TV or BBC iPlayer. You'll notice that the opening scene of a movie or TV series is a bit blocky, before "clicking" into full sharpness at the maximum resolution moments later. Many TVs will give you information on what quality is playing via a press of the info button on the remote.
The experience, of course, is defined by your home setup: a wired connection is more stable than Wi-Fi, for example, although we've streamed 4K HDR content over Wi-Fi without issue. The further your TV is from your router, the greater the need for a wired connection to ensure you're getting the best out of it.
Of course, you'll also need the bandwidth to support it from your internet package, as well as the data allowance. Some ISPs are now offering Netflix as a bundle, with associated data allowance to accommodate its use without affecting your other daily use.
You can govern the data use through your Netflix account. In the playback settings you can opt for low, medium or high video quality, and this is a universal setting that applies across your account. You can, however, also limit the streaming quality on mobile apps to ensure you don't blow your mobile data limit. You can also opt to only watch on Wi-Fi only on the mobile Netflix app.
One of the biggest downsides to Netflix is that there's no option to download content to take with you. This is now something that's offered from the likes of BBC iPlayer, Amazon and Sky's services, but Netflix is looking at streaming only as its solution. The disadvantage is that you can't pre-load a phone or tablet with content when you're flying, for example.
There's potentially a legitimate reason for this: Netflix produces shows but doesn't always maintain rights to their distribution via other mediums; House of Cards, for example, is released by Sony on physical DVD/Blu-ray - which also includes UltraViolet download capability which, we assume, would be a clash of contractual interests. Not that it helps the average Netflix consumer, though.
Netflix review: Content is king
As good as the Netflix service itself is, it's content that's king.
It's here that you really have to make a decision. In the past, Netflix was about a collection of movies to watch. They were typically older - the sort of thing you'd sit back and watch, with only a handful of premium new releases.
The content makeup of Netflix has evolved greatly over the years, with the service now focusing on offering much more by the way of TV series (or "box sets" if you want to go by that term). One of the big hits of the past was offering Breaking Bad in its entirety (and in 4K), as it makes more sense to subscribe to Netflix than it does to run out and buy a physical boxset.
There's also a lot of content from known producers that find its way into Netflix: Luther and Peaky Blinders, for example, broadcast on British TV before moving into Netflix. Although these help give the service depth, rather than drawing you in to see something you can't get elsewhere.
Aside from moving to offer more TV, the greatest move has been exclusive Netflix Originals programming. House of Cards, arguably, was the big hitter that really brought this home, along with Emmy Awards, but the focus on Netflix Originals has seen Netflix become essential viewing, and arguably, these are the best titles on offer.
Things don't stay in Netflix forever though, it isn't an ever-expanding catalogue of titles. Not only is it worth keeping your eyes on new additions, it's also worth seeing what's leaving Netflix, to make sure you don't miss that movie you've so far not found time for.
Netflix also has a relative weakness when it comes to blockbuster movies. Although you still have a wide selection of films, Netflix has no method for getting access to the very latest titles, unlike Amazon, which will let you rent the latest movie for a fee through the same service as you might subscribe too. Although Netflix is clearer - you pay your money, you watch what you find - Amazon notable offers access to more on a pay-per-view system.
And let's not forget, Amazon has its own original programming too, which isn't available on Netflix: The Man In High Castle, Transparent, Mozart in the Jungle and many more. Which might mean you'll not only want that £8.99/month Netflix subscription (if you're all about 4K), but Amazon Prime Instant Video for an additional £5.99/month too.
Netflix is synonymous with entertainment in 2016. If you don't Netflix and chill, you're missing out.