How to Make Sure Your Netflix Never Buffers
If you're among the 70% of Americans that engage in full-fledged binge-viewing, you've probably Netflixed your way through an afternoon (... and evening... and night). But are you sure what you're watching looks as good as it should?
Fact: You may be suboptimally streaming your favorite movies and TV shows without even realizing it. Or maybe you know all too well as the victim of the dreaded "buffering" stall. But just a few simple fixes could easily smooth things out. Here's what to do to ensure you're getting the most hi-def experience out of whatever device you watch on.
Customize your Netflix account settings
If you suspect your picture quality isn't what it should be, the first thing to do is check your own Netflix account's streaming settings. To do this, head to My Accounts > My Profile, tap Playback Settings, and make sure you've selected "High," as that's the only setting that will enable you to see things in HD or Ultra HD (assuming the TV/tablet/phone/laptop you're watching on supports 720p resolution or higher).
Watching in Low or Medium is fine if you don't want to blow through data on a mobile device, and Auto can prevent obnoxious buffering stalls by throttling the quality based on your current connection speed. But there are better ways to manage those issues (more on that later).
Also, if you subscribe to Netflix's lowest-tier $7.99-per-month streaming plan, you're actually only capable of streaming content in Standard Definition (SD). If that's you've been craving a more vivid experience, consider splurging an extra two bucks for the HD. Note: once you upgrade to high-def, it may take a few hours to take effect.
Router woes will kill your Netflix
No matter how spectacularly fast the internet coming into your house is, it's really only as good as your wireless router. As you're probably aware, router placement makes a huge difference in connection quality, as obstructions and wacky floor-plan layouts can inevitably create some Wi-Fi dead zones in your house.
Abide by these router rules to keep things running as smoothly as possible: Install it in a central location and keep it off the floor and away from the kitchen or behind TVs/computers (appliances can interfere with the signal). If you continue to have issues, you may want to consider upgrading to one of the many great new high-performance multi-unit systems, which will expand your reliable coverage area (especially in nook-filled homes) and help you better manage the connections by allowing you to prioritize Wi-Fi to certain devices (e.g., whatever device you regularly watch Netflix on).
If you live in a crowded apartment building, you're also likely dealing with interference from the glut of connected devices in the vicinity that are sitting on similar Wi-Fi channels. That's contributing to the drag-on speed of your connection. Modern, dual-band routers offer two frequency speeds -- 2.4GHz and 5GHz -- and generally, running yours on 5GHz will leave you less susceptible to congestion. To manually set it to that band, log in to your router and access the settings page.
If all else fails, the nuclear option would be to go old school and connect your Apple TV/Roku/smart TV directly to the router via an Ethernet cable. Of course, this isn't ideal and is especially tough if your router's nowhere near your TV (though an Ethernet powerline adapter could fix that).
Optimize your bandwidth
To watch programming in HD or Ultra HD, Netflix recommends that you're hooked up to an internet connection with a minimum bandwidth speed of 5Mbps or 25Mbps (megabits per second), respectively. Most of the lowest-tier internet service provider (ISP) plans will promise you at least that much, but even if your plan comes with a guaranteed 50Mbps or more, a Netflix stream isn't the only thing demanding bandwidth. It's competing with every other device operating on your Wi-Fi network, from phones and laptops to tablets and smart-home products, especially if someone else in your home is trying to stream something simultaneously.
To ensure Netflix is getting the lion's share of your bandwidth when you're watching, switch off other connected devices on your network (or simply disable their Wi-Fi access).
However, even with other devices shut off, if you're watching Netflix at peak hours (read: evenings or bad-weather days), you may encounter slower bandwidth speeds simply because the connection that's feeding you and your entire neighborhood/building is clogged up. If you can help it, try watching during off-peak hours like super-late at night or earlier in the morning. If you're still having issues, you might have a bigger issue with your ISP, so conduct a speed test and reach out to them if you're not getting the speeds guaranteed in your plan.
Make sure you're watching in the best browser
If you're streaming on a computer instead of a big-screen, make sure you're watching in Safari, Internet Explorer, or Microsoft Edge, as Netflix caps the max resolution at 720p for other browsers like Chrome and Firefox. Though 720p is still good enough to watch stuff in HD, why settle for adequate when you could be getting even better?
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.