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Netflix Review

2023-07-20 13:46
Netflix's streaming service started as a niche offshoot of the company's disc-mailing service, but it
Netflix Review

Netflix's streaming service started as a niche offshoot of the company's disc-mailing service, but it is now the front-runner in the category, thanks to a reliable core catalog and excellent original programming. The service also integrates excellent features across various devices, allows offline downloads on mobile platforms, and features 4K content. A new, ad-supported option now helps Netflix better compete with more affordable rivals, even if it is pretty lacking compared to Netflix's expensive premium plans. Still, Netflix remains an Editors' Choice winner for on-demand video streaming services, thanks to its varied, top-notch content and capable apps.

You can hover over a movie or show in Netflix's web interface to view a preview or click into the title to see more details. (Credit: PCMag)

What's in the Catalog?

Netflix has an extensive catalog of video content, but it changes all the time. Shows available one day may be gone the next. It's difficult to state authoritatively what is in Netflix's catalog at any given moment, but that's all part of the fun, right? Innumerable third-party websites, including PCMag, offer articles with titles like Everything Coming to Netflix This Month (as well as Everything Leaving Netflix), so that's one way to stay in the know. Note that Netflix has already lost many of its most-watched shows, including The Office (to NBC's Peacock), Friends (to Max), and several Marvel movies (to Disney+). New additions, such as Community and Seinfeld, somewhat make up for these losses. Still, this is potentially precarious new ground for Netflix, since it will need to rely more heavily on its original content in the coming years. In fact, the change is already happening. As it increases original content offerings, the total size of Netflix's library is decreasing.

The TV shows available on Netflix are season-complete, which isn't always the case for competitors. Hulu sometimes only has the most recent handful of episodes of a show, making it impossible to catch up if you fall too far behind. On the other hand, Netflix only adds shows a season at a time. Hulu offers at least some of its shows within a day or two of broadcast, so you can be within striking distance of the cultural zeitgeist if you're a cable-cutter. Want to know what other people are watching on Netflix? The service now maintains lists of the top shows and movies on the platform.

Netflix is in a good position with its original productions, with many titles becoming pop culture phenomenons. This impressive list includes shows like Black Mirror, Bojack Horseman, Dead to Me, Locke and Key, Never Have I Ever, Orange Is the New Black, Ozark, Russian Doll, Stranger Things, The Crown, The Stranger, The Umbrella Academy, and The Witcher. Many of these productions won awards, including I Care A Lot, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Crown, The Trial of the Chicago 7, and The Queen’s Gambit. Netflix also earns a top spot in our roundup of the best video streaming services for celebrating Black art.

For those looking for something more self-contained, Netflix also produces feature films, comedy specials, and documentaries. For example, Netflix's El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie received good reviews. Martin Scorsese's The Irishman is another example. If you are a fan of watching films, check out our roundup of the top movie streaming services. Many of the services in that category, including The Criterion Channel and Filmatique, are notable in that they curate their collections.

However, Netflix no longer enjoys its once-untouchable status when it comes to original programming. Amazon Prime Video offers many top-tier shows and adaptations in its library, including Bosch, Fleabag, Good Omens, Hunters, Jack Ryan, Patriot, The Boys, The Expanse, The Man in the High Castle, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Undone. Hulu may be better known for its broadcast television lineup. Still, with original productions such as Castle Rock, Casual, Catch-22, Harlots, The Handmaid's Tale, and the continuation of Veronica Mars, it too is becoming competitive. Apple TV+ and Disney+ also promise tons of upcoming original content, with respective entries such as For All Mankind and The Mandalorian. Even Paramount+ has original shows, including Halo, Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, The Good Fight, and Why Women Kill.

Other, primarily on-demand streaming services are starting to offer select live sports coverage, which is something Netflix can't match. For instance, Prime Video streams Thursday Night Football games, Paramount+ has all the sports that air on national CBS stations, Peacock's premium tiers include Premier League soccer matchups, and Max may soon broadcast live NHL games.

Documentaries on Netflix

Netflix specializes in big-name, blockbuster documentaries on household names that rack up award nominations. From Miss Americana: Taylor Swift to Becoming, a documentary about Michelle Obama, to Beyoncé’s Grammy-winning Homecoming, there are plenty of behind-the-scenes documentaries that delve into the lives of celebrities. Of particular note is Netflix’s Black Lives Matter Collection, which features the Oscar-nominated What Happened Miss Simone?, Grammy-winner Quincy, The Two Killings of Sam Cooke, and 13th. There are also nature documentaries like the controversial Blackfish and conversation starters such as Being Elmo and FYRE, a documentary about the disastrous Fyre Festival.

There’s also a wealth of true crime documentaries, including Amanda Knox, American Murder: The Family Next Door, and Long Shot. If you’re looking for something a little more uplifting, Netflix offers titles such as My Octopus Teacher and The Speed Cubers, a documentary about Rubik's Cube competitors. Sports fans should watch the multipart documentary The Last Dance, which covers Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls.

Anime on Netflix

On another front, Netflix has quietly built itself into an excellent source for streaming anime. It does a particularly good job with older series, such as Inu Yasha, Little Witch Academia, Robotech, and Rurouni Kenshin. Netflix has brought its considerable production clout to anime as well, including rebooting the venerable Voltron and She-Ra series and developing Castlevania.

The trouble with Netflix's anime collection is the same as with the rest of its content: It comes and goes unpredictably. Crunchyroll offers a much larger and industry-leading content library of anime titles. Hulu is another option for anime fans, with a collection of over 400 classic and critically acclaimed anime shows and movies such as Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell.

How Much Does Netflix Cost?

Netflix has consistently raised its plans' prices over time. The latest price hike somewhat streamlines the plans. There is no longer a cheap, ad-free Basic option. Instead, you now start with our recommended $15.49-per-month Standard plan (previously $13.99 per month) that includes HD streaming, support for two simultaneous streams, and the ability to download titles on up to two devices at a time. For families or groups of friends looking to share accounts, the $19.99-per-month (previously $17.99 per month) plan might be a more feasible option. This highest tier unlocks Ultra HD (4K) streaming, four concurrent streams, and the ability to download titles on up to four devices.

If you no longer want to pay for Netflix (or want to pay less), follow our guide on how to cancel or modify your subscription. Note that Netflix no longer offers a free trial option.

With these plans, Netflix presents its content ad-free, except for its previews of in-house content across its apps. You can, thankfully, disable those previews now. Amazon Prime Video and Max advertise their original content similarly. Note that even Hulu's ad-free plan still includes limited commercials in rare instances.

However, Netflix now offers a cheaper, ad-supported plan at $6.99 per month. Netflix says ads should run about four or five times per hour. Even for a budget tier, though, the drawbacks seem disappointing. Resolution caps out at 720p, you can only stream on one device at a time, and you lose offline mobile downloads. More alarming is that the ad tier doesn't feature the full Netflix library. Perhaps due to licensing deals, it's missing major shows, such as Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, and The Crown. Introducing an ad-supported tier is a nice way to give folks a cheaper way to enjoy Netflix, especially if the company starts cracking down on password sharing. However, this initial launch feels rocky.

Hulu charges $7.99 per month for its base plan (with ads) though you can pay $14.99 per month for virtually no ads. Peacock costs $5.99 per month, Apple TV+ costs $6.99 per month, Disney+ is $7.99 per month, and Prime Video costs $8.99 per month. Those services support simultaneous streams and 4K streams; Netflix makes you pay extra for those features. Both British-focused services we've reviewed, Acorn TV and BritBox, are also less expensive at $5.99 and $6.99 per month, respectively. Max's Premium plan ($19.99 per month) is on par with Netflix's Premium plan. Netflix's Premium tier costs close to the price of some live TV services like entertainment-focused Philo, which costs $25 per month.

If you do not want to pay for your entertainment, try out one of the best free video streaming services. Our top pick for the category is Tubi because of its lineup of mainstream TV shows and movies.

In addition to its web interface, Netflix offers apps for Android and iOS; media streaming devices such as the Amazon Fire Stick, Apple TV, and Roku; and game consoles such as the PlayStation and Xbox. It even has a desktop app in the Microsoft Store for Windows 10 and one for Facebook's Portal device.

Netflix still runs a DVD service, but you need to pay an extra monthly fee to use it. (Credit: PCMag)

DVDs on Demand

Netflix began as a DVD-by-mail service, and the company still offers physical discs, but this is now a separate subscription from the Netflix streaming service. You can subscribe directly at (a Netflix company) or add it to your existing Netflix account.

The Standard DVD plans start at $7.99 per month for one disc out at a time and an unlimited number of DVDs per month. There are no late fees with this plan; shipping and returns are also free. The more expensive $11.99-per-month Premier plan gives you all the same features as the Standard one but lets you take two discs out at a time. If you want HD Blu-ray DVDs, the Standard and Premier plans' prices increase to $9.99 and $14.99 per month.

The main reason to use Netflix's DVD-by-mail service is that it expands Netflix's catalog. When you can't find a particular TV show or film to stream, you can often find it among the DVDs. That said, checking whether you can buy or rent the same content through Amazon, iTunes, or the Microsoft Store on a PC or Xbox is always a good idea. That way, you won't have to wait for an envelope in the mail.

DVD diehards on mobile must use the service's dedicated app, called DVD Netflix (Android and iOS). Here, subscribers can browse for content and stay on top of incoming and outgoing shipments.

However, Netflix's DVD mailing service ends September 29. If you truly care about physical media, you should invest in building out your Blu-ray library rather than patronizing Netflix streaming.

Games on Netflix

Between shows like Cowboy Bebop, Daredevil, and The Witcher, Netflix proudly courts a geeky audience. Castlevania and Resident Evil are straight-up video game adaptations. So it’s not too surprising to see Netflix introduce mobile games as part of its streaming package. If you’re a Netflix subscriber with an iOS or Android device, you can play Netflix games for free with no ads. Access these games either within the Netflix app itself or by manually downloading them from the App Store or Google Play Store.

(Credit: PCMag)

There are casual time-wasters among the games: poker-themed Card Blast, finicky basketball game Shooting Hoops, and ball-balancing arcade game Teeter Up. If you’re looking for something a little more substantive and a lot more on brand, you can also play retro-styled Stranger Things adventure games: Strangers Things 1984 and Stranger Things 3 The Game. You can even play acclaimed indie hits like Immortality and Into the Breach.

From streaming Telltale’s Minecraft: Story Mode game to funding a Dark Crystal tactics game to acquiring talented indie studios, we believe Netflix genuinely wants to explore and expand its gaming offerings. And over time, Netflix’s in-app games have gone from a limited test to a genuine initiative. You'll definitely appreciate them as a bonus for your existing subscription. Just don’t think this is the next Xbox Game Pass.

Netflix on the Web

Netflix's web interface uses a dark background, white text, and large media thumbnails. It looks elegant and is easy to navigate via the top menu's sections: Home, TV Shows, Movies, Recently Added, and My List. In the upper right-hand corner, you can use the search bar, manage your profiles, access account settings, and open Netflix's help center. Account settings go beyond what most other video streaming services offer, with options for email communications, closed captions, parental controls, and playback settings. You can also view recent viewing (content watched) and streaming activity (devices used and when). We didn't experience any performance issues with Netflix's web interface.

The Home tab highlights current noteworthy content at the top. It displays a slightly overwhelming number of horizontally scrolling lists of shows and movies across categories, such as New Releases, Popular on Netflix, and Trending Now. Mousing over any content triggers a video preview with sound; we find these annoying and would like the option to turn them off. If you click on an entry, you can view more detailed information, available episodes, and a percentage recommendation based on your watching history. You can also give content thumbs-up (or down) ratings. Finally, you can add content to My List to save shows and movies you want to watch.

Netflix lets you broadly sort the Shows and Movies sections by genre and filter the lists of content further based on recommendations, the release year, and alphabetical order. Oddly, there is no dedicated category in the TV Shows or Movies genre lists for Netflix's originals. Instead, you need to scroll down to one of the horizontally scrolling sections to find them all in one place. Given Netflix's constantly changing library, information on how long things will be available would be helpful, along with an option to add reminders for those expirations.

Netflix runs a site called Tudum, with companion content for its original shows and movies, but recent layoffs have impacted its ability to build online communities. Max already offers some companion podcasts for its original content, but Netflix's initiative seems more so to replicate the community features of Mubi. That service encourages conversations between members and includes lots of supporting editorial content, including interviews and long-form features.

Netflix on Mobile

We had no issues installing or logging in to Netflix's Android or iOS on our test devices. The app looks and performs fine and closely resembles the web interface.

You navigate the app via five menu icons at the bottom of the screen: Home, Search, Extras, Downloads, and More. Netflix's iPhone app offers all the same features as its Android counterpart and looks nearly identical, albeit with some insignificant navigational changes. For instance, the iOS app lacks the Extras icon in the bottom menu bar.

Netflix lets you download select titles for offline viewing, a now common feature among on-demand video streaming services. The Downloads tab shows everything you have designated for offline viewing, but there's no search function. When we tested download speeds over PCMag's fast Wi-Fi network, it took less than two minutes to download a 50-minute episode of Planet Earth II in high quality. Note that some titles expire after 48 hours, and others can only be downloaded a certain number of times.

The Home tab lets you sort by TV Shows or Movies and access My List entries. The Extras section shows previews of new and notable content based on your viewing history. The More tab hosts all the essential app settings, including Netflix's Smart Downloads feature, which is helpful for binge-watching. Once you finish watching a downloaded episode, Netflix deletes that episode and automatically downloads the next one. In testing, this feature worked as advertised. You can set network streaming preferences and manage profiles from this section.

From the playback screen, you can change the language and turn off the subtitles at any time, as well as browse through other episodes in a series. (Credit: PCMag)

Netflix Playback and Streaming

Netflix's playback screen is among the best we've tested. In addition to the standard 10-second rewind and fast-forward buttons, you can also browse a list of all episodes of a show by season, adjust the audio and subtitle language, change playback speed, and jump to the next episode. The progress bar also shows content previews as you scrub. Yet another useful feature, which several other video streaming services have since copied, is a Skip Intro button. We hope Netflix eventually implements a tool like Prime Video's X-Ray feature, which identifies actors, actresses, and music in a scene. We would also like an option to control the playback resolution.

We tested playback performance on the web over a home Ethernet connection (200Mbps download) by streaming an episode of Bojack Horseman. We didn't come across any stuttering or lag. We previously streamed an episode of Planet Earth II on an Android test device and experienced crisp video and clear audio over PCMag's Wi-Fi network (15 Mbps download). Sadly, Planet Earth II has long since left Netflix.

Accessibility and Extras

Although Netflix lets you change the audio and subtitle language from the playback screen, you need to head to the web app to customize subtitles. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, and Disney+ all offer Audio Descriptions for some programming. Netflix explains audio descriptions as vocal narration that "describes what is happening on-screen, including physical actions, facial expressions, costumes, settings, and scene changes." You can find the complete list of Netflix titles that support Audio Descriptions on The Audio Description Project's website.

Netflix is one of the only on-demand video streaming services we've reviewed that restricts simultaneous streams and streaming resolutions based on your subscription tier; others offer a single tier with all available features. For instance, Disney+'s only plan allows for four simultaneous streams, which matches Netflix's highest tier. BritBox outclasses them all with support for five concurrent streams. As mentioned, Netflix also requires you to subscribe to its Premium plan to stream shows in 4K, whereas Apple+, Disney+, and Prime Video don't make users pay extra for this capability.

Netflix lets you set parental control options for each profile. Another useful feature, called Smart Downloads, deletes downloaded episodes after you finish watching them and automatically retrieves the next one in the series. (Credit: PCMag)

Netflix, along with those same three services, all support the Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos standards for select titles and on supported devices. Apple TV+ has the advantage here, since it can ensure a higher percentage of its content supports these standards in the future. To find 4K content on Netflix, you can search for 4K and UHD directly; detail pages of shows and movies also show this information.

Netflix offers lots of family-friendly content, as well as specific content for young children. In your account settings on the web, you can block content of specific ratings behind a PIN code or do the same for individual shows and movies. Netflix is notable in that it allows you to create profiles for up to four different users. In addition to the content control benefits, profiles enable Netflix to better tune its recommendations for whoever is watching. Disney+ supports up to seven profiles.

Can You Watch Netflix With a VPN?

Netflix's available catalog varies greatly by your locale, and you may not be able to watch some shows at all, depending on which country you live in. Likewise, if you travel abroad, you may suddenly find that you can't continue watching certain shows. In some cases, you can rectify this with a virtual private network (VPN) service. However, Netflix has been working hard to block VPN access to maintain location-based content restrictions.

We tried to access Netflix from our test desktop and mobile devices, both of which were connected to a US-based Mullvad VPN server. We were not able to stream content on either device.

If you are insistent about finding a VPN that works with Netflix, start with the entries in our roundup of VPN services that worked with Netflix as of the time of our last testing. Note that a VPN that works with Netflix today may be blocked tomorrow. We recommend choosing a VPN based on other factors, such as its security practices, value, and performance.

Video Streaming Services: What You Should Know

What's Next for Netflix?

Netflix stocks an enormous array of quirky and quality TV shows, cult hits, family favorites, and trendy original programming. It also offers offline downloads for mobile devices, ad-free streams across all tiers, and convenient features such as Smart Downloads. However, its price has crept up over the years, and while we appreciate its more affordable ad-based alternative, the new tier isn't quite strong enough to fully stave off ascendant streaming rivals. We still give it an Editors' Choice award for on-demand video streaming, given its excellent original content and vast library. But if you want genuine cable replacements, try Hulu + Live TV or YouTube TV.

For more on streaming, check out five reasons you may want to ditch your video subscription and keep cable, read how streaming has ushered in a new trash TV golden age, and learn why companies must preserve their streaming catalogs. In addition, check out our recommended streaming video guides if you don't know what to watch.

Kim Key also contributed to this review.