If you’re using Netflix on a TV, computer or HD games console, one of Netflix’s biggest attractions is the fact that many of its titles are available in HD. When Netflix launched, it was actually the only streaming service offering truly substantial amounts of HD content, with LoveFilm not then offering any at all. LoveFilm has since introduced a limited amount of HD via some of its platforms, but Netflix is still ahead in terms of the proportion of HD video ‘versions’ of titles it’s got available.
Netflix is also to be commended for making 5.1 channel audio available with a few of its titles. Sadly 5.1 mixes are only currently available on a rather small percentage of the service’s available titles, and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious thought process behind which films get it and which don’t. For instance, many A-list titles don’t have it, while some distinctly c-list titles do. But still, the fact that you can get HD films with 5.1 audio at all via streaming shows a greater sign of technical ambition from Netflix than you currently get with any other streaming platform.
Almost every film that doesn’t get a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix gets a Dolby Pro-Logic surround sound mix instead - which compares very handily to the bizarre situation with LoveFilm, where titles only appear to have stereo mixes (or at least that was the case the last time we checked. We’ll obviously check this again during our upcoming review).
Quality AV experience
The fact that Netflix’s platform can handle HD video and 5.1 audio streaming implies that there’s some seriously high-level infrastructure behind the Netflix service. But more importantly, of course, the system’s data-shifting capacities promise that you’ll get a premium level of AV quality from the service. And for the most part, this proves to be very much the case.
We deliberately tested the service on a ‘national average’ 6Mbps broadband input (from BT if you care about such things). And Netflix consistently left us feeling extremely satisfied with the quality of the fare on offer, as both the HD and standard def picture quality comfortably exceeded our expectations.
With HD, for instance, there seems to be pretty much the same amount of detail and sharpness on show that you get with the best-quality HD broadcasts on the Freeview HD platform. In fact, at times images look slightly better than that in that there seems to be less noise in Netflix’s image, be it dot fizzing or even, more surprisingly, MPEG compression blocking or shimmering noise.
Action is not a problem
Even action-packed sequences don’t seem to cause Netflix’s ‘engine’ any problems, with minimal judder and seldom any perceptible increase in compression artefacts.
Contrast is rich, meanwhile (largely avoiding the slightly crushed look sometimes seen on rival video streaming platforms), and colours are punchy but also natural.
Good Blu-ray discs enjoy even more precision, dynamism and clarity, but for a streamed service Netflix’s HD efforts are really startlingly good.
A further plus to Netflix's presentation of films finds the service very consistent when it comes to preserving the correct aspect ratios of the titles in its library. This can leave images looking a touch small, we guess, if you're watching a 2.35:1-ratio film on, say, an iPad. But for movie fans it's a far preferable approach to the reformatting some rival platforms indulge in.