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Netflix - HD, Surround Sound and Picture Quality

John Archer

By John Archer



  • Recommended by TR


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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.

Multichannel audio

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.


July 12, 2012, 5:30 pm

Glad to see you reviewing all these streaming services (especially smart widgets) as it's all a bit of a minefield. Hope you cover Sony's movie unlimited and the samsung movie widget too.

I use Sony the most because it has the most up-to-date movies and it's easily available on my blu-ray player. The search is not great though - it wont let you list ALL of it's movies by release date - I usually don't know what I want to watch and want to browse movies from the last few months but cant easily. I'm sure there are films I would watch but they never present themselves.

I would have tried Netflix (on my smart tv) but you had to sign up before you could see what it had to offer (I wasn't tempted). It's a pity we cant browse all the content online somewhere for all the companies.

As for all the license deals which can come and go along with the fact that not all smart tvs/players etc have the access to all the competitors makes it difficult to want to sign up to a subscription.

Better dnla (like samsungs allshare) may make it easier for everyone to simply use their laptop/tablet to push the movie from any provider to their tv. I'm also surprised that the studios haven't created their own versions yet - why do they need a middle man?


July 12, 2012, 9:18 pm

Content in the UK version of Netflix is definitely a problem.

I solved that by using a VPN service called "Unblock US" that gives me access to an American DNS server. It costs $4.99 a month (about £3). I only had to specify the IP address of the DNS server on my router and all my networked devices were connected straight away. As a result, I can access the full US catalogue when I use Netflix. It's a huge improvement, and it's definitely worth the extra money since you can also access other US services like Hulu.

I realize this is starting to sound like a marketing pitch for Unblock Us, but I'm honestly just a very satisfied user who's enjoying the "real" Netflix experience.


July 17, 2012, 6:44 am

Netflix is awesome. They did a great job of putting categories and subcategories to their website, however one big issue the loading can be painfully slow.


July 30, 2012, 10:24 am

I totally agree with someone saying that Netflix is one of the greatest apps available on smart TVs. I am using an LG LM760T and I love watching movies on Netflix. I can rent high quality movies anytime and enjoy watching them on my wonderful LG TV.


March 13, 2013, 9:07 pm

I use Netflix as my primary TV source.I don't have cable so we watch Netflix a good amount of time. The content may be sparse on new things but the older titles are great.


January 24, 2014, 6:33 pm

Generally, I think that the Netflix streaming option is a good value.
But, the movie content for streaming is hopelessly and utterly lame. In no time at all I had gone through the paltry A-list movies that they tout in their p.r. material.
There are many favorite TV sitcoms that are not available, such as Mash, Taxi, The Honeymooners, Newhart, I Love Lucy, etc.
And finally, the consumer interface is painful to use. It is s-l-o-w and unwieldy, and just downright annoying. It seems like every time you watch new show, netflix adds a whole 'nother category, i.e. "Because you watched (insert name of show here)...". There are something like 36 categories that each time that you are looking, for a movie for instance, you have to click down through...and then all the way back up through to get to your list of favorites...(how stupid is that)? It is just as tedious as it can be.

Miyako O'Conner

November 29, 2014, 11:37 pm

John, This is a great selection of movies for this month. I look forward to watch Drive. For those who live outside USA like me, you can use UnoTelly or other similar tools to access Netflix overseas.

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