Standard definition films obviously look softer and less detailed than HD ones. But they’re still very watchable indeed, often looking nearer the high quality of a good DVD than the ropey quality of a poor Freeview broadcast. More importantly, they look considerably cleaner and more consistent than the standard def streams of most other online platforms.
As for the sound quality of all the films we tried, again the quality is high. The 5.1 mixes available sounded to our ears to be more or less identical to the same mixes found on Blu-rays of the same films, and while the Pro-Logic mixes obviously lack the dynamics and effects steering accuracy of the 5.1 mixes they still sound immersive and ‘unclipped’.
Excellent streaming stability
It’s not just the quality of the Netflix AV experience that impresses, either; it’s also its stability. Aside from a 10 second or so delay right at the start while films buffer up, we suffered no more than a couple of tiny stutters throughout many hours of streaming across all of the available Netflix platforms.
Even when we tried introducing other online burdens to our 6MB broadband pipe such as surfing the web on a separate laptop, the Netflix streams remained remarkably stable, marginally downgrading their quality ‘on the fly’ when necessary rather than descending into stuttering - which would, of course, be much more annoying.
More content please!
For all Netflix’s feature and quality strengths, though, it currently suffers from one major flaw. Namely that its library doesn’t contain nearly as many films and, to a lesser extent, TV shows as its LoveFilm rival. This was fairly apparent at the service’s launch, but it’s become more exaggerated in the past couple of months as LoveFilm has signed up more exclusive film studio deals while Netflix has signed up strikingly little new content to shout about.
To be fair, Netflix has a few exclusive deals of its own, and for us seems to be particularly strong when it comes to good quality TV shows. But nonetheless it’s the content area where Netflix needs to focus most of its efforts now that it seems to have the technical side of things so well sorted.
In these days where HD viewing is the rule rather than the exception, we found ourselves surprisingly impressed, even enthused by the amount and quality of HD content Netflix is capable of delivering. We also loved the way you can ‘track’ playback of titles across multiple devices, and really appreciated the way the £5.99 a month subscription gets you everything Netflix has to offer, with no extra payments required.
Netflix’s current relative shortage of content is its biggest weakness. But no rival platforms are in any way comprehensive in movie terms either, so we suspect many AV fans will be content to live with this flaw in return for Netflix’s superior AV standards.