In the beginning, Netflix delivered movies on discs mailed to your house. Its streaming service only came later, as a niche offering. It’s hard now to imagine life without immediate access to Netflix’s library of on-demand TV shows and movies. True, its collection of content changes like the weather, but Netflix offers a reliably solid core catalog—including critically acclaimed original programming—for a reasonable monthly price. For those reasons, Netflix is an Editors’ Choice for video streaming services. If you want access to live broadcast TV channels, however, Hulu and Sling TV are excellent alternatives.
What’s in the Catalog?
Netflix has an extremely broad catalog, 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, so that’s one way to stay in the know.
The TV shows available on Netflix are season-complete, which isn’t always the case for competitors. Hulu sometimes only has the most recent few 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 at least be within striking distance of the cultural zeitgeist if you’re a cable-cutter.
The growing library of original Netflix programming has quickly become a pop culture phenomenon in its own right. This impressive list includes shows like Altered Carbon, Black Mirror, Bojack Horseman, Disenchantment, Narcos, Orange is the New Black, and Stranger Things, as well as Marvel’s (now mostly canceled) miniseries, such as Jessica Jones and The Punisher. Netflix also produces feature films, comedy specials, and documentaries, for those who are looking for something more self-contained. For example, has an Oscar contender this year with Roma, and made a ton of recent headlines with Bird Box, too. Netflix currently also offers the most high-quality movies of any of the video streaming services.
Being able to join the conversation about these shows and movies, especially in the binge-watching media
Hulu may have a stronger broadcast television lineup, but right now Netflix’s exclusives are untouchable, and competitors are scrambling to keep up. Amazon Prime Video and Hulu have had some successes of their own, however, with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Handmaid’s Tale, respectively, receiving considerable acclaim. Even CBS All Access has a lineup of original shows including Star Trek Discovery and The Good Fight.
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, Robotech, and Rurouni Kenshin. Little Witch Academia and other excellent oddball shows also find a home here among the innumerable Pokemon episodes. Netflix has also brought its considerable production clout to anime as well, including rebooting the venerable Voltron series to wide nerd acclaim and developing originals such as Castlevania. The trouble with Netflix’s anime collection is the same as with the rest of its content: It comes and goes unpredictably. Searching for titles is also sometimes hit-or-miss.
Crunchyroll offers a much larger and industry-leading content library of anime titles. If you want to see the latest and greatest anime shows, this is your best bet. 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, Ghost in the Shell, and Revolutionary Girl Utena.
Plans and Platforms
Netflix recently raised its prices for all three tiers. The price changes as described below should be rolling out in the coming months for existing users and are now live for new subscribers. The cheapest option, which lets you watch unlimited hours of whatever movies and TV show on one screen at a time and in SD quality, costs $8.99 per month (up from $7.99). The $12.99-per-month (up from $10.99) middle-tier plan allows HD streaming on two screens simultaneously. For families or groups of friends looking to share accounts, the $15.99 (up from $13.99) four-screen plan might be a more feasible option. This highest tier also unlocks Ultra HD (4K) where available.
On another note, Netflix presents all of its content ad-free, with the exception of its in-house previews of content that it implements across most platforms. HBO Now and Amazon Prime Video advertise their original content in a similar manner. Note that Hulu’s paid plans include commercials—even, in some cases, if you pay extra for supposedly commercial-free viewing. For comparison, Hulu charges $7.99 for its base plan (with ads) though you can pay $11.99 per month for virtually no ads. Amazon Video costs $8.99 per month with no ads (except for some previews of its own content).
Netflix is available on an ever-increasing number of devices. In addition to the web, 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 4 and Xbox One. It even has a desktop app in the Microsoft Store for Windows 10.
DVDs on Demand
Netflix began as a DVD-by-mail service, and the company still offers physical discs, but this is a separate subscription from what you get with the Netflix streaming service. You can subscribe directly at dvd.netflix.com (a Netflix company) or add it on 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 free as well. Want more discs at a time? The more expensive $11.99-per-month Premier plan gives you all the same features as the Standard one, but lets you have two discs out at a time. If you want HD Blu-ray DVDs, the price for the Standard and Premier plans respectively increase to $9.99 and $14.99 per month. Previously, Netflix offered a $4.99-per-month plan which allowed you to take out one disc at a time for a maximum of two discs per month, but that tier is no longer advertised on its website.
The main reason to use Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service is that it expands its catalog immensely. When you can’t find a particular TV show or film to stream, you can often find it among the DVDs. That said, it’s always a good idea to check whether you can buy or rent the same content through Amazon, iTunes, or the Microsoft Store on a PC or Xbox instead. That way you won’t have to wait for an envelope in the mail.
It’s also worth noting that Netflix stripped this service from its main mobile apps. Instead, DVD diehards must use the service’s dedicated app, called DVD Netflix (Android and iOS) for all their needs on the go. Subscribers can browse for content and stay on top of incoming and outgoing shipments.
Netflix for Android
I had no issues installing or logging in to the Netflix Android app on a Google Pixel 3 running Android 9. You navigate the app via a set of five menu icons at the bottom of the screen: Home, Search, Coming Soon, Downloads, and More. Its black-and-white color scheme looks sleek and makes the occasional splash of color stand out. Although Netflix’s app uses vertical space more efficiently, it’s still not as visually compelling as Hulu’s app after its latest redesign.
The Home tab highlights a currently noteworthy and displays horizontally scrolling lists of shows and movies across categories, such as New Releases, Popular on Netflix, and Trending Now. There’s also a search bar to find shows and movies, but content discovery is mostly limited to scrolling through the aforementioned lists. If you tap on a show, you can view more information, available episodes, as well as a percentage-based rating match rating. This data point uses Netflix’s simplistic thumbs up recommendation system.
The app works best with a reliable Wi-Fi signal, but it can also stream over a cellular connection. The streaming itself is well optimized for mobile devices. In testing, I experienced crisp video and clear audio while streaming content over PCMag’s Wi-Fi network, which hits download speeds of 50Mbps.
For those with limited access to data, Netflix allows you to download select titles for offline viewing. The Downloads tab shows everything you have designated for offline viewing, but there’s no search function here. When I tested download speeds over PCMag’s Wi-Fi network, it took less than two minutes to download a 50-minute episode of Planet Earth II in high quality. I appreciate that Netflix allows for full HD downloads, unlike Showtime, which limits the resolution to 720p. That said, there are some limitations to this feature. For example, some titles expire after 48 hours and others can only be downloaded a certain number of times. Netflix confirmed that some restrictions apply to downloadable per licensing deals.
The More tab hosts all the important app settings, including Netflix’s Smart Downloads feature, which is useful for binge watching. Once you finish watching a downloaded episode, Netflix will delete that episode and automatically download the next one. In testing, this feature worked as advertised. You can disable this feature entirely, change the download location, and toggle the Wi-Fi only option. You can also switch and add profiles from this menu or run Netflix’s diagnostic network speed tool.
Netflix for iPhones and iPads
Netflix also offers an app for your iPhone and iPad. All you need to do is download it from the App Store and log in to your account. I had no trouble installing the app on an iPhone 8 running iOS 11. Navigating the app’s interface works just as fluently as it does on Android and I had no issues streaming while connected to PCMag’s Wi-Fi network.
Netflix’s iPhone app looks identical to its Android counterpart, and functions in much the same way as well, though there are some minor differences. For example, the Coming Soon tab icon is missing on the bottom menu bar. As with all iOS apps, you change notification settings in the device’s main Settings page, rather than within the app. There, you can also choose whether to enable Siri search and streaming over cellular data.
Netflix finally added the Smart Downloads feature to its iOS app, so its easier to stay up to date with the latest episodes. Netflix’s Mobile Previews are also available for iOS. As with the show previews on the desktop, these brief video clips aim to help you find new content. Users can jump into content directly or dismiss any previews that do not appeal to them.
Accessibility and Extras
Netflix’s playback screen offers fewer closed captioning (CC) settings than others, only letting you turn them on or off. I had to head to the web app to make changes to the font size, for example. However, Netflix is one of the only services, along with Amazon Prime Video, that offers audio descriptions for some programming. Netflix explains audio descriptions as narration that “describes what is happening on-screen, including physical actions, facial expressions, costumes, settings and scene changes.” This feature is available for many Netflix originals.
Netflix offers a wide range of family-friendly content, as well as specific content for young children. In your account settings on the web, you can block content of certain ratings behind a PIN code or do the same to individual shows and movies. Netflix is also notable in that it allows you to create profiles for different users. In addition to the content control benefits, this enables Netflix to better tune its recommendations for whoever is watching.
Netflix and VPN
Note that 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. Netflix has been working hard to block this method though, because of international content licensing deals.
For more details, make sure to check out our dedicated 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, however, and that VPNs that are blocked one day may find a way around the barrier tomorrow.
Get Your Video Fix With Netflix
Netflix stocks an enormous array of quirky and quality TV shows, cult hits, family favorites, and trendy original programming. The addition of offline viewing for mobile devices makes it an even more valuable offering. Between its digital library and vast DVD collection, Netflix has what you’re looking for, or something close. The fact that you can get commercial-free access to Netflix’s vast content ecosystem at a bargain price of $8.99 per month makes Netflix a clear Editors’ Choice. If you are looking for a true cable replacement, try Hulu’s Live TV option or Sling TV.