How to Improve Netflix Streaming

by David Secor

Netflix is quickly becoming an essential addition to -- or replacement for -- standard cable and broadcast television services in many households. In comparison to the traditional television services, the Netflix delivery system is somewhat more complicated, relying on several interrelated hardware and software systems bring content to your devices. Problems with any of these systems can cause poor Netflix performance, but some of the common problems can be easily fixed.

Device Problems

Often, poor Netflix performance is related to the playback device. Restart the device and reconnect to the Netflix service. On computers, tablets mobile phones and other devices with configurable software, try updating the Netflix player or app and make sure the latest versions of Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight are installed. On hardware devices like game consoles, smart TVs and media streaming devices, check for updates to the device's firmware, which typically includes the software necessary to decode Netflix content.

Home Network Problems

In homes with wired or wireless networks, a single network connection can be shared by multiple devices through a router. As the number of devices increases, the speed of the network and its general performance can decrease. If Netflix is having performance issues, disconnect as many devices as possible and restart the router and the Internet modem to reset the network. For wireless networks, make sure there are no other networks close by that are interfering with the signal and change the router's location or reconfigure the broadcast channel, if necessary. If performance problems remain, try connecting the playback device directly to the router with a wired connection or connect it straight to the Internet gateway modem to rule out local network interference.

Download Speeds

Make sure that you have a fast enough Internet connection. At the bare minimum, Netflix requires a 0.5 Mbit/s download rate from your Internet service provider. For the best quality, Netflix recommends at least a 3.0 Mbit/s or faster download speed for standard-definition content and 5.0 Mbits/s or better for high-definition playback. Use an online speed-testing utility (see Resources) to determine your effective download speeds; if they're consistently insufficient, contact your ISP to find out if there are faster packages available.

DNS Issues

If your connection is sufficient, a poorly-performing DNS server could reduce your Netflix performance. A DNS server translates human-readable domain names like Netflix.com into the IP addresses that are required to direct data over the Internet. When the DNS server is slow, each request to the server -- which can be many per second -- is slowed considerably. Programs such as GRC DNS Benchmark or Namebench (links in Resources) can test your DNS servers and recommend better choices.

Network Connections

Poor network connections between your ISP and the Netflix servers can also cause performance issues, beyond those related to the peak Internet congestion that is typical on any Internet provider. In cases such as these, it may be possible to bypass the bad connections by using a virtual private network or VPN. There are many providers available, ranging from free services designed for anonymous browsing to fee-based providers that promise superior network performance.

Net Neutrality Issues

In January 2014, a rule preventing ISPs from charging for priority access to their networks, part of the “Net Neutrality” concept, was struck down. This allows ISPs to provide a faster connection to services that pay them or offer other forms of compensation. Theoretically, it could also allow an ISP to slow traffic for other services that it deems use too much bandwidth. In such cases, the only way to achieve better Netflix performance, if it were affected, would be for Netflix itself to pay the ISP, as it has in recent cases.

About the Author

David L. Secor is a computer repairman and writer from west Texas. He has been writing informational articles on a wide variety of subjects since approximately 2005. When not writing, he scours the desert for interesting photos, often ending up with nothing but embedded thorns for his efforts.

Photo Credits

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