What Do I Need to Stream Netflix?
By Aaron Parson
Whether you're considering a Netflix subscription for the first time or want to make sure your new PC can play your TV shows, here's some good news: Netflix works on almost any computer and doesn't need any special hardware. More important than your computer's power is your Internet connection speed, as faster speeds allow for better looking videos and less lag. If you don't know your speed, check with your Internet service provider or test the speed yourself.
A fast Internet connection is the most important component for a good Netflix experience. Without a fast enough connection, the video stream will revert to a lower quality or lag. In general, the faster your Internet, the better. Netflix lists several tiers of recommended speeds:
- 0.5 megabits per second as the absolute minimum speed
- 1.5 Mbps recommended minimum speed
- 3 Mbps recommended for standard-definition video
- 5 Mbps recommended for HD video
- 25 Mbps for Ultra HD, available only with the highest subscription option and on certain videos.
Keep in mind that these speeds refer to the speed available to Netflix. If several computers in your house are downloading files or watching videos online, your connection to Netflix might not run as fast as your ISP's advertised speed.
Netflix doesn't have any significant computer hardware requirements -- even an old computer can stream videos, though very old PCs and low-power systems like netbooks might lag when playing HD video.
If you use Internet Explorer on Windows 8.1, an up-to-date copy of Google Chrome or Safari on Mac OSX 10.10 or above, you don't even need to install any new software. These browsers play Netflix through a built-in HTML 5 player. Firefox and older versions of Internet Explorer and Safari require the Silverlight plugin, which you can download from Microsoft.
Once you have Silverlight set up, if necessary, visit Netflix with your browser to look through videos and pick one to play. For more details on any movie or TV show before you watch, point to it and click its name rather than clicking its picture. Once in the video player, buttons for video options -- Play/Pause, volume, episode selection, subtitles and fullscreen mode -- appear beneath the picture every time you move your mouse.
Beyond the options on the video player, Netflix has a few additional settings accessible through the Your Account page. These include linking your activity to Facebook, changing the site language, restyling subtitles and changing your billing information. Open the Playback Settings page if you want to lock Netflix to a lower video quality or prevent it from playing TV episodes one after another.
Netflix on Other Devices
Netflix also runs on a variety of other media devices, including the PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii and Wii U; most Internet-connected set-top boxes, Blu-ray players and smart TVs; and iOS, Android and Windows 8 phones and tablets. Some devices include the Netflix app out of the box, but you'll often need to download it for free from your device's app marketplace.
Each device's Netflix app varies slightly in design, but in general, they work similarly to Netflix on your computer. The one major difference: some devices use an activation code rather than an account name to sign in. If you open Netflix on your device and see a code, enter it on the activation page on Netflix's website to link your account.
Aaron Parson has been writing about electronics, software and games since 2006, contributing to several technology websites and working with NewsHour Productions. Parson holds a Bachelor of Arts from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.