Table Of Contents
A Brief Background On Netflix
Netflix is a site where you can “stream” movies and television shows legally. Streaming is a lot like watching television on an actual television set, but in this case, it is on a computer or mobile device. The audio and picture quality is excellent, and you can, with the right equipment, stream it directly to your television set with Chromecast, if that makes you more comfortable.
Netflix changes their catalogue around on a frequent basis, so you can always be assured of something new to watch. While Netflix is quite up-to-date with the newest television shows, when it comes to movies, the selection on offer is not so recent. Many new titles are on DVD only, and you will find that most of the movies offered are quite old. That said, I’m sure there are a lot of old movies you haven’t got around to watching yet.
Pirating movies and television shows on file sharing networks is extremely popular. However, the production studios involved in the making of the movies and shows do not receive any revenue when their production is pirated online. Netflix is a way for you to watch movies and television shows online legally by paying a set monthly fee.
Cable companies hate Netflix – and with good reason. Netflix severely undercuts them on price, and does not ask customers for a contract (you can cancel your Netflix subscription at any time, or simply put it on hold). For years, Pre-Netflix, the cable companies had the consumer under their thumb, able to charge whatever they wanted. And after paying an eye-watering sum every month, you ended up with channels that you didn’t even want!
With Netflix, you pay your very low monthly amount ($7.99 to $11.99 for streaming, $7.99 to $19.99 for the DVD service), and you can browse the catalogue to watch whatever you want.
And now Netflix is venturing into the production side of things by commissioning and making their own programming. The best-known of these is the American adaptation of the British BBC series, House of Cards. Starring Kevin Spacey as a devious manipulative politician, the show has become a cult classic.
In this manual, we will be taking a closer look at Netflix, and its best features. Hopefully by the end, you will see that cancelling that cable contract and taking your programming viewing online would be well worth it, at the very least from a financial point of view.
Who Are Netflix’s Rivals?
Hulu, Amazon Instant Video (part of their Prime scheme), and iTunes are the three main rivals on Netflix’s radar screen.
Netflix has every right to be worried about Amazon Instant Video. They are showing movies and shows that aren’t even on Netflix yet. For example, right now on Amazon Instant Video, you can watch the new “24” series, or you can watch “The Monuments Men” movie – neither of which are on Netflix. They are also developing their own programing.
iTunes is also beating Netflix in terms of new and noteworthy programming. On the television show front, iTunes is offering the new “24” as well as favourites “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report”.
So now that I’ve poured cold water all over Netflix and exposed some of its shortcomings, you’re probably wondering, “so why bother with Netflix then? Why should I read the rest of this manual?”. Well, it comes down to this – price.
iTunes does not offer a monthly subscription. Instead you either buy or rent the movie or TV programme. If you buy it, it is downloaded to your computer. If you rent it, you have temporary access to it before it disappears at a pre-arranged time. So iTunes would be good for the occasional TV watcher – someone who might be busy a lot of the time, but occasionally wants to chill out with a movie or TV show.
With Amazon Instant Video, it is almost the same kind of deal. You can buy single episodes which, according to Amazon, are yours to own. You either watch the episodes online on Amazon or you can download them to a “supported device”, which probably refers to the Kindle Fire. If you know you will be watching a whole season when it comes out, you can buy a TV pass and have the episodes sent to you as they come in.
So with Netflix, it is much simpler. For an average of $8.99 a month, you have access to the entire catalogue. Yes they don’t have the newest stuff – which can be a deal breaker for some people – but if you are looking for something to watch after a hard day at work, you are sure to find something in the Netflix catalogue.
It all comes down to personal taste. Me, I am working my way through Battlestar Galactica.
Joshua wrote a review covering all three of these services last year, comparing Netflix to iTunes, Hulu, and Amazon Video. It’s well worth a read.
In Which Countries Is Netflix Available?
Officially, Netflix is available in North and South America, the Caribbean, and parts of Europe (Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom). If you are in one of these countries, just go to http://www.netflix.com/, and you will see the monthly price for your country on the front page. When signing up, you also get a one-month free, no-obligation trial period to see if you like Netflix or not. If so, you start getting billed after the first month. If you don’t like Netflix, then cancel it before the first month is up, and you will be charged nothing. It’s a win-win situation.
The BBC recently reported that Netflix will be introduced in Germany, France, and Switzerland. However, this may take some time, as Germany and France have rules (such as dubbing, and quotas on home-grown content) which make it difficult for services such as Netflix to survive in those countries.
Why Is It Not Available In My Country Yet? Are There Ways Around This Issue?
This is also a drawback when it comes to Netflix – it is not available everywhere. This will be due to licensing restrictions, laws, and production studios in that country (along with their representatives) putting up a fight to get the best deal possible – which may not be acceptable to Netflix. Negotiating takes time, and it is the consumer who ends up suffering, because meanwhile, these consumers notice other people around the world enjoying a service that they can’t have. This breeds resentment.
But I will let you in on a little secret if you really want to use Netflix and it isn’t supported in your country yet – use Virtual Private Networks. I love them. With a flip of a switch, I can persuade Netflix that I am in the United States. Suddenly Netflix is available to me. With another flip of a switch, I am across the Atlantic Ocean into the UK. Suddenly I have access to British content in Netflix.
This is something else I should point out – the Netflix content in one country is NOT the same as the Netflix content in another. For example, for ages I have wanted to watch the Danish crime series “The Killing”. However it was not available on the US Netflix, and I was crushed. However, when I accidently went to the Netflix site using the UK switch on my VPN, I noticed that the content was all different. And “The Killing” was there. Cue many church bells across the land.
In the past on MakeUseOf, I have constantly shown my love for a VPN called Tunnelbear, the simplest VPN. It is fast, easy to use, reliable, and most of all, it is dirt cheap ($5 a month). I highly recommend that you use it if you want to jump around the world and enjoy Netflix, all from the comfort of your living room.
What Operating Systems & Platforms Is It Available For?
With the exception of the mobile apps, Netflix is browser-based. So that means that it works wherever you can run an Internet browser and wherever you can run Microsoft Silverlight. Saying that, you need to jump through a few more hoops if you want to use Netflix on the Linux OS. We will look at this in the next section.
Browsers supported include Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Safari on Mac OSX. On a Windows PC, browsers supported include Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Google Chrome.
Netflix can also be viewed on other platforms. These include Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV. Wikipedia has a more complete list of all the hardware that Netflix supports. It also has a shorter list of Netflix’s supported software and platforms.
Getting Netflix To Work On Linux
Danny summed up the Linux-Netflix issue very well in his article from February, but here are the facts briefly again.
Linux and Silverlight don’t work well together, which is a problem for Netflixers, because Netflix depends on Silverlight. Therefore a workaround is needed, and that workaround is called Pipelight. It’s what makes any Silverlight application run on Linux.
You can read Danny’s article to get full installation instructions, but the bottom line is that once Pipelight is installed, it detects that you are running a Linux machine. So you need User Agent Switcher to change the setting to something else. Once that’s done, Netflix should then run on your Linux installation.
In a separate article, Danny examines some other possibilities for getting Netflix to work on your Linux machine, including setting up a virtual machine.
Whatever platform you decide to use to watch Netflix, optimal speed is the key. In some cases, something may slow down Netflix on your system. In that case, Christian has some pointers on improving Netflix streaming which you might want to try before jumping out the window in frustration.
Interestingly, Netflix operates an “ISP Speed Index” for the countries where Netflix is available. It shows you which ISPs have the highest speeds, and which have the slowest. This is vital information if you want to get the fastest possible speed to watch your shows.
The Information Cards – How To View Them
Whenever you use your mouse to hover over the movie / TV cover art for a particular movie or show, an information card will pop up, like so.
The card enables you to get the details of the movie or TV show. This includes the age rating, how many seasons Netflix has (if it is a TV show), a button to add it to your list, and a brief synopsis.
Hovering over each information card in turn makes it easy and fast to browse through interesting looking movies / TV shows.
How To Add Something To Your List
At the bottom of the information card, you will see a button that says “+My List”. Just click that and the movie / TV show will be added to your list at the top of the screen.
To remove it from your list, the button you previously clicked now says “Remove from my list”. Click and hey presto, it’s gone.
Searching For What You Want. Why Does Netflix Not Have Everything?
So you’ve signed up to Netflix for the first time, and you’re ready to do some serious binge watching. So you start to enter some recent new titles – and you can’t find them! What gives? What’s all this about it being on DVD only? “It’s a rip-off!!”
Calm down. The fact is that not everything can come out at the same time. With different countries, you have different licensing agreements and different syndication deals. For example, right now, the Martin Scorcese movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” (a movie I would love to see) is on Netflix – in Brazil. But not anywhere else. For other countries, it will get there eventually, depending on whatever deal Netflix has made with the movie studio. It’s frustrating, but unless you have a VPN capable of getting you to these countries, there is zilch you can do about it.
So, there are several ways to find something to add to your list. Let’s take a look at each one in turn :
- The search engine – a no-brainer. If you have a specific title in mind, this is the fastest way to get there.
- Hovering over “Watch Instantly” at the top of the page – this will bring up all of the categories on Netflix. Choose a category to go to the titles in that category. The categories are also on the main page
- The categories on the main page – on the main page, you have categories such as “Popular on Netflix”, “Recently Added”, “New Releases”, and “Top Picks for xxx” (xxx being your name).
- Using a Third Party Site – Nancy reviewed some sites where you can search Netflix, as well as Hulu, Amazon, and other sites at the same time. As a last resort, you could give this a try.
Recommendations: How Netflix Makes These & How Right They Are
The recommendations are based on ratings you give to movies and TV shows that you watch on Netflix, as well as ones you rate as “not interested”. Netflix is constantly learning what you like and don’t like, and monitoring your viewing habits. At the end of a show or movie, it always gives you recommendations based on what you have just watched.
It’s a lot like Amazon, when they recommend similar items based on what you’ve been viewing. The website algorithms are hard at work trying to read your mind.
And how successful is Netflix at recommending relevant and interesting content to you? Based on my experiences, they are actually quite good, and have recommended things that I would never have thought of. Only once has it been slightly off the mark (it recommended “Jumanji” to me. Shudder!). Statistically however, it is extremely accurate.
What Happens If You Need To Stop Your Movie / TV Show Midway?
You may be in the middle of watching a movie or TV show when you have to stop it for some reason and close the browser. You don’t want to lose your spot.
As we all know, it’s difficult trying to manually find the exact spot you left off from last time you stopped watching a movie. If you go too far back, you have to sit and listen to stuff you’ve heard already. Too far forward and you may end up with a spoiler!
But Netflix takes care of all that for you. When you click on the title again, click the “resume” button, and it will start from the exact spot where you stopped last time. Maybe it will jump back a few seconds, but it is pretty much right on the money every time. An absolute lifesaver.
You can also see your progress on the main page under the title of the movie / TV show that you are watching. The little red bar tells you how far along you are, and how much of the movie / TV show you have left to watch.
Different Content As You Travel To Other Netflix-Available Countries
One of the surprising things I came upon is that if you go to another Netflix-supported country and log into your Netflix account, then you can access that country’s Netflix offerings. So a US Netflix user can go to say Canada, log in, and view the Canadian content.
The only drawback to this is that you are unable to make watchlists when you are in a different country. And you can’t access your watchlist from your Netflix account back home. But this would probably be a minor inconvenience for users, if they are able to see something they have waited a long time for, and they can’t get it back home.
The Comments Section
If you are a seasoned Internet user, you will know that normally, comments sections on websites are the equivalent to Dante’s nine levels of Hell (with YouTube until-recently placed at the very bottom). However, I would have to say that the Netflix comments section are an exception to the rule.
You can even write your own review and rate anything you have watched. User comments are generally spot-on and helpful if you are wondering whether or not to invest your time watching that particular movie / TV show. After reading the review, you can rate it “helpful”, “not helpful” or “inappropriate”.
It’s really refreshing that the comments on Netflix don’t descend into name calling and trolling like on other websites.
Netflix-Exclusive Productions: House Of Cards, Hemlock Grove
As well as streaming shows and movies, Netflix is now moving into the production side of TV shows and creating their own content. And so far, the results have been a stunning success.
The most well-known Netflix production is the hugely popular “House of Cards”, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. A political drama, set in Washington DC, the show is a US adaptation of the British version of the show. Unlike many other TV shows on terrestrial channels which shows only one episode per week, Netflix took the groundbreaking decision to release all 13 episodes of each season at once. This led to the concept of “binge-watching”, with people effectively sitting around all day watching the entire season in one go.
Netflix’s main target is HBO, and they are determined to crush HBO by bringing out a huge amount of original programming (Wikipedia has the full list of Netflix original programming). This includes “Orange Is The New Black”, “Hemlock Grove“, and “Lillyhammer”.
It should also be noted that Netflix received their very first Academy Award nomination in 2014 with the film “The Square”. So, thus far, the results of making their own programming has been extremely good. It looks as if HBO, as well as the other TV and streaming channels have a huge fight on their hands.
Sharing With Facebook
Sharing everything you do is very common on Facebook these days, and Netflix is no exception. You can share your Netflix viewing activity with the flick of a button as well as share your viewing activity with any of your Facebook friends on Netflix itself.
Whether or not you switch this on is entirely up to you. If you like your viewing tastes to be completely private, then obviously keep this feature firmly switched off. But if you like broadcasting to Facebook what you are watching, then read on to see what you have to do.
First, go here and you will see the following screen.
These two buttons will actually be off the first time you visit the page. When you flip the switches to “on”, you will be taken to Facebook where you will have to authorize Facebook to access Netflix and give it permission to post your viewing activity.
As you can see, it is extremely easy to disconnect Facebook, if you decide later that connecting was a mistake.
In a fantastic article, Christian showed us how to access Netflix content on games consoles. Christian says that Netflix is available for the Nintendo Wii, XBox 360, and Playstation 3.
It would be silly to rehash everything that Christian said in the article, so head over there to see how to connect Netflix to whatever device you happen to be using.
One thing which Christian hasn’t covered, is using Chromecast and Netflix. If you are unaware what Chromecast is, it is a digital media player developed by Google. The device, which looks a bit like a USB stick, plays audio/video content on a high-definition television by directly streaming it via Wi-Fi from the Internet or a local network.
You can therefore stream Netflix to your television, by first putting it on a compatible device, and then using Chromecast to “stream” it to your television.
However, I have to emphasize that if you are using a Virtual Private Network to access Netflix, then you cannot use Chromecast to stream Netflix to your television. This is because Chromecast relies on your actual wifi IP address, and if it is being re-routed through another IP address, they obviously won’t match.
How To Block Unsuitable Content From Minors
With so much on offer on Netflix, it would be easy for underage children to see content which they are legally not allowed to view yet. This is why Netflix offers a “Kids Section”, where you can block children from seeing content they are not allowed to see.
To access the Kids Section, just scroll to the top of the page and click on “Just for Kids”. This will take you to every child-friendly title available on Netflix.
Blocking certain content from kids is also easy to do. First, it would be better if you made a unique Netflix profile for your child, to separate their viewing from yours. You can make a new profile by clicking your account in the top right hand corner, and in the drop-down menu, choose “Manage Profiles”. This will then give you the option to make a new profile.
Once you make more than one profile, whenever you log into Netflix from then on, you will be asked which profile you want to go to.
Once the new profile has been made, click on the new profile in the top right hand corner of the screen, and go to “Your Profile”. There will be an option called “Parental Controls”. Click on that.
Just use your mouse to move the slider to the level that you want your child to be on. Since I am a big boy, I am rated as an adult. Save the whole lot, and bingo, the block is in place.
Obviously it is not foolproof. Any Internet-savvy kid who knows where the parental controls link is can move the slider back to “adult”. But if you have a much smaller child, who wouldn’t have the first clue how to move it back, this is useful for making sure that they see Spongebob and not “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”
It won’t be long, during your Netflix experience, before you notice that certain titles are only available via DVD. This may strike you as strange, considering that Netflix is a digital streaming service, but nevertheless, Netflix offers newer titles on DVD, but for US users only. It is currently priced at an additional $7.99 a month, but Netflix has indicated that they will be raising the price by $1 for all new customers.
You start by creating a list of DVDs or Blu-rays that you want, and Netflix will ship up to the number of discs in your plan at a time. You’re allowed to keep 1-3 DVDs as long as you want (depending on your plan), and then you need to ship them back to get the next DVD in your queue delivered to you.
A list of movies and TV shows, constantly updated via the Netflix API. Well worth checking on a regular basis.
When browsing various movie related sites on the Internet, this Chrome extension will find the movie title you’re browsing and clicking on the extension will automatically add that title to your Netflix queue.
If available for Instant Viewing, it will first add to your Instant Queue. If not available, it will then add it to your DVD Queue.
When watching something, the Netflix player has some basic keyboard shortcuts, which removes the need for you to touch the mouse. This page gives you the shortcuts, which are pretty simple and easy to remember.
With the immense amount of content being added to each country-specific Netflix site, it is extremely difficult to keep up with it all. That is why Netflixable is very useful, as it tells you for free, what has arrived in Netflix.
They provide an email newsletter subscription list to let you know each week what Netflix has recently added.
If you are a developer and you want to make a Netflix app, you can sign up with Netflix’s API. At the time of writing (May 2014), they are not accepting new applicants, but of course this can change at any time. So keep an eye on the page.
Next year could be a big year for Netflix, as it is being reported that they may expand into Australia next year. Hopefully other markets will quickly follow, such as France and Germany, as right now the number of available markets is very limited. And the company has already said that their model of doing things may radically change, with the emphasis being on personal recommendations. They are hoping to get this model in place by the year 2025.
If you have a problem with Netflix, and this manual can’t help, then you’ll be pleased to know that Hacking Netflix has revealed the company’s customer service numbers.
Netflix is constantly raising the bar for streaming content everywhere, and the other streaming content providers are forever trying to catch up with their own innovative content. This can only be good for consumers, as they will experience the best programming seen in years. And all from a laptop while lounging in bed.
Guide Published: May 2014
Cover Art: Azamat Bohed