For fans of movies, TV shows, and documentaries, Netflix is simply no substitute. Originally an online DVD rental service, Netflix helped usher in the era of streaming entertainment. As the war between media companies continues to escalate, the company remains the go-to streaming app for most people.
One of the ways Netflix is helping to change the way people consume media is by making it easier to watch higher quality video. High-definition video has been the norm since the mid-2000s, but with 4K and Ultra-HD content, our favorite shows and movies only get sharper.
Understand your options
The concept of HD shows and footage comes from the resolution of the video you're watching. The higher the resolution, the better the quality of your video, giving you more detail in every shot. Standard definition footage is usually displayed at 480p or 640×480 resolution. The first set of numbers measures horizontal pixels and the next set describes vertical pixels. At 720p, the video goes widescreen by default, with a resolution of 1280x720p.
4K resolution is a major improvement over 1080p. This is the first real advancement home televisions have seen in fifteen years, and if you're willing to invest the money in upgrading your content, you really can get an incredible experience, akin to that of a cinema, in your own home.
As you can imagine, the world's leading streaming service, Netflix takes video resolution very seriously. They offer a range of options from standard definition streams to higher resolution Ultra HD streams, making it easy to watch videos at the resolution you want the most.
Unfortunately, Netflix doesn't do a great job of announcing these resolution changes in their settings. Unlike YouTube, for example, there's no option in the video player that makes it easy to select the resolution for your video. There are plenty of under-advertised things you can do with Netflix.
However, if you want to personally control your settings, you're out of luck. Netflix offers a certain amount of control in the menu settings panel, but it might not be immediately apparent when looking around. If you want to control the quality of your streams, either to improve the quality as much as possible or to reduce the quality of capped data services, you can. Here's how to change the video quality on Netflix.
Netflix on your PC, Smart TV or decoder
While streaming Netflix on your laptop has become an activity mostly reserved for students and younger users, it remains incredibly popular on set-top boxes and smart TVs.
Load Netflix on your computer's browser and select your profile. Streaming options will only sync with your profile, as it's under your profile options in settings. So make sure you choose (or switch) to the right profile before you dive.
In your account settings, you can view your payment options, your email address for Netflix, change your plan and payment, and more.
To change your reading options:
- Once logged into the appropriate profile, click the icon in the upper right corner.
- Click "Account" from the drop-down list.
- Scroll down to the Profile and Parental Controls section
- Click the profile whose settings you want to change.
- Locate "Reading Settings" and tap "Edit" which is immediately to the right.
- Select the options you want and click "Save
There is an option to enable or disable autoplay in Netflix, the main part of the display is occupied by options to control the resolution with which your favorite Netflix originals and movies will be played.
By default, Netflix sets it to Auto on each profile, which means the video will switch automatically depending on the quality of your internet device. If you can't support a fast enough connection, you can't play HD video and Netflix will automatically downgrade your resolution. For most people, this is a solid compromise, displaying HD quality most of the time and ensuring you can watch Netflix's content library in standard definition over slower internet connections.
For those who want their video quality to always be as high as possible, select the "High" option. This streams in 720p/1080p or 4K Ultra-HD, depending on your plan, and consumes a fair amount of data per hour (3GB per streaming hour for 1080p video, 7GB per hour for 4K video).
If you're looking to save on your data usage, you should consider lowering the quality of your stream. The medium option streams in "standard" video quality, which we estimated at around 480p, and only consumes around 700MB per hour.
We don't recommend switching to Low, as it's a MAJOR drop in quality (down to 240p on the slowest connections), but if you really need to save as much data as possible, it's a MAJOR drop in quality. is a good way to do it. Low quality only costs streamers around 300MB per hour.
Notes that changing these options on the web page only affects your computer or TV streams, it will not change your streams on mobile devices. To do this, you will need to change your phone or tablet settings. Also, it should be noted that these options only affect your profile. If you are looking to save data for all profile on your account, you will need to manually change it, one by one, for each account.
Upgrade to 4K
While Netflix supports HD playback on all accounts, you can't stream 4K on the most basic plan offered by Netflix. Although nearly all Netflix Originals are shot and streamed in 4K, and many movies also have the option to stream in 4K, you need to upgrade your Netflix account in order to actually stream the higher resolution files.
To upgrade your account, go back to account options and find the "Plan Details" option in the middle of the page. You'll find both your streaming plans and your DVD plan options here.
If you're on the Standard streaming plan, for example, you'll see a small HD icon next to your plan, but not a 4K option. That means you're streaming only in HD, not 4K Ultra-HD. Select "Change Plan" from this option to open your plan selection menu. As of May 2022, Netflix currently offers 3 different tiers:
- Basic: Enables standard definition streaming on a single screen for $8,99 per month.
- Standard: The most popular plan, which allows 1080p streaming and two simultaneous streams. This plan will currently cost you $12,99 per month.
- Premium: Includes Ultra-HD support and the ability to stream to four screens simultaneously for $15,99 per month.
If you are looking for the best quality Netflix has to offer, you will have to pay $15,99 per month. It's pricey, but that's what Netflix demands when it comes to their hi-res streams. Alternatively, staying on the 1080p plan saves you $36 a year, and if you don't have a 4K screen, you'd definitely be better off keeping that change in your pocket.
Netflix on your smartphone
Alright, so you've changed your options on your desktop and broadcast box so your image looks crisp and clean. Meanwhile, you're dealing with an entirely different problem on your smartphone: data caps.
Even unlimited plans through carriers in the US have a "soft" cap, limiting your data speed after a certain number of streams. If you want to get the most out of your data, or want to change the way your phone downloads Netflix content for offline viewing, we've got a guide for that too. Let's take a closer look at each option.
Open the app on your Android or iOS device and find the menu bar at the bottom of the screen. On the far right of the screen, you will see an option to " Following. " Click on it and search App settings down the list and tap this option. Application Parameters lets you select exactly what you want in the app, and the first option available is probably what most people are looking for: video resolution playback.
The options here are very different from those typically provided by Netflix. Unlike the standard selection of streaming options on normal playback settings shown above, Netflix on mobile platforms focuses on changing your device's playback based on data.
When you select the video playback option, you will see a menu titled “Using Cellular Data”. By default, this option is set with "Automatic" enabled. If you wish, however, you can change this by simply deselecting the selection and then choosing one of the three options from the list below:
- Wi-Fi only: Completely stops the ability to stream over mobile networks.
- Save Data: Lowers the quality of your stream to save you data in the process.
- Maximum Data: Streams the maximum video quality allowed by your service provider.
The reason this option doesn't let you change the actual video quality of your streams on mobile is because of the same unlimited plans we mentioned above. Every carrier in the US now limits video streaming on their networks, which means you'll have to deal with video streaming limitations when you're mobile.
To our knowledge, no mobile service provider allows more than 1080p streaming on their network; many limit it to 480p or 720p video streams, depending on carrier and plan. You'll want to check with your carrier and your specific plan to see if it's something to do with your own network and if you can possibly upgrade your plan for better quality.
Your mobile device's options list not only contains the option to change your streaming options for playback, but also the option to change the quality of the downloads you save to your device.
- Log in to the Netflix app and choose your profile
- Locate the three horizontal lines in the lower right corner and tap on them
- Tap "App Settings"
- Tap "Cellular Data"
- Switch between one of four suitable download options
Unlike streaming options, the reason you'll want to change your download options on Netflix actually comes down to saving space on your device. If you're planning on taking a plane trip or a long vacation, you'll want to make the most of your phone's likely limited storage space.
You can choose two options in the app's Settings menu to select the quality level of your content:
- Standard: A standard definition download. If you are watching a video on a phone, you are fine if you select this option. Considering you're watching on a screen no larger than six inches, the difference in quality is negligible at best. However, for those of you watching on an iPad or other tablet, you may find this level of quality a bit disappointing.
- High: This setting uses more storage and takes longer to download, but looks much better on your screen. The resolution is around 720p or higher, although it may not look as crisp as a standard download from iTunes or another online marketplace.
Ultimately, you're probably better off leaving your phone on Standard mode and your tablet on High mode. These options are the best way to maximize your streaming experience.