January 13, 2023 at 2:37 p.m.
Netflix video quality can be adjusted to conserve data or render high quality video. This article demonstrates how to adjust Netflix video quality on the iPhone, Mac and Apple TV.
Adjust Netflix for Best Video Quality
Video quality is important. Depending on your screen size, video quality can make the difference between a high-end home theater experience and poor quality video, reminiscent of old CRT televisions.
By default, the Netflix iOS app sets downloaded video quality to 480p standard definition. Even if your device has a Retina HD display, capable of the highest resolutions, Netflix defaults to SD.
There’s a good reason for this decision. iOS devices are portable and most have small screens. The biggest screen on an iOS device is 6.7” — a feature of the iPhone 14 Pro Max and similar devices. Thus, HD is superfluous on most iOS devices. Since HD costs Netflix more money (servers and bandwidth are not free), Netflix defaults to SD. Most people won’t even notice the difference on a 6.7″ or smaller screen.
If you own an iPad, you will likely notice a difference. I own a 2017 iPad with a 9.7” screen. It features 2048 x 1536 resolution, which is beyond HD quality. Unfortunately, when I installed the Netflix app, download quality was set to SD. The lesser video quality is noticeable, but it can be changed easily.
Adjust Netflix Video Quality to Save Data
The end-user’s bandwidth is also important. If you’re using an iPhone, you may be using cellular data or a slow, public, Wi-Fi hotspot. Nothing is more frustrating than waiting hours for a download to finish. Users tend to take out their frustrations on others. The slow download may not be Netflix’s fault, but most users will blame them. Taking a cue from Apple, they default to the least frustrating settings.
Not everyone has excellent Internet access. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have to deal with some of the worst Internet service imaginable. Tech savvy Bay Area residents gobble up bandwidth, as greedy telecoms refuse to maintain infrastructure. They’d rather spend money on marketing than servers. Unfortunately, this gets them a bigger return on investment as customers are lured into and shackled by multi-year contracts.
I’ve lived in the same condominium for over 15 years. Every Internet service provider here is horrible. After struggling to get Comcast to maintain their infrastructure, resorting to filing a complaint with the California State Attorney General, I gave up. Nothing will get them to act responsibly. I don’t have the time to file and represent a class action lawsuit.
I now use Visible and my iPhone’s Personal Hotspot feature for Internet access. Seriously. It’s actually better than Comcast, Xfinity, or whatever they want to call their unusable Internet service.
Visible is an excellent, affordable cellular provider. Their hotspot service is truly unlimited. They never throttle the end-user down to an unusable 256 kbps. However, they do cap the hotspot’s speed at 5 Mbps. I’m sure readers are laughing at this slow speed, but I haven’t noticed much of a difference. Those with 100 Mbps or faster Internet services may experience high-quality video; however, downloading apps, music, and other content isn’t always faster. The server on the other end may be too busy to serve downloads at 100 Mbps. Then there are all of the other servers on the Internet that must relay this data. Most of the time, it turns out that one can’t tell the difference between a 5 Mbps connection and a 100 Mbps because most data centers are overwhelmed.
Whether you have excellent, unlimited Internet access or have to conserve every gigabyte, changing Netflix video quality is important. Now, let’s look at how to adjust Netflix video quality on the iPhone, Mac and Apple TV.
Netflix Plan Determines Video Quality
Not every Netflix customer can stream high-definition video. If you subscribe to the least expensive Netflix plan, you can only stream and download standard definition video.
You can check your Netflix plan by visiting www.netflix.com in any web browser — mobile or desktop. Next, tap (or click) Sign In on the top right.
A login screen appears. Fill in your email address and password and then click on Sign In.
A screen with multiple user profiles appears. Click or tap on your user profile to proceed.
Your Netflix home screen appears. Tap or click on your profile icon (top right) and then click Account.
Your Account screen is displayed. Information about your plan is presented in the Plan Details section.
If you are using the Basic plan, adjusting video quality is not an option. You can only stream and download standard definition video.
How to Adjust Netflix Video Quality on the iPhone
The iPhone is one of the most convenient Netflix clients. Wherever you are, simply take out your iPhone and entertainment is at your fingertips. Unfortunately, you can burn through a lot of cellular data using Netflix on an iPhone. Netflix is well aware of this, and they default users to the most conservative data usage settings.
Adjusting Netflix video quality on the iPhone is easy. First, launch the Netflix app and sign in, if necessary. Next, tap on the account profile button on the top right of the screen.
A settings screen is displayed. Tap on App Settings to display video playback and download quality settings.
The iPhone has two sections for video quality — Video Playback and Downloads. The iPad, at least the WiFi-only model, only offers video quality settings for downloads. iPhone and cellular-enabled iPad users can change Cellular Data Usage settings. Tap on Cellular Data Usage to display the appropriate screen.
Adjust the Video Playback settings to use the maximum amount of data, save data, or only allow video playback when connected to a WiFi network.
The Download section, available on all iOS devices, allows users to set quality and cellular data usage rules for downloaded Netflix videos. Users can set video quality to Standard (480p) or “Higher”, which has no specified resolution. My hunch is that the Higher setting will stream the best resolution, given your Netflix plan and device. It’s also possible to disable downloading over cellular networks, by turning on the WiFi Only switch.
If you have an iPad and are stuck using a cellular connection, such as the iOS Personal Hotspot, downloading is the best option. It’s the only way to control video quality and conserve data. In my situation, I download SD Netflix videos during the day and watch them in the evening.
How to Adjust Netflix Video Quality on the Mac
Unlike the iPhone, macOS doesn’t offer a native Netflix app. You’ll have to use your browser to get your Netflix fix on a Macintosh.
First, open any modern web browser (I prefer Google Chrome) and navigate to www.netflix.com. Sign in, if the Netflix site doesn’t remember you. Click on your user icon on the top right. A small menu appears. Click on Account. The Netflix Account screen appears. Scroll down to the bottom and click on Playback Settings, under the My Profile section. The Playback Settings page appears. Select the appropriate data usage setting and then click save.
It is important to note that playback settings are specific to each user profile. If your family shares a Netflix account, data usage settings must be adjusted for each user profile. Also, these settings will affect all of your other devices. Changing Playback Settings on the web will change them for any device that uses your Netflix profile. Indeed, Netflix’s website offers the most ease and flexibility when it comes to managing data usage.
If conserving data is a must, I also recommend turning off Auto-Play. This setting is available on the Playback Settings page. Turning off Auto-Play will conserve data for those who tend to fall asleep while watching TV. Guilty as charged!
Keep in mind, it can take up to 8 hours for these settings to take effect.
How to Adjust Netflix Video Quality on Apple TV
Apple TV presents a small challenge when adjusting Netflix video quality. The Netflix tvOS app has no video quality settings. After all, it is assumed that Apple TV is connected to an unlimited WiFi network.
The truth is, few have unlimited WiFi. Most Internet service providers will throttle home Internet services that go over a threshold, such as 150 GB per month. One person, watching high-definition Netflix videos in the evening, can easily hit the limit within a month. A large family can reach the data cap in a week.
If you’re wondering why your super fast Internet access is really slow, you’re probably being throttled for using “too much” data. It’s all the more reason you can’t cut the cord. You have to stick with cable. These carrots and sticks all have a purpose. They maximize profits for ridiculously large and obscenely profitable telecoms. Why would they let you get away with just paying for Internet access and streaming video? I’ve tried to do this for over a decade, and no Internet service provider will let me get away with it!
Of course, you can adjust Netflix video quality using their website. These changes will cascade to all of your devices that use your Netflix profile, including Apple TV. If you’re too lazy to open a browser or don’t have access to one, you may need to get creative in order to adjust Netflix video quality on Apple TV.
There’s a simple trick to adjusting Netflix video quality on Apple TV — change the resolution for the entire system. You can do this on-the-fly without restarting Apple TV. It has the effect of throttling bandwidth for virtually every tvOS app on your Apple TV.
Changing the screen resolution on your Apple TV is easy. First, launch the Settings app. The easiest way to do this is to hold down the Siri (microphone) button and say “Settings”. Next, tap on Video and Audio and then Resolution. Choose the appropriate resolution, depending on whether you want high quality video or prefer to conserve data.
I can’t verify that this technique conserves data for every app. Developers vary, and some are sloppy. I’m sure there are video streaming apps that will deliver HD content to an SD screen, only to do the conversion on the client. I do know that with Netflix, switching Apple TV resolution to 480p will scale down data usage accordingly. Google Fi delivers excellent data usage reports, and I could see about 1 GB (or less) of data used per day, after switching my resolution.
The obvious downside, for the data conservatives, is that we’re watching poor quality video. It looks worse than an old CRT television, as new, flat screen TVs are much bigger. It looks blurry to me. But after hours of working in front of a computer, the last thing I want to do is read a book. It’s not perfect, but I would rather watch low resolution video than cycle my Xfinity service over and over.
One day, justice will be served to the telecom companies who rip us all off. Every other industrialized nation has faster Internet service for half the price of what we pay. South Korea has the fastest Internet service in the world.
We love to talk about how great America is, or maybe how great it could be again. I guess, when you can’t use the Internet, such talk can provide a modicum of entertainment. Few talk about how the telecom industry, composed of oligopolies and, in much of the nation, monopolies, rip us off every day. I can only hope that the countervailing power of high-tech corporations can overcome telecom industry extortion.
Netflix, Google, Amazon, Apple and others really want affordable, reliable access to the Internet for everyone. It is essential to commerce. Perhaps Google Fi is a baby step in this direction.