Netflix Tips for Apple TV

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Netflix Tips for Apple TV

Netflix is one of the most useful and convenient services on Apple TV. For a mere $8 a month, you can enjoy thousands of TV shows and movies. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work smoothly. Sometimes, instead of watching a show, you are tortured by continual pauses due to network congestion, poor bandwidth, or problems in the Amazon data center (where Netflix is hosted). The following information will help you trouble-shoot and fix many problems with Netflix streaming on Apple TV.

Slow Internet Connection Causes Netflix to Pause

If you are having problems with too many buffering pauses or getting “An Error Occurred Loading This Content”, it could be that your Internet connection is too slow. Even if you have a fast Internet connection, it may slow down during peak hours. Typically, on weekdays from 5pm until 10pm, most Internet connections slow down. People come home from work and begin using their computers or watching streaming video.

My ISP admits this is a problem that users will just have to accept. They are unwilling to scale up their data center to handle peak hours. Beyond your ISP, the Internet could also be congested. Maybe some hot new TV show dropped on iTunes, or some new viral video is getting millions of hits. The Internet is just a huge network of computers. Your data hop from server to server to get from Netflix to your Apple TV. Any increase in overall Internet activity can affect your bandwidth. Whatever the case, Internet bandwidth is not constant for anyone. This problem could be beyond your ISP.

Denial of Service Attacks May Block Netflix Access

A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack can dramatically affect Netflix streaming performance. Basically, this is a coordinated attack on websites and Internet Service Providers. DDoS attacks have been increasing in number and I have experienced a few that have rendered services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and iTunes unusable, sometimes for days. The DDoS attack might not be affecting Netflix, but may be aimed at your ISP or ISP’s Domain Name System (DNS) provider.

The telltale sign of a DDoS attack is that some web sites work, while others don’t. It isn’t a case of just Netflix not working, for example. As the attack progresses, you will find that more websites and media services are affected.

My ISP has had quite a few DDoS attacks, but when I test the Internet speed, there is nothing wrong. The Internet connection is working, it’s just that DNS servers are being attacked and overwhelmed. DNS servers allow browsers and media players to look up hosts by their host name. When they are subjected to a DDoS attack, your browser or media player cannot look up streaming services, such as Netflix.

It’s not easy to find out for sure if a DDoS attack is the problem. ISPs don’t always want to admit it. After all, they could lose customers. If you find that some sites work and others don’t, it is usually a DDoS attack. You can search Google News to find out if there is a rash of attacks going on. If so, it is likely to be the problem. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about it. You have to wait until your ISP handles the issue, which can sometimes take a few days. Most DDoS attacks are the result of malware on mobile devices. They are becoming more common, however, ISPs are getting better at handling these attacks.

Test Your Internet Connection’s Speed and Configure Netflix Appropriately

You can check the speed of your Internet connection with Speedtest.net. Speedtest also has iOS and Android apps. Whenever you have problems with Netflix streaming, run a test of your Internet connection speed.

Speedtest.net results

Netflix requires a minimum of 0.5 Mbps for streaming video. However, they recommend 1.5 Mbps. This will deliver the most basic picture quality. For DVD quality video, you need 3 Mbps. For HD quality you need 5 Mbps.

By testing your connection speed, you can configure the appropriate content quality. Many people don’t know this is configurable. Netflix for Apple TV does not automatically adjust to bandwidth changes gracefully. To set the bandwidth of your Netflix connection, login to your Netflix account. Then click “Your Account” on the top right corner of the web page. Click the “Playback settings” link on the left side of the “Your Account” page, in the “My Profile” section. Adjust your video quality appropriately. If your Speedtest.net results are below 3 Mbps, choose “Low” quality. If you get between 3Mpb and 5Mbps, choose “Medium” quality. For those getting over 5Mbps, choose “High”. After making the selection, remember to click the “save” button and wait for the “Your Account” page to load.

Netflix playback settings

After making the adjustment, exit your program (press the menu button on your Apple TV remote) and start it again. You don’t need to exit Netflix. You should get the option to restart or resume your program. (continue…)

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22 thoughts on “Netflix Tips for Apple TV

  1. Great information, I’m having serious ongoing issues with my Netflix account on my AppleTV, yet my TiVo plays Netflix content with no problem. I tested it last night and it was really annoying because TiVo’s Netflix interface is the worst I’ve ever seen. Anyway, I have one request: it’s hard to tell when your article was written. All I know is that it was written at least after your mention of the November 2012 AppleTV update… but a lot can happen in a year and it would be helpful to readers to know when your story was posted so that troubleshooting can be understood in context of current issues. Other than that, thanks again.

    • I’m sorry to hear that your Apple TV Netflix experience is so bad. I have a pretty bad ISP, yet it works well — better than on demand from my cable provider (when I had cable). Around the holidays, it tends to have problems, mainly because so many people use Netflix.

      I see what you mean about the Nov 2012 Netflix release. One may wonder if these issues are still problematic. Netflix is much more reliable, however, they recently did a significant update which seems to have introduced some minor bugs. Sometimes when I fast forward or rewind, the whole thing goes awry. It’s rare. When it happens, I just exit the app and restart it. They seem to have introduced some new video compression technology. Instead of dropping resolution, it stays HD and the frame rate drops. It can be rather jerky if one’s bandwidth decreases (or Netflix’s servers are having problems). That said, it’s a very stable content channel. These issues are very rare, and the quality of Netflix has vastly improved.

      I’ll update the article soon. I also forgot to mention that Apple TV streaming problems are often solved by turning off “send Data to Apple”. They appear to have a Heisenberg-type situation going on there. It’s probably fine for people who have really fast Internet connections. I turned it off from day 1, after reading reviews on Amazon. People said it would constantly pause until they turned that setting off.

  2. I have a similar problem – slow Netflix streaming on my Apple TV that seems to have started after the recent update. Further, the video quality is poor, presumably because of the slow streaming. Shows/movies from iTunes do not appear to be effected.

    • Interesting. Have you tried using Netflix on a different device? I haven’t had problems with slow streaming after the update. If I do have problems, it’s usually my ISP.

      It could be that the update coincided with a busy season for Netflix. The holidays, in particular, are very busy. People are home, watching Netflix with family and friends because there isn’t anything good on TV.

      Christmas Eve is usually the worst day. Last year (2012) Netflix completely failed. It was such a big failure, it made the news.

      The only problem I have experienced after the update is with pausing. When I pause a video and resume, it will often start playing back very fast with no audio. I just hit rewind and that fixes it. It happens maybe 2-3 times a night. That’s too often, but I’m sure they’ll fix it soon. It’s mildly annoying, but not a show-stopper. It could be a Netflix issue, or an issue with the underlying video playback API, which Apple would have to fix. They’ll fix it. They always do.

  3. The problem isn’t my ISP. Using the Speakeasy Speed Test, I regularly get download speeds of 10-12 Mbps (including during the periods of slow Netflix streaming). It is convenient to blame the ISP, but this simply isn’t answer.

    I’ve run Netflix on my iPhone and iPad and they both are fine.

    After writing my last post, I did some more searching and found this discussion page on the Apple Support Communities page:
    https://discussions.apple.com/thread/5565870?start=0&tstart=0

    As you will see:
    1) I’m not the only person having trouble, in fact it appears that this has been an on-going problem since November 15, 2013!

    2) This is such a massive problem that there are, as of today, 29 pages of comments!

    3) ISP – Netflix – Apple. Everyone seems to be blaming each other, but nobody (especially Netflix) is taking the problem seriously.

    4) Netflix customer service agents are suggesting various, contradictory “fixes” (demonstrating that they really have no idea what is going on), but these appear to have unpredictable and often temporary “success”.

    • Thanks for bringing this to my attention. It looks like people are complaining about the Super HD functionality. This is something I don’t have to worry about. I’m lucky to get 2.5 Mbps. (We have the absolute worst Internet connectivity in the SF Bay Area. Everyone complains about it. Too many geeks constantly BitTorrenting pirated movies.) So, at best, I get regular 720p HD, often with resolution drops and jerky motion, as bandwidth fluctuates. That’s why I haven’t experienced any problems. Actually, after the update, Netflix has been working better. I seem to get HD more often.

      That’s also why Netflix would work OK on your iPhone and iPad — they don’t consume the same bandwidth as an Apple TV with Super HD. A newer iPad with a retina display actually has more pixels than a 1080p TV, however, the iPad app doesn’t support Super HD.

      Super HD for Apple TV actually came out a few months ago. It is likely that 6.0.2 introduced bugs. In the Apple Support thread, someone mentioned that their Chromecast device works with Netflix Super HD. That would lead me to believe it is a problem with the Netflix app on Apple TV, or an underlying video API in the core Apple TV OS.

      Have you tried lowering the video quality on the Netflix accounts page? I know it’s not an optimal move, as you have the bandwidth to support Super HD. That said, when my ISP is choking or Netflix servers are overwhelmed, I just cut the video quality down one step, and it’s less frustrating. In time, they will fix the issue.

  4. Definetly something to do with the Apple TV not working properly with Netflix. I can airplay Netflix from my ipad to the Apple tv with a great resolution. I then switch and watch the same movie directly from Apple TV and the resolution sucks. Hopefully Apple comes out with a fix.

    • Yeah… It is something in the 6.0.2 release. I checked my stats for this page, and they increased mid-November, just after the 6.0.2 update. A few days after 6.0.2, Netflix updated their app with progress meters and perhaps other features. But the problem seems to have occurred right after 6.0.2, which seems to indicate a flaw in the core Apple TV video APIs. They’ll fix it. In the meantime, one can reduce video quality settings from Super HD to HD, and it will work better. It’s annoying, because everyone wants the best video quality possible!

  5. Hi – if anyone can help me solve this problem I’m having mirroring my Netflix to my tv through AppleTV that would be appreciated. It hasn’t worked the last couple days. It shows this on the screen when I try to play a movie:
    Cannot Play Video – The connected display is not supported.

    • I did some quick research, and apparently it’s an issue with Netflix. They say they will fix it. In the meantime, I’d suggest using the Netflix channel built in to Apple TV.

      Just out of curiosity — why do you prefer to use Netflix this way? Are you using iOS and prefer the user interface of the iPad or iPhone?

      I personally like the Apple TV UI, but hey, whatever floats your boat. It’s great that there’s a few ways to interact with Apple TV.

  6. You seem to be pretty knowledgeable about these problems. I stream netflix from my iPad because I live out of the US right now and I don’t have a VPN on my Apple TV. I had this problem for a few weeks when I first got my Apple TV late last year then it went away and showed up again about a week ago. When I’m watching netflix it will turn off airplay in the middle of an episode. Sometimes this happens after 5 minutes, sometimes after 45. I’ve tried lots of solutions, like changing my router’s channel, making it so that the iPad won’t automatically turn off its scream and others, but nothing seems to work. Any help would be much appreciated.

    • If possible, upgrade both your Apple TV and your iPad to the latest updates. With iOS 7.1 and the accompanying Apple TV update, they made AirPlay more robust — it now connects over Bluetooth in addition to WiFi. I’m not 100% sure this will fix your issue, but Apple implemented this feature to make AirPlay more robust. For more information about iOS 7.1, check out this article.

      I did read that the Netflix app for iOS was having some AirPlay issues not so long ago. Perhaps upgrading Netflix will help.

      Also, check your WiFi signal strength on both your iPad and Apple TV. The problem might actually be related to the weather. WiFi reception is affected by humidity. If it is humid and your WiFi reception wasn’t great to begin with, humidity can make it worse. This could explain why it only happens at certain times. Before I bought my AirPort Extreme, I had a lot of problems with my last router, particularly on humid days. I’m near the coast, so it gets very humid here.

  7. I had the same problem as discussed but only of a night time and only on my Apple TV. Having followed advice from other people on this page I reduced the video quality on my netflix account and have not had any problems with it freezing and buffering since. My internet always operates at around 18mbps so it’s not band width speed but I am more than happy to reduce picture quality to stop the stopping and starting. Thanks for your help.

    • It might take a few moments for the change to propegate across Netflix’s servers. The actually streaming content is hosted on a content distribution network (CDN) and the Netflix account management app is hosted on different servers. You might also need to press the menu button on your Apple TV remote to go back and then restart the program. I have had to throttle Netflix a few times when my ISP has been really slow, and it does work.

    • Indeed. I have dealt with so many horrible routers. About three years ago, I bought an Apple Airport Extreme, and I love it! It is the best router I have ever had. It never fails and is easy to manage. I had to change the channels because it was interfering with my audio transmitter, but it was so easy to do. It will also update its firmware and software automatically. It is worth every penny and more.

  8. I believe it to be a frame rate problem, at least for me. If I play movies or TV shows made in Europe It is almost unwatchable. Try watching these on your apple TV, Crossing Lines, Blechley Circle, Foyles War, The Falling. You will undoubtedly see the judders with these shows. I can watch them without an issue through my Sony Blu Ray player.

  9. I like to play Netflix on my iMac and take the sound output from my Bose WiFi speakers. But there is a lag between the audio and the video.
    Any way to fix this?

    • I found some information from Bose. They say to unplug your Bose wireless speakers for 30 seconds and plug them back in. Also, power down your WiFi router and plug it back in. This will force both of them to reset.

      I hope this helps. I’m not sure which model of Bose speaker you have. I do know that AirPlay compatible devices stay in sync very well. I’m not sure what technology the Bose WiFi speakers use.

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