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One can choose “Best” quality with slower speeds if the content is not HD quality. If you prefer better video quality and don’t mind the occasional pause, you can also choose “Best” quality even if you don’t have the speed to support it. Just be prepared for buffering pauses. Sometimes it works well, without too many pauses. In fact, you may want to try “Best” and if the pauses get annoying, lower the video quality on the Netflix website. Netflix for Apple TV does do some stream thinning when bandwidth drops. However, if you have it set for “Best” and just don’t have the bandwidth, it will be a frustrating experience. After discovering these settings, my Netflix experience has vastly improved. I have resigned myself to settling for “Better”. Pauses are a rare occurrence.
How to Verify Netflix Bandwidth
You can verify the bandwidth of the Netflix stream by playing a diagnostic video. Search for the video entitled “Example Short 23.976” on Netflix for Apple TV. When you play the video, it will provide the bit rate of the stream in kbps (kilobits per second — 1 Mbps = 1000 kbps). Video resolution is also displayed. This is an “end to end” test. You may have a fast Internet connection, but if this test shows a slow bit rate, Netflix is most likely the bottleneck. There could also be problems between Netflix servers and your client (Apple TV). The data hop from many different servers on the Internet, so it might not be a problem with Netflix or your ISP. This information is still useful. If you don’t have the bandwidth, reducing the video quality setting will reduce pauses in video playback.
Turn Off Other WiFi Devices
If you own a lot of devices, such as tablets and smartphones, these can hog Internet bandwidth. Even if you have fine-tuned notifications, you will notice your smartphone is using the Internet even when you are not using it. iOS devices will sometimes download software updates in the background. I noticed a drop in Netflix quality, and shortly after, a notification popped up on my iPad. Then it went back to normal. The network overhead involved in sending even small amounts of data can decrease Netflix streaming performance — it all depends on how much bandwidth you have to spare.
If you are having problems with Netflix streaming, try turning off the WiFi on your devices. If you own an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, this can be done by tapping Settings > WiFi, then turn WiFi off. If possible, shut down any computers that are running. If your Apple TV is the only device on your WiFi network, you will enjoy a better Netflix streaming experience.
Problems in the Netflix (Amazon) Data Center?
You may find that even with a fast Internet connection, Netflix may still be pausing. Netflix may not be available at all. Sometimes Netflix has problems in their data center. On Christmas Eve 2012, they had a very huge outage that affected virtually all of their customers. The problem was in Amazon’s data center, where Netflix is hosted. This made the news, but before the blogosphere could post anything, Netflix and their users were Tweeting about the problem. If your Internet connection works fine, but Netflix still isn’t working well, make sure to check their Twitter feed for any problems in their data center. If you want to be proactive, follow Netflix on Twitter. You can also call customer support at 1-800-585-7265. If they have a problem, they typically let you know with a pre-recorded message.
After the holidays, Netflix tends to perform poorly and have problems, regardless of video quality settings. Many people are using trial memberships with new gadgets they received over the holidays. This seems to happen every year, and Netflix doesn’t seem to do much to accommodate the surge. It’s unfortunate that many first impressions of Netflix will not be good.
Subtitles or Audio Track Out of Sync?
Rarely, when I am watching Netflix, I notice that the subtitles or audio track are out of sync. This problem will sometimes resolve itself. If the problem persists, simply press the menu button on the remote to go back, and then press the pause/play button to resume the show. This always solves the issue for me.
This seems to happen when my ISP is having problems. It is not a defect with Netflix or Apple TV. It can happen when there is a sudden decrease in network bandwidth. Subtitles add to network bandwidth requirements. This can actually be a significant strain.
If you are repeatedly seeing “An Error Occurred Loading This Content” on the screen, try turning off subtitles. You can do this by holding down the center select button until you see the subtitle options. This has to be done when the video is playing or paused. You can also navigate to Settings > Audio & Video > Subtitle Language to turn off subtitles. I have found that once these are turned off, I no longer get the “An Error Occurred Loading This Content” message. When my ISP gets back up to speed, subtitles work without a problem.
Apple TV Updates Can Cause Netflix Streaming Problems
Updates to Apple TV can also cause problems with Netflix. The Apple TV update released on November 29, 2012, introduced bugs affecting Netflix streaming. Most notably, there is a bug which makes audio and video go out of sync. Users will also occasionally experience a blank screen while audio plays. Sometimes playback just stops and buffers indefinitely. This issue has been fixed, and Netflix for Apple TV is much more reliable. If Netflix puts out a bad release, rest assured, they will fix it. Sometimes new versions are pushed independent of Apple TV core updates.
If you have tried all of these tips and are still experiencing problems, try turning off the “send data to Apple” setting (Settings > General > Send Data to Apple). This is usually on by default. When turned on, it sends diagnostic data to Apple, so they can figure out issues with Apple TV. Unfortunately, this consumes bandwidth. Turning this setting off will ensure that bandwidth is only used for streaming.
Try Netflix on Your Mac or PC
If all else fails, there are other options. Netflix works much better using a web browser on a proper computer. Since computers have more memory and processing power, Netflix is able to store more content in the buffer. This makes for much smoother playback. You can also get HD quality with less bandwidth, without the annoying pauses. You can even get the content on your Apple TV using AirParrot or AirPlay mirroring in Mountain Lion. I have written a how-to article on setting up video mirroring with AirParrot, as well as a piece on troubleshooting AirParrot audio issues.
I would not recommend playing Netflix on your iPad or iPhone via AirPlay to Apple TV. This will never work as well as using Netflix on Apple TV directly. The picture quality isn’t as good, and you will experience the occasional crash. Apple TV is really just an iOS device anyway. It has the same A4 or A5 processor as an iPad or iPhone, depending on the model. You’re not going to get better performance by throwing an iPad or iPhone in the mix. I’ve tried. It’s not a great experience.
Netflix for Apple TV can be frustrating at times. Following these tips should improve your Netflix experience. I also recommend having a subscription to Hulu Plus and maybe a few DVDs or iTunes movies pre-downloaded for those rare occasions when streaming video is just not possible. You could even turn off the television! However, at the end of a long day, nothing is more relaxing than kicking back on the sofa and watching the tube. I hope these tips make this time relaxing and not frustrating.