Blog Post

Netflix on Why Your Streaming Might Suck

I love Netflix (s NFLX) streaming and have never had an issue with it. Other people, however, are not so happy with the quality of the streaming service, and have become quite vocal about it in the blogs and forums, aiming their ire at Microsoft’s (s MSFT) Silverlight player in particular. Netflix issued a response and over the weekend in a corporate blog post to explain why some subscribers may experience some sucky streaming.

In a nutshell, Netflix identified three pain points in the streaming system that could affect a user’s experience: CDNs, the variety of content and devices, and in-home congestion.

Netflix points out that its content is scattered across different CDN servers throughout the U.S. Heavy congestion in different regions, or the ways in which the traffic is routed to ISPs, could adversely affect streaming quality for some, while not impacting others.

There are there are also differences in the way content is served and played back. The Netflix blog does a nice job of summing it up:

“[D]ifferent titles, and different encodes for different playback device types, may come from different CDNs or different servers at a particular CDN, so may have different paths and different bottlenecks. Accordingly, customers may see better performance on Xbox than their PC, or vice-versa.”

Finally, Netflix says, in effect, “physician, heal thyself” to subscribers, and reminds people that between downloading large files, or even using Skype video call while streaming, are potential bottlenecks within the home.

The blog post, however, barely touches on Silverlight, which seems to be the biggest issue for people, other than to say it is working on a new version of the player that incorporates multi-sourcing to alleviate regional hiccups. Earlier this month, Netflix stood behind Silverlight, saying that most reaction has been positive. Netflix was so high on Microsoft’s video player that it laid off 50 people in December because it said it anticipated fewer problems with the technology. Perhaps the company should have kept a few more of them on the payroll.

Microsoft unveiled Silverlight 3 at its MIX 09 conference last week and said the new player should perform better for Netflix subscribers. Too bad the final version of Silverlight 3 won’t be shipped until the end of the this year, and an improved Netflix player will come after that.

Are you experiencing static with your Netflix streaming? Tell us which device you’re using and what the problems are in the comments!

39 Responses to “Netflix on Why Your Streaming Might Suck”

  1. I was using my new samsung laptop running vista for a while and had absolutely 0 problems with netflix streaming but once i started leaving that at the office and using my old toshiba satellite I started experiencing some issues. I think it’s just because this computer is about 3 years old and I think computer years are like dog years in terms of how quickly a machine becomes obsolete. I’m currently working on finding out what exactly i can do to make this laptop run with netflix. BUT WHAT’S REALLY WEIRD… movies are choppy but when i stream documentaries they run fine. and on top of that sometimes a movie will be running fine but if there’s an explosion or any kind of sudden movement it’ll start to chop up. does that make any sense? i’m going to try and update the drivers because i’m pretty sure that hasn’t been done in about 3 years maybe that’ll have an effect.

  2. Steven Hamori

    I’m having problems but I suspect it is related to QOS settings on my home network. I only mention it for other people who have problems; don’t forget to check that too.

  3. kelley

    I use xbox 360 to stream netflix and I rarely have more than two bars of picture quality! We always have to stops in the middle of the movie and sometimes it takes thirty mins. just to load a movie. It sucks!

  4. The Netflix watchnow service in Vista Media Center was outstanding. Then we were forced to update the netflix movie player to Silverlight. Ever since Silverlight, Horrible Tearing, Macroblocking, smearing and pixelation is the results. Netflix watchnow in media center has become utterly useless. Same happens with Windows 7 media center.

    My network is not to blame, the same movie that plays poorly in Vista MCE plays perfectly (near DVD quality) on my XBOX 360. 360 does not use the silverlight player, unless I’m mistaken.

    The XBOX 360 is connected to the same router, on the same network, etc. Its not my HTPC hardware either.

    Microsoft either needs to admit that Silverlight is currently a failure or complete a solid software validation test plan against the silverlight player.

  5. I’ve been experiencing the poor quality video also. Streaming video from Amazon HD is crystal clear for me. Streaming an SD video from Netflix is very pixelated and also has horizontal breakup. Not sure why the video is so bad, I’m guessing it’s Silverlight compression/player? Or Netflix is locking down the bandwidth on their side, therefore limiting the quality no matter how good the user setup is. Just another disappointed customer. The DVD’s in the mail are still great, streaming is a joke though…..

    • When I first got the player around X-Mass 2009 netflix was fast and movies downloaded fast and were typically in HD. There have been a few player updates with my LG Blu-Ray player and either due to those or on Netflix end movies take longer to load, and sometimes load at such a poor resolution that I hit stop and reload. I have had zero movies load at the HD setting in a very long time. I thought it was on my side, so I ran some speed test and I’m at 18MBps so that is not the problem. Either Netflix has slowed the service down, Comcast has slowed netflix streaming down, or the updates did something. I would think Netflix would look into this, and if ISP’s are slowing down netflix streams I would think Netflix would work with them to keep those up. After all I hope to see all netflix go to streaming, getting a disc int he mail is old technology now…plus Netflix would save so much by not actually needing to deal with mailing, handling, and damaged disc.

  6. sparafucil

    Try this: 1. Start the movie and wait until it begins playing. 2. ctrl+shift+alt+S to open the Stream Manager dialog; must not be in full screen for it to appear. 3. Check the Manual Selection box, select a Buffering Rate (I use the max), click Apply, and close the dialog. 4. Drag the seek bar to the left and let go; the movie will rebuffer at the specified rate.

    You have to repeat this process each time you start watching another movie/episode because the setting is not (cannot be?) saved. I had problems with the player just dropping frames for no apparent reason. After looking around for a solution, I tried the above; the player still drops a few frames now and again but the playback isn’t nearly as choppy as before.

  7. Just thought Id share this. I had been running a Windows Media Center 2005 machine for a long time, and even had the Silverlight player, but had ZERO streaming problems. By chance, someone gave me an extra desktop that I decided to use as a replacement to the MCE box, and I updated it to Windows 7. Guess what? Horrible streaming. My theory is that certain DirectX components embedded in Vista and Win7 are not playing well with the programming of the Netflix Silverlight player. By some good luck, none of the XP SPs or updates have included these flaky components, so even the newest player runs fine.
    My advise to those with choppy video: either run a virtual copy of XP & stream from there, or stream off an existing XP box. Sadly, XP is yet again becoming my preference over the newer OS.
    Why does MS do this? They have obviously messed up something in the Vista DirectX support but users are forced to ‘update their equipment’ when the exact same software technology worked in an earlier OS. I think MS is no longer testing to ensure wide support; they simply give it thumbs up after a few tests on select hardware.
    As for me, I yanked out the Windows 7 machine, and went back to MCE for decent streaming. I’m just desperately hoping that some MS ‘update’ doesn’t modify a DirectX component and make XP/MCE video as screwy as Vista/Win7 video.

  8. I’ve had the same experience as Brad.

    It worked just fine until I had to switch to the Silverlight viewer.. and it’s never worked well since.

    Nothing wrong with my hardware. Nothing wrong with my network. Flash movies work just fine. Typical Microsoft evade and avoid and send the customer on a snipe hunt tactics.


  9. I’ve had an x-box for a while, and for the most part, the video quality is top notch. Recently bought a PC running Windows 7 with an above average video card streaming netlix off the same network and I have to say that the picture is incredibly bad. I’ve swapped the ethernet cable from the xbox to the PC so the set-up is exactly the same, I’ve tried running netflix from the web-site as well as the Media Center (which has a cripplingly long load-time, by the way)… doesn’t matter the picture quality on the pc is horrendous compared to your average Youtube video, let alone the quality on the xbox. I’d previously streamed Netflix to a laptop about a year or two ago and don’t recall the picture being this terrible. Just makes you question the partner-ship that exists between Netflix and companies like Microsoft and Roku when the picture quality appears so degraded on hardware that most people already own.

  10. I’ve had an x-box for a while, and for the most part, the video quality is top notch. Recently bought a PC running Windows 7 with an above average video card streaming netlix off the same network and I have to say that the picture is incredibly bad. I’ve unplugged the ethernet cable from the xbox and into the PC so the set-up is exactly the same, I’ve tried running netflix from the web-site as well as the Media Center… doesn’t matter the picture q

  11. Jennie S.

    Netflix was once a really GREAT service. When they changed everyone over to the new player it just collapsed. I tried it for a while with my Vista laptop after they made me change, because that was the only one that was still sort-of watchable, but mostly it became very jerky and the quality was just bad. Lots of squares and degraded images. I have a 3mbps connection that could play ANY netflix stream before, and they really were MUCH better, but now it still craps out, even when though the top netflix stream nowadays is only medium quality (1.5mbps on highest setting, and often they don’t give you even that).
    It seems nothing good is sutainable any more… maybe I’m just getting old. Netflix will rave on and on about how much better their service is now, but we know it isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination. No level of PR is going to convince me that something much worse is in any way better. F U, Netflix.

  12. My friend brought over his XBox and the quality was amazing, and in HD. Just as good if not better than broadcast HD. However, it looks AWFUL on my PC and laptop with silverlight – in the same network. I just happened to order a new video card, and hopefully it will result in better quality.

    I do not buy their rubbish about my in-home network being the problem. Either silverlight sucks, or Netflix only gives decent quality with decent video cards.

  13. Tom Reider

    Upgraded to IE8 and Silverlight on Netflix. We use HughesNet satellite as our ISP. We used to love watching streaming videos on Netflix. Now we hate it! The image quality is poorer and the player stops to buffer every 2-5 minutes. It’s become so painful to watch we’re ready to look for new entertainment options. I called Netflix support and they said that they nade a business decision not to ignore customers with slower internet connections.

  14. cLive ;-)

    Been a while since I streamed on Netflix. I try the new player, and suddenly the video is juddery as hell. Really disappointed the went with Silverlight. Awful solution.

    So I google netflix silverlight player terrible and end up here. Nuff said

  15. James P.

    Silverlight turned Netflix quality streaming to rubbish. I used Netflix for 2 years before I ‘upgraded’ to Silverlight, and was forced to continue using it. It used to be very very good, and now it’s very very bad. It has low frame rates and clunky lumpy images, even on the highest setting. There is simply no comparison to the previous great player (which could play very well on your older PC turned media player) and anyone who thinks they’re getting good video through the Silverlight player either never saw the previous media player or has no memory worth talking about. I canceled my subscription, very reluctantly. If they ever fix it, I’ll come back, but I doubt any company with such stupid policies will ever fix it.

  16. Kjell-Edmund Ims

    Silverlight gets all the blame from me. I used to get HD quality from Netflix, now I get “mud”. There are such bad artefacts that close up shots of faces look like the face consists of 6 polygons all with one color shades. It is horrible.

    Tech support says it could be because of my CPU (the player runs the core at between 14 and 20% so I think not!) memory (again, I have tons of free memory), or downlink speed (measured to 9.2Mbps while on the phone with support).

    Basically all their suggestions as to what the reason is for my HORRIBLE quality fell tru and the guy admited to not having any other things to try. At least he was friendly. . .

  17. netflix, you were so good. what happened?
    this was a pretty silly move on your part.
    I was excited about the “watch instantly” option, but you failed. totally unwatchable.
    I will not pay for this awful quality.
    To anybody who might be considering netflix, be warned that the instant movies may be rendered useless on your computer due to silverlight issues.

  18. I “upgraded” to the silverlight player after installing IE8. The silverlight player has noticably lower quality video and much, much higher system requirements (which is not clear when you are offered the “upgrade”). I called Netflix customer service about this and not only did they not “downgrade” me to the WMP version, they solution they offered was that I upgrade my computer. Wow! Up until now, I had nothing but praise for Netflix. After this I’m not sure what to think. I’ll probably still recommend Netflix to friends, but I will definitely mention this terrible experience as well.

  19. Christopehr P.

    I use Vista/Silverlight on an HTPC. I’m in Arlington VA, and have Speakeasy DSL (3Mbps download). I find that when movies initially start streaming, the quality is pretty bad (choppy, grainy, pixelation). But the quality quickly get’s better and better, and ends up at around DVD quality in about 30 seconds.
    What I really hate is that my Netflix media center plugin (vmcNetflix) doesn’t really work well with Silverlight, and there is no way to download the old player, which does work with the plugin.

  20. Tom G.

    I run both MCE 2005 and Vista on my HTPC. When using XP, I can watch full screen at 1500 kbps, 29-30 fps only dropping a few frames per second on occasion. When not in full screen mode, the playback is flawless. However, in Vista, the playback is poor in full screen mode, pretty much unwatchable at 1500 kbps mode, dropping regulary 10 -15 frames /second. Performance is better when not in full screen. Processor is P4 with HT at 3.4GHZ
    and 2GB Ram. Performance is poor using both Firefox and IE.

    Anyone try the Beta Silverlight 3.0 and see if there is improvement?

  21. I use a Mac Mini (1st gen Intel-based) and an iMac (17-inch 1st gen Intel-based). I watch Netflix streams via Firefox 3.08 with Silverlight 2 on both systems. I get stuttering and I have a 10-15 mbps download rate (it varies depending on powerboost). I’ve eliminated my router and still get stuttering. Can I live with the stuttering? Yes. Would I prefer smooth streaming? Of course!!! Something’s not right, and I don’t think it’s on my end.

  22. I just installed Silverlight for Netflix last night, not thinking it could do any harm, because I was already very happy with the streaming quality of the old player. I WAS WRONG! ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE! Choppy video, sound not synched, grainy and pixelated video. I immediately called customer support and the person verified that my system and my download speed far exceeded the requirements – which was already clear to me because I’m using a 3-month old Toshiba Satellite with Turion dual-core processor and 4GB ram (VISTA 64).

    On the old player I was so impressed with the quality – it was DVD quality most of the time – now I CAN’T GET IT BACK! I WANT IT BACK! What really is irking me right now is the fact that customer support acted like it was a mystery! This was on 03/26/2009. After she couldn’t help me, I got off the phone and started doing some research and found out that MANY people were having the same issue!

    The corporate take on this mentioned in this article WILL NOT PASS with people experiencing this problem for the very clear and simple fact that one night their streaming is working fine, they install Silverlight , and now everything is crap.

    What can we do about this other than cancelling our accounts?

    • Paul H.

      AGREED. This new play blows large chunks. Literally. GIANT Pixels. I have a 3.3 mbps connection as reported from speakeasy, to the west coast, 4mbps to east and 6 to chicago. Netflix’s old player ROCKED. Fantastic image and sound. Now, it is slightly better than watching flash on low quality. REALLY DISAPPOINTED.

  23. njprman

    I access Netflix on my Samsung 50 inch Plasma set through my xBox360 which is connected to my home network via an inexpensive Linksys game port. My ISP is Cablevision. My experience to date with this arrangement is spectacular. I have never experienced a single drop out or buffering of any kind. I’ve demonstrated this to friends and family multiple times and no one can believe it’s streaming video.

  24. I have 4 sources of Netflix streaming. Ruku, XBox, Vista SP1 w/silverlight and Tivo. My ISP is Verizon w/ 20/20. I am using a wired lan with a dlink dir-655 and a dlink dgs 2205 switch. Router QOS is disabled. I live 25 miles from Times Square. I have not yet had one instance of, as you say, sucky streaming. As a matter of fact, I have actually streamed the 3 devices at the same time to the same TV and had no problems whatsoever (as a test to find the best device to use daily).
    Next door, my neighbor has Cablevision. It is rare for him to be able to watch an entire Netflix movie without at least 1 instance of buffering and many times up to 4 or 5 times every hour. Needless to say, I find it hard to look past the ISP’s in the case of sucky streaming. If I was a betting man, I’d bet the the cable companies are somehow interrupting the data, or the users routers are in need of an upgrade.

  25. I’ve watched quite a bit of Netflix on my work computer (I know, horrible but advertising was way low at the time and they’ve sense re-arranged so we have more work) and it was wonderful. Sometimes it would slow down, but overall the experience was great.

    However, I haven’t even tried it on my home laptop because its quite slow. Sometimes the computer is to blame more than the service.

  26. They are standing behind Silverlight because I am sure that much like the Olympics, MSFT pays for a lot of the product (and let’s be honest, for NFLX streaming is still an experiment).

    There are a lot of companies out there that solve this problem external of Adobe/Msft (Move Networks tops the list in terms of quality).