My Experiences With Streaming Video from Netflix

If you’re considering buying a device that will allow you to watch Netflix movies and tv shows on your TV, you might be interested in this article.

A few months ago my wife and I started thinking about signing up for Netflix so we could watch television shows and movies over the internet. We have a pretty good internet connection through our cable provider, Mediacom, but I wasn’t sure I’d be satisfied with the video quality provided by Netflix since we tend to watch only High Def programs these days. I hesitated to purchase a device to stream Netflix shows until I could check out the video quality for myself.

Well, my youngest son got a Apple TV box for Christmas and while he was home over the holidays he hooked it up to my entertainment system, connected to his Netflix account, and streamed some TV shows and movies. The video quality was good enough to totally eliminate my concerns.

After that, it was just a matter of deciding which of the many Netflix-capable device on the market to buy.

Over the years I’ve learned it’s wise to do careful research before buying new equipment of any kind. By doing so I’ve avoided buying the wrong stuff on many occasions.

So, over the last few weeks, I spent many hours researching options for using Netflix over the internet. I considered the pros and cons of Blu-Ray players with Netflix support, Media Players with Netflix support like the Seagate FreeAgent® GoFlex, and set top boxes like the Apple TV and various Roku models. A few weeks ago I was all set to buy a Roku XD|S. The Roku XD|S is reasonably priced at around $100, supports dual band 802.11n Wifi (the fastest wireless protocol currently available), and outputs 1080P video.

My Roku XDS order was all ready to submit at Amazon and then a little voice told me I needed to do a bit more research into the Sony PS3. (Another important lesson I’ve learned over the years is to listen to that voice.)

So I did a little more research into the Sony PS3 on the AVS Forum web site and sure enough, what I learned made a compelling case for getting the Sony PS3 instead of Roku XD|S.

What changed my mind? The PS3 is the only device to which Netflix will steam 1080P video and Dolby 5.1 audio! Netflix limits all other devices to 720P video and stereo audio.  That’s a huge difference to anyone who cares about video quality and audio experience. Although 720P looks okay on some HDTV’s in some viewing environments, it is visibly less sharp on many large, quality TVs. And stereo just doesn’t compare to Dolby 5.1 audio for modern movies and TV shows.

True, Netflix will probably provide 1080P & Dolby 5.1 to other devices someday, but for now, in my opinion, the PS3 is the clear choice as the best device to use with Netflix.

Unfortunately, the PS3 is also one of the most expensive options for using Netflix, with an entry level cost of $300.  Still, the PS3’s greater cost may be reasonable when you factor together the PS3’s higher quality video and movie-quality sound with Netflix, its ability to play games, the fact that it is a top quality Blu-Ray player, and it has the ability to stream music from a home PC to your entertainment system. The latter feature may not be important to most people but it was important to me because it allowed me to move my D-Link DSM520 Media Player from my main entertainment system to my upstairs stereo system.

Weighing against the PS3’s many good qualities, however, are the PS3’s lack of a dedicated remote control and its lack of wireless 802.11n (the PS3 has only wireless 802.11g). Note that the Apple TV and Roku XDS both feature 802.11n.

The lack of a dedicated remote control can be overcome by spending $20 on Sony’s Blu-ray disc remote control, but the lack of wireless 802.11n can be harder to overcome. Although wireless 802.11g speeds are theoretically capable of supporting hi-def video, real world performance can be marginal, causing video dropouts, buffering delays and reduction of video quality from Netflix.

My home network is a combination of wired and wireless connections but the entertainment system downstairs is not close to a wired outlet, so at first I tried using the PS3’s wireless capability.  I thought the 11g wireless might be sufficient for my purposes because the PS3 would be the only device using wireless most of the time. Unfortunately, although the wireless connection worked okay some of the time, it didn’t deliver consistent high quality results.  To confirm that it was the wireless connection and not my home network in general, I temporarily ran a 100 foot network cable between my router and the PS3.  Using the network cable, the PS3 consistently delivered top quality Hi-Def video from Netflix.

So, to achieve faster network speeds I either had to run network cable to my entertainment center (made difficult by the layout of my finished basement), purchase powerline network adapters (which work well in some homes, but not all homes), or add a 802.11n wireless bridge like the D-Link DAP-1522 Xtreme N Duo Wireless Bridge/Access Point  to the PS3.

Powerline adapters and wireless bridges would add $100 to $150 to the cost of the system. I already had network cable and jacks on hand, so running cable would only cost me time and ingenuity.  Given the $300 cost of the PS3, I decided to bite the bullet and spend an afternoon running network cable through the basement to the entertainment center.  The work went fairly well with only a modicum of wasted time. Now that the system is up and all the work is done, I’m very happy with Netflix and the PS3.

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