Netflix is without doubt the best video streaming service on the planet, and it's unlikely that you'd get many dissenting voices taking a stand against that statement.
There are now plenty of others out there of course – Amazon's Prime Instant Video, Disney Plus and Sky's Now TV being the closest paid-for competitors in the UK. But Netflix stands out above the rest in practically every area.
It's got the best library of content, it's super easy to set up and use, it's available on a vast range of different devices (from computers to mobile phones to smart TVs and Blu-ray players) and it still offers truly excellent value for money. What's not to like?
How it works
Netflix is really simple – you pay your monthly fee in exchange for unlimited access to a huge library of video content. That library includes movies of all genres as well as TV series, documentaries and a truly vast selection just for the kids, which we'll come back to later.
There are three price plans available to choose from - basic, standard and premium. For £6.99 per month, basic allows you unlimited access to the Netflix library in standard definition on one device at a time. At £10.99 the standard plan is probably the most attractive, offering the same unlimited access but on two devices at a time and in HD where available.
Premium costs £15.99 per month, allowing access on up to four devices at a time - idea for families - and will stream HD and Ultra HD (4K), which a growing number of shows and movies are now supporting.
Apps and devices
Once you're up and running, you can access your Netflix account from any number of different devices. Netflix has poured a lot of money into its development team, putting together streaming apps not just for computers, phones and tablets but also smart TVs, set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, games consoles and streaming gadgets like Roku and Chromecast.
If it's got a screen and an internet connection, there's a very good chance it'll have access to Netflix.
Mobile apps are available on Android, iPhones and tablets, and they're all more or less consistent across these different platforms. No matter where you open the app, you get the same design, features and performance throughout.
Once you're logged in, you can get on with the task of creating user profiles. You can create as many as you like – usually one for every person who will be using the account, so you and your kids or significant other don't have to share a profile.
The functions of each person having a different profile are two-fold. Firstly, each person is encouraged to rate movies and TV shows so that Netflix can start working out what you like and what you don't like. It can then do a better job of recommending things to you, surfacing content it thinks you'll like.
And secondly, it allows progress to be tracked for each person. So if you get half way through the first episode of Netflix's impressive original show Bloodline, next time you log in it'll allow you to resume from where you left off even if you're on a different device. You can also limit user access so if you want the kids to stay in the kids section, you can do that.
The way Netflix displays its library is constantly evolving but the philosophy is very visual, always. Movies and TV series are represented by tiles with a 'DVD cover' style image and the name of the title in front. It makes it very easy to browse and pick things out.
You'll probably hear mixed reviews about Netflix's library of content. If you're expecting a Spotify-like experience of having access to practically any movie or TV series you can think of, you may be disappointed.
The fact is that there is no service anywhere in the world that offers everything all in one place, and the content libraries seem to get more fragmented over time. That said, Netflix is certainly as good as anyone else out there – and arguably the best – when it comes to giving you plenty to watch.
The library is divided into sections, so you can either search for something specific or browse by digging deeper into each category individually. Each category has sub-categories and different ways for you to display them – the default is for Netflix to display its recommendations for each section first, but you can easily have it display in a different way if you choose: for example you can ask it to list content with the top-rated stuff at the top.
You'll find a fantastic collection of stuff on Netflix, with many award-winning movies and TV shows on offer. It's a brilliant mix of licensed content that Netflix is paying to have access to with a growing list of Netflix Originals: shows, movies and documentaries which are exclusively available on the service.
And we're talking high-quality stuff too, whether it's TV shows such as Bridgerton and Mindhunter or movies such as Mank and The Power of the Dog. These productions can now hold their own against anything that the traditional broadcasting companies and studios can put together.
The Netflix Original badge is also used to highlight content that, while not created by Netflix, has never been shown through local TV broadcasters. In the US, that means there's a lot of BBC drama that's listed as Netflix Original - in the UK it's shows such as the US remakes of The Killing and The Returned.
So no, this isn't a library as comprehensive as a DVD store. But we can say that the main complaint we hear about it isn't that there's not enough choice, but conversely that there's too much choice. "There's so much there I never know what to pick" - not a bad problem to have, really.
One of Netflix's many strengths is its excellent performance on practically any compatible device. Using video streams with adaptive bitrates means that Netflix can detect what your internet bandwidth is and then serve you the best possible video quality without having to resort to buffering.
That means it runs on practically any internet connection, with the whole service remaining responsive. It's one of the best streaming services out there when it comes to adapting to the internet access it's got available and keeping content watchable even on patchy connections.
As mentioned, one of Netflix's best features is its library just for kids. It's a separate section, so you can give the little ones access to it without worrying they'll end up watching Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 when you're not looking.
There's a huge selection available, whether it's Disney movies or TV favourites like Peppa Pig or Fireman Sam. There's no reason to spend loads of cash on DVDs for the kids, because Netflix offers more for less.
Netflix now faces more competition than ever – from Disney, Apple, Amazon and others – yet it remains the streaming service to beat, even as it loses content to other platforms. It's still the service that people sign up to first and cancel last, and there are a few reasons for that.
Even though broadcasters might have poached back certain shows (Disney Plus taking Netflix's Marvel shows springs to mind), the library on Netflix remains top class. That's due in part to some shrewd licensing deals, but it's also thanks to the excellent originals that Netflix churns out, from Bridgerton to Stranger Things.
The pricing remains competitive, and there are several tiers to it – not something that many other services offer. The cost of subscribing to Netflix continues to edge higher over the years, but we think it still offers fantastic value for money: you're never going to be stuck for something to watch.
Finally, it's so easy to use, and rarely suffers a technical hitch. It's available everywhere, from smart TVs to mobile phones, and the playback syncing between devices is so smooth and seamless that you barely even notice it (something else that Netflix's rivals could learn from).
- Had enough? Find out how to cancel Netflix