Which Browser Should I Use for Watching Movies?

The Requirements for Fast Video Streaming

Browsers
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When streaming movies online, browsers are not all created equal, and you can't just point to a single browser and definitively declare it to be the best. This is because the race to the top is complicated by so many factors: support for high-definition (HD), speed (i.e. loading time or lagging), and battery drain, among others. In addition, factors outside of the browser itself weigh heavily on browser performance, such as the amount of RAM, processor speed, and the speed of your internet connection.

Let's consider these factors separately.

Standard Def vs. High Def 

If you're viewing videos on a laptop, this issue won't matter much, but if you have an expansive, big monitor, you'll want HD capability. Netflix reports that Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge (the native browser on Windows 10), and Safari on a Mac (Yosemite or later) support HD, or 1080p resolution. Interestingly, Google Chrome does not qualify here, although it is by far the most popular browser.

To get HD, however, your internet connection is critical: Netflix recommends 5.0 Megabits per second for HD quality. So if you're using Edge on Windows 10 and your speed is under 5.0 MBps, you won't be able to stream HD.

Speed

Google Chrome has long been considered the speed king of browsers and has always emphasized performance. In fact, according to the unbiased w3 schools' Browser Statistics, Chrome has captured over 70 percent of the market as of 2017, largely because it is so well known for its minimalist design and superior speed in loading web pages.

Chrome's throne may be in jeopardy, however. A recent set of benchmark tests by popular technology blog Ghacks reports that Microsoft Edge matches or beats Chrome in some performance tests, while Firefox and Opera come in last. Tests included time to run Javascript and to load pages from the server.

Battery Usage

Battery usage is important to you only if you are viewing on a laptop with no connected power source — for instance, while you're waiting at the airport for that delayed flight. 

In June 2016, Microsoft conducted a battery (no pun intended) of web browser tests, among them one on battery usage. Of course, these tests were intended to promote its Edge browser. If you can believe the results (and several dependable outlets such as PC World and Digital Trends have cited them), Edge does come out on top, followed by Opera, Firefox and then Chrome at the bottom. Just for the record, Opera disagreed with the results, stating that the test's methods were not revealed. 

Regarding Chrome's last-place finish, however — this was not a surprise among tech experts because Chrome is well-known to be highly CPU-intensive. You can test this yourself by simply viewing the Task Manager in Windows or the Activity Monitor on Mac, which will no doubt reveal Chrome using the most RAM. Chrome continues to address this problem in updated releases, but its resource usage directly contributes to the speed of its browser, so tweaking Chrome's use of resources is a balancing act for the company.

Tips for a Better Viewing Experience

Because all browsers continually roll out new versions and updates, it's impossible to point to a particular browser as "better"  — at any point, a new version could up-end any previous benchmarks.

Further, because browsers are free, you can easily shift from one to another for different purposes.

Whatever browser you are using, here are some tips for better streaming:

  • Close other applications and browser tabs. This decreases the load on memory so your computer can focus on streaming.
  • Use a 5 GHz frequency if your router supports it. The common 2.4 GHz frequency is used by household appliances, so is more crowded. Avoiding it is like getting into the carpool lane on a freeway: smoother sailing.
  • Use Ethernet instead of Wi-Fi if possible. If you're viewing a movie on your computer's large monitor, have it connect to​ the internet via its Ethernet cable rather than Wi-Fi.
  • Monitor your internet connection. If your ISP has promised you 5MBps and you are getting only 1MBps, it's time for a phone call to sort that out.  Your connection is absolutely critical to streaming.