Netflix Network Errors: What to Check

Is Netflix giving you trouble? It could be your network.

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Netflix has become one of the world's most popular online applications, streaming video to subscribers around the world. While many people enjoy Netflix, the video watching experience isn't always as enjoyable as it could be. Sometimes, networking issues are to blame.

Network Bandwidth for Video Playback on Netflix

Netflix requires a minimum connection speed (sustainable network bandwidth) of 0.5 Mbps (500 Kbps) to support video streaming. However, the service recommends at least 1.5 Mbps to sustain reliable playback of low-resolution videos, and higher speeds for streaming better quality video:

  • at least 3 Mbps - standard definition (SD) quality
  • at least 5 Mbps - high definition (HD) quality
  • at least 25 Mbps - Ultra HD quality

As is true for other kinds of online applications, network latency can also greatly affect the quality of Netflix video streams independent of available bandwidth. If your Internet service can't regularly offer the performance necessary to run Netflix, it may be time to change providers. Modern Internet connections are usually capable enough, however, and more often the issues are caused by temporary slowdowns.

If you need to work on your own network, read What to Do When Your Home Internet Connection Underperforms to help you determine and resolve the issue.

Netflix Speed Tests

Standard Internet speed tests can help measure your network's overall performance, and several additional tools exist to help you monitor your Netflix connections specifically:

  • A test clip on the Netflix service called Example Short.23.976 displays the real-time video resolution and frame rate of your stream.
  • The Netflix ISP Speed Index reports statistics on average customer streaming speeds during prime-time viewing hours, categorized by service providers.

Buffering Issues in Netflix

To help avoid situations where video playback stalls because a network connection cannot stream data fast enough, Netflix utilizes data buffering. Buffering video data on a network stream involves processing and sending individual video frames to the receiving device some amount of time ahead of when they need to be shown on screen. The device saves those data frames in its temporary storage (called a "buffer") until the right time (usually within a few seconds) comes to display them.

Unfortunately, video buffering doesn't always prevent playback stalls. If the network connection runs too slowly for too long of a period, eventually the Netflix player's data buffer becomes empty. One way to cope with this issue involves changing (degrading) the video quality settings to a lower resolution, which in turn lessens the amount of data the network must process. Another option: Try scheduling your video watching at off-peak hours when the load on both Netflix and your internet provider is less.

Where You Can and Can't Watch Netflix

Some Netflix subscribers have utilized international Virtual Private Network (VPN) services to bypass content restrictions in their country of residence. For example, if a person in the United States logs into a VPN that offers a public IP address hosted in the United Kingdom, then that U.S. resident could conceivably sign into Netflix and gain access to the library of content normally restricted to UK residents only. This practice appears to violate Netflix subscription terms of service and could lead to blocked account access or other consequences.

Many kinds of network devices support Netflix streaming including personal computers, tablets and smartphones, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox, various Roku boxes, some Nintendo devices, and some BluRay disc players.

Netflix makes their streaming service available across much of the Americas and Western Europe but not most other parts of the world.