Become a Netflix-and-chill pro (we’re not offering any advice on the ‘and-chill’ side of the equation, you’re on your own there) with our streaming masterclass. Like The Simpsons and deep-fried Bar-Ones, Netflix has hidden depths lurking beneath its simple exterior.
We don’t blame you for missing them — after all, it’s so easy to just fire up another episode of Archer (they’re only twenty minutes long anyway) instead. But a little tinkering with settings and some third-party software will let you personalise your binge-watching experience in ways that don’t initially seem possible.
From manually ordering your ‘My List’ to delving into Netflix’s hidden menus and sub-genres, we’ve rounded up our favourite ways to get the most out of the streaming service.
Let’s get started, shall we? You’ll be back to watching The Crown in no time, promise.
1. Be all thumbs
Citing it as “confusing” for users, Netflix ditched its old star-rating system in 2017, replacing it with a much simpler thumbs up/thumbs down model. By giving users a binary choice – did we like something, or didn’t we? – rather than asking them to rate something out of five, Netflix has tried to encourage streamers to rate more items.
The whole point of this, of course, is to feed Netflix’s recommendation algorithms with more precious data in order to put the shows and movies you’ll actually like right in front of you, and in giving those shows a personal percentage rating (the higher the percentage, the higher the chances you’ll like it). As with a lot of the service’s opaque behind-the-scenes workings, it’s hard to tell how much of a difference rating things actually makes. But according to Netflix it does play a role (along with your streaming history, and the ratings of other users who have similar tastes to you). Thanks Netty.
2. Play with profiles
Your little niece might adore Peppa Pig‘s deep plot lines, but you don’t want it skewing your recommendations away from Jason Statham and John Woo films.
Having separate profiles for the kids, your parents, the cat and goldfish Gary means that none of their muck will get mixed in with yours, and ensure your recommendations keep running smoothly.
If you’re lucky enough to be the only one using the account, you can also use profiles to personalise Netflix’s interface and boost your couch potato efficiency – for example, having one profile for ‘TV shows’ and another for ‘Movies’. Just make sure you use ratings to help Netflix catch on to your plan.
3. Manual mode
Think you know better than Netflix’s algorithms? Luckily, there is a way to manually rearrange the handy ‘My List’ section, which is ordered automatically by default, and create a personal Netflix playlist.
Any edits you make will sync across all devices, such as the PS4 app, and once it’s in manual mode this list will let you add notes to TV shows and will tell you which are due to expire soon.
4. Mix & match
Wouldn’t it be great to have one watchlist that combines your favourite Netflix shows with the best of Amazon and Showmax (considering you’re a streaming service hoarder, like us)?
JustWatch comes closest to this organisational dream. Sure, you can’t actually watch shows in the app, but the ability to search for shows across all of your services is incredibly useful, and it also alerts you when something on your wish-list has been added to Netflix.
The coverage of services is comprehensive, from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, to Showmax, iTunes, the Google Play Store, and everything in between.
5. Don’t miss out
Are we gonna have a fab week? Absolutely. pic.twitter.com/6ymNbuZysX
— Netflix South Africa (@NetflixSA) June 11, 2018
Netflix does show warnings for shows and movies that are imminently expiring on their details page, or in your ‘My List’ section if it’s set to ‘manual ordering’. But it’s still easy to miss out on classics before they are deleted.
That’s why it’s worth also following @NetflixSA on Twitter for alerts on movies and shows that are about to get the axe.
6. Make a request
Can’t find your favourite episode of Parks and Rec on Netflix? Why not go directly to the source and ask them to correct that oversight? Head to Netflix’s title request page and you can feed in up to three suggestions at a time.
Of course, there’s no guarantee they’ll actually act on your requests and we’re not sure if this works for Saffa Netflix (hard to, what with a lack of tangible feedback), but it’s worth a try.
Find your match
7. Extend yourself
If you’re anything like us, you’ll spend more time flicking through endless pages of things to watch than actually watching anything.
That’s why it’s worth building your Netflix watchlist in Chrome, where you can use browser extensions to pull in extra info. The FindFlix extension handily lets you search Netflix’s many hidden sub-genres, like Asian action movies, alien sci-fi and werewolf horror movies. If you’d rather not use an extension to do this, you can pop on over to Netflixcodes.me instead.
Combine either of these with the powerful FlixPlus extension, which, among other things, pulls in reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, and you’ll be the most efficient binge-watching machine since the Binge Watcher IV 3000.
8. Ask a bot
While AI bots (thankfully) remain a fair way away from infiltrating your toaster and burning you in your sleep, they’re still pretty clever.
Take Facebook Messenger’s AndChill bot. It’ll fire over some surprisingly good movie recommendations based on things you tell it, along with some trailers so you can get a feel for its choices. This is the brilliant application of AI, folks.
9. Shuffle mode
If you’re feeling particularly flustered after a hard day’s hustle and want to choose something with minimal effort, Netflix Roulette will recommend something completely at random.
Well, not completely random, otherwise you might end up watching Avalanche Sharks. Choose filters like actor, genre and star rating, but make sure a strict ‘no re-spin’ policy is enforced.
10. Download festival
Netflix’s long-awaited download feature was met with lustful, open arms in the Stuff office, and it’s a godsend for flights and the deadly commute through Hillbrow in your Uber.
To download shows to iOS or Android devices, either browse in the ‘available for download’ section in the app, or press the download icon next to the show. To find your offline shows, go to menu then ‘My Downloads’.
It’s worth bearing in mind that there’s a limit to the number of devices which you can download content on. Depending on your plan, this could be anything from one to four devices.
Each download also has a different expiry time. Shows that expire in less than seven days will show how much time is left in the ‘My Downloads’ section. For many downloads, viewing must also be completed within 48 hours of hitting the play button, so don’t prep too far in advance of your flight.
11. Size it up
Downloads are great and all, but they’re going to eat up storage space on your device. To keep on top of them all, go to ‘App settings’ to see a graph.
To quickly free up space, press ‘Delete All Downloads”. You can also change your video quality to ‘higher’ (HD), but bear in mind these take up around twice the storage.
One hour-long HD show will take up around 500MB, though SD quality is usually good enough for a phone or tablet screen.
12. Download shows to your SD card
Netflix currently only lets you download episodes and movies to your phone’s storage space. But if you’re rocking an Android phone with a microSD slot there are some workarounds to let you get them onto an big SD card. There are two options:
Method 1: The first is to download a file browser, set it to view hidden files, and copy over downloaded content to the microSD card.
The problem with this method though, is that content cannot be played off the microSD card itself – you’ll need to copy it back over to the correct folder on your phone to play it.
It’s handy for storage then, but quite a bit of a hassle if you have to constantly copy and paste files back and forth in between viewings.
Method 2: A more useful (but also initially tedious) workaround is to merge your microSD card with your phone’s internal storage, essentially making Android believe that your microSD card is an internal part of the smartphone itself.
Remove and re-insert your microSD card, and tap ‘Set Up’ once a notification pops up. Select ‘Use as internal storage’. This will totally wipe the card, so make sure you’ve backed everything up beforehand. Once you’re prompted to do so, select the option to migrate your data over to your new storage.
While you’ve now successfully artificially bumped up the capacity of your phone’s internal storage with your SD card, it’s worth noting that you’ll want at least a Class 6 card to avoid very slow load times and performance.
If you go down this route, never remove the card unless you want a whole phone reset, as important system files will be stored on it.
Watch and learn
13. Pick your browser carefully
If you’re watching Netflix on the web, you may not realise that your choice of browser can play a big part in determining just how crisp and detailed your picture looks.
On Firefox, Opera and Chrome, streaming resolution is limited to 720p (unless you’re using a Chrome OS machine, in which case Chrome offers up to 1080p quality), while Internet Explorer and Safari offer sharper 1080p streaming. Microsoft’s Edge browser might be your best option where available though, as it supports a 4K resolution if your machine is sporting an Intel 7th generation Core processor and a 4K display.
If you’re a diehard Chrome or Firefox user and don’t even want to flirt with rivals, you can install extensions for both that allow 1080p playback: Netflix 1080p (for Chrome); and Force 1080p Playback (for Firefox).
14. Get the party started
Being in a different country to friends or family doesn’t mean you can’t have an old-school movie night.
The Chrome extension Netflix Party syncs playback between consenting adults, or children, allowing everyone to follow the action at the same time, while a side-screen chat box lets you to “talk about the movie”. Yeah right, that’s what we’re talking about.
There’s sadly no tasty virtual popcorn option. Yet.
15. Stop squinting at subtitles
Watching a foreign language movie but struggling to read the subtitles? We know the pain. You can change their size, style and colour in Netflix’s web browser interface by going to ‘Your Account’, then ‘Subtitle Appearance’.
Changes will work across other devices like Netflix’s consoles app too, so choose wisely (perhaps not Comic Sans, unless you want Pablo Escobar to look like he’s in a slapstick comedy).
You can also get subtitles even if they’re not included in the content directly. Go to Subflix and download the Netflix-friendly subtitles in your language of choice.
Once that’s done, load them up via the Super Netflix Chrome extension, and you’re golden. Sadly this’ll only works on PCs and Macs for now.
Next level Netflixing
16. Make a Netflix button
If you’re a soldering wizard and know your way around a circuit board then you might want to make your very own one-touch Netflix button which can fire up your favourite streaming site, order a takeaway and dim the lights – all at the push of of a single button.
The steps are far too detailed to outline here, but if you’ve got a free weekend and the motivation, check out Netflix’s page for the full instructions.
17. Mix it up
Flixtape. Like mixtape, but with Netflix. Get it? No? Well, it’s quite simple really.
Log into Flixtape with your Netflix account, and you can create playlists of content, name them what you like, and share them with your friends.
A Comedy Horror Night In, for example, could have What We Do In The Shadows and Scary Movie. Your options are only limited by your imagination. And Netflix’s library, we suppose.
18. Voice Control
Great news those of you who have managed to sneak in a Google Home or have picked one up from GeeWiz, and want to watch Rick & Morty without having to lift a finger: it’s possible to voice control Netflix with Google’s smart speaker via a Chromecast that’s plugged into your TV (or you could just have a smart TV).
Go into the Google Home app, go to Menu > Google Assistant > More settings > Videos and Photos, and you’ll see the option to link Netflix and your Google Home. Once that’s connected, you can simply say “OK Google, watch Narcos’ and your TV will redirect to some Colombian drug baron action.
19. Share your account (without giving out your password)
Need to loan someone temporary access to your Netflix account while you’re on holiday in Mauritius?
The Chrome extension AccessURL lets you share a link with a built-in expiry date so they don’t abuse your generosity. Pity we can’t share access to more things this way.