Streaming shows and movies over the internet is the best way to watch TV, and Netflix is the best choice for streaming entertainment, period. It includes a wide variety of familiar network shows and more original series, films, documentaries and specials than any of its myriad competitors. The world’s first major streaming service remains our favorite choice in 2021 thanks to its huge library of constantly-refreshed content and its easy accessibility across different devices. If you’re looking for something new to watch, Netflix should be your top choice.

Like

  • Strong recommendation engine.
  • Easy to use across different devices.
  • Offline downloads available.
  • Extensive list of movies and shows.
  • Massive selection of original programs.
  • No commercials ever.

Don’t Like

  • Cost for premium plan is on the higher end.
  • Can’t watch shows as they air on other networks.
  • Content comes and goes without warning.

Depending on the plan you choose, Netflix costs between $9 and $18 per month, which is at the higher end for a streaming service, as you can see in the chart below. However, the pricier package lets you watch on up to four screens at once, and create different user profiles, so in theory, you could split it among friends to lower the price. Thanks to its sheer variety and number of new things to watch, Netflix also gives you the most bang for your buck.

Select streaming services compared

Netflix Peacock HBO Max Disney Plus Apple TV Plus Amazon Prime Video Hulu
Monthly price Starts at $9 Basic free with ads, ad-free for $5 $15 $7 $5 $9 (or included with $120/year Prime membership) Basic $6 with ads, ad-free Premium for $12, Live TV for $65
Ads No Yes No No No No Yes
Availability Now Now Now Now Now Now Now
Top titles The Queen’s Gambit, The Crown, Stranger Things, Breaking Bad, Tiger King The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, early access to Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon Game of Thrones, Friends, Big Bang Theory, Rick and Morty, Sesame Street The Mandalorian, WandaVision, Avengers Endgame, Toy Story, The Simpsons Ted Lasso, The Morning Show, Dickinson, For All Mankind Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Hunters, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, The Big Sick Handmaid’s Tale, Palm Springs, PEN15, The Great
Mobile downloads Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
4K HDR available Yes (on Premium plan) No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Number of streams: 1 (2 for Standard, 4 on Premium) 3 3 4 6 2 2 (Unlimited with Live TV $9.99 add-on)

Netflix for beginners

Netflix was founded in 1997 as a company that offered online movie rentals. For the next decade, it mailed out DVDs, offering personalized recommendations for what to rent next. In 2007, the company introduced streaming, allowing subscribers to instantly watch TV shows and movies on their personal computers, instead of waiting for a physical DVD in the mail. 

In 2013, Netflix premiered its first original TV shows, including House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. Today, it has a catalog of more than 1,300 original TV shows and movies, including global hits like Stranger Things, and the Oscar-nominated The Irishman, Marriage Story and Roma, which won for best foreign language film in 2019.

Today, Netflix has more than 200 million paid subscribers across 190 countries, after seeing a major spike in users during the pandemic. The Netflix app can run on pretty much any device including Android, iOS, Roku, Amazon Fire TV ($34 at Amazon), Apple TV ($180 at Best Buy), Android TV, Chromecast ($15 at eBay), Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. 


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What shows and movies does Netflix have? 

Netflix may have had the first-to-market advantage in the world of streaming services, but it’s kept its momentum with its increasing number of original shows and movies — many of which have won critical acclaim and major awards and nominations. 

Compared to other streaming platforms, you can’t beat Netflix’s slate of original TV shows that are now considered among the best of the modern era of television, including The Crown, Stranger Things, The Queen’s GambitBlack MirrorOrange is the New Black, BoJack Horseman, The Haunting of Hill House and Russian Doll. It also has Marvel’s older superhero TV shows, including Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, but new Marvel shows like WandaVision will appear only on Disney Plus.

Read more: All 70 movies Netflix is releasing in 2021

Outside of TV shows, Netflix’s original programs include a wide range of comedies, dramas, foreign films and shows, documentary series, stand-up comedy specials, and reality dating and competition shows. Not all of them are runaway hits, but a lot of them are, and there’s enough to explore interesting shows that may not have found a home on traditional network TV. And at a time when it’s almost impossible to go to a movie theater, Netflix offers a place to find new films: In 2021 alone, Netflix will release 70 new movies, at least one per week.

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The Queen’s Gambit is Netflix’s most-watched limited series ever.


Netflix

Netflix typically adds shows a full season at a time, though not while a show is airing on network TV — so if you don’t have cable or another platform like Hulu, you’ll have to wait to watch for a few months. 

One complaint: Netflix content sometimes can come and go without warning. The only way to tell if something is leaving the service in the next 30 days is if you happen to tap on the details page for the given show or movie — or try to keep up with lists from sites including CNET on everything coming and going in a given month.

Another potential content issue to flag: Netflix recently lost some of its most popular content (such as The Office, which moved to NBC’s Peacock, and Star Trek, which moved to CBS All Access, soon to be Paramount Plus) as other networks create their own streaming services. While it started as an online video store that was trying to offer every movie and TV series online, it may be slowly becoming more akin to the old HBO — mostly featuring its own original programming, complemented with some things it licenses from other content providers.

What’s it like to use Netflix? 

I first subscribed to Netflix back in the first streaming days of 2007, so using the platform feels like second nature at this point. Even if you’re new to it, it’s pretty user-friendly: Open the app and tap on your profile (if you have one set up), and you’ll see a homepage. You’ll see Popular Picks for You, Continue Watching, Trending Picks for You, and a number of (sometimes oddly specific) other categories based on shows you’ve watched before. Mine include Critically-acclaimed Witty TV Comedies and Suburban-dysfunction TV Comedies, for example. 

Netflix’s design encourages scrolling — there are so many different categories to look through, and then shows and movies within those categories to continue scrolling into. You can create a watch list to help you cut down on this, but the vast, colorful library makes it easy to spend more time looking through options than actually watching a show, so be careful.

The Netflix app operates very similarly across various devices. My home page on the web browser is nearly identical to that on my Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV Stick, both in content and layout. It’s more condensed on the smaller iPhone ($599 at Apple) and Android phone screens, but still follows the same format, and has a clear “Downloads” tab to find content to save to watch offline on your device. 

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Angela Lang/CNET

One difference between devices is voice command: You might find it more or less difficult to fire up a Netflix show from your device’s home screen depending on which voice-capable device you’re using.

For example, when you say “Watch Stranger Things” on the Apple TV and the iOS app on iPhone, it will first have you click which specific show (Stranger Things or Beyond Stranger Things), and then will take you to an Apple TV page for the show, and there it will give you the option to open Netflix and start episode 1. On Amazon Fire TV Stick, you can say “Watch Stranger Things,” and it will open Netflix automatically if you’re logged into the app. On the Roku Ultra, if you say “Watch Stranger Things,” it finds too many options, and doesn’t do anything. But, if you say “Watch Stranger Things on Netflix,” it will take you right to the first episode in the app. Those are more hardware-side concerns, but interesting to note. 

Once you’re in the Netflix app, though, voice command works the same across devices: Go to the Search tab, hold the microphone button to dictate, and say the name of the show you’re looking for. 

When you select a show or movie to watch, you have the option to fast-forward, rewind, add subtitles and change your audio settings. If you have a Premium account and a big enough 4K TV, watching in Ultra HD makes for a very cinematic experience. The show or movie you choose will also show up in your “Continue watching” section at the top of your homepage for easier access. 

How much does Netflix cost? 

Netflix offers three pricing plans: Basic, Standard and Premium. Here is how the costs and features break down:

Netflix plans

Basic Standard Premium
Monthly price $9 $14 $18
Number of screens you can watch on at the same time 1 2 4
Number of phones or tablets you can have downloads on 1 2 4
HD available No Yes Yes
Ultra HD available No No Yes

All plans include the ability to watch on any device, and the full, unlimited collection of movies and TV shows. All allow for cancellation at any time. Netflix also offers a one-month free trial. 

Netflix’s Basic plan costs the same as Prime Video ($9 per month), a bit more than Hulu’s ad-based plan ($6 per month) but less than its more comparable no-ads plan ($12 per month). If you’re on a shared Netflix account with family, chances are it’s a Premium one ($18 per month) — if you’re actually splitting it between four people, that’s only $4.50 per month each, and a strong value for all of the original content available, including some in Ultra HD. Plus: No commercials on any plan. 

What features do you get on Netflix? 

Outside of general streaming, if you have the Standard or Premium plan, you can create different profiles for different users, and find your own list of personalized recommendations. 

If you subscribe to the Premium plan, you can watch certain shows and movies in 4K Ultra HD on 4K TVs. You’ll need a steady internet connection speed of at least 25 megabits per second, and streaming quality set to Auto or High. 

Netflix has more 4K content than just about any other streaming service, and a lot of its 4K shows and movies are also available in HDR. High dynamic range provides an even bigger improvement in image quality than 4K according to CNET’s tests, with better contrast and color, and the difference is especially apparent on large, higher-end televisions. Netflix supports the two major HDR formats, generic HDR (aka HDR-10) as well as Dolby Vision. If you have a device that handles Dolby Vision, Netflix will play content (if available) in that format by default.

netflix4k.jpg

Netflix has a lot of content in 4K and HDR, including Dolby Vision.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Data usage varies by format, ranging from about 1GB per hour for the standard-definition video to up to 7GB per hour for the highest-quality 4K streams. Downloading and streaming take up a similar amount of data, according to Netflix. If you want to avoid having Netflix eat up all of your data, you can take certain steps laid out on Netflix’s website to adjust your data usage settings

All subscribers can download TV shows and movies on the Netflix app on mobile devices for offline viewing. 

Should you get it? 

Netflix remains my favorite streaming platform of the increasingly large bunch. It has a huge selection of movies and TV shows old and new, tons of high-quality original programs, and an easy-to-navigate interface. 

Even though it no longer offers a free trial, it’s worth trying Netflix for a month if you want something new to watch.


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