Netflix is so awesome, there are times I want to take it behind the bleachers and make out with it.
In fact, it's kind of ridiculous how good a deal it is. For eight bucks a month you get unlimited streaming to any and every device you own: phones, tablets, PCs, Apple TVs, Roku boxes, game consoles, and so on.
Of course, as wonderful as Netflix is, there are ways to make it better. Below I've rounded up three of my favorite tips for getting more from the service--two of them free, all of them awesome.
1. Visit Instantwatcher.com
Although you can search Netflix for specific shows and movies, the service is actually pretty mediocre when it comes to browsing. You see only a fraction of what's available and can't really filter the listings beyond basic categories.
That's why I love Instantwatcher.com, a site that offers endless ways to browse the Netflix instant-streaming library—especially finding what's new and popular on the service. Just click the New or Visual links for an up-to-the-minute roster of the latest additions. Or click any of the other categories for detailed lists. You can also view what's "popular," "best," and "worst."
A particularly nice touch: If you find something you like, you can add it right to your queue—you don't have to switch over to Netflix and search again.
If you prefer to browse on the go, grab the Instantwatcher app for iOS
.2. Record streams for offline viewing
One of my favorite things about Amazon's Prime service is that it allows you to download select movies and TV shows to your Kindle Fire, great if you want something to watch during a flight or you simply don't have the bandwidth to support smooth streaming.
Alas, Netflix has no such option, but there are still ways to record its content for offline viewing. At least two products offer this capability: Audials Moviebox 11
($24.90) and MediaMall PlayLater ($39.99 for a lifetime subscription). Both can capture real-time Netflix streams and convert the videos to the format of your choice. I've tried both, and they work as advertised.
Legal? According to MediaMall Technologies, "PlayLater is technology designed to let individuals watch legal online content whenever and wherever they like. Just like the broadcast DVR and the VCR before it, PlayLater is designed for personal use and convenience." My two cents: These products would have already been sued out of existence if they violated copyright law.3. Watch Netflix in other countries--without traveling to them
It's a little-known fact that the Netflix viewing options in other countries differ greatly from what's available here.
Take a trip to London, for example, and you'll find movies like "21 Jump Street" and "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" and TV shows like "Modern Family" and "The Good Wife." And up in Canada they've got "Despicable Me," "House of Lies," and other goodies not offered in the U.S.
Needless to say, it's probably not worth booking a flight to a foreign country just so you can watch more movies and TV. But what if your Web browser could take you on a virtual journey? It can thanks to Hola, a browser extension that enables you to sign into Netflix in other countries
. It can be a little confusing, and there might be some risk in using it--but it works.
Let's hit up that risk part first. Hola merely facilitates a VPN connection to Netflix in other countries, where you then use your existing paid account (same as if you actually traveled to those countries). Does this violate Netflix's terms of service
? I didn't find anything in the text that seemed applicable, but it's always possible the company will detect your "travels" and not take kindly to it. Consequently, consider yourself warned: do this at your own risk.
In my admittedly informal tests, Hola was a bit tricky to set up and often slow to connect to other countries. Occasionally I had to click a link more than once to get it to switch over. This is not what I'd call a novice-friendly tool.
That said, once you actually get connected to Netflix Netherlands or wherever, it's fairly easy to bounce around to different countries and peruse the selection. It's also kind of thrilling.