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'Commitment Rings' will stop you Netflix cheating - plus all the latest Netflix news, including UK prices

Richard Easton
31 May 2016
Cornetto Commitment Rings
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Cornetto is releasing wearables designed to stop you 'Netflix cheating'

In one of the stranger wearables we've seen, ice cream maker Cornetto - yes, that one - is supposedly creating a set of rings with the aim of promoting 'series commitment' (their words). This is the notion that couples who embark on watching a television series together not 'cheat' on one another by continuing to watch the series when the other isn't present. Truly a 21st-century problem.

Its Commitment Rings', which come as a pair, works through NFC and are designed to restrict television series viewing to only when both rings are present. They work through NFC and a companion app. Users are asked to link their streaming service account, which, judging by the promotional video will support Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu, then pick the shows they want to restrict to paired viewing. If the app doesn't detect both rings are present, then watching the next episode isn't allowed. This will work for six months although if your relationship's very foundations rest upon trusting your significant other not to watch certain television shows, who knows if it'll even last the six months. 

Whether or not this is all just an elaborate marketing ploy remains to be seen but you can register your interest on the Series Commitment website to see if these wearables ever do come to fruition. You can watch the promotional video below.

14/3/2016 - Netflix Android Beta app

Netflix is releasing a new beta version of its Android app that adds the new data saving mode first seen in the iOS version of the app. The only caveat being for now it's only available to beta testers. Opting into beta testing is a simple affair at least, and can be done from this link. Once you've opted in, you'll get the new beta version available as an update.

With data saver turned on, the Netflix app will now use less bandwidth when it detects you're not using a Wi-Fi connection, which should help anyone on a limited data tariff. There's no specific option as to how much bandwidth is available, however. It's either turned on or off with no varying streaming quality options. Android Police has also reported that the new beta version introduces support for Google Play billing, which means in-app subscribing is likely coming.

24/2/2016 - New iOS app released

Netflix is rolling out new iOS apps for both iPhone and iPad that will promote more heavy 'binge-watching' than the older versions. The auto-play feature of Netflix can be attributed as a major reason for marathon Netflix sessions that extend from dawn until dusk in many households but until now it's only been available on the desktop and television-based apps and services. Now, with the new iOS version this feature is now coming to mobile devices. Now it'll be tougher than ever to resist that 'one more episode' promise we all fail to keep. Netflix has stated that an updated Android version will be coming later in the year, but hasn't revealed exactly when. Other improvements to the iOS versions' UI are also expected with a more seamless and attractive design.

Data usage controls will also be introduced with the new version, which will be a lifesaver for anyone on a limited data tariff. Streaming video is notorious for burning through data rapidly, so it was all too easy to reach your data usage limit after a lengthy viewing session. This will only get worse with auto-play. Thankfully, you can now limit the bitrate in the app to help better manage your data usage.

8/2/2016 - HDR coming to Netflix

According to a report by Digital Trends, we should expect plenty of new content from Netflix that takes advantage of High Dynamic Range (See: What is HDR TV and why should you care?). Comments from Neil Hunt, Chief Product Officer at Netflix indicate the streaming company expects that 5% of its content will be available in HDR in a year, with this number set to increase to 20% by 2019. Of course, adoption will also be heavily dependent on the adoption rates of new HDR-capable televisions.

Read: How to get Netflix on your TV using DIAL

Neil Hunt summarised the visual improvement viewers can expect from HDR: “In the real world, you have 14 bits of brightness difference, so imagine stepping outside to look at a reflection of water or shadow of a tree that’s between 12 and 14-bits of range." In comparison, non-HDR televisions are only capable of 8-bit colour range, meaning they can't display the same levels of shadow and highlight detail at the same time. HDR isn't anything particularly new, it's something your smartphone is likely capable of for its still images. Rather than taking one exposure that sacrifices shadow or highlight detail, multiple exposures are taken and then combined to provide light detail from shadows, midtones and highlights.

Netflix is in part playing catch up to Amazon, which already started streaming content in HDR through its original series Mozart in the Jungle last summer, so needless to say, HDR will be the next big thing in televisions. You'll just need to make sure your shiny new television is both 4K and HDR-capable to take full advantage.

Jump to: Everything you need to know about Netflix

15/1/2016 - Netflix introducing more stringent location blocking

Netflix is now available in 190 countries but the same catalogue isn't available everywhere. This means that films and television shows available on Netflix UK might not be available on Netflix USA, Netflix Canada or Netflix Germany, for example. Simply put, licensing content deals are different for different territories. Until now, Netflix has largely taken a 'hands off' approach to stopping people circumventing these restrictions but, judging by a recent blog post, those days are coming to an end.

David Fullagar, VP of content delivery architecture, stated that Netflix anticipates being able to eventually deliver identical catalogues but in terms of timeframe only states that this will happen 'over time'. Until then, Netflix is evolving its proxy and 'unblocker' detection. "That means in coming weeks, those using proxies and unblockers will only be able to access the service in the country where they currently are. We are confident this change won’t impact members not using proxies," wrote Fullagar. 

How to access Netflix's secret categories

How is Netflix going to do this? Well, it will most likely come down to the way that the VPN proxy servers work.the trick will come from the company being able to detect when people are using an IP address that When you use one of these servers, your Netflix traffic is tunnelled through to a foreign country, such as the US. From Netflix's point of view, the technology gives you a US IP address, fooling it into giving you the American catalogue of content. To prevent such tricks from taking place, the company will have to detect when an IP address is being used by an unblocker and then block that from accessing Netflix. If a VPN's IP address is blocked, the user will not be able to access Netflix and will have to revert to standard network settings in order to get any content.

At this point, I wouldn't worry too much about Netflix's plans. As always, there are counter-measures to get around Netflix's protection. First, peer-to-peer VPN services, where you use a regular American user's IP  address, will be much harder to block, as Netflix will have to block a real internet connection with a real person on it. Secondly, the unblockers will be working on counter-measures, such as rapidly changing and updating the IP addresses they use. 

Unblock-Us (the service Expert Reviews recommends) has already posted a comment on its site, "We are aware of the announcement and should our service be affected at any time, we will make adjustments. Presently, there is nothing to be concerned about as everything is working properly. It is our mission to provide you with open and free access to content from anywhere around the world."

Smartflix

Likewise, services such as Smartflix, which has been increasing in popularity in recent weeks, will most likely be working on a fix. Smartflix is desktop software that consolidates a worldwide index of Netflix content and provides access through a proxy service. You only know what catalogue the content is from when you hover over it. Content starts playing within the chromeless web browser that's accessing Netflix's web player. As such, you're limited to 720p resolution. We spoke to Smartflix before Netflix's announcement and the company stated that a future iOS app with AirPlay was planned. The way that Google uses its own DNS servers for the Chromecast means that casting support won't be implemented: you can get American Netflix on Chromecast using our guide, but it's not that straightforward.

In his blog post, David Fullagar ends on a positive note: "We look forward to offering all of our content everywhere and to consumers being able to enjoy all of Netflix without using a proxy. That’s the goal we will keep pushing towards." How long this will take is unknown as is what sort of impact Netflix's more stringent geolocation restrictions will have on membership numbers following their introduction. In the meantime, you should sit tight to see what happens. When the blocking starts to come into place, our guide on how to watch American Netflix will be updated.

21/12/2015 - BT TV is first to offer 4K Netflix

BT has announced that it will become the first TV service in the UK to offer 4K Netflix. Using its new Ultra HD YouView+ boxes, BT TV customers will be able to watch all of Netflix's biggest shows in Ultra HD, including House of Cards, Narcos, Marvel's Jessica Jones and Better Call Saul. They'll still need to be on Netflix's Ultra HD plan, of course, which currently costs £8.99 a month, but it now makes BT one of the best destinations for native 4K content. 

For added convenience, BT will also add new Ultra HD Netflix subscriptions to a customer's current bill, allowing them to pay for their BT TV, Infinity Broadband and Netflix subscription all in a single bill. Likewise, streaming Netflix through their Ultra HD YouView+ box won't eat into their monthly download allowance. All you need is a compatible Ultra HD or 4K TV and to sign up for BT TV's Total Entertainment package for £15, and new customers will then receive a YouView+ Ultra HD set-top box. 

Ultra HD and 4K: The definitive guide and what you can watch

Delia Bushell, managing director of BT TV & BT Sport said: “This is bringing our BT TV customers the best drama series married with the highest quality viewing experience now available. Our Ultra HD package will enhance the experience and provide unmissable content at great value, including must-see new Netflix shows like Narcos, and original series like Orange Is The New Black available, alongside live action from the Barclays Premier League and UEFA Champions League and Europa League. We’re delighted to be offering our customers a wide range of incredible Ultra HD content with the convenience of a single bill.” 

Better quality, lower bitrates - Netflix unveils new encoding recipe

Netflix has unveiled plans to re-encode its entire catalogue of films and TV shows in an attempt to cut down on the amount of bandwidth it uses, delivering an identical, if not improved viewing experience without hogging a country's national bandwidth allowance.

It aims to achieve this by using what it calls a brand-new "recipe". At the moment, everything you watch has been pre-encoded to run at various bitrates depending on your internet connection speed and available bandwidth. In other words, the Netflix client on your device automatically selects the best encode recipe to maximise video quality while minimising playback interruptions such as buffering and loading times.

According to Netflix, this isn't as easy as it sounds. "For example, assuming a 1 Mbps bandwidth, should we stream H.264/AVC at 480p, 720p or 1080p?" Netflix said on its blog. "With 480p, 1 Mbps will likely not exhibit encoding artefacts such blocking or ringing, but if the member is watching on an HD device, the up-sampled video will not be sharp. On the other hand, if we encode at 1080p we send a higher resolution video, but the bitrate may be too low such that most scenes will contain annoying encoding artefacts."

As a result, this one-size-fits-all approach isn't quite as efficient as it could be, so Netflix has decided to re-encode its catalogue using a brand-new per-title bit rate ladder recipe. For instance, animated content doesn't need to run at a high bit rate in order to look good. In an episode of Bojack Horseman, for instance, Netflix says that it currently uses a 1,750 kbps bit rate for its 480p encode. With the per-title recipe, however, it will be able to deliver 1080p video at 1,540 kbps, delivering crisper, sharper visuals at a higher resolution without using as much bandwidth.

^ On the right you'll see Netflix's current 1,750kbps stream of Bojack Horseman, while the left shot is the new, crisper 1,540kbps stream

Shows with "average complexity" such as Orange is the New Black will also benefit from the new bit rate ladder according to Netflix, as the new per-title encoding can assign 4,640 kbps for the highest quality 1080p encode, delivering a bit rate saving of 20% compared to the current 5,800 kbps bit rate using Netflix's fixed bit rate ladder.

This has a number of advantages, as it means users don't need to use as much data when streaming videos over their mobile network, and it will also allow Netflix to bring its service to more countries which don't have as much bandwidth to play with or such stable internet connections. Unfortunately, the new recipe doesn't apply to 4K content, but hopefully it will only be a matter of time before we start seeing Ultra HD videos that don't completely cripple your home internet. 

Everything you need to know about Netflix

How much does it cost? You can try Netflix free for one month, but you'll then need to pay £5.99 per month for streaming content in standard definition to one device, £7.49 a month for streaming to two devices simultaneously in HD, or £8.99 a month for streaming to four devices simultaneously in both HD and Ultra HD if you want to continue using the service. You can cancel your subscription at any time, though, without worrying about any kind of charge or cancellation fee, and join up again when it's convenient. 

Where can I watch Netflix? You can watch Netflix on all Android and iOS devices, as well as your PC or laptop, games console (including the PS3, PS4, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360 and Xbox One), Blu-ray player, smart TV, media streaming devices or set-top box. 

You'll find a full list of compatible Netflix devices here, but as long as your smart TV is made by LG, Panasonic, Philips, Sony, Sharp, Samsung or Toshiba, then you should be covered. Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku and Google's Nexus Player also support Netflix, and set-top boxes from BT, Philips, Sony, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and YouView are also likely to have a built-in app. As for Blu-ray players, current models from LG, Panasonic, Philips, Sony, Samsung and Toshiba will also have Netflix built-in.

How to watch American Netflix using a Virtual Private Network

How fast does my internet need to be? Netflix requires a minimum broadband connection speed of 0.5 megabits per second, but faster internet connections will improve the quality of your video. 3.0 Mbit/s is recommended for SD quality content, 5.0 Mbit/s is recommended for HD quality, and a massive 25 Mbit/s is recommended for Ultra HD. Provided you sign up for Netflix's HD subscription plan, you'll need to make sure your video quality is set to High in your account's Playback Settings.

How do I access Netflix's 'secret' categories on the web player? Netflix's standard interface shows you a long vertical list broken down into different horizontal carousels of content based on categories. These include 'Popular on Netflix' near the top, 'Trending Now' and then are broken down into different categories like 'US TV Programmes' and 'Documentaries'. These are quite limited and aren't the best way to find unspecific content, especially if you're just browsing for something to watch. There's also the 'Browse' menu at the top of the screen that gives you a list of standard categories like 'Musicals' and 'Drama'. 

However, Netflix actually assigns a massive catalogue of categories to all of its content, most of which aren't listed under the standard Browse menu or in the carousels. To find them, visit this website: http://ogres-crypt.com/public/NetFlix-Streaming-Genres.html 

Netflix secret menu

Once you find the specific category you're interested in, such as 'Sports Documentaries', take the numerical code, in this instance it's '180'. To then easily browse relevant content go to the Netflix website and add '/genre/[code]' to the end of Netflix's web address (after the /browse). So to view Sports Documentaries, navigate to: http://www.netflix.com/browse/genre/180, now you're presented with an easy to navigate list to find something to watch. This is a great way to find new content you never knew was available to stream on Netflix.

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