Netflix is without doubt a very popular service that allows you to watch TV shows and movies by streaming them to devices you are using.
The service is a lot cheaper than cable in most countries it is offered in, and since it is digital, enables you to pick what you want to watch.
The quality of the Netflix stream depends on several factors that include the bandwidth available on the customer's end, the player technology used to play back the video streams, and the web browser.
Especially the latter may come as a surprise to users of the service but the Help Center on Netflix's website indicates that this is indeed the case.
The HTML5 Player may limit the quality of the stream while the Silverlight player does not. HD resolution streams are only available if the Internet connection supports at least 5 Megabits per second, but that is not the only restriction.
Only Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge on Windows, Safari on Mac OS X, and Chrome on Chrome OS support 1080p HTML5 player streams while Chrome, Firefox and Opera only stream up to 720p in quality.
You can check the quality of the stream with the shortcut Ctrl-Shift-Alt-S.
What you can do to resolve this
There are several things that you can try to resolve the issue. First, you want to make sure that you are subscribed to the right plan.
The basic plan does not support HD or Ultra HD, and if that's your plan, it explains why you cannot stream in HD quality.
You can also verify the quality that you are getting by using the shortcut Ctrl-Shift-Alt-S while a stream is playing using the HTML5 Player.
A menu pops up listing all video and audio bitrates supported by the player. If you see 3000 as the maximum, you are only getting 720p at the most.
Some videos are not available in HD or Ultra HD, which means that you won't be able to play them in better quality even if you met all requirements. I suggest you try several movies or shows, for instance Netflix originals to make sure that is not the limiting factor in your case.
While you could switch browsers if you are using Mac or Windows devices, to watch in 1080p, you could also consider using one of the native applications that Netflix offers.
These apps, usually, offer HD streaming while web browsers may not. This is for instance the case for gaming consoles, the native Windows application and many more applications that stream Netflix.
You may also want to check the playback settings in the account:
Another thing that you can do is check the Netflix speed index to make sure your Internet Service Provider delivers the required bandwidth to watch streams in HD. This is especially important if you are using a native application or a system browser on Windows or Mac as they should deliver 1080p if the video is provided in the quality and the Internet connection supports the bandwidth needed to stream in HD.
Update: A Chrome and Firefox add-on is available now which unlocks 1080p playback on Netflix in those browsers.
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