The web browser and/or device determines the highest quality level (resolution) that you get when you play TV shows or movies on Netflix.
You get 1080p and 4k playback only in Microsoft Edge currently when it comes to web browsers. This means, that you get that only if your computer runs Windows 10, Microsoft's newest operating system.
Note: Internet Explorer and Safari support up to 1080p on Netflix, but Edge is the only browser that supports up to 4K playback.
If you run any other operating system, or a different web browser on Windows 10, all you get is a maximum of 720p instead.
There are other requirements that devices need to meet for 1080p or -- god beware -- 4K playback on Netflix. The Internet connection speed needs to support at least 5 Megabits per second, and you need to be subscribed to a plan that supports the resolution as well.
Tip: check out Netflix's system requirements for additional details on the requirements.
What if you don't have access to a device running Windows 10, or don't want to use Microsoft Edge or the Netflix application for Windows 10, to watch shows and movies on Netflix?
There is a solution for the former issue, but not for the latter. In short, you may use a virtual machine image of Windows 10 to run Netflix using Microsoft Edge or the Netflix application for Windows 10.
Note that this requires fairly modern hardware as running anything in a virtual machine puts more strain on the system. Still, if you want 1080p playback or even 4K playback, and don't have access to other means, this is your only option for that.
Check out our instructions on how to run Microsoft Edge using a virtual machine which we published recently. Basically, what it involves is downloading and installing a free VM software such as Oracle's VirtualBox, and installing a freely available trial version of Windows 10 as a virtual machine using it.
All that is left then is to start the virtual machine, open Microsoft Edge, then Netflix in the browser, to use it as if you'd use it on the local system.
You need to sign in to Netflix, and may use the Ctrl-Shift-Alt-S shortcut to check out the bitrates that you get. Make sure that Netflix is configured to deliver HD content (not to auto).
There is little that you can do if you notice stutters or artifacts though on the screen, as it is likely hardware related in that case. You may try the Netflix app for Windows 10 as well, as it may run better than Netflix in the browser.
To use it, open Windows Store, search for Netflix and install the application. Please note that you need to sign in once with a Microsoft account to install the application.
Start the Netflix application afterwards, sign in, and start playback. Preliminary tests on a moderate system have shown that playback is more fluent in the application than Edge.
The shortcut Ctrl-Shift-Alt-S works in the Netflix application as well, and you may use it to override the default bitrate to increase or decrease the quality of the stream.
Another benefit of running the application is that you may download some Netflix shows and movies to the local system. This removes the connection speed as a parameter for playback, and may improve the overall experience further.
If you want 1080p or higher playback on Netflix but don't use Windows 10, running Edge or the Netflix app in a Windows 10 virtual machine may be one option to achieve that. Considering that it takes quite a bit of effort to set things up, and that you need fairly powerful hardware on top of that, it is probably not a solution for the masses but for fans who want the best streaming quality on their devices.
Now you: 720p, 1080p or 4k quality, do you care about those on your computer?
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.