Change is afoot, courtesy of streaming giant Netflix, with downloads for on-the-go viewing, the addition of video previews on its interface, and a shortcut through the Australian censorship bureaucracy for quicker releases.

Anytime viewing

Often the problem with streaming video is the streaming part. You can’t do it on an airplane … yet. And even when WiFi gets to Australian aircraft, who knows whether you’ll be allowed to, or can afford to. Likewise, your 4G data allowance could lead to data shortages.

Netflix’s solution? Download shows to your portable device and then you can watch them anytime, anywhere, without a data connection.

Mini review: Does it work?

I logged onto my Netflix account with an Android tablet. Shows available for download are marked with the traditional download button. I picked one and hit the button. The first time it installed some kind of download manager, and then brought down the TV episode. This proved to be 288MB in size. How quickly this happens will depend on your connection speed. With my mediocre 5.5Mbps ADSL2+ connection, it only took a few minutes.

The download underway, with the downwards arrow download symbol next to the other episodes

The download underway, with the downwards arrow download symbol next to the other episodes

So, did it work? I logged out of the Netflix app, and disconnected from my WiFi and the logged back in to Netflix. Or, I tried to. “We cannot detect a network connection on this device. Please check Network Settings to connect to an available network” said the app. Oh well.

I connected to the network and tried again. The logon worked and took me through to the “Who’s Watching” page. So I switched off the network again and chose my icon. Nup: “We cannot detect a network …” WiFi back on, select my icon, and I’m in.

The downloads list from where you can watch or delete shows

The downloads list from where you can watch or delete shows

So, finally, WiFi off again. Now I could navigate to the download section and I could play the episode. Picture quality was fine on the small screen. The usual subtitle and language selection options were available. It blocked the tablet’s screenshot feature while it was running, but the tablet was able to Miracast the show to the Microsoft Wireless Display Adaptor plugged into a TV.

As shown on the TV, the picture used about two thirds of the screen width, leaving black bars to either side. That works out to 1280 pixels wide, so I figure the download uses a 720p resolution (1280 by 720 pixels).

The show could be Google Cast just like any Netflix TV to a Chromecast or compatible device.

When you’re finished with a show, you can press on it for a second on the downloads screen and the option to delete it comes up, allowing you to reclaim the space.

Miracasting to a full HDTV, the downloaded episode uses part of the screen

Miracasting to a full HDTV, the downloaded episode uses part of the screen

I didn’t bother looking for the download file on the Android device. I think it’s safe to assume that it would be heavily copy protected.

So, in brief: if you’re planning on using this feature on a device or in circumstances in which a connection to the Internet is not feasible, make sure that you’ve logged into the app and chosen your profile while you still have Internet or you won’t be able to play back the downloaded shows. If you do have 4G or whatever on your phone, then that won’t be a problem.