August 05, 2013, 1:33 PM — True story. Last night, while on an Amtrak train from Chicago to Detroit, I was trying to pass the time by watching Netflix on my laptop. Just one problem: The connectivity wasn't great between cities, so there were a lot of pauses while the stream buffered.
What I needed was a way to downshift Netflix, to make it buffer at a lower bit rate. Yes, that would lower the image quality at the same time, but at least it would be more likely to play smoothly.
As it happens, you can indeed change Netflix's buffer rate on the fly, while you're using the desktop (i.e. browser-based) player.
All you do is press Alt-Shift and then left-click in the player window. In the pop-up Diagnostics menu that appears, click Stream Manager.
Next, click the Manual Selection box, then try lowering the bit rate a few notches. Click Apply and you should have fewer pauses in the playback. If not, try lowering it a bit further still.
This method can also help if your ISP saddles you with a particularly restrictive bandwidth cap. If you typically go over your data limit each month, lower the bit rate. (You can make a more permanent change by venturing into your Netflix account settings and choosing Manage Video Quality, though you don't get nearly as many choices here.)
Granted, not many people will need to monkey with these kinds of settings, but if you're not blessed with high-speed Internet or you need to keep a close eye on that data cap, it's nice to know these settings are so readily accessible.
By the way, credit for this goes to LifeProTips, which shared the info via Reddit.
Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.