A Hypothesis on Xbox Netflix Streaming

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Two nights ago I did the full network reset again after having more trouble with Netflix streaming. That’s the second time in a week, and even after I reset it, things didn’t really get better. Then I had an epiphany and tested it out… and I think I’m onto something.

When you get online with the Xbox 360, it’s usually like this:

  1. Turn on Xbox 360.
  2. Sign in with profile.
  3. Dashboard refreshes and you’re logged in.
  4. About 10 seconds later an alert pops up telling you how many friends you have online.

My usual Netflix experience is:

  1. Turn on Xbox 360.
  2. Sign in with profile.
  3. Dashboard refreshes and I’m logged in.
  4. Scroll up to find Netflix app.
  5. Start Netflix app.
  6. While Netflix app is loading, the alert pops up telling me how many friends are online.
  7. Netflix app takes several seconds to load.
  8. Select a show, start playing.
  9. Connection speed determination takes around 15 seconds.
  10. Connection speed is determined to be one bar.
  11. Alert pops up saying there isn’t enough bandwidth to stream.
  12. Exit the show, select the show, repeat from step 8 until I can get a speed that allows for HD streaming.
  13. Show buffers and plays. Occasionally the HD stream won’t hold and will downgrade to one bar, at which point exit the show and repeat from step 8 again.

What’s frustrating about this is that it seemed pretty hit or miss. I could retry upwards of ten times before getting a decent HD stream. Sometimes I can’t get anything over two bars period.

However,I noticed I generally didn’t have this issue if I was playing a game before I tried Netflix. That is:

  1. Turn on Xbox 360.
  2. Sign in with profile.
  3. Dashboard refreshes and I’m logged in.
  4. Start game.
  5. While game is loading, the alert pops up telling me how many friends are online.
  6. Play, then exit game.
  7. Scroll up to find Netflix app.
  8. Start Netflix app.
  9. Netflix app takes several seconds to load.
  10. Select a show, start playing.
  11. Connection speed determination takes around 5 seconds.
  12. Connection speed is determined to be full HD.
  13. Show buffers and plays. Usually no hiccups.

The difference is that I didn’t go straight into the Netflix app. So, after running through my usual frustrating “can’t get a signal” process last night, I thought I’d run a test:

  1. Turn on Xbox 360.
  2. Sign in with profile.
  3. Dashboard refreshes and I’m logged in.
  4. Sit and wait for the alert to pop up telling me how many friends are online.
  5. Scroll up to find Netflix app.
  6. Start Netflix app.
  7. Netflix app takes several seconds to load.
  8. Select a show, start playing. See what happens.

What I was doing was waiting for things to finish “settling down” after logging in. I’m not sure how else to quantify that, just waiting for whatever was going on in the background to figure out how many friends I had online.

You know what? I got an HD stream the first time.

After finishing watching a show in HD, I immediately tried to watch another episode and was greeted with the one-bar stream. Letting the app sit there for a few seconds idle, then selecting the show - HD stream, no problems.

My current hypothesis:

  • There’s something going on in the background when you first sign on to Xbox Live that causes the Netflix app to not get all the bandwidth it should. If you wait for that to finish, Netflix will treat you well.
  • After finishing a show, there’s something going on in the background on the network, possibly some sort of network connection being reset or resources being released. If you give it a few seconds to let that work, Netflix will treat you well.

This very well could totally be coincidence. It also might just be me.

That said, I recall “learning” this a while ago through some trial and error and promptly forgetting about it. It feels really familiar, like I knew it all along. I’ll keep testing and see how it goes; in the event you’re having similar problems, maybe it’s worth giving it a shot. Doesn’t cost you anything but a few seconds.

UPDATE 12/22/2010: This appears to only happen when using a wireless network. I ran ethernet cable to my Xbox a few months later and didn’t have any problems after that.

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