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5 things to know about Netflix’s offline downloads

Streaming colossus Netflix has finally revealed download functionality for Netflix, allowing users to store videos on their devices for offline viewing.

It’s been a long-overdue feature, allowing people to watch while on planes, overseas and in other places where fast, bountiful internet isn’t readily available. But what should you know about the feature then? We’ve got five things to keep in mind.

MicroSD card support is weird

Netflix doesn’t let you choose where to store downloaded video clips, making for a rather weird omission. But according to the streaming service’s help page, Netflix will save videos to wherever the app is installed.

In other words, if you choose to install Netflix on the microSD card, it’ll save videos to the card. Of course, your phone generally needs to support adoptable storage (from Android 6.0 onwards) to install apps to the card.

“We are exploring adding the ability to save to a separate SD card as we continue to improve this feature,” the company added.

You can change video quality

When the function was initially released this week, you couldn’t choose a quality setting for your clips. But Netflix has been working overtime in the past few hours, issuing an update that allows users to choose between standard and high quality.

The standard setting offers smaller file sizes, while the higher quality setting obviously offers sharper video and a corresponding increase in file size. The discrepancy isn’t massive but it’s still sizeable. For instance, one episode of Narcos at high quality weighed in at 297MB while the same episode at the standard setting was around 200MB. Of course, if you plan to download loads of clips, the savings will quickly add up.

Netflix download functionality isn’t perfect by any measure, but it’s a solid start

It’s worth noting that you can’t easily choose quality settings for each video that you want to download. Instead, you’ll have to download a video at the desired quality setting, then dive into the app settings to change the quality for the next video that you’d like to download.

Another interesting point is that you can choose the high quality setting on the basic plan as well. This is noteworthy because the basic plan doesn’t allow HD streaming. “Android devices must be able to stream Netflix in HD to select video quality,” the company adds. So if you want to watch clips in HD but don’t want to spend extra cash, this might be an option for you.

You can’t download all content

There doesn’t seem to be a hard limit to how many shows and movies you can download (aside from your internal storage or microSD card as outlined above).

However, Netflix doesn’t allow you to download every one of its available videos, as some studios ostensibly haven’t signed off on downloads. Fortunately, you can choose the “available to download” option to find eligible clips, and there are quite a few of them.

Downloads are only available on mobile for now

Unfortunately for those who prefer using laptops and consoles to watch Netflix, downloads are only available on Android and iOS (Windows Phone users are left in the dark as well).

As for requirements, you’ll need Android 4.4.2, iOS 8 and the latest app update (version 4.12 or thereabouts) to take advantage of the feature.

Will downloads expire?

We’ve asked Netflix whether downloads will expire after a set time, requiring users to connect to the internet again. They haven’t responded at the time of publication, but Gizmodo seems to have the answer.

The website claims that expiry times vary by content, with some videos expiring after seven days and others expiring after 48 hours. The publication says that once you hit ‘play’ on a downloaded clip, the My Downloads section will list how much time you’ve got to view it. I wasn’t able to reproduce this on my phone, but it might be something to keep in mind.

Update: Netflix has come back to us with information surrounding the expiration issue, saying it would be a 30 day expiry window for the most part.

“…we also have a 30 days expiry window for most of the titles, there can be some special cases with less time but this is usually highlighted when you download the file,” a representative told Memeburn.

The representative confirmed that the expiry window on these “special cases” would be seven days.

Author | Hadlee Simons

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings over seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More