11 Netflix tips and tricks: Smarter searches, have a party and more

Just signed up to Netflix but not sure where to begin? Whether you're watching on smartphone, laptop or TV, read our guide to make the streaming TV service work for you.

Netflix has so many features and so many films, series and other shows to enjoy that the sheer choice can be overwhelming when you first sign up.

Whether you’re watching on smartphone, laptop or TV, here are a few tips to help you find the shows you want and enjoy them in the best quality on matter where you're watching.

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1. How to find anything on Netflix: Trending, Popular and search

Many people sign up to Netflix to watch a specific show like retro teen drama Stranger Things or Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul. But once you've binged your way through these, how do you find your next TV addiction?

Popular, Trending and Netflix Originals: If it’s a recent show, chances are you’ll see it very quickly in the Popular, Trending and Netflix Originals lists. Every new viewer is presented with these lists right underneath the current star show splashed across the top of the screen. You can scroll left or right to see what’s in these lists.

Search: If you can’t find your film or TV show here, look for the search icon - scroll up until you see the magnifying glass, or press the menu button on a TV or mobile device.

Entering just a few letters of the title will reveal a list that gets smaller as you complete the name. It will even search inside titles for actors, characters or even plot points. If the programme you're searching for isn't on Netflix, you'll see similar or related titles instead.

The TV Programmes and Films menus will also show you lists that you can narrow down by genre or sort by suggestions, Year Released, and A-Z or Z-A.

BT TV search: BT has a universal search that covers every player, app and TV channel on the service, including Netflix. Just press the Search button on your remote, and start typing out the name of the film or TV show.

Netflix My List

2. Make shows you like find you on Netflix: My List and ratings

You’ll get more out of Netflix if you make it work for you. You can do this by telling it what shows you like: add films and TV shows to My List, and rate things you’ve already seen.

My List: Click or tap the + symbol next to any item on Netflix to add it to your list. My List will appear first on screen, under the current star show.

Rating: Netflix lets you rate films and TV by selecting a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down button. Not only will rating things start to change what appears in your feed, but it will also tell Netflix what other subscribers want to see.

3. Why do I have lists like 'Documentaries about small cute animals'?

Netflix knows what you’ve been watching, and if you watch a film all the way through or binge-watch a TV series, then it will start to offer you similar things that it thinks you might also want to see.

There are broad lists like 'Award-winning Films' and 'Action', but you'll also find slightly more niche lists like 'TV Shows set in New York City' or 'TV Dramas Featuring a Strong Female Lead'. If you don’t browse them, they’ll be replaced by something else.

There are apparently more than 5,000 of these categories in all - if you’re watching on the Chrome browser you can expose them all with the Netflix Hidden Category Search extension.

T Netflix avatars web

4. How can I customise my Netflix profile and avatar?

You don’t have to be greeted by the smiley face every time you log into Netflix, and your kids will definitely enjoy choosing their own avatars. Fortunately, there are dozens to choose from.

Click on your avatar in the corner of the screen (top right on desktop), or tap the menu button and choose Manage Profiles. Select the edit icon (a pencil) on your avatar, and scroll through the list.

As well as classic cartoon-style avatars, there are characters from Netflix’s most popular shows, like Marvel’s Defenders and Queer Eye, and characters from children's programmes are available to keep younger viewers happy.

You can also change your profile name, language and age rating (see below) via the Manage Profiles menu.

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5. How can I set up parental controls on Netflix?

Netflix has two levels of parental control. Hard controls need a PIN code to change their maturity level. Soft controls are for parents who supervise what their children watch or trust them not to change the setting.

Every account can be restricted to one of four age groups: Little Children Only, Older Children and Younger, Teens and Below, or All Maturity Levels. If you set an account to Child, then only the two youngest groups will be visible in the Manage Profiles menu.

To set up parental controls, you need to access Netflix from a web browser and access your Account page, then select Parental Controls.

The PIN code can also be used to lock out specific TV shows and films that you don’t want someone to watch. In the Parental Controls menu, the option PIN protection for a specific title lets you type in the title and select it when it appears.

Netflix Children web view

6. What is Netflix Children?

Netflix profiles set to one of the two youngest age settings will switch to Children mode. It’s a more playful and simple interface that offers films and TV programmes based on what youngsters watch most.

There are no ratings or My List in Children, although you can search and choose by category. If there’s a child’s profile on your account, the option to switch to Children view will always appear at the top of the home screen.

If parental PIN controls are turned on, you will need the PIN number to exit Children mode once you go into it.

7. Netflix Party: watch together when you’re far apart

It’s not an official feature, but Netflix Party lets you keep up with your favourite shows when you and your viewing buddy can’t get to the same sofa.

It’s a Chrome browser extension, so you have to watch using the Chrome browser or via Chromecast. Once it’s installed you can start watching an episode or film, pause it and send a link to your viewing partner (you can watch with as many people as you like).

Your viewing will be synchronised, and there’s a chat bar on screen so that you can share your excitement as the drama unfolds.

The only downsides are that everyone gets kicked out of the party when the episode ends and you have to set up a new link for every show. Your enjoyment might also be restricted if your buddy is in a country where a certain show isn't available.

Netflix stock viewing in cafe

8. Netflix on your TV: casting and smart TV apps

Watching Netflix on a smartphone, tablet or laptop isn’t the most comfortable or sociable experience, but there are lots of ways to watch on your TV or through a projector.

The ideal way to watch is through your BT TV box, but if you're in the wrong room or in another house, the easiest way is to cast from your laptop, phone or tablet to a Google Chromecast or Apple TV device.

If you’re on a wi-fi network, look for the TV-style ‘cast’ icon in the top right corner of your screen. Click it and you’ll be shown friendly devices on the same network - select the one you want to watch and your broadcast will begin in a few seconds.

If you forget to sign out of a shared device - for instance, if you've logged in at someone else's house or if you've been at a holiday let, don't worry - when you get home just click on the menu next to the profile icon on the home screen, select 'Account' and click 'Sign out of all devices'.

9. How to get 4K Ultra HD and HDR on Netflix

Many Netflix Original productions are now being produced in 4K Ultra HD and High Dynamic Range (also known as HDR). If you have a compatible TV or monitor, you’ll see an incredible difference from the High Definition video you’re used to.

To access 4K Ultra HD and HDR TV shows, you’ll need the top-level Premium Netflix subscription and an internet connection of 25Mbit or faster. Laptop users will also need the Windows 10 app or the Microsoft Edge browser.

BT TV viewers with the Ultra HD box can watch in 4K, as can gamers with the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One S or Xbox One X games consoles.

[Read more: The best Netflix shows to watch in 4K]

Netflix auto-generated categories

10. Saving data with Netflix on mobile

It’s almost too easy to pick up your tablet or smartphone and start streaming from anywhere with a 3G or 4G connection, but if you don’t have unlimited data on your mobile account it’s also really easy to run up a huge bill. Of course, if you’re watching on BT TV, none of it will count against your usage limit.

Netflix gives you two ways to control this: mobile data settings and playback settings.

Mobile data settings are found through the menu icon, in App Settings. The Wi-Fi Only setting will stop you using any mobile data, while Save Data reduces video quality slightly so that 1GB of data will buy you around six hours of viewing time rather than the usual four hours.

Playback settings let you manually reduce video quality to low (0.3GB per hour) or medium (0.7GB per hour). You can also stop Netflix from automatically playing the next episode in a series.

This is controlled under your Account at Netflix.com: scroll down for Playback Settings. It will affect all of your devices and all of the profiles on your account.

11. Offline downloads: for Netflix without a connection

Offline downloads are available on iOS and Android mobile devices and on PCs with Windows 10. You can download up to 100 titles to any single device at one time, so long as it has enough storage.

You can also restrict data usage to Wi-Fi Only just as you can for streaming, so programmes won't be downloaded over a mobile data connection.

If you turn on Smart downloads, your device will automatically download the next episode in a series (if it’s available) when you’ve finished watching the current episode, but only when you connect to wi-fi.

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