In case you haven’t heard by now, back in January, Netflix announced it was upping the prices on all its plans here in the US and Canada — except for Canada’s Basic Plan.
With this most recent jump, monthly pricing for Netflix plans have jumped anywhere from 11 to 25 percent since 2020, depending on the plan in question. And, that got me wondering:
Could I save a decent amount by downgrading to a cheaper Netflix plan?
And, perhaps, just as importantly:
Could I tolerate the lower video quality and more limited features?
So, in February, I opted to downgrade to the cheapest of Netflix’s plans, the aptly named “Basic” option that tops out at sub-HD video resolution. And now, after several rounds of pixel peeping, penny pinching, and soul searching, I’m back with my verdict.
Netflix’s Basic Plan is… just fine for our household, but your mileage may definitely vary. Let’s dive in!
(Editor’s Note: This article is based on our recent video exploring the Netflix Basic Plan. To find out more, click on the video embedded below.)
What is the Netflix Basic Plan?
Here in the US, Netflix subscribers can choose among three distinct tiers — each with its own features and capabilities.
The top-end Premium plan currently runs for $19.99 per month. That plan gets you 4K or Ultra HD streams for supported content. Plus, you can also watch on up to four different screens at the same time.
One rung is the Standard plan, which caps out at 1080p, or HD video quality. Here, you can watch on up two screens at any one time.
And then there’s the bottom-tier Basic plan that limits video quality to sub-HD resolution and only one screen at a time.
And according to the Test Pattern series on Netflix, which offers videos to calibrate your gear, the Basic Plan tops out at 960 x 540 resolution, otherwise known as qHD. That resolution features precisely one-quarter the pixels of Full HD, or 1920 x 1080, which obviously affects overall video quality.
Why Would I Downgrade to the Basic Netflix Plan?
As someone who’s stuck with the middle-of-the-road Standard plan for ages, the recent price hike offered an opportunity to explore other options. I wondered whether dropping to the Basic option would be worth it in terms of overall cost savings, as well as our enjoyment of the service’s content.
At its current pricing, the move from the Standard to Basic plans represents an extra $5.50 per month, or $66 per year.
Downgrading from the Premium plan all the way to the Basic option would save you $10 a month or $120 per year.
While that may not seem like a huge sum on its own, it certainly adds up if it’s just part of your overall cost-savings strategy.
What’s It Like to Use?
When you’re signing up for a streaming service or considering a change in plans, a good starting point is to take stock of where, exactly, you intend to watch your content. In our household, we rarely (if ever) need more than one Netflix stream at any given time, so the multi-screen support of the Standard and Premium plans isn’t all that attractive to us.
And while we do watch some content on smaller TVs in an office or bedroom, the lion’s share of our Netflix viewing occurs on our 55-inch LG OLED 4K TV.
So that begs the question: How does non-HD content look on a large 4K screen?
The basic answer is: Definitely not as sharp and detailed, but perhaps not as bad as you’d expect.
Normally, we sit roughly 8-10 feet away from our 55-inch TV. And from that distance, the difference is noticeable if we’re actively thinking about it, but it’s not so distracting that we don’t enjoy what we’re watching.
Whenever we moved closer, we started to notice the lack of edge detail and blurry text much more. There’s a recliner in our living room just a couple feet away and if you’re watching from there, the resolution loss at 960 x 540 is difficult not to notice.
Despite the deficit, many 1080p and 4K TVs offer some level of upscaling support, so if you do opt for the non-HD plan, it’s worth exploring your set’s respective features to get the most out of those sub-HD videos.
If you want a very rough example of what it might look like on your given display, you can try out the quality settings on YouTube. Pick out a high-quality video, head into the quality settings, and then select 480p.
Video codecs and exact resolutions may vary, of course, but that should give you a fair approximation of what to expect, before making the plan change.
I’ve also tried out the Basic plan on secondary, 1080p TVs, mobile gear, and on laptops and the quality difference is less noticeable on smaller screens, especially if you’re not watching up close.
Sidebar: The NVIDIA Shield TV and AI Upscaling
NVIDIA’s Shield TV line has been a popular streaming option for years, and it boasts some interesting capabilities that might come in handy for anyone viewing lower-quality video.
The Shield’s built-in AI-Based Upscaling feature aims to intelligently sharpen and enhance low-res video to improve quality. We published an earlier video exploring the topic and since we had a Shield TV Pro in house, we thought we’d give it a try.
The upscaling feature offers three different strength levels, and we settled on the Low strength as it offered a noticeable improvement over the basic upscaling, without looking too overprocessed and oversharpened. Your preferences may differ, of course, but if you have access to a Shield TV device, it’s definitely worth a try!
When Does the Netflix Basic Plan Make Sense?
For some, the Basic plan might just be too limited, and that’s totally fine. But there certainly are use cases where this could be a passable, even enjoyable, option.
The most obvious use case is for subscribers who only view Netflix on one screen at a time, as opposed to, say, a house full of streamers.
And if a major portion of your viewing is done via mobile devices, or on your desktop or laptop, the Basic plan’s video resolution limit might not be that big a deal.
Who Should Avoid It?
Conversely, multi-user homes, and those who place more value on HD and 4K streams probably aren’t the right folks for the Basic plan. Though, if you’re on that 4K Premium plan and you’re looking to save a little money now that it costs $20 per month, the drop down to Standard isn’t all that steep in terms of video quality.
Your mileage may vary, but 1080p video on a 4K screen can still look pretty sharp. And so long as you don’t need support for more than two screens at one time, the Standard plan could be a solid middle ground.
Wrapping It All Up…
In the end, I learned that there is a noticeable drop in video quality not just from 4K down to sub-HD, but also from 1080p down to sub-HD. What really matters, though, is whether or not that difference is worth the extra monthly cost in your particular situation.
For us, we’re OK with the drop in quality since it helps save a few bucks each month.
As for your situation, if you weigh the pros and cons, and you come out thinking you can get by with the Basic level of Netflix’s plans, then definitely give it a shot.
Similarly, if you’re on that top-tier, Premium level and you’re thinking of saving a little dough each month, maybe give the Standard tier a try.
You can adjust your Netflix streaming plan via the Account Settings menu. Just click on the Change Plan link in Plan Details and adjust as needed. In our case, the change took effect after our next billing cycle, so there might be a delay in your case.
And if you end up hating the experience, Netflix makes it easy to go back to your earlier plan as well.
Happy penny pinching!