Your Daily Phil

Watch out for the limits in Netflix’s “Unlimited” watch now downloads

Posted by lozenp on February 16, 2008

One of Netflix’s big draws for many people is the “Instant Watch” feature. Members get access to more than 6,000 movies and TV shows that they can watch instantly on their PC. On all but the cheapest monthly plan, Netflix claims the service is unlimited.

But much like there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there might be no such thing as unlimited either. While it’s true that there’s no limit to the amount of movies or shows you can download, there is a limit to how many places you can watch them from.

After setting up a PC in my home theater the other night I attempted to watch an episode of 30 Rock from Netflix. After installing the player and choosing an episode, I got a popup saying Netflix had detected that I’ve tried to watch movies from multiple computers and that I needed to call tech support to ensure my account hadn’t been hacked.

Turns out, I had bumped into a little-known limit on the number of computers you can access instant watch features from. After calling tech support (and waiting more than an hour on hold) I found out you can only install the service on four computers. Tech support will allow you to increase the limit to five.

But here’s the kicker: unlike Apple’s iTunes which allows you to deauthorize a computer, the instant you access a Netflix Watch it Now feature, that computer is one of your four for an entire year, like it or not. No deleting, no removing, no deauthorizing. So if you’re like me and wanted to show off the feature to friends at work, have a laptop and a desktop at home, you can run up those four computers really quick. On my Windows Vista laptop, each user account counts toward your four.

Had Netflix disclosed this, no problem. If it was in the FAQ on the site, ok. But I tried to find information related to it on the site and came up empty (let me know if you found anything). The tech support guy (who was actually very helpful, insightful and sympathetic) told me this was a measure the studios imposed on Netflix, which I don’t doubt. Just seems to me Netflix could have been a bit more upfront about it, and for goodness sake, allow users to remove computers from their list or at least add it to their site somewhere.

Drop a comment if you’ve run into this yourself.


52 Responses to “Watch out for the limits in Netflix’s “Unlimited” watch now downloads”

  1. Mike said

    I just got this same problem. I was trying to get my mac to watch movies using VMWare Fusion on my 50″ Plasma and it was choppy, so I tried using a Vista VM under VMWare and got the same results, then I tried XP under parallels and got the same results, then I brought my wifes workstation in the room and tried it and was told that I had hit the limit. Ive been on hold with tech support for 20 minutes now and decided to google around for this to see if I could reset it … apparently I can’t based on your blog.

    This is truly a bad deal. I mean I have to wait a year now before those machines will be removed from the list. Thats a bit extreme if you ask me. They could EASILY prevent simultanious access … or even make sure you’re watching from the same IP address … but to track each machine is bad hoodoo.

    I have 4 pcs, 4 servers, 2 laptops and at least 8 to 10 virtual machines in this house (I’m an I.T. consultant) – so this limit is extremely troubling for me.

    I think the best course of action is to close the account and start a new one.


  2. lozenp said

    I think that’s the way to go, close it, open it again with a new name (your wife’s maybe). If you ever did get through on hold they will add one more to your limit to bring it to five, but still.

    Let me know if they told you anything different.


  3. Solarmax said

    The word I got from support was that four is the limit and that’s it. No exceptions. You have to wait until January 14th. Then they ‘wipe the slate clean’ and you can start over.

    It really sucks for Netflix. I wanted to show some guys at work how great the picture was on Instant Watch…however, with the errors that came up and the call to Tech Support, they won’t be switching to Netflix anytime soon. I also wanted to add a Media PC to my entertainment center and watch Netflix movies on the big screen. Now I have to use one of my old PCs instead and wait until next year to upgrade! All because of a service that I PAY FOR!

  4. Chris K said

    I called their “watch now” support line also. I waited for 30 minutes to talk to a gentlman that was rude and ended up hanging up on me. I only wanted him to explain to me how I am paying for a premium service that is restricted. He told me that the “watch now” is a beta service. I then ask him why I am being billed for $20 dollars each month. You get the point. I signed up for Netflix when the “watch now” was limited to a number of hours each month. I signed up, just for the “watch now”. Anyways, I called their normal support line, 3 minute wait, and had them explain the situation and ended up closing my account. Off to MovieLink. MovieLink even support HTPC’s (VMCE). Sorry, I guess I am still blowing off some steam.

    **I think Netflix needs to improve on their customer service and retention a great deal more than focusing on a service they can not control and do not disclose properly**

    Heads up!!!!

    “Netflix – we now place undisclosed restrictions on the service advertised and billed for on Netflix accounts”


  5. JK said

    I have a similar deal — 3 machines + 2 errors – 1 I had to reformat, and 1 I quickly sold (and replaced). They need to be like itunes or M$. I think power users will run into this as time goes on with the unlimited plan now. I have found the netflix registery keys. I hate messing with the registery but I am going to upgrade my new laptop hard drive soon, and will run into the block – either that or cancel the account and redo it under my wife….

  6. […] Comments JK on Watch out for the limits in Ne…Rich on New source for HD video on the…Chris K on Watch out for the limits in Ne…Bill on New RSS […]

  7. BM said

    Yeah, I am with you here. I think netflix is growing that big-comapny-attitude of lets-forget-customer-asap. It was wrong to hide that information.

    And I got that number because, I installed Vista RC1 on my laptop and media center machine. It doesn’t even require to reinstall OS.

    Also, the UI on watch now really sucks, I can’t filter movies by multiple properties at the same time, for example, try selecting a movie with 4 star rating in comedy genre that is made after 2000. Or how about search by movie name only in watch now? One has to find a movie in regular search and see if it is offered in watch now or not… really sucks.

    Just when you think you have a great service, they figure some BS to throw at customers.

  8. Ender said

    I wonder who really makes the decision? Netflix… or the MPAA. I probably going to go with the MPAA. It may be easy to blame Netflix because they are the ones that your money goes to first, but in reality the internet is a pirating frenzy right now. Companies are having to go through some extreme measures to protect their media (DRM). Unfortunately this is going to cause some grief for the customers, but if they don’t do it then they will have to charge more to compensate for the loss.

    The only solid complaint I see here is that Netflix doesn’t list the restriction on their website (yet). But, I think the strictness of the policy was not their decision.

    P.S. I lol at the poor sap trying to run VMware on his Mac. VMware is guaranteed hell for anything with licensing software, give up and boot camp it.

  9. Ender said

    Oh, wait. I just went to the NetFlix site, clicked on terms of use, and its RIGHT THERE!

    So… you don’t even have one solid complaint. But, never underestimate the consumer’s ability to whine and moan. =þ

  10. lozenp said


    I wasn’t complaining so much as alerting people to it, and as you can see, many other people have run into the same problem without knowing about it.

    Netflix trumpets “Unlimited” viewing, but there’s caveats. I still stand by the fact that the four PC limit is not disclosed in the FAQ, where most people will likely turn for answers and where Netflix points people.

    The only complaint, if you call it that, would be that you can’t deauthorize or switch computers for a whole year, and they fact that one PC with two usernames equates to two of your four as soon as you put it on that machine, regardless of which username installed it.

    That being said, when I looked I couldn’t find it in the terms or anywhere on the site, and I did a site search as well. I haven’t been able to go back to how that page looked before (the site Way Back Machine says Netflix is blocking them from indexing it). It’s certainly possible I overlooked it, I just think they could have been a bit more open about this.

  11. Ender said

    It’s also possible that during the time that you looked at it, it was still in Beta.

    Additionally, the service IS unlimited. As many movies as you want. Why don’t you name me one service somewhere that is truly unlimited in every aspect.

    Also, I just took a moment to run through the site and did a search for the word “unlimited” on each page. In every instance of the word “unlimited”, it says “unlimited viewing”, “unlimited hours”, or “unlimited online watching”. Not one time did it just broadly call their service unlimited.

    I’m actually surprised that they allow a full four computers. I understand that some people have multiple computers, but who needs to watch computers from more than four in the same house? If you have more than four different computers that you need to watch movies in front of in your whole house, then you sir need get a second account.

    To Mike:

    Associate their IP address to the account? And your an IT consultant? LOL

    Thats great, because it would be so difficult for me to use a proxy or change my IP. And what if I work for a major company, or I’m at school, or at a college, or any other scenario in which the IP would be shared across the whole network.

    Netflix has to be careful with how lenient it is with this product because they probably have the sue-happy MPAA breathing down their back all the time. I hope Netflix succeeds in this business, because that will be then end of snail mailing DVDs and having to drive to a local video shop every time.

  12. lozenp said

    No doubt Netflix has to be very careful about how it allows people to use the service. But you kind of proved my point for me, they detail what unlimited means in “viewing”, “hours” and “online watching” but they are not specific at all about the PC number, leading the user to believe there’s no restriction. They actually do a great job of detailing how many simultaneous users you can have, and they answer questions on viewing limits several ways. The only place the PC limit is mentioned is in the terms of use. And, be honest, how many times do you read the full terms of use for everything you do. Sure, buyer beware, I get it.

    As for a second account, Netflix is set up so that you don’t need multiple accounts. I would venture to guess they want people to maintain as few accounts as possible to make it easier for them to maintain mailing lists, subscribers, etc. Setting up multiple accounts per address could eventually get your account flagged as fraudulent I was told by a service rep.

    I don’t have a problem with a limit, iTunes does it and has for as long as it’s been around as far as I know. From an IT perspective its helpful for them to not have to maintain 14 different players for each account.

    But as you can see in my story, it’s easy to rack up 4 PCs. Laptop for travel, home theater PC, work pc and there’s three. If you have multiple users on any of those, then you’re done. Heck, if you have a family of five, and each have a unique log on to your PC, you’ve used your accounts the minute you install one time.

    The service is great, I love the ability to watch now. The quality is good, it’s ahead of just about everyone else (HD please!!!). This limit is the only place they could improve. The service rep told me his department has been begging for the ability to reset people’s PC limit for them, so even they are asking for it. The point here was to alert people who may have not known this limit existed that it indeed is there. And I think it accomplished that, at least, while offering up some suggestions for improving the service.

  13. Ender said

    But you kind of proved my point for me, they detail what unlimited means in “viewing”, “hours” and “online watching” but they are not specific at all about the PC number, leading the user to believe there’s no restriction.

    —- No, I haven’t really. The service has unlimited viewing. Fact. No body lead you to assume anything. They advertised exactly what the service was. Your saying that they didn’t post the limit in the advertising? Well, McDonald’s didn’t post in their advertising that their food was going to make me fat. But guess what?

    The only place the PC limit is mentioned is in the terms of use. And, be honest, how many times do you read the full terms of use for everything you do. Sure, buyer beware, I get it.

    —- Be honest-what? So if I don’t read in my World of Warcraft EULA that its not okay to use my third party MOD to give me advantages, then they can’t ban my account? After all, who’s going to read the EULA… its very long. You think it was strange that Netflix posted their terms of use in the Terms of Use section? Microsoft Windows only allows installation twice, of course no where on the box does it list that, only in the EULA. Adobe products can only be installed on two machines, which can only be found in the EULA. Companies are not about to write a small book on the side of their products describing all the downsides (Which is exactly what a EULA or Terms of Use page is).

  14. wow what a douchebag

  15. Ender Sure is a Douche said

    I agree. Ender is a douche. netflix was not straightforward with the 4 pc limitation. Had I known, I wouldn’t have used it on my office computer. The issue is not the limit, it’s the not being up front about it and hiding it in the terms of use, which they know darn well nobody reads except for douchebags who get off on that.

  16. Veryticked said

    I just got into it with the Netflix Technical Support after the 30 minute wait to get the the person that could not help me much. Again, its the Movie Studios fault, but I whole hardly disagree to one point. WHERE IN THERE TOS DOES IT SAY TO LIMIT BY USER? Instead of by device, nowhere at all from where I see so any good MPAA lawyers out there should be ready to have a field day if they knew that device vs. users on saud device, are two different ballgames.

    From Netflix TOS:

    System Requirements and Device Limitations: To enjoy our instant watching feature, your PC or Netflix-enabled device must satisfy certain system requirements. Click here to view the various system requirements. As an additional member benefit, you may watch instantly on up to four (4) unique PCs and four (4) unique Netflix enabled devices during the course of a calendar year. Also, for certain plans, you will be allowed to view movies through our instant watching feature simultaneously on more than one PC or Netflix enabled device within your household. To view the number of devices on which you may simultaneously view movies that are associated with your plan, click here.

  17. Imajica said

    I have just run into this problem as well. I would like to say to Ender and people who think like Ender, that I think that you are completely missing the point. I have had major computer problems in the past few months. I have had to do 2 restores on the same computer well as a reset of the internet explorer on a NEW computer AFTER I had already installed the netflix software. I have one computer with a working copy of the software however it is being repaired now and will most likely be reformed. So what do I do? I have I wait until Jan 14. Does that make any sense?

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  19. ComputerPhile said

    “Additionally, the service IS unlimited. As many movies as you want.”

    Yeah, right. As many crappy movies that you can only stand to watch for 5 minutes as you want. I’d be lucky to find one decent movie to watch all the way through a month.

    THAT’s why it’s unlimited, I guess?? How many people have that many movies to watch!!!

  20. LOL I usually hate that word, but Ender is a douche. 🙂

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  24. New said

    Actually, the rules have changed from last year. You can de-authorize devices now. Customer service on the phone was never a problem for me, but it could’ve been bad before.
    Netflix + Roku player is probably the best purchase I’ve ever made.. or very close to it.

  25. Joe said

    I like instant watch on Netflix and i am a huge fan of it , it does not give me all the movie i wnat to see , i have to always settle with some old titles. I like some Netflix apps that let you search and select Instant watch movies.
    FB connect is cool , Not sure why Netflix waited for a year to catch up…well I like Netflix . I also looked around to see what is the best available facebook application out there and by far Netflix Movie Wall (Netflix movie Wall ) is the coolest application out there ….it lets you do a lot of cool things about a movie and see what your friends on facebook like and what your FB friends have in their Queue. One more cool thing they let you hide movies from your queue or rental history so you can only vide it and not your FB friends, I like privacy so I am a huge fan of this feature. I think they also have a long way to go but are doing thing better than other applications out there .
    My 2 cents

  26. Calvin said

    I cannot confirm what “New” said about de-authorizing devices but the terms now state you can use up to 6 devices at a time. If that is true and you can de-authorize I think that it is still a winning service! I have NEVER had a problem with netflix.

    The only thing I would like is more movies to watch instantly. But I do understand how much of a nightmare it must be to get all of the movies they do have on the website.

    Netflix still rocks.

  27. Calvin said

    You can deauthorize without even calling in now. Just go to “Your Account and Help” from their website on the top right and go to “Manage Netflix ready devices and computers” You can see the last movie that was watched on each machine and remove them as you wish.

  28. Bba said

    Ender is the biggest douche in the galaxy.

  29. CJ said

    I don’t have this problem because I am one of the millions of people who can’t use Netflix instant watch at all in the first place. When I was limited to 8 hours a month it worked fantastic for me, then they switched to Silverlight, announced it was unlimited, and I have not been able to stream a movie since. It freezes up. It takes a half hour to load. It is choppy like a slide show. It is everything but a streaming movie. I stream everything else on the internet with no problems, google, youtube, hulu, megavideo, but Netflix does not work anymore. I have been told it is my computer or my internet provider or it is the fault of microsoft and blah blah blah. Over half of all Netflix subscribers don’t use the instant watch service because it does not work for them, the promise of unlimited movies is nothing but false advertising.

  30. erica said

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  31. klay said

    there is now a way under your account options to deauthorize, it shows everything authorized, when they were authorized, and has a link to deauthorize. this is on the netflix website.

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  33. Anon said

    You can now have up to 50 devices activated, use 6 in any 24 hour period, and watch on up to 4 (depending on your DVD plan, # of simultaneous streams matches how may DVDs you get at a time up to 4)

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