Monday, April 02, 2007

Netflix Watch Now Mini-Review

I've been a long-time Netflix subscriber and have really enjoyed the service. Not having to worry about late-fees is a plus for my family and having a new movie at home every weekend is a plus too. I recently gave Blockbuster online a chance just to try out the return at the store concept and I think Blockbuster has a winner there also. I've since returned to Netflix for two reasons. First, they have faster delivery and receipt times - my average turnaround time from the time I put a movie in the mail to the time I get a new one is two days total (not including the days the post office is closed of course. The second reason I switch back to Netflix was their new watch-online feature. I've read reviews in Laptop Magazine and at Slate. There is a very nice web demo of the watch-now feature on one of my favorite blogs: HackingNetflix Blog.

Last weekend my daughter wanted to watch The Tudors, a show on Showtime which I don't subscribe to. Since Netflix has the first two episodes of the Tudors available on the watch now lineup, I decided to give the feature a try and watch the two shows on our HTPC (displayed on a 36- Inch SD TV. I won't go into a full review of the watch-now service since that has been done many times before. Instead, I'll summarize my thoughts and opinion of the service here:

  • Picture and streaming quality was very good. I had zero problems with both shows. Unlike when I watched the Donnelly Brothers episode that was available only online, there was no jerkiness and no buffering problems that are evident on many TV streaming sites. It was smooth and seamless, just as if the show was running on live TV (seemed as good as normal SD - if not just below DVD quality). Netflix auto-detects the bandwidth for your connection to determine the video quality. The options are: Basic, Good, High and it chose "High" for my quality fortunately.
  • The Price is right. For every $1 you spend on Netflix each month, you get 1 hour of online viewing.
    Installation was simple. To install the "netflix player", it took me less than three minutes. Using Internet Explorer (unfortunately this is the only browser supported right now) I clicked on install and I was set.
  • Easy to use. It is a very simple video player with the basic controls: Play, Fast Forward, Rewind and Pause. I could also jump to any point in the movie just by sliding the "slider" with my mouse - this was smooth and worked well.


  • Not enough show choices. While the selection seems to be improving slightly, there are not enough (if hardly any) new movies available. Also would be nice to see more TV shows available. Hopefully this will improve in the future.
  • No Special Features.
  • Some Censoring? While watching The Tudors, it looks like Netflix or Showtime blurred a nipple shot during a scene. While some families might prefer this, I would rather watch movies and shows as they were intended. I doubt they will be censoring this on Showtime.
  • No keyboard shortcuts or HTPC integration. If there were some keyboard shortcuts, it would be easier to make a plugin for Beyond Media, MCE and other HTPC software's so you could run this thing with your mouse. I'm not sure the average Netflix subscriber would watch movies or shows on the PC. If it was able to run easier on an HTPC, this thing could be huge. I'll address this possibility more below.
  • No Wide-screen Format. I think this is a must to eventually support wide-screen.
  • Not currently available for non-windows PC's or for Non-IE browsers - this isn't a problem for me, but they need to add compatiblity to make their entire audience happy.

After finishing both shows, I went back to the website. On the “Watch Now” page of the netflix site, it listed my recently watched "watch-now" shows. This would make it simple to resume watching a specific show, but I didn't test this feature out. Both my wife and daughter were impressed and I think we'll be using it again in the future.

HTPC Integration
I see the netflix watch-now feature as a real possibility as an HTPC plugin. Already, there is a netflix plugin for Beyond Media that allows you to view and modify your netflix que, watch netflix previews (somewhat broken at the time) and check out the top movies lists (with previews and all). All of this can be done from your TV with your remote if you have Beyond Media (Media Portal has a similar plugin). If you could search for and watch full movies from the Netflix watch-now feature, this would be sort of a video-on-demand service just like you have with your cable companies, but included in the price of your Netflix subscription. Some on the snapstream forums have talked about writing a plugin to do just this so we'll see, but I think this type of integration with HTPC's is inevitable. Add to that the fact that the Netflix CEO and founder is now Microsoft's Board of Directors and I think we'll see some sort of integration with Microsoft's MCE some day soon also.

Watch Now Hack:
I heard there is a "hack" that will trick Netflix's Watch-Now feature into giving you more time for your watch-now feature. Read about that here.