Netflix: Watch Now

Netflix Watch Now Service
Originally uploaded by icespide

I had heard quite a while ago that Netflix was offering a new Watch Now service, where you stream movies over the internet. For every $1 you spend on your Netflix membership per month, you get 1 hour of viewing time online. So a $14 membership gets 14 hours of online streaming time. At first I brushed it off, assuming that the product would be low resolution, laggy, and restricted to a small browser window. Man, I was wrong!

I was encouraged by a friend to try it out. I just happened to have my Windows Computer temporarily hooked up to my HDTV through its VGA port, so I decided to see how things were. The selection of movies is rather limited right now, but they are constantly adding new content. I’m sure a combination of encoding time and licensing issues are to blame for the delay in converting content, but I have high hopes that the library will grow quickly.

The service requires you to be using Internet Explorer inside of Windows because of its use of Windows Media player for DRM. (I e-mailed Netflix, and they said that they are working on a cross-platform solution). Thankfully, you never have to actually touch Windows Media Player, as all of the action happens through a flash applet on the Netflix website. Clicking on the full screen button gives you a completely full screen presentation with a small auto-hiding overlay for playback controls. Movies take between 15 and 30 seconds to buffer, and after that initial buffer I’ve never had a pause or skip. I was completely blown away by the quality of the video. On my HDTV it rivals the quality of a physical DVD, though compression artifacts are a little more visible in the streaming video.

Now there are rumors that Netflix is working on a set-top-box for streaming movies and TV shows to a TV without a computer. A standard def box may be $50, while a box with component connections would be $100. I think that pretty soon this will be the main method of watching Netflix movies, once HD streaming and multi-channel audio become part of the service. I would sign up for that instantly.

At any rate, if you have a Netflix account and access to a Windows computer, give Watch Now a shot, I think it will surprise you.

Chris Owens