Well, I’ve finally given the Watch Now service a test drive. Overall, the service has been implemented very nicely (assuming you don’t mind sitting in front of your computer to watch movies) and is not reminiscent of the hi-cc-up-ing streaming videos nor did I have to wait 1+ hour for the movie to download before playing. While the functional implementation was executed very well the delivery is very poor – I can only watch movies at my computer and the video quality was below average.
Now, onto the review:
- Pentium 4, 3.0Ghz processor
- 1GB RAM
- Windows Vista Ultimate
- Internet Explorer 7
- RCN cable modem service (10mbs down/800k up)
- In order to watch the ‘instant shows,’ you have to install Netflix’s video player (which is embedded in your browser). I was able to install the video player without any issues. Installation took about 2-3 minutes.
- After the player installed, I got a prompt telling me that I had to update Windows Media Player. The update went smoothly and took an additional 10-20 seconds.
- I was ready to watch my first ‘instant show’ within 5 minutes.
- Rating: A
- The player is embedded in the browser window and videos can be viewed either in normal or full screen size.
- I chose to watch ‘Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State’ and it started to play immediately – very impressive.
- As the show is playing, it continues to download and the 55 minute show was completely downloaded in 15 minutes.
- I was able to move the slider to jump to any point in the show w/o any lag or buffering (as Borat would say: “Nice!”)
- If you navigate away from the page, Netflix does not remember where you were in the show. However, when I chose to re-watch the show, I just dragged the slider to the 25 minute mark and within 2-3 seconds, the show started playing – “Very nice!”
- Rating: A
- Netflix auto-detects your bandwidth (and their server’s bandwidth) to determine the video quality. Options: Basic, Good, High. My quality for my first show was “Good,” which is odd since I have a 10mb/800k cable connection so I’m assuming their servers were being taxed.
- Video quality was good in the normal window size but when I switched to full screen it was a tad below standard definition (SD) quality. I’m curious to see how much better the video quality is when my connection rating is “High.”
- There was a lot of macroblocking at the full screen resolution.
- There was a strange horizontal blurry/invisible line right in the middle of the picture. I also watched a couple of minutes of The World’s Fastest Indian and this blurry line is there, too. The line can be distracting at times and was evident in most scenes.
- Rating: C-
- On the “Watch Now” home page, there’s a portlet that lists your most recently watched ‘instant shows,’ which makes it very easy to continue watching a specific movie/show.
- I’m on the $18/mo. plan so I get 18 hours of viewing per month. The hours watched/remaining can be viewed in the “Your Account” page.
- It takes a few hours for your usage activity to be completely updated. After I finished the 55 minute show, I noticed that my account said I watched only 26 minutes but the next day it said I watched 55 minutes.
- Rating: B
- The Netflix video player worked very smoothly – no issues or bugs.
- It felt like I was watching a show that was locally stored on my hard drive. It didn’t feel like I was watching a streamed video.
- The ability to jump around in the show without any lag or buffering was very, very nice.
- The “Recently Viewed” portlet on the Watch Now home page is nice since it allows you to quickly find a show/movie that you didn’t finish during a previous viewing session.
- It’s free!
- I have to sit at my computer to watch a show. I will NEVER watch a full length movie at my computer…I don’t care how comfortable my Herman Miller Aeron chair is!
- Video quality is sub-par when viewed at full screen. I’d rather wait for the SD or HD DVD in the mail than watch a movie in below SD quality.
- The catalog of movies/shows available for ‘instant watching’ is pathetic but that should improve over time.
- No Mac suport. Only Windows XP and Vista with IE 6+ is supported.
- Did I mention the poor video quality?
- Did I mention that I have to sit at my computer?
- Overall Rating: C / D
The overall rating was heavily weighted towards how the content was delivered and that is where this service falls short. I want HD content and I don’t want to be chained to my desk to watch a movie. My initial thoughts still stand.
At the end of the day, it’s a nice free addition to Netflix’s service but it’s something I will *rarely* (if ever) use…actually, I probably would use this service a little bit if it was integrated with Apple TV (yeah, fat chance!) or the Xbox 360 or some other media extender device.