Koolio

Thoughts & news on technology…well, mostly

Review: Netflix Watch Now Service


Netflix Watch Now HomepageWell, 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:

Hardware:

  • Pentium 4, 3.0Ghz processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • Windows Vista Ultimate
  • Internet Explorer 7
  • RCN cable modem service (10mbs down/800k up)

Installation:

  • 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

Video Playback:

  • 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

Video Quality:

  • 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-

Video Management:

  • 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

Conclusion:

  • Pros:
    • 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!
  • Cons:
    • 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.

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Filed under: Digital Movies, IPTV, Movies, Netflix, Reviews

8 Responses

  1. […] to yet another ecosystem for digital shows. We now have: Netflix Watch Now, Xbox 360 Video Marketplace, and WalMart. Am I missing any?? […]

  2. motorola cable modem

    Hi. Very nice blog. I\’ve been reading your other entries all day long..lol.

  3. Jonathan says:

    you should wirelessly hook your computer up to your tv so you can watch the movies from it.
    I enjoy netflix watch now from my couch.

  4. koolio says:

    Jon,

    That’s a good idea but I would be concerned with the video quality on a 50″ screen. But, I like your idea…one way to get some value out of the free offering!

  5. Malynn says:

    We have Netflix and are so disappointed by the video quality. We have all the equipment to watch the appropriate HD video quality but it appears that Netflix has taken on more than it can chew.

    It seems as though they don’t have enough bandwidth to sustain the growing demand of viewers. Until they figure out a solution I guess every time we turn Netflix on we’ll be getting teleported back into the days when no one even knew what HD was. Ugh, that’s bites!

  6. koolio says:

    Malynn,

    Sorry to hear about the poor video quality you’re getting. I assume you’re watching on your computer?

    I’ve watched quite a few HD and SD shows/movies via Netflix streaming after they added the capability to the Xbox 360 and I’ve been quite pleased with the HD quality. That said, I do have a 20 mbps internet connection. Also, the video quality doesn’t come close to a Blu-ray disc but I can’t complain!

  7. jon g says:

    Netlix’s Watch Instantly feature is a joke. I have a 7meg/sec connection and it is clear the netflix servers cannot keep up. I even connected to Netflix in a hospital where I was experiencing actual download speeds of 4.1mb/sec and it was still a mess.

    It’s embarrassing that Netflix would claim HD quality when they cannot invest in the proper equipment on their end. Obviously the people who signed up for this service have invested in the HD audio/visual equipment and Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature looks like crap even on a small 23″ 1080p monitor. Even from 15 feet away you can see the macropixels that compose the choppy picture. It’s pathetic.

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