Watching Netflix’ ‘Watch Now’

I was an early subscriber to Netflix back in the day, and recently signed back up. In the interest of confirming some details of their new ‘Watch Now’ service, like what client-side software they were using, I asked if they could hook up my account so I could review it, and they very nicely obliged.

My short answer? It’s about equivalent to the free on-demand movie offerings from cable providers, except on your computer. Take that as you will.

Hacking Netflix does a good job of answering some basic questions about the service, and MarketWatch teased some more details from the chief architect. My blogfather Om isn’t the biggest Netflix fan in the world (he’s an Akimbo man) and doesn’t think the new service is so boffo. But I didn’t want to pass judgment until I tried it.

The system requirements are kind of heinous. Not only does it require Windows XP or Vista, but it also requires Internet Explorer and Media Player 9, instantly aggravating two of my pet peeves. As a friend whom I asked to try it out for herself responded, “Give me Firefox or give me death.” I didn’t have any problems downloading and installing the client, but she couldn’t even get it to work on a laptop that met all the requirements. One assumes this is one of the reasons for the phased rollout.

One of the nice touches was that the ‘Watch Now’ page lists movies available to stream that are already in your queue, as well as movies available that fit in their recommendations and tabs for the genres you’ve set as favorites. In other words, a streamlined version of your regular account page. But it certainly highlighted how few movies were available. I lucked out, because I love edgy documentaries like the current most popular streamed film, Born Into Brothels. Those with broader tastes might find the selection seriously lacking.

Clicking ‘play’ brings you to the player, which is clean and simple and works great in full screen mode. My home DSL line only supports their lowest resolution, which was good enough quality for my laptop screen but wouldn’t be so nice on a big widescreen. The buffer times averaged between twenty and thirty seconds, and I didn’t encounter any glitches over about half an hour of viewing.

As I said at the top, it feels almost identical to browing the ‘free on-demand’ section on Comcast at my parents’ house. One feature that Comcast on-demand offers that Netflix doesn’t is remembering where you where in a movie when you leave — you have to scroll the time slider back to where you left and wait for it to buffer again. But will I tune in when I’m stuck waiting over a three day weekend for another batch of DVDs in the mail? Sure, why not.

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