Netflix/X-Box Update

By Deane Barker on December 6, 2008

It’s been two weeks since I hooked up my son’s X-Box to Netflix. Some thoughts on how it’s going:

  • The biggest problem is movie selection. They have 12,000 movies to watch instantly, but it’s still a trick sometimes to find something you want to watch. On the other hand, this encourages you to watch films you might not otherwise bother with, which can be good.

    Then She Found Me” is a perfect example. I never would have watched it had it been outshone but the latest Hollywood blockbusters. Annie and I loved it.

    I would pay extra for better movie selection (are you listening, Netflix?).

  • The documentaries are great. I’ve watched “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Mondovino,” “Word Wars” (this was so good), and “Helvetica.” These are movies I don’t see on the shelves at Blockbuster.

  • I can’t decide if the on-screen controls are great or crap. When you fast-forward or rewind, it goes 10 seconds at a time, and shows you a still of that moment in time. What’s nice is that the stills are in a line, so you can be looking two stills down to see what you’re coming up on. The bad part is that it has to re-buffer the stream when you want to start watching again.

  • A couple times, my movie has stopped saying, “Your Internet connection has slowed…” and explaining that they were modifying the quality to compensate. At least once, when the movie came back, it was with considerably less quality.

  • Some movies aren’t available on the X-Box for no discernible reason. Annie and I wanted to watch “Superbad.” We added it to our Instant Queue, but it wouldn’t come up on the X-Box. Later, we found a note next to the movie listing in the queue that it “wasn’t available on X-Box.”

  • The X-Box saves your place in the stream, and the interface shows you how much of the film you’ve completed in percent. What’s neat is that this transfers back to your Netflix account, so if you start the movie again on your computer, you start in the same place as you left on the X-Box. You can also rate the movies right from the X-Box account, and those transfer back to Netflix. In short, the whole thing is two-way — everything you do on X-Box gets back to Netflix, and vice-versa.

  • Watching movies on the computer isn’t bad either. I watched the Enron documentary sitting in my recliner in my room with my laptop.

  • One time, the X-Box couldn’t start my movie. It just gave an error message.

Other than that, it’s been good. Good enough that we’re going to go beyond the free-trial and start paying for it. I’m doing this in the hope that movie selection will gradually improve.

On top of the online movies, I got three DVDs in the mail through the traditional Netflix by-mail system.

One thing this has brought to my attention, however, is that bandwidth into the house could become a problem. The quality of playback depends on what is happening on the computer. If my son is streaming something over Hulu, you can tell in the picture quality. There may be a point when we have to figure out how to do better than cable Internet.

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  1. Personally speaking, anything less than HD is unacceptable nowadays, so this service probably wouldn’t interest me. But I do have a netflix account, 3 blu-rays at a time for 19 bucks. I’ve had no complaints with this setup, and I never have to worry about seeing the phrase “buffering…”

  2. If You Liked This, Sure to Love That – Winning the Netflix Prize: Here’s an engrossing article about the race to improve the Netflix search algorithm, which we first talked about two years ago. The goal was to improve the current search by 10%, and no one has claimed…

  3. I get HD quality with only 5-10MBps bandwidth. In fact, it is far superior to the picture quality on HD channels from Time Warner Cable. The biggest factor in it being able to do this I believe is that they are using the VC-1 codec (similar to H.264) which gets about an order of magnitude better compression ratio than MPEG-2 used for TV in the U. S. (European & Satellite broadcasts are already H.264). A single broadcast frequency is limited to 19Mbps, and this includes the subchannels, i.e. channels 4-1, 4-2, & 4-4 TOTAL less than 19Mbps. So using VC-1 you don’t need more than 2Mbps to exceed the picture quality of U.S. HD broadcasts.

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