Hands-on with Xbox 360 Netflix Streaming

By Chris Faylor, Nov 12, 2008 12:27pm PST Come next Wednesday, November 19, Xbox 360 users around the globe will be greeted with the New Xbox Experience, which packs a new interface, new functionality, and those customizable player avatars.

One of those new functions is the ability to stream videos from online rent center Netflix, which has been my most-anticipated feature. I even subscribed to Netflix because of it. But now that I've had the chance to mess around with the Xbox 360's Netflix streaming in the comfort of my home, I have to admit I'm a little disappointed.

Don't get me wrong, the streaming works well. The quality is great, at least on my connection, and it tracks when you pause or stop a video so that you can restart from that point later on, even if you back out of the application. I even watched an episode of Friday Night Lights in high-def--one of the few HD videos currently available.

But while over 12,000 videos are promised, it's only possible to watch those in your Instant Queue--the list of movies and shows you maintain on Netflix.com.

In other words, anything you watch on your Xbox 360 has to be added to your Queue from the computer first. There's no way to browse the overall Netflix selection, to add to your Instant Queue, from the Xbox 360.

That may not be a problem for those that have massive Netflix Queues, but for folks like me who keep small lists, it's rather annoying.

I wanted to be able to plop down on my couch and find a random movie that looked good. That would've been handy when people are over, like picking an OnDemand movie off the cable box, but with a much wider selection.

However, I can't imagine my friends leaving their couch and chairs just to crowd around a computer monitor and help choose. "Oh, that looks good. Pick that one!"

I understand that this caveat isn't limited to the Xbox 360, and in fact extends to all of the Netflix-ready devices, so to some, this is nothing new. But for the legions of unaware Xbox 360 owners, it may come as an unpleasant surprise. For a feature that emphasizes the convenience of watching movies from your couch, it's a little baffling.

There's also one other problem. Those 300 or so HD movies aren't labeled as such, so there's no way to know if a video will be in HD until it starts buffering and that little "Presented in HD" icon pops up.

Obviously, this is just a first step for Microsoft and Netflix, and the program is likely to change in the future. I can see some sort of "HD Available" icon eventually appearing in the interface--after all, Netflix is debuting its HD streaming with the Xbox 360.

But without knowing why users can't browse Netflix's entire library of streaming videos, I can't speculate if that will ever change, though I've reached out to Microsoft to find out.

Until then, just know that the Xbox 360's Netflix streaming may not be everything you hoped for, at least, not yet. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a Netflix Queue to fill.

Requiring Xbox Live Gold and a Netflix subscription, the Xbox 360's Netflix streaming service arrives as part of the free New Xbox Experience update on November 19.

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  • I am in on the beta for the new XBLE as well and I've also been playing with the Netflix application.

    It's great. The only downside to Netflix's streaming service is that the titles available are limited. There are not a lot of new releases available on it and the ones that are are relatively sub-par.

    I had 7 movies in my instant queue (I added a bunch a couple weeks back in anticipation of the XBLE, although I am a 4 at a time (2 for me, 2 for my roommate) subscriber to Netflix) and the quality is good.

    Before I had this available to me, I'd plug my 360 Elite's HDMI cable into my laptop and watch streaming movies that way and it looks exactly the same. The quality is roughly equal to that of a DVD.

    One big improvement over the regular streaming over Netflix is that rewinding and fast forwarding work extremely well, although it is a bit different from your typical DVR-style. When you do it (by hitting left trigger to Rew or right trigger to FF) frames from the movie you're watching pan by (similar to an iTunes album view) allowing you to hit "A" to stop it where you want it to restart. This is followed by a short "buffering" period and then your movie continues.

    Like the article says you can stop a movie at any point and it will save your progress for when you decide to resume, but it's continuous. I was about 80% through the movie "Day Watch" before I stopped it to go to bed on Friday. Then on Saturday my girlfriend came over and she put her HDD in my 360 and watched an episode of "30 Rock" from her queue. Then I put my HDD back in when I came home from work and finished watching the movie where I left off.

    When you choose a movie in your queue your options are to start (or start from beginning if you've already started it), resume, rate (hit A until you hit the desired number of stars) or to remove it from your queue.