Life With A Plugin Episode 22: Netflix in Media Center

May 19 2009

Netflix in Windows Vista Media Center--not a new topic, having reviewed three community-developed applications exactly one year ago (May 2008)--but this time fully supported by Microsoft. This has been a dream of many since Netflix announced the availability of streaming content and dealt with the buginess of the unofficial applications in the aforementioned review. It has finally arrived, for Vista Media Center, fully supported by Netflix and Microsoft. So does it live up to the wait?

I've taken a video of Netflix within Vista Windows Media Center which should give you a good idea of the features of the application. Since internet speed has an impact on this application, this was tested on a Comcast High Speed Cable internet service, with 2mb down...so results may vary for you if you have faster/slower speeds:


Above & Beyond

The Netflix application in Media Center is one word: SLICK! Having used the previous Netflix in Media Center applications, this one from Microsoft is miles ahead of those. The UI is slick, while the colors do not, the interface itself mimics Media Center in general. Scrolling was very responsive and I found the interface to be very fast to access, from the scrolling around to the beginning to stream.

Having the Media Center progress bar that you can scroll through the selected video quickly was fantastic! You can easily jump around a video, and the app also supports resuming of a video you had previously started--ironically something Windows Vista Media Center does not support (but Windows7 does).

 

netflix1-thumb.JPG

 

The color scheme is a complete departure to Media Center's traditional blue gradients, but I found them to be a pleasant style consitant with the familiar Netflix experience.

Falling Short

The only true issues I found with the Netflix application were in the support of the operating systems, having no support for Media Center Extenders is a big miss in my book. This application is going to be quite popular, and completely abandoning the Extenders will definitely frustrate Extender owners (see: Jennyfur). As of right now, this only works in Windows Vista, so if you are running the RC version of Windows 7, you're out of luck. Now, understanding common sense, I can assume once Windows7 gets released officially, that there will be something similar (if not even better!), but until then you will have to roll back to Vista.

Another complaint for the application itself has to do with the installation process. Since most add-ins do not do it much different, I cannot fault them much for the need to exit Media Center and go to a 2 foot installation of silverlight and the application. What is frustrating however is the need to restart the Media Center after install. I am sure this is required due to whatever is being installed, but I just wish Microsoft would have done whatever necessary to prevent this. There is nothing more dissapointing than getting excited, installing the application, and then having to wait for your system to reboot (and if you are recording a show, then you need to wait even longer).

 

Grade: Approved for Everyday Use

The Netflix for Media Center application brings up an interesting dilemma--with so many movie choices at your fingertips the necessity for having to wait for the actual discs has decreased (this could be why Netflix requires a certain membership level to stream). The benefits are universal for those familiar as you have access to Netflix's growing library of online movies. I consider myself an avid movie watcher, and it's impressive how quickly the Netflix streaming selections have grown. While initially it was a lot of odd or lesser known films, they now have a vast amount of current movies and tv series. Between the TV and Movie offerings, you could cancel your cable and stay occupied for a long, long time.

 

netflix7-thumb.JPG

 

My only real question would be, "What took so long?" Having had the other 3 community-developed Netflix applications since their inception, it's unclear why this needed to wait until a few months before Windows7 launch. That question aside however, good things come to those who wait, and this is a fantastic plugin. It's refined interface, smooth and quick playback, and impressive quality makes it a must-have for any Netflix subscribers.

And it wouldn't surprise me if many of you non-subscribers test this out and convert after experiencing it. The lack of Extender support is dissapointing, but as long as you are just on the PC, this will become one of those apps you will be hard pressed to live without. 

 

Product Vitals

Website: Netflix.com

Creator: Microsoft

Price: Free

 

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