Netflix (NFLX) opened up its new Microsoft (MSFT) Silverlight-based streaming movie player for Apple (AAPL) Macs and PCs yesterday, allowing subscribers to opt in to the service. This is the “huge step forward for online video players” that CEO Reed Hastings talked up during the company’s recent earnings call.
Is it a “huge step forward”? Not yet. But it’s a good start.
We’ve been testing the service on three Macs for a few days. The video quality over normal home wi-fi and a Time Warner Cable (TWC) cable modem ranges from poor to good — see screenshot below — and the selection is fine — eight movies from Netflix’s “top 100,” and a lot of indie or “catalogue” stuff. Netflix cautions that “not all movies are available to watch with Silverlight” and that “you may notice errors or lower than normal quality when watching certain titles.” Also:
- Fullscreen mode doesn’t work on a second display — say, if you have your MacBook hooked up to a HDTV, like we do — unless they are “mirrored” to show the same thing. We assume this is a Silverlight problem, as it works fine for Hulu/Adobe (ADBE) Flash video.
- The older computers didn’t play back the video as well as the newer one. (Obviously.) But quality also varied on the same movie, on the same computer, when we restarted the stream. Sometimes it was smooth; other times it was annoyingly choppy, especially during scenes with motion. We wonder if this is Netflix’s streaming partner Limelight (LLNW) juggling stream quality, or just our year-and-a-half-old computers to blame.
- HD movies aren’t yet available. We shudder to think how well they’ll play back, given our experience with the standard-definition movies.
- This only works with Intel-based Macs.
It this as good as HD on-demand from your cable company? No. But it’s free if you subscribe to Netflix. Will this replace renting DVDs in the mail from Netflix if they’re available online, too? Maybe. Especially for movies that you aren’t watching for the visuals. Will this stop us from renting movies from iTunes if they’re available in both places? Probably — again, depending on the type of movie.
Most important: Will this make us Netflix subscribers again? We think we’ll give it another try. We canceled our service this summer when we realised we weren’t renting any DVDs in the mail. But access to a selection of 12,000 (and growing) movies for $9 a month is pretty compelling — and definitely an extra value for Netflix’s existing subscribers who still rent DVDs.
Bottom line: A good start and worth checking out if you’re a Netflix subscriber with a Mac.
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