One of the more exciting additions to the Xbox 360 is the streaming of Netflix movies for subscribers of the video rental service and Xbox Live Gold. The service has been available to Netflix subscribers via their PCs or dedicated boxes like the Roku for some time now, but the Xbox 360 will be the first console to support the streaming of standard and high definition "Watch Instantly" content.
The service is a welcome solution that we found refreshingly simple to set up and use.
Netflix streaming can be accessed under the Video Marketplace section. You'll be required to download and install a 3.29 MB file, something that should take less than 30 seconds depending on your connection and Xbox Live strain.
Following the install, you'll receive an activation code. Submit that to Netflix.com, add some video content to your "Instant Queue" (if you haven't done so already) and you're good to go. Total set up time should take less than five minutes. Not bad.
What might not be as impressive is the selection of video content available to stream instantly at Netflix. We didn't have much of an issue finding things to watch — much of John Carpenter's filmography is available — but don't make the mistake of thinking the whole of Netflix's library is at your digital beck and call. There are plenty of duds to wade through to get to the good stuff, but there are thousands of hours of video content at your disposal.
From adding an item to your instant queue to having it appear on your Xbox 360's list takes but a few seconds. If you get a wild hair to watch, say 30 Rock, you can be viewing the episode of your choice within a minute. We should note that the occasional quibble will arise, as the first season of NBC's Heroes features one "disc only" episode, unavailable to Netflix streamers.
Video quality varies, depending on the title. While buffering, Netflix will determine your video quality based on bandwidth. Even in films presented in HD — we watched portions of The Thing in a high def feed — you'll see artifacting and dithering, but quality is on par with on-demand content from a cable box. Better than standard definition digital cable, but decidedly softer than from a DVD or HD-DVD disc.
Navigating content while watching is straightforward, with pause, skip back, rewind, stop, forward, and skip forward letting you move around content. You'll re-buffer after time-shifting, but that takes only a few seconds. The navigation bar also provides language and display modes.
The NXE dashboard interface for Netflix streaming lets users resume play if they stop a video, rated it from one to five stars, or remove it from their instant queue.
Netflix streaming over the Xbox 360 is almost devoid of pain and a very welcome addition to Xbox Live. The interface is simple and the video quality can be fantastic — we've found little to complain about, outside of the occasionally weak content offerings.