We spent last evening trying out Netflix's "Watch Instantly" Mac Beta, an eagerly awaited service that we hoped that would give our Apple TV a run for its money in ease and selection. As a long time Netflix subscriber, we've had a relatively trouble-free subscription experience at various addresses for home delivery. But now with the option to download movies instantly via the Apple TV, we mostly had relegated our Netflix account for specific specialty flicks and TV series (Netflix OWNS Apple TV in selection), at a one disc subscription rate. Would "Watch Instantly" bring us back into the fold?
Fortunately we just upgraded to an Intel-based Mac, as Netflix Watch Instantly streaming video service doesn't play at all with PowerPC Macs. The install process was painless and quick, with credits to Microsoft's Silverlight application allowing for the overall positive playback experience (but a big "boo" for the inclusion of PlayReady DRM); standard definition is all you get, but it's acceptable in most cases on a 15" laptop screen (we were okay with the full screen playback on the 24" monitor). We settled for an animated feature, initially choosing a Hellboy animated movie; the audio was out of sync, so we switched over to Justice League: The New Frontier which loaded and played without any major issue. Above is This Is England, which we just started watching this morning.
Load times are about 5 seconds before video started playing on our cable connection; even over wi-fi, the video loading times were minimal. We did encounter a few hiccups during playback. About 5 times during the movie, the video would stall for a split second, while the audio continued to play. The effect was a bit annoying, something we'd find unacceptable for more serious films, but only a minor annoyance while we got our cartoon on.
What we really liked was this timeline feature, the navigation's thumbnail previews make moving to and fro between scenes naturally intuitive. Full screen playback on the laptop was about two notches above acceptable, so we're not quick to think we're going to be replacing the HD playback our Apple TV allows for certain features and TV series. But for documentaries, animated features, and other non-cinematic experiences, we're thinking the Netflix service could work as a compliment, rather than a rival to the Apple TV experience (another note is this content can only be viewed on the Mac streaming the video; content cannot be transferred like Apple allows). The selections are mostly older films, but there's a whole world of additional content our Apple TV is missing, so for now, we're enjoying the beta like a kid in a candy store (or video store). We hope in due time we see HD content and more recent releases added to the mix, with hope this offering kicks Apple's behind into some high gear and gets to updating their quickly aging platform. Got an Intel Mac? Sign up while you can here.