Netflix comes to Windows Media Center



Starting yesterday, Vista users can watch Netflix streaming movies and manage both instant and DVD queues using a slick new Windows Media Center interface. Pretty nice, but if you were hoping for HD videos or the ability to stream Netflix movies to a TV via Windows Media Extender, you’re outta luck.

Along with about a dozen other tech journalists, I got a quick demo of the new Netflix module for Windows Media Center in a Lower East Side hotel suite Tuesday, and the interface is, indeed, quite polished.

The familiar Netflix logo and color scheme is present and accounted for, along with a horizontal row of browsing options. You can browse and organize your instant viewing queue, of course, but you can also tinker with your DVD queue, which is a nice touch.

Another handy option you won’t find on the Roku or Xbox 360 of the Netflix player: The ability to browse for and add new movies to your instant and/or DVD queues. You can search the entire Netflix catalog (an option to see only Instant results is available) or browse by category, which shows you a tiled display of about 100 recommended titles (based on your ratings and viewing history).

Not bad, but there are a couple of catches. First: No HD movies or TV shows for now. I’m told that the Netflix player on Windows Media Center uses the same Microsoft Silverlight-powered feed that you’ll find on the main Netflix site, so until Netflix decides to enable over-the-Web HD streaming, there won’t be any HD videos on the Windows Media Center version of Netflix, either.

And another catch (which practically knocked me out of my chair during the Q&A session): If you’re using Windows Media Extender to stream Windows Media Center playback to a TV (or any Extender-enabled gadget), you won’t be able to use the Netflix player. Why? Good question; the Microsoft reps on hand Tuesday would only say that they’re focusing on the PC side of the Windows Media Center equation. (Of course, you could always just hook your laptop/desktop directly to your TV, although it’s not the most elegant setup.)

So … while I’m pleased with the look and feel of the new Netflix interface on Windows Media Center, I’m not seeing a huge benefit over the already easy-to-use Netflix Web site.

And while Microsoft reps emphasize that they’re trying to make WMC the go-to place for video on the Web, its still missing some big pieces of the puzzle—think YouTube, Hulu,, and so on. When (and if) Microsoft finally integrates more of the big online video services into Media Center, we might really have something.


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