November 02, 2008

Netflix Edges Closer to Making the Perfect Web Video Site

It seems when it comes to the world of Web video, there is as much discussion of the limits saying what you can't do as there are the discussion of the features themselves. If you get your movies via iTunes, you hear about how it can play on one device at a time, for a limited time. If you opt for Amazon Unbox, there is a different set of restrictions. Meanwhile, Netflix is still mostly known for its DVD distribution, and until lately, it has been restricted to Windows computers - locking out Mac and Linux users. As MG Siegler of VentureBeat noted yesterday, Mac users can finally get their hands on instant streaming via the Web, as we move ever closer to that "anytime, anywhere, any movie" panacea that we're all seeking.

My personal preference, especially since the introduction of movie rentals, has been to use iTunes. Downloading films via iTunes makes them available to my laptop, my iPhone, and, using the Apple TV, to my living room. But iTunes doesn't have every film. In fact, none of these services do. Often, if there's a movie I really want to see, but don't want to pay full price for, I have to check iTunes, Amazon and Netflix to see who is serving it up. But if the answer is that only Netflix offers it for rental, I'm quite hesitant to put the movie in my queue, and wait the better part of a week to get the physical copy in the mail. We've reached the point where near instant is the only acceptable speed.

With the advent of Netlfix offering instant streaming of films via the Web, I gain yet another instant entertainment source - and I don't have to pay per film, like I do with iTunes or Amazon Unbox, as the instant streaming is part of our family's monthly fee.

Netflix Offers Many Videos for Instant Viewing, but Not All

Per VentureBeat's article, I headed to and, after agreeing to be part of the beta program, I updated the Microsoft Silverlight software on my computer. One restart of Safari later, and I could add any of the available instant movies or TV shows to my Instant Queue. The offerings were slim, to be sure, but I would expect Netflix to work hard to migrate the rest of their library to offer the same capability.

I Could Add a Video to My Instant Queue

In a silly mood, I was able to add "Nuns on the Run" to my instant queue, and a minute later, I was seeing Eric Idle debate his role as a thief amid increasing violence in his line of work. Netflix measured my bandwidth capabilities, and set the video quality so that my connection wouldn't be overwhelmed and stuck buffering. Only once did I find the Web connection slowed to a speed that the movie stopped, but a simple refresh of the browser caught the movie up to where I left off, and we kept going.

The Nuns Were On the Run In Minutes

Internet Connectivity Issues Will Always Be There

I appreciate iTunes' per-movie pricing and instant downloads to the Apple TV. If I can find the film there first, and plan on being home to watch it, that will be default for our home videos. But if I want to watch a film solo, on the laptop, and Netflix offers it, this option will be a great backup.

Yet, as with the other services, questions still are there. Can I take the video with me? No. Can I play them on my iPhone? No. So for each situation, I probably will find myself bouncing from service to service, without one reigning supreme.