Tim Mattison

Hardcore tech

Review: NetFlix on the PS3

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NetFlix just released software that enables consumers to watch their instant queue on a PlayStation 3. Of course, the XBOX 360 has had this capability for quite some time but now users of either console can stream movies to their TVs without purchasing a Roku or a compatible DVD/BluRay player. This move will open up their customer base considerably since a lot of people who have purchased a PS3 can’t easily justify spending another $100 for a device just to watch their Instant Queue.

NetFlix, for those who don’t subscribe, lets you receive DVDs or BluRay disks in the mail or watch movies online. Only a small percentage of their total movie count is available online so you’ll probably end up having to wait for some things to arrive in the mail instead of getting instant gratification. The collection of online movies grows every week though and there are tons of titles (movies, TV shows, documentaries) that are worth watching on it. When you find movies that you want you add them to your queue. There is a separate queue for movies that will arrive in the mail and movies that you can watch online. We’ll focus on the “Instant Queue” from here on out.

The NetFlix software comes in the mail like any other movie would normally. The only difference is that NetFlix uses a different mailer that lets you know that you don’t need to return this DVD to them. When you want to watch a movie online you just need to pop it into your PS3, go to the Video menu, and select NetFlix. But first, you have to let NetFlix know you have a PS3. Log into your account and go to the signup page. NetFlix will send the disk in a few days.

The first time you use it you’ll be presented with an activation screen. This is how NetFlix associates your PS3 with your particular NetFlix account. You’ll see a code on the screen that you’ll need to provide to NetFlix. You can either go to the URL they show you directly (http://www.netflix.com/ps3) or, because NetFlix is smart, you can log into your account and they’ll show you a banner when you first log in that tells you how to activate your device. Once you enter the code on this page your PS3 will start pulling down the list of movies you have in your Instant Queue.

From this point it looks similar to the Roku with a few extra menu items that actually let you add movies to your Instant Queue directly from the PS3. There’s no feature to search for a title by name unfortunately so you’re at the mercy of their suggestions for you. Aside from that you get the standard red/gray NetFlix branded look and feel that you expect from any other device.

What’s good and what’s bad? Here’s what I’ve come up with.

The Bad

  • Just like the Roku, there is no capability to fast forward or rewind without rebuffering. This can get annoying if some dialog is hard to hear or you want to watch a scene a few times. This should be addressed soon, especially considering the hardware at their disposal on the PS3.

  • When movies are in standard definition the PS3 goes into 480P mode. What it should really do is stay in the current video mode and scale the picture up appropriately. Why does it matter? The user interface looks really good in high definition, in standard definition it looks very chunky. It loses its consistent look and feel when things like this, that a user sees all the time, change from movie to movie.

  • As you move around the menus the PS3 has to fetch the cover art and movie list over and over again

  • There is no way to search for movies by title

  • The interface can be a bit sluggish, especially when trying to pause a movie. However, it is more responsive than the Roku.

  • The directional pad and trigger buttons don’t function as you’d expect. To scroll through movies you need to keep pressing the buttons or triggers for each movie. Holding them down should keep scrolling at a reasonable pace but instead it scrolls just one movie no matter how long it is pressed.

  • You need to insert a DVD to watch a movie online. It feels weird to do that. It should be available to download online and to install on the hard drive from the disk.

  • Just like the Roku, when you pause a movie the pause icon and the timeline stay on top of the video. If you’re trying to pause to see something on the bottom of the screen then these will definitely occlude your view. They should fade out after a few seconds.

The Good

  • You can watch NetFlix on my PS3, of course. Coincidentally, I can now move my Roku into another room without having to buy a third device.

  • You can browse new movies and recommended movies on the PS3. You don’t need to grab a computer and sign onto the site anymore unless you’re looking for a specific movie.

  • The user interface in 720P looks a lot nicer than the Roku. The fonts are cleaner and it feels like the screen is used more effectively.

  • As you move through the interface you “slide” from screen to screen. On the Roku, probably due to limited CPU capabilities, you “snap” from one screen to another. The animation gives you a better idea of where you were and where you’re going. It’s easy to feel lost on the Roku when you press the wrong button because the whole screen changes instantly.

  • There is a list of recently watched movies. If you watched a movie and removed it from your queue on the Roku you can’t get back to it without going through the NetFlix site. Whether it’s still in your queue or not it’s in the recently watched list.

  • There is a list of new arrivals. It’s nice to see that NetFlix is actively adding movies to their streaming service without searching on your computer.

So what’s my final verdict? I’d give it a 7 out of 10 because of the few, fixable issues I’ve seen. If you have a PS3 you should go to NetFlix now and order your disk to check it out for yourself. If you’re considering a Roku or a PS3 I think it’s safe to say that you’ll get more mileage out of a PS3 at this point. A Roku is definitely a better choice for a second or third room though since the price and power consumption is much lower.