With the release of the new Xbox Dashboard update (which is now rolling out), Netflix has taken the opportunity to release an updated version of their streaming player. The new player has a number of new features including an overhauled user interface, integrated search, subtitles and Dolby Digital surround sound. Kinect gestures and voice commands can be used to control the app. Netflix also announced the availability of the new player in Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico. The app will also be made available in the UK and Ireland in early 2012 via Xbox Live. The Netflix blog post announcing the new player can be found here.
The new app was built by Netflix itself. What’s surprising is that while it supports adaptive video streaming and HD video, it does not support 1080P. The update still streams HD at 720P. Access to 1080P Netflix video has appeared on a number of devices including the Roku 2 XS, Playstation3 and the WD Live TV. While the Xbox hardware is capable of 1080P, I heard from one source that the limitation is built in to Microsoft’s new app framework. Hopefully, 1080P is enabled in the future.
As part of the UI overhaul, the new app also displays related titles when browsing a particular TV show or movie (similar to Apple TV). It will also display three suggestions at the end of a show or movie. This is great since Netflix’s recommendation engine is one of its best features. Since Netflix is also touting the display of more titles on the screen as a feature, it’s another sign they may revert to an earlier design of the Netflix interface on the Playstation3. Episodes broken out by seasons were recently restored on the PS3.
The one feature that used to differentiate Netflix on the Xbox was its “party viewing” feature. It let you watch a particular title on Netflix at the same time as your friends on Xbox live. Reports from Twitter indicate the feature was not included in the refresh. Netflix acknowledges that it was a conscious decision to remove the functionality. Netflix states that while the feature is great for gaming, what viewers are actually watching on Netflix streaming is more important.
Does this make the Xbox the best Netflix player? Not without 1080P support. However, it does bring significant improvements to the current Netflix player on the Xbox. The most powerful feature is the integration with Xbox Dashboard’s unified video search. However, one drawback is that you also need to subscribe to Xbox Live Gold to use the app (in addition to the monthly fee for Netflix). Since we don’t have an Xbox here in the Hub’s lab, please let me know what you think of the update in the comments.
Update: While the new client does support Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, it does not support Dolby Digital Plus. Dolby Digital Plus is more bandwidth efficient and has the potential to provide better sound the regular Dolby Digital (and it does!) (Thanks michaeltscott )
|The new Netflix interface on the Xbox|