I recently fired up Netflix on the Playstation3 to find a new version of the client, version 2.08. It appears this version of the Netflix player adds two new Netflix features. Specifically, there are enhancements to search as well as an auto-play feature for TV series episodes. Historically, a number of other Netflix features including 1080P video and surround sound came first to the PS3.
Previously, you could only search for movie or TV show titles by name on the Playstation3 as was the case with most other Netflix enabled devices (when entering text not browsing the grid). Now, the search function also includes actors and directors in the search results. It’s a handy new feature if you want to find all of the Tom Hanks movies available on Netflix. It should be noted that the TiVo Premiere has had the ability to search by movie title, actor or director for some time. This ability is not in TiVo’s Netflix player but in its native software (“Search” under “Find TV, Movies & Videos”). TiVo’s search has been a universal one, searching not only Netflix but the other streaming services (Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant) as well as TV listings.
Given the PS3 utilizes Netflix’s HTML 5 user interface, it’s no surprise that the new search functionality has started to appear on other HTML5 Netflix devices. No surprise since it was stated on the recent Netflix earnings call, that this feature will be rolling out fairly quickly to a number of Netflix devices. From my own experience, I’ve already seen it on the Boxee and the Panasonic DMP-BDT220 Blu-ray player. Many of the Blu-ray players released in 2011 and 2012 also utilize Netflix’s HTML 5 interface.
The other new feature encourages “binge viewing” on Netflix. When you’re watching a TV episode, it automatically plays the next episode in the season. The Netflix player warns you that it’s about to do this, popping up a button to cancel it (the default is to play the next episode). It also shrinks the end credits (similar to what the networks do to promote other shows).
Personally, I wish I had the ability to disable this feature. For one, I like the credits to play full-screen. Also, if I turn off the TV and forgot Netflix was playing, it would potentially play through an entire season of the show. You would land up losing your place within the season. In general, it would be preferable if Netflix let the end user configure the behavior of the player instead of a one size fits all approach per device. Another option I would like to control is how many titles I can see on the screen when I’m browsing the catalog.
For those of you who are wondering, the latest Netflix and PS3 system updates do not give the Playstation the ability to bitstream Dolby Digital Plus. Even the latest version of VUDU for the PS3 which touts Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 provides multi-channel PCM instead. In the case of Dolby Digital Plus, it appears PS3 has to do the decoding or downmix it to Dolby Digital.
By the way, no word on when the Olympics will be available on Netflix.
Update (8/1/2012): The Noisecast blog has screen shots of a new recommendation wizard for Netflix called “Max”. While you need version 2.0.8 to access it, it hasn’t been pushed out to all users.