NetFlix’s “Watch Now” Service on the XBox 360 the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I signed up this weekend for Netflix’s “Watch Now” service on my XBox 360 and have to say that after a weekend of intensively playing around with the new service that my impressions are largely positive.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this new service, basically Netflix and Microsoft have partnered allowing you to access over 10,000 videos on demand from Netflix (including many in high def). This new service was first announced by Microsoft earlier this year at E3.

The Good

1. Did I mention that you can now directly stream over 10,000 different titles (many in high def) directly to your XBox 360?

The number and quality of titles is impressive. I was suprised at how many great movies and TV shows are now included as Netflix “Watch Now” offerings. I’m not sure if Netflix has expanded the number of titles available over earlier versions of Watch Now, but I had no problem finding plenty of interesting content that I wanted to watch this weekend and I’ve got dozens of more movies lined up still to consume. This weekend I watched a great indie movie called “Winter Passing” on the service. I also watched an episode of “CSI” as well as an old episode of “The Twilight Zone.” I also browsed several different movies and watched portions of them including “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” and “The Hoax.”

2. In terms of the image quality, I thought it was superb. There was no stuttering or compression loss, or any other deterioration that I noticed. It felt exactly like you were watching a DVD from Netflix. It only took about 20 seconds or so for the service to fire up a movie. High Def looks like high def (they let you know when you are watching something in HD at the beginning of the show).

3. It’s cheap. There is no additional cost from Netflix for Watch Now. Anyone with a 1 disc a month or more Netflix plan qualifies to receive the service free of charge (see my comments under Live Gold required below though). A 1 disc a month plan from Netflix costs $8.99 per month. Through Netflix’s watch now service combined with new releases that I can get from them via DVD I have more than enough content to view, watch, and consume. With this service there is *no* reason for me to subscribe to cable or satellite service anymore. $14 a month is far cheaper than the $100 a month or so that cable/satellite providers charge. I canceled my DirecTV service a number of months back and definitely do not miss the $120 a month I was paying them directly for my media content.

4. It was easy to set up. I simply entered in my netflix email address and password and in less than 60 seconds a file downloaded installed itself and I was ready to go.

Now based on the four points above I largely consider the new service a success. The four points above account for 90% of my positive feelings about the service. There are some small things that I didn’t like though but these are small in comparison to the overall satisfactory experience that I had with the service.

The Bad.

1. Microsoft requires you to have a “Live Gold” Membership in order to access this service. This seems kind of chump to me. I don’t have to pay for a “Live Gold” Membership in order to watch “Watch Now” on my PC or on my Mac or on the vmcNetflix Watch Now Media Center Plug In (that unfortunately I can’t get to work on my XBox 360 as an extender), so why should I have to pay a $50 a year toll to Microsoft to watch it on my XBox 360? I have no use or desire for any of the features of XBox Gold Live and it felt distasteful to me that I had to sign up for this service in order to use it.

2. Not all Watch Now titles can be watched on the XBox 360. Although most of the titles that I had in my instant viewing queue on Netflix were available, some (like a Charles Bukowski documentary that I wanted to watch and that also is badly synched on the Mac version of watch now) are not able to be streamed to the XBox 360.

3. Fast forwarding, skipping and rewinding felt awkward on the service. When I watched a CSI episode I didn’t want to watch the opening song and credits to the show. When I pushed the skip forward button on my remote I thought that it should have jumped directly to the start of the show rather than to the 5 minute into the show viewpoint. Fast forwarding and rewinding are equally awkward giving you freeze frames of the show to various points vs. a streaming sort of experience like I’m used to on Media Center and TiVo.

4. The service is not available outside of the U.S. This doesn’t affect me of course, but it will affect people outside the U.S.

The Ugly

The only thing that I really, really hated about the service was how poorly it handled multiple XBox units in the same household. I realize that I’m likely on the bleeding edge here as most households probably don’t have more than one XBox, but in my case I’m using them as Media Center extender units and have one in my kitchen, one in my living room and one in my bedroom.

At first I was pleased to find that I could watch Netflix movies on any of the three XBox units with the same XBox Live Gold Membership. This was good. But then I found out that when you log on to the service on on XBox 360 it kicks you off on the other XBox 360. The only way to get your service back is to reclaim your “gamer tag” on the unit that you want to use it on. Fundamentally (although this is annoying) I can sort of understand this. But functionally speaking, recovering your “gamer tag” with an XBox 360 remote is a royal pain in the ass.

First off, it is not clear that why your XBox 360 won’t play has anything to do with the fact that you are logged on on another XBox 360 in your home. When you try to log in it simply tells you that your membership is invalid. After hunting around a while I figured out how to “reclaim” my gamertag. But here is where it becomes a royal pain in the ass. In order to “reclaim” your gamertag you first have to enter in your gamertag ID, you then need to enter in your email address, you then need to enter in your password. Normally this wouldn’t be such a problem, but when trying to enter all of this data with an XBox 360 controller which involves poking around with a joystick on a screen of letters one by one, this is so annoying.

I’m not sure why my XBox 360 can’t simply be smart enough to understand that all of my XBox 360 units are on the same network and allow me to use the service on any of them in my household, or alternatively at least allow me a simply one touch button to alternate between XBox 360s. The cumbersome task of having to enter in all of those letters one by one was a big disappointment.

Of course if Microsoft didn’t require the XBox Live Gold Membership this probably wouldn’t be a problem in the first place.

Update: I updated this post to correct that a 2 disc at a time plan is not required in order to get this service. Netflix also allows it with the cheaper 1 disc at a time $8.99/month plan.

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  1. Adam says:

    Although it may not help in your circumstance, you may be able to mitigate the multiple X-box, single gamertag by keeping your gamertag on an X-box memory card.

  2. Joel Tanner says:

    Thanks for the full review, Thomas.

    I’m guessing the only solution for the login issue is going to be to have multiple gamer ids/live gold memberships. At $4/mo it’s not awful, but surely isn’t a great solution.

    Side note… Xbox Live requires each user/gamer to have a unique (paid for Gold) membership as well, even on the same machine!

  3. DJ says:

    I don’t like how you can’t browse for content on the Xbox–you have to queue it up via

    All in all, I’m impressed with it as well.

  4. monroema says:

    I have the “Unlimited rentals – up to 1 movie out at a time with unlimited time to watch instantly for a flat monthly fee of $8.99” and this plan still allows me to use the Watch Now functionality on the 360.

  5. Rob-L says:

    I like this service because I already have an XBox Gold account and Netflix and overall I’m very pleased, especially because I view this as an “extra” Netflix service since they don’t charge anything extra.

    Microsoft should offer a reduced membership for those who do not want to play games etc. and just watch Netflix movies.

    On the other hand, I also picked up an LG Blu-Ray player that allows you to stream Netflix movies at no extra cost at all. I think the video quality is even better than the Xbox.

  6. Aaron says:

    Two quick questions: Can you use Watch Now as part of a trial Netflix membership? I’m constantly getting mailings from them with 2-week trial offers and I’m really only interested in Watch Now. But I’d like to try it out first. (I guess I’m a little cheap)

    Thomas, do you know if the Watch Now MCE plugin explicitly doesn’t work on the Xbox extender interface, or was it an issue that was specific to your system?

  7. Brian Hoyt says:

    Watch out for the recovering process. Your gamertag can only exist on one Xbox at a time. You will need to either place your gamertag on a xbox memory card and move it around with you or recover constantly. If you recover your account too many times it is likely that Microsoft will disable the account. The recovering process actually removes it from the other xbox.

  8. bikejohn says:

    Multiple Live Gold accounts does indeed solve the problem you had Thomas.

    In our household we have two 360s and my son and I each have our own Live Gold account. His account is on the downstairs 360 and mine on the upstairs one. The real problem will be what to do when he graduates and moves out in a couple years.