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Netflix on Xbox: An HD Junky's Perspective

So, yesterday found me glued to the couch, eagerly downloading the new update from Microsoft. Getting it set-up was a snap, if not a bore: Create an avatar? Please, that’s why my Wii is for. Get me to that HD goodness, already.

The Netflix application was easy to find, and upon opening it, I was prompted to activate my account by going to Netflix.com/activate on a computer and entering a code that Xbox had generated. I love controlling household appliances from my laptop, and sure enough, once I did this, 15 titles from my Netflix queue popped up on 50-inch plasma.

But I had no idea if any of them were designated HD by Netflix’s definition, and the Netflix app on the TV did nothing to help me find HD content. I’d have to control my queue from the computer. That’s not a problem for me, but I can imagine that some people would prefer to browse HD content via their televisions rather than with a laptop constantly at their side.

Microsoft had advertised 300 HD titles at launch, but as I browsed through the listings via an HD selection on a Netflix dropdown menu, I counted only 145 HD titles. Unfortunately, none of them were movies already in my queue. Sony hadn’t helped my cause, either, by removing all of their titles from Netflix’s HD listings so that traitorous Xbox360 users wouldn’t get any pleasure from Sony-made videos.

Well, 145 titles wasn’t much to go on, but it was something. I added Season 2 of The Office to my queue online, and—ding—The Office showed up on my TV three instantly. That’s speedy service.

But now for the part that I had been simultaneously excited and nervous about—where Microsoft tests my internet connection to make sure I’m deemed worthy enough to watch HD streaming videos.

“Please, please, please…” I whispered, as a screen came up to measure my connection. “Determining your video quality,” it said, and displayed what looked like cell-phone signal bars. My setup flickered between two and three bars. Damnit, Time Warner Cable! I want the full four bars! Don’t judge me, Netflix. I deserve true HD, I swear.

Discouraged by my ISP, I continued onward and played the first episode of The Office. It looked….schizophrenic. At times, the video quality looked positively terrible: banding, artifacts, softness, blurriness—like expanding a Youtube video into full-screen mode on a laptop. Seconds later, the image would turn crisp and stunning.

I played other videos—this time, an episode of Battlefield Britain, a show that uses a mixture of live acting and computer-generated models. The live-actor scenes tended to look too sharp, with dark edges around objects and pixilation in the distance. But when the show cut to an animated scene, the quality was nearly as good as the Cell Processor-computed images my PS3 spits out when my husband plays MGS4. In other words, nearly perfect.

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It seems that when Xbox Live and Netflix team up to decide the level of HD video you’re allowed to see, you never know what you’re going to get. On average, I estimate that the quality of HD video via Netflix looks better than a standard-def TV broadcast stretched across an HDTV (at least all the Netflix HD content is at the proper aspect ratio and resolution), and worse than a decently uncompressed HD broadcast from a major network. It looks a bit like an old DVD. Which, I suppose, is what I typically get from Netflix in the mail.

When nothing good is on the DVR, and I’ve watched all my by-mail Netflix videos, maybe I’ll turn to my Xbox 360, and Netflix.com, to see if any juicy HD streaming content has been added. In the meantime, I’ll see if I can put the squeeze on Time Warner Cable to sell me another bar of bandwidth, because an HD junky can never get enough.

  • Wolfshadw
    I'm just wondering how much of your bandwidth limit did you use viewing this HD content.
    Reply
  • You must have made a mistake. Gears of War 2 is exclusive to the Xbox 360 and can't be played on the PS3. Perhaps you meant Resistance 2?
    Reply
  • Tomsguiderachel
    WolfshadwI'm just wondering how much of your bandwidth limit did you use viewing this HD content.WolfshadwI'm just wondering how much of your bandwidth limit did you use viewing this HD content.I'd like to find this out as well...working on it.
    Reply
  • Firstly, Sony had nothing to do with it's titles being removed from Netflix 360's offering. That was MS, forgetting to renew licenses. If it were a move by Sony, more than just Columbia Pictures movies would've been removed, as Sony owns more than just 1 studio.

    Secondly, it confirms what I've thought all along. Netflix HD < Blu-Ray. Nearly, isn't exactly. And if it looks better than a Standard Def broadcast, but like an Old DvD, then nearly, doesn't even remotely come close to Blu-Ray.

    Glad it works for you though, enjoy!

    Morne
    Reply
  • harlequin6791
    Good article..

    I like you have been anticipating the release primarily for the Netflix streaming. However I would have to say to all the readers of this article to remember the author didn't achieve over half of the bars and wasn't viewing any HD content. Not only that but that she mentioned that her connection speed flickered between 2-3 bars. That would most likely explain the quality spikes going from "youtube" quality to dvd quality. My experience with the streaming of HD movies thus far has been flawless. I get roughly 7mb/s downstream and had a solid 4 bars on the netflix screen. It came through as nice and crisp.. roughly 1080i as they announced. So I would have to say its a user by user experience. Everyone will have different qualities depending on their isp connections.

    MornelitheFirstly, Sony had nothing to do with it's titles being removed from Netflix 360's offering. That was MS, forgetting to renew licenses. If it were a move by Sony, more than just Columbia Pictures movies would've been removed, as Sony owns more than just 1 studio.Secondly, it confirms what I've thought all along. Netflix HD < Blu-Ray. Nearly, isn't exactly. And if it looks better than a Standard Def broadcast, but like an Old DvD, then nearly, doesn't even remotely come close to Blu-Ray.Glad it works for you though, enjoy!Morne
    Morne you comment about it not being as good as bluray. No one ever stated it would be. They announced 1080i quality and 1080p in the future. As broadband speeds increase and technology develops they'll push 1080p through the pipelines. What it does have is low cost and on demand functionality. I have a PS3 as well as my 360, however paying $30 for a bluray movie is insane. However paying $8 for a netflix account and getting unlimited downloads now that's a steal. You could even cancel some cable and download seasons worth of shows you enjoy.

    Don't take the review as a solid truth. The experience will vary as I stated before.
    Reply
  • Tomsguiderachel
    MornelitheFirstly, Sony had nothing to do with it's titles being removed from Netflix 360's offering. That was MS, forgetting to renew licenses. If it were a move by Sony, more than just Columbia Pictures movies would've been removed, as Sony owns more than just 1 studio.Secondly, it confirms what I've thought all along. Netflix HD < Blu-Ray. Nearly, isn't exactly. And if it looks better than a Standard Def broadcast, but like an Old DvD, then nearly, doesn't even remotely come close to Blu-Ray.Glad it works for you though, enjoy!MorneWait, who said Netflix HD was supposed to look like Blu-ray? My expectations weren't that high.
    Reply
  • Tomsguiderachel
    harlequin6791Good article.. I like you have been anticipating the release primarily for the Netflix streaming. However I would have to say to all the readers of this article to remember the author didn't achieve over half of the bars and wasn't viewing any HD content. Not only that but that she mentioned that her connection speed flickered between 2-3 bars. That would most likely explain the quality spikes going from "youtube" quality to dvd quality. My experience with the streaming of HD movies thus far has been flawless. I get roughly 7mb/s downstream and had a solid 4 bars on the netflix screen. It came through as nice and crisp.. roughly 1080i as they announced. So I would have to say its a user by user experience. Everyone will have different qualities depending on their isp connections.Morne you comment about it not being as good as bluray. No one ever stated it would be. They announced 1080i quality and 1080p in the future. As broadband speeds increase and technology develops they'll push 1080p through the pipelines. What it does have is low cost and on demand functionality. I have a PS3 as well as my 360, however paying $30 for a bluray movie is insane. However paying $8 for a netflix account and getting unlimited downloads now that's a steal. You could even cancel some cable and download seasons worth of shows you enjoy.Don't take the review as a solid truth. The experience will vary as I stated before.I'm jealous of your ISP connection! I was viewing HD content, it just wasn't coming through as crisp as true 1080i,
    Reply
  • d_kuhn
    I watched part of a movie yesterday and I was overall fairly pleased with the quality of the video streaming to my 360 from netflix.

    BUT Blu-Ray quality? Not bloody likely. Folks should keep in mind that not all "HD" is created equal. 7mbps is actually a lower bit rate than play vanilla DVD quality requires... much less Blu-Ray (40mbps).

    Streaming video is good for media that's low quality to start with (SD broadcast and old movies), but totally a joke next to true HD quality media.
    Reply
  • Tomsguiderachel
    D_KuhnI watched part of a movie yesterday and I was overall fairly pleased with the quality of the video streaming to my 360 from netflix. BUT Blu-Ray quality? Not bloody likely. Folks should keep in mind that not all "HD" is created equal. 7mbps is actually a lower bit rate than play vanilla DVD quality requires... much less Blu-Ray (40mbps). Streaming video is good for media that's low quality to start with (SD broadcast and old movies), but totally a joke next to true HD quality media.You make a good point, but who wants to watch SD broadcast streams on an HDTV? Can you say: Stretch-O-Vision? I'd rather watch "pretend HD" than standard-def so at least it fits my screen...
    Reply
  • nukemaster
    I would have said "but who wants to watch SD 4:3 broadcast streams on an HDTV? Can you say: Stretch-O-Vision?"

    To be honest there are TONS of standard definition widescreen(16:9 aspect) movies/tv shows available. Widescreen and HD are 2 fully different things. I watch widescreen SD video on my computer screen all the time. and its not stretched in any way. In the worst case I would get black bars on the sides(same as you get black bars with any widescreen video on a 4:3 TV) if I watched a 4:3 video and even small bars with 16:9 since my screen is 16:10. I have a 4:3 screen for those videos anyway and most TV's can just allow the bars if the video is 4:3.

    All in all a good review, too bad the signal was 2-3 bars, but I bet it still beats my 5.2 megabit/sec connection.
    Reply