Thursday, November 20, 2008

Xbox.com | New Xbox Experience [and related Netflix/Windows 7/Windows Live musings]

More details on Xbox LIVE + Netflix

Netflix instantly streaming in HD: The New Xbox Experience isn't the only thing that will look great on your TV. Netflix is taking the first step by instantly streaming movies and TV episodes in high definition with the introduction of approximately 300 choices in HD via Xbox 360, including La Vie en Rose, Flawless, and Heroes. Xbox 360 is the only Netflix-ready device to offer high-definition movies and TV episodes.

I upgraded our Xbox 360 the latest software last night, and signed up for Xbox LIVE Gold ($49.99/year – I had let our family subscription expire/revert to the Silver level a long ago, since we weren’t using many of the related services), mostly to explore the new Netflix service integration.

The Xbox-based Netflix service presented a code that I entered (via a PC) on a Netflix sign-up page, and presto – I can select movie and TV content from the Netflix “Watch Instantly” catalog, click the “Add to Instant” action, and the selected items automagically show up on the Xbox-based Netflix view.

I tested a few selections, including streaming a “30 Rock” episode in HD, and it worked flawlessly. I’m sure there will be some issues with the new service for a while (e.g., a Netflix licensing issue with Sony), and also suspect “actual results may vary” (considerably) for people who have their Xbox 360 consoles Internet-connected wirelessly (mine has a wired connection), but I’m impressed, and I’m looking forward to sending/receiving fewer Netflix DVDs, in the future. See this Netflix page for more details on the service, supported device types, etc.

A few observations and projections:

1. This is an intriguing hybrid service scenario – my relationship with Netflix now encompasses several devices, and my Xbox LIVE identity is mapped to my Netflix identity. It was intuitive to add content to my new “instant” queue via the Netflix browser client, and very cool to have the selections instantly appear via my Xbox rather than via DVDs in my mailbox a few days later. I can also access my instant queue on a PC, and -- again intuitively and sensibly -- the content I started watching via my Xbox last night resumes where I left off last night, when I play it via my PC. (Now Netflix knows both what I watch and that I evidently have chronic attention deficit disorder issues…)

2. With the media streaming and Device Stage features planned for Windows 7 (see this blog post for an overview), and with the myriad (and increasingly intertwingled) Windows Live, Office Live, Xbox LIVE, and Microsoft partner services, it’s compelling to imagine near-term future scenarios in which my service provider relationships and my digital stuff are seamlessly accessible via multiple devices, with my PC being my primary control point. Some people will probably prefer interacting primarily via their TV-connected devices, or perhaps their smartphones, but I suspect a lot of people will prefer their PCs for exploring – and sharing -- their ever-expanding collections of digital stuff and devices.

3. The user experience model will be pivotal – a lot of the capabilities will remain untapped if people don’t understand the underlying conceptual models, and a lot of that will entail unlearning constraints and conventions from earlier phases of personal computing – which in turn are, in many cases, conceptual model constraints (regrettably…) carried forward from pre-digital media, e.g., the concept that an information item resides in a single subdirectory on a single device.

4. On a note related to the Adobe MAX event this week, and the expanding competition between Flash and Silverlight, Netflix is currently testing a Silverlight client for Windows and Mac users (see this Netflix blog post for more details). I’m just guessing, since Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is also a Microsoft board member, that probably Netflix won’t be leading with Flash instead of Silverlight anytime soon…

5. A couple "green" aspects: there's no additional cost, for Xbox LIVE Gold and Netflix subscribers, and I'll be receiving/sending fewer DVDs via snail mail, in the future -- pretty cool...

Xbox.com New Xbox Experience [and related Netflix/Windows 7/Windows Live musings]

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