Discless Netflix Early Impressions

October 20, 2010Written by Allen Tyson

After almost a year, Netflix goes discless on the PS3. How does it perform? Is it any better than the BD-Live enabled version we’ve had for so long? Is the User Interface (UI) an improvement? After watching a few TV shows and movies we wanted to share our first thoughts on what we think is a tremendous improvement.

After receiving an email reminding me that the new service had arrived, I downloaded the app. While some users reported issues with having to re-register, I didn’t. It was a smooth process, and in about 5 minutes I was up and running. The first thing that jumped out at me is this: speed kills. There is a drastic improvement in the time it to takes to do backend authentication and bring you to the UI. Having just used the BD-Live enable version the night before, it was noticeable. Navigating, searching, and obtaining details on TV shows and movies was very swift. I did notice a slight delay moving from the search back to the queue but this went away after a few attempts and could have been load on the Netflix infrastructure. Now on to the UI.

The UI is a big improvement over what we had before. Titles in the instant queue are organized primarily in a vertical fashion as opposed to the old horizontal view. The cover art was nice, crisp in transition and hovering over the titles provided details on the episodes and what you could watch next. I would call it “functional +1”. It’s a bit disappointing that it’s nothing like the UI on the Xbox 360 (although I understand this is attempt one). On the Xbox 360, when you hover over a title you get information on running time, rating, and if it’s available in HD. The PS3 UI didn’t provide this same type of info.  The other improvement that would be nice is that on the Xbox 360 you get a red warning indicator if something is set to expire, I didn’t see this either;or it was somewhere I could find it. While there are some areas for improvement, it is a solid experience. Even with my gripes, if you’re asking will this satisfy you and your family as you sit down to watch a movie the answer is definite yes. On to the movies. After all, that’s why we have Netflix right?

Once you select a film, it tells you right away in the top center if it’s in HD, 5.1 or both. It selected 5.1 by default for me when I started a show. I have heard rumblings that for some people they had to manually select 5.1 initially from audio options, then it retained the setting for them going forward.  To test something out, I decided to fire up what knew had to be in HD and 5.1: Heroes. I picked one of my favorite episodes from Season 1: Unexpected — I like to refer to it as “The day Peter P got his groove on” but I digress. Picture quality was excellent and close to a decent broadcast in HD (Blu-ray this is not). The stand out was the audio. 5.1  Surround sound effects were clear, separation was what you would expect from the source material, and at all the right moments the LFE kicked in like it should have. Heroes may not have been the most dynamic choice, but it performed as if I were watching a re-broadcast on NBC.

Netflix and Sony should be applauded for not only giving us a better UI experience but Dolby Digital Plus as well. There is still room for improvement and I suspect we will see it evolve over the next few versions. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to catch up on Voltron…