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Netflix has finally made their “Watch Instantly” streaming service available for the Mac platform.
If you own an Intel-based Mac, you no longer have to stalk your mailbox waiting for those little red envelopes to show up in order to get your video fix -- you can stream them from Netflix. PowerPC users are still out of luck, and Linux users are also not able to access Watch Instantly.
The new Watch Instantly service uses Microsoft’s Silverlight, a browser plug-in that supports rich internet applications, AKA: animation, audio and video and vector animations among other media.
Netflix’s Silverlight-based Watch Instantly service is still firmly in beta, with all the expected glitches you’d expect in a not-ready-for-primetime offering.
Video and voice don’t always synch perfectly, sometimes lagging by half a minute. TV series and animation appears to have more synching and playback issues than movies. Playback performance issues and problems seem to be about equal on Mac and Windows machines.
The new player does not support closed-captioning/subtitles, a significant concern for people who have hearing disabilities or non-linguists with a taste for foreign films (or anyone who believes in accessibility, period).
The player also doesn’t disable the computer’s screensaver or energy-saving settings, users need to turn these off manually if they don’t want the movie to be interrupted due to the system thinking the computer is not in active use. Dual monitors are not well supported; movies playing in full screen on our secondary monitor reverted to embedded view every time we clicked on our primary screen.
Not all of Netflix’s library is available through Watch Instantly, the selection for Macs appears to be identical to what is on offer for Windows users. There’s a broad choice of current TV series and a decent selection of classic and new films.
Overall playback performance is good, with minimal stuttering and caching. Fast-forward and rewind work smoothly and there’s a spiffy thumbnail feature that lets you preview content as you move back and forth through chapters. Firefox delivered the best performance in our tests, with IE coming in second.
Problems seem to be spontaneously manifesting for some Mac users though, judging by the comments on the Netflix blog. Some people are reporting the usual vague and unhelpful error messages. One person posted some helpful advice on the blog -- make sure to exit the player by clicking the “Back To Browsing” button, or you’ll be locked out of Watch Instantly for at least two hours, as the system doesn’t automatically release licenses if you simply close the application.
All in all, it’s a decent start and none of the errors seem insurmountable -- assuming that Mac users are willing to install Microsoft software on their pristine machines.