Xbox 360 Netflix updated, users disappointed

Yesterday Netflix rolled out an update to the Xbox 360 Netflix app. The good news is that they added a single sign-on system that should let you log into a friend's Xbox using your gamer profile and access Netflix from his or her hardware. That could be very useful for socially mobile gamers who're often out visiting friends.

They also added a zoom function for older 4:3 TVs, better color contrast, and Skip Forward/Skip Back functions to let you navigate through a show more easily and they improved Facebook integration for users outside the US (an ancient law prevents Netflix/Facebook integration in the United States). You can read full details of the upgrade on the Netflix blog.

It all seems well and good on the surface, but it turns out Xbox Netflix users have some existing annoyances that they would've much rather have seen addressed (I have an Xbox 360 but don't normally use Netflix on it so I'm basing the following on comments from users).

First, there used to be a Party Feature that let friends get together virtually and watch the same show on Netflix while chatting via Xbox Live. That was removed, I believe, when Netflix added Kinect integration. It was a feature some users liked an awful lot and they continue to hope to see it added back to the service.

[Update: Netflix's Joris Evers reached out to me to point out that the removal of the Party feature was something that Microsoft did, not Netflix. I went 'a googling and found this post at IGN which contains the following quote from Microsoft:

The new app platform on Xbox does not support the video party mode feature at this time, so will not be available in any existing app partners that have updated their app, like Netflix, or any of the new Xbox app partners. The feature is still available in some of our international video apps, like BSkyB in the UK and will likely be included in the next version of the app dev kit.

For customers that would like to chat with their Xbox LIVE friends while gaming or watching videos the chat feature is still available via the Xbox Guide.

My apologies to Netflix for laying the blame for this removal at their feet. ]

Second and the apparently biggest gripe with the current Netflix app is that Netflix auto-plays an episode of a TV series when you pick that series from a listing. Users would prefer to get a listing of available episodes and choose the one they want.

Also, the search feature is wonky. Instead of a virtual keyboard the alphabet is laid out horizontally and you run your cursor up and down it to spell out the title you want. It takes forever (though search results are continually popping up based on partial matches). To be fair to Netflix, this seems to be the standard search UI for the Xbox 360 dashboard; it stinks just as much when looking for a particular game in the Marketplace.

Last, of course, is the fact that you still need an Xbox Live Gold account in order to access Netflix. To the best of my knowledge the Xbox 360 is the only platform where you have to pay for the opportunity to pay Netflix for its service.

Basically the Netflix app on the Xbox 360 is really tuned for use with Kinect. In writing this post I went back and navigated around just using a controller and it really does feel awkward and clunky. I guess Microsoft is sending a message: get used to Kinect because as time goes on they're just going to assume you have it available.

Have you checked out the new Netflix app and if so, what do you think? Are the gripes I've listed things that bother you, or are they just the complaints of fringe users? Please leave a comment!

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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