Last Friday Netflix "Instant Streaming Discs" started arriving in the mailboxes of Sony Playstation 3 owners who'd requested them. I took some time over the weekend to try out this new-to-PS3 service. If you've used Netflix Instant Streaming on another device you won't find any surprises here.
The service shows up under the Video column of the PS3's XMB interface with a bold Netflix icon with the text "Netflix Instant Streaming Disc"; this may seem trivial but for family members who generally don't use the PS3 this "can't miss it" icon will be helpful. You start it up just like any other disk. While it writes a small amount of data to the hard drive (find it under BD Data Utility at the top of the Video column) it does require the Netflix disc to be in the PS3 at all times; I'd hoped there would be some kind of "install" option that would let you access Netflix without the disc.
As with any other Netflix Streaming device you have to activate your PS3. The first time you run the service you'll get a short alphanumeric code that you'll need to enter in the Netflix site. Although the PS3 has a web browser, you'll still need a PC to do this initial activation since (it appears) the service has to be running on the PS3 at the time you activate it. In any case the actual "Activate" button on the Netflix site is inoperable when using the PS3's web browser.
Once you complete the one-time activation (and on subsequent uses) the service boots to your Instant Queue. You can scroll through your Queue one by one with the left and right buttons (on a PS3 Controller or the Playstation Remote), or jump forward and back in chunks by using the L2 and R2 buttons. By pressing up you can browse non-queued content by topic. Netflix controls what you see here, and topics range from the obvious (New Arrivals: Movies, New Arrivals: TV) to the arbitrary (Violent Action, Visually Striking Movies). If you find something you like you can just start watching it, or you can add it to your Instant Queue for later viewing.
In order to put the system to the test I went looking for some HD content. Under New Arrivals: TV I found the anthropological documentary "Bridget's Sexiest Beaches: Australia" and fired it up. It takes a few seconds of buffering before you can start viewing, but this definitely takes a lot less time than sitting through even one commercial. The quality (of the picture, not the show) was very good with no stuttering or artifacting. I watched the same show on two PS3s, one with a wired connection and one using the PS3's built-in wireless, and in both cases the picture remained solid.
One nice feature that isn't specific to the PS3 version of Netflix Streaming; if you start playing a show on one connected device, then move to another device, the service 'remembers' where you left off. So you can start watching a movie streaming via the PS3 in the living room, then as your eyes start to droop, head to the bedroom to watch the last half-hour on the Roku box you have in there, with no scrubbing back and forth to find the spot where you stopped.
Downsides? Well the fact that you need this disk is a downside. And one of the drawbacks of the service is that fast forwarding and rewinding is a bit odd. When you use one of these features instead of steady progression you see a series of keyframes. When you stop fast forwarding there's a few seconds pause before the show starts playing. This isn't specific to the PS3, it's just part of the Netflix service. Lastly, in the world of Playstation the circle button commonly is used as a "back up" button, and under Netflix, hitting circle exits you from the service. You need to hit left to go back, which is intuitive enough, but it'd be nice if circle duplicated the action of hitting left. Thankfully there's a prompt before exiting the service or this would be a lot more annoying than it is.
If you have a PS3 and Netflix, go to http://netflix.com/ps3 to order a disk; there's no reason not to. If you're on the fence about a PS3, Netflix Watch Now is just one more nice feature that comes with the system (keeping in mind it also comes with the Xbox 360). Either way, this is definitely a nice addition to the PS3's capabilities. You get unlimited streaming with a plan that costs less than $9/month; it's a great value.