PS3's Netflix app update: We take an in-depth look

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Netflix streaming on the PS3 got a stealthy update yesterday, adding a search feature similar to, but somewhat better than, that on the Roku.

What was most interesting is that the update didn't require any obvious downloading onto the PS3. Slip the Netflix Streaming disk in (can't wait until that becomes a thing of the past sometime this fall), fire up Netflix and voila, new features. Just goes to show you how much work is actually being done on the PS3 vs what's happening over on Netflix's servers.

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Anyway now in addition to your instant queue and the typical strange categories that Netflix throws at you (I had "Visually interesting quirky films" this time), you'll now have a search tab. Go to that and you'll find a 'keypad' on the left (with a-z and 0-9) and space on the right for search results. As you cursor around and spell out the title you're looking for, search results will show up in real time, broad at first and getting narrower as you enter more letters/digits. At any time you can move over to the results and start browsing them. When you do, the screen shifts left, revealing a 3rd pane which shows details on whatever title you've got selected in the search results. It makes browsing results fast and easy.

So far, that's pretty much how search on the Roku's Netflix implementation works. So what's better? On the PS3 you'll get results that aren't available streaming. They'll appear in gray so you know right away you can't watch them, but if you click on one you can add it to your DVD queue from the PS3. Below the details, Netflix will suggest similar titles that are available via streaming. This seems to work pretty well. I've been playing Red Dead Redemption lately so was in the mood for a western. When I searched for "The Good The Bad and The" I'd narrowed things down to a few search hits. One was a NR sexploitation film called The Good, The Bad, and the Beautiful which was available for streaming, the other was what I was looking for: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly starring Clint Eastwood. That wasn't available for streaming, but I could (and did) add it to my DVD queue. Netflix suggested Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Death Rides a Horse, Bad Man's River and Duck, You Sucker as streamable substitutes. I was all set to flag that last one as a bad choice until I looked at it more carefully and saw that Sergio Leone directed it (for those of you who aren't spaghetti western buffs, he also directed The Good, the Bad and the Ugly).

Aside from the soon to be resolved issue of needing that Netflix disk in the drive, the 'best device for streaming Netflix' crown now belongs to the PS3, at least in my house (other contenders: the Nintendo Wii, the Xbox 360, the Roku Media Player and the iPad). It's nice to see Netflix and the respective device manufacturers working together to constantly improve what's already a great service. I'd expect to see the search capability hitting the Wii soon, and Xbox 360 during the Fall update.

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