brian on 2008.11.02
at 07:00 pm
Good news for Mac users who are Netflix subscribers, or thinking about becoming one. After over a year of PC-only Windows Media-based “Watch Instantly” video streaming from Netflix, they have now put streaming to Macs and Windows via Silverlight 2.0 into public beta.
Of course, I signed up for the beta instantly and tried it out right away. Here’s what I found.
I selected the first episode of season six of CSI: Miami, “Dangerous Son” to watch on my Mac mini*, which is connected to our 26” HDTV via DVI-to-HDMI. I chose CSI: Miami because of its use of fast, vivid imagry. The color saturation is artificially inflated like no show I’ve ever seen. The style of cinematography is full of fast cuts and fancy, whiz-bang transitions. The sound moves from quiet dialog to loud sound effects and lots of thumping music.
The results were mixed. The color came through as strong as it does when we watch it in HD. The audio was good, not amazing, but plenty good for streaming. However, the fast moving video was not good. This is always the challenge to test video with because it stresses the encoding (it’s very hard to compress fast moving imagery) and the playback hardware (hard to compress means more data per second needs to be processed to keep up with the motion).
Most of the video, that didn’t exhibit fast pans, or speeding objects, looked good. It did not look as good as an iTunes SD TV download, which is the standard I would compare any online video to, (as it is excellent) but it was good enough. However, watching an hour or more of video that had a lot of action would not be enjoyable.
I left this feed back in the comments of their announcement blog post, because I couldn’t find an official beta feedback option. I look forward to seeing if the video improves.
The only other video I can compare this too that was powered by Silverlight was the Olympics. I watched the two hour men’s mountain bike race from Beijing, which also exhibited some fast panning. I believe that quality was a little higher, though it’s been two months since I watched it, so my memory may not be perfect. But I’m sure I would have remembered a speed issue.
Comparable to Sliverlight is Flash streaming video, which powers Hulu.com. I have not watched action-packed video on Hulu, but I have watched a couple episodes of Saturday Night Live, and I also believed it’s video quality was a bit better. I basically forgot I was watching Internet video. I don’t forget that when I watch quality Flash video from places like YouTube.
I still think Netflix has work to do, but I’m encouraged at what they’ve produced thus far. Besides, I get to watch it for free with my $11/month account. I can’t be too critical.
- For reference, here are my Mac mini specs: 1.83 Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM, Safari 3.1.2, Silverlight plug 2.0, OS X 10.5.5, Comcast cable connection tested at 18.4 Mbps (! – I pay for six! That may be burst speed, not sustained, but still impressive. I’m still investigating, but probably due to their DOCSIS 3.0 network upgrade.)
[All the comparison video I mention above was watched on the same setup, full-screen.]
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