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Is Netflix Streaming Good Enough for the Serious Movie Buff? Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
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Is Netflix Streaming Good Enough for the Serious Movie Buff?

Each film has a home page that has a small interface at the top that enables playing the film / TV episode, giving a star rating between one (1) and five (5), and removing it from the Instant Queue.  Underneath all that, some descriptors for the film / TV episode are available: a small cast listing, a synopsis for the film, runtime, year the film came out, the director, and its category.  For instance, Federico Fellini's Amarcord flops firmly in the "Foreign Classics" section.   To activate the film, click on the "play" option and wait for the film to pop up.  Wait times for the content to begin streaming vary, but they're mostly very quick -- taking roughly 20-30 seconds to load up.


Netflix tailors its streaming service to the speed of your internet connection, without downloading anything to the hard drive, to ensure the best quality image possible based on individual setups.  Via high-speed internet and a wireless connection going to a slimline PS3, the quality for standard-definition content comes in mostly just a few steps underneath DVD quality -- that is, just a step or two underneath the most recent DVD.  It's all going to depend on the source, varying between slapdash cable replications from partnered networks to crisp quality images that come very close to retail sharpness.  Furthermore, some digging around in the catalog will give you access to a few movies that don't currently have in-print DVDs (such as Love Me If You Dare, as of this writing).  To top it off, there are many full season TV sets to sift through, with an intuitive episode-by-episode toggle that changes after each one is finished.

Play Screen

After watching a handful of films available in both anamorphic and non-anamorphic presentations on home video, many of the prints range from looking very similar to their retail counterparts to drastically different and, sadly, incorrect.  Let's get the negatives out of the way first. The print damage from 10 Things I Hate About You looked similar through an aliased yet colorful widescreen-enhanced image, about what it looks like to zoom in on the non-anamorphic disc, but From Dusk 'til Dawn comes out full-framed and looking rather drab. 

On the flipside of things, the presentation for Chris Marker's La Jetee (sourced from Criterion / Janus, of which there are plenty) was properly framed at 1.66:1 and Tell No One at 2.35:1 -- both truthful to the director's intent and of very high quality.  It's worth noting that full-frame sources, tested by both "The Office" (UK) and Tetsuo: The Iron Man, come out as stretched 4x3 material even if the selection for "Normal" upscaling is elected from the Video Settings menu.  Also, all the audio cranks out as a non-dynamic 2.0 Stereo sound track, but it never distorts, blips, or cuts out.

There's another side of the Netflix Instant Streaming: HD content.  Two films were tested, Ballast and The Last Detail, each one offered in mostly correct aspect ratios (Ballast at 2.35:1, The Last Detail at 1.78:1) and in low bitrate AVC encodes.  Naturally, the results will differ based on the source material, but the quality wasn't anything to scoff at.  Yes, compression artifacts grow a bit heavier than Blu-ray tech and detail isn't nearly as pronounced, but the leap in clarity over standard-definition is very respectable and about on-par with HD offerings on cable channels.  Again, the big crippling aspect is the sound option, only available on 2.0 Stereo -- not uncompressed PCM, but run-of-the-mill Stereo.  Print damage for The Last Detail resembles the standard-definition counterpart as well, which is pleasing but desperately needing a clean-up job.

Final Impressions:

Those who subscribe to Netflix and own a Playstation 3 will certainly find this to be a no brainer: take the time out and send a request to the company for a streaming disc.  The selection of content available for immediate viewing is outstanding.  The quality is passable, considering the instant accesibility, and the speed of communication is very, very appealing. Since the streaming service doesn't interfere with the disc distribution -- almost operating as separate entities -- it'll come in handy if you're a one-disc subscriber and waiting for your next disc. 

The SD quality obviously isn't as good as on standard DVD, nor HD quality compared to Blu-ray, especially when considering the audio, but it may be a tolerable gap depending on your needs. Now, whether this new streaming service is enough of a selling point to cough up $9 for Netflix, if you aren't subscribing yet, is a pretty easy question to answer.  Those finicky with quality won't be very fond of the audio limitations and may want to stick to physical media. But for those seeking immediate access, the myriad of films available for instant viewing easily makes the entry price worth the subscription fee.

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