The Story Behind Netflix for Windows Media Center

Today Microsoft released their native
Netflix application for Windows Media Center
to much fanfare.  The release comes with a catch, but let’s
back up a bit before we get to that.

I’ve talked about the need for Microsoft to get Netflix
within the Media Center ecosystem, and ever since Reed Hastings joined
Microsoft’s board I
knew it was coming
.  A year ago
Microsoft announced Netflix would be coming to the Xbox 360 Dashboard and that
rekindled my thoughts about the Xbox
360 being Media Center biggest enemy in the marketplace
.  Today those thoughts are confirmed once again
by the Netflix application for Media Center not supporting Media Center

I’ve been testing the Netflix application for a few weeks
now.  Upon downloading the first beta I
read  the release notes which talked
about Extender’s not being supported.  I
figured this was something that would change. 
Sadly, it didn’t and was planned at all. 
I didn’t think I’d get to post this part because it was told to me under
NDA, but TechFlash
actually posted it so I’m in the clear. 
Part of the reason Extender’s are not supported is because Microsoft
wants to make sure they don’t compete with the Xbox 360 Dashboard.

 Leaving the technical
aspects of getting Silverlight to an Extender aside, this represents a huge
problem and once again confirms to me that Microsoft will continue to push and
promote the Xbox 360 Dashboard over that of the Extender platform.

Fellow MVP Richard Miller asked if
I would rather Microsoft have not released the Netflix application
, and it
isn’t so much that I think Microsoft shouldn’t have released, but what I really
want is Microsoft to define who Media Center is for (do I sound like a broken
record yet?) and the future of some basic items like Extenders (I’ll have
another post on this later, but Microsoft keeps assuring me Extender’s are not “dead”).

A few months ago I
suggested that Microsoft was changing directions with Media Center
to the
more customer friendly “TV on your PC” concept. 
I took a bit of flack from Microsoft on the post who suggested that
wasn’t the case.  Maybe is it and maybe
it isn’t.  Correct or not, I’ll stick to
my story because it seems like everything that comes out confirms my

Back to the Netflix application, the delivery of this is the
future of Media Center.  Just like
Internet TV, the Netflix application was automatically pushed to Media Center
without any initial user interaction.  If
they can just improve the installation it will be much more beneficial to end
users.  While the interface is very
intuitive I don’t have my Media Center connected to a TV.  Given this, I find Netflix’s website more
convenient.  Moving forward, if the whole
“TV on your PC” thing catches on this will be a huge issue of mine.  Media Center was designed as a 10-foot
interface, using it as a 2-foot interface is kind of tricky and it’s not as intuitive
as it could be.  This has improved with Windows 7, but I
would still rather use a website to find such basic content and leave the
10-foot UI where it belongs.

16 thoughts on “The Story Behind Netflix for Windows Media Center

  1. Excellent post Chris (we’ve missed you). I completely agree with the point(s) you make here. I think MS needs to _REALLY_ commit to media center and extenders, not all this half-hearted crap that only serves to piss off the people who assumed 100% commitment and invested time/energy/money.

  2. Yes – good post. The Netflix addin release seems to alienate more people then it satisfies. (and comes off as quite negative) :-

    – Windows 7 beta users (most of the ‘core’ enthusiast community) can’t use it.
    – Non US users have been forgotten once again. (since MCE2005 there has been no new offerings for global users).
    – Extender Users were annoyed because they were forgotten.
    – Extender Users were further annoyed because it hammers home the ‘XBox360 Dashboard’ is more important than extenders.
    – MC Developers (me) were annoyed because all signs lead to the demise of both MCPL + Extenders. (MS only seem to be producing products with Flash and now Silverlight?).

    I think YouTube would have been a much bigger win (not HULU). It could be offered worldwide, it would work on Windows 7 and MCX Extenders (as Youtube stores the content as MPEG4/H264) – and it could have been made with MCPL (again – very extender friendly).

  3. Welcome back Chris!!

    Ahh vmcNetflix, thanks for the memories! We loved you while you were relevant, but as we hoped and prayed, Microsoft has made you obsolete and you have been replaced! 🙂

  4. Quick correction… In this article you said:

    “A few months ago I suggested that Microsoft was changing directions with Media Center to the more customer friendly “PC on your TV” concept.”

    You meant to say “TV on your PC” as you did in the original article.


  5. A kick in the teeth for extender users then. It’s strange that Microsoft have achieved so much in improving the extender support for other codecs in Windows 7, but then announce something like this. If the reasons are technical then it’s more understandable, but if it’s about marketing one platform over another then it makes little sense.

  6. Chris,
    While I understand your sentiment, I’m not sure how constructive posts like this really are in the end.

    Media Center continues to survive the changes in the marketplace and feature additions to the 360 because of the enthusiasm of its users and developers and partners.

    I do think Microsoft should more clearly indicate the direction they want Media Center to go, but at the end of the day I’m more excited that they partnered with Netflix than upset that they didn’t include extender support.

    I suspect that most extender users are using 360’s predominantly. With large companies like Linksys dropping support, it isn’t that surprising that Microsoft chose to not invest time and money in developing functionality that, for most users, they already have built into the 360.

    When you include the fact that Microsoft is undoubtedly making money through more subscriptions/xbox purchases because of their partnership with Netflix, it makes sense that they would avoid competing with their own product. When you consider all of the third party plugins that support extenders, it gives Microsoft even less reason to develop it.

    Lastly, this is only the first version. The may figure out a way to develop extender support for other extenders while preventing 360 access or something. Who knows.

    Still enjoy your posts,

  7. IMO, the whole “extenders are dead” concept should be changed to “current extenders are dead”.

    From article March 14th on Toshiba’s upcoming Network DVD Player:

    “The Net Player, which was shown as part of the brand’s annual spring DVD and LCD TV product showcase, will sport wi-fi and Ethernet connectivity and be DLNA and Microsoft Windows Media Extender compliant, allowing sound and vision to be streamed from networked PCs and hard drives.”

    I believe that this net player (and others) incorporate Trusted Computing Group – Trusted Platform Modules for hardware based copy protection/DRM. There is a module for optical disc storage, as well as hard disc drives.

    Software copy protection didn’t work (e.g. AACS and BD+) so the industry might be upping the ante, IMO. With all the announcements about cell phone HD movies, download kiosks, and streaming in Windows 7, it looks like a new CP that finally has the studios willing to embrace Managed Copy concepts.

  8. Managed Copy concepts only work if there is content that suppports it. Blu-ray, the only one that could relies on AACS to be finished and to use methods approved by the AACS LA.

    Now, even if Toshiba releases an Extender I’m not sure why I’d buy it. You know it isn’t going to support Blu-ray (it’s Toshiba), and DRM isn’t the issue around Netflix. The issue is Microsoft competing with like platforms.

    A new Extender, even based on new technologies doesn’t do anything for me. It means I can decided to buy into a 3rd Extender that very well could go the way of the 2 previous generations, or I could just buy an Xbox and that would get me into Microsoft’s future vision of the “3 screens”.

    I can’t recommend throwing away your Extenders, but I could suggest anyone wait for new Extender’s and then buy into them.

  9. Clifton, I see this as just one more item in a long list of incompatibilities between similar MSFT products. You may not find it frustrating, but I do.

    I’ll never see this new feature because I use extenders only. I have been using the X360 dashboard for Netflix, but frankly after reading this I’m a little disgusted. I had thought this was a technical limitation from silverlight. Whatever, I’ll probably buy the $99 Roku Netflix box before renewing my Xbox subscription.

    I like elegant solutions, not these games that MSFT marketing likes to play with us.


  10. Because to access Netflix through the Dashboard requires an Xbox Live Gold subscription, which is $40-$80 per year.

    Agreed, the dashboard completely sucks for media and it even sucks pretty bad for Netflix.

  11. Deashboard is crap for media (I think it will improve over time) but it falls into their master plan for world domination. Media Center doesn’t.

  12. if you have a 3rd party extender, then you get nothing. if you have a 360, they want the upsell for the xbox live subscription (which is not needed for the other netflix streamers). if you have a 360 and MCE, you’ve already bought in, it should just be supported. it pushes me towards buying a stand-alone blu-ray player with netflix streaming support. no xbox live subscription, and netflix would get the upsell for blu-ray.

    the real annoyance for me is having multiple 360s (again, that should make me a good customer). the 2-DVD netflix subscription supports streaming to both at the same time. the problem is having to buy 2 xbox live subscrptions for both to be logged in. or i put a single xbox live gamer provile on a memory unit an sneakernet it between 360s. how lame is that? and that option only allows 1 360 to be streaming at a time.

    as a developer, silverlight is meant to run everywhere (pc, mac, linux, mobile), but not the 360? ridiculous.

  13. Failure to support Extenders makes this useless. This is what separates MS from greatness, the lack of compatibility across products and neutering others from shining. Netflix Extender support should be a no brainer. Same deal with the Sports Channel shipping without Extender support – what a waste and a great way to limit the market. Crap – if they want to pimp Netflix on 360 to push Gold Memberships, just make that a requirement. i.e. Require your XBox Gold ID and Netflix ID to use Netflix on an Extender, but do not kill the exerience that my wife would want – MCE as a one stop shop.

  14. it’s very difficult to discuss this with the one of the hypesters, since their job consists of coming up with ways of selling it, not analyzing it. That is, if it were wrong, they’d have to find something else to flog.

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