Netflix for Xbox Live is getting an update on August 11th. Currently in order to add new movies to your queue, you have to hop on a PC and update the queue manually, with changes appearing on the 360 within moments. The 360 dashboard update on August 11th makes the process a lot easier, allowing you to browse from a selection of movies in a handful of categories. You can select and watch any of these movies instantly, or select from your instant queue, as usual.
It's not, however, as full-featured as the Netflix website when it comes to finding the movie you want. For example, if you have a specific movie in mind, you're usually out of luck. There's no way to search alphabetically through the Netflix instant watch library on the 360. You're also limited to the most recent movies added for to each category, so if the Top 50 aren't doing it for you, you'll have to go to your PC to delve deeper.
So why the limited feature set? Xbox Live Marketplace has already demonstrated that a large database of content can be organized in an effective way. So why not bring that style over to Netflix? I asked Ben Smith, Director of Program Management for Xbox Live, who lead the team that designed the new Netflix update (among others).
Specifically regarding the reasons for limiting Netflix on Xbox Live browsing functionality, it seems like it was a decision of form over function:
"When we looked at Netflix...we thought about that experience when you go to a video rental store and you see this amazing visual display of movie jackets. We wanted to bring that experience from the physical world and into the entertainment experience. Maybe bring it a little bit away from that functional world where you have alphabetization, that type of thing."
The question is what people are looking for when they come to the Xbox to watch something. Smith had some thoughts on the matter:
"I think when people come to Xbox they're not really looking so much for functional, they really want to have fun, they want to be wowed."
But he didn't rule out the possibility for browsing updates in the future:
"If we find out that people really think it's hard and they really want to find all movies that begin with "B" or something like that, we'll definitely go down that path. With Marketplace we did that…there was kind of a compromise."
And in case you're wondering about a Netflix conspiracy, holding back the Xbox 360 version so as not to discourage people from going to the Netflix site, Smith is quick to deny anything unseemly:
"[Netflix] wants to have an amazing experience on Xbox, just like we do. There isn't any of that higher-level business strategy that's getting in the way of that experience."
So there you have it. If people make a big enough stink we might see a more full-featured browsing experience on Netflix for 360, but until then it's still a pretty major improvement from what we've been working with since NXE launched.