The new Netflix app for Xbox 360 sucks.
I have been using Netflix on my Xbox 360 for about two years now, and every time there's been an update, I've looked forward to it. In the past, I've never been disappointed. So when my Xbox announced that it was updating my Netflix app, I was eager to go in and check it out. Especially after having read this article on The Verge from a few days ago about how great the new "common platform" was going to be for everybody.
At first I was excited– the catalog seems a lot better, and I agree with the reviews that this will greatly enhance discoverability. I think that's great for Netflix, and so is the whole idea of everything being based on one common platform. Being a developer myself, I can understand how a common platform can make a workflow more efficient.
Then, I started playing a video. I was shocked to see that the entire video playback interface has been replaced with a non-Metro, clunky, and half-baked mess that is only marginally better than the interface on my three-year-old Roku.
Here are a few things I've noticed that really make me sad:
- Metro UI is gone. This used to look and feel like an Xbox app. I'll admit there were some minor negatives to this but they were far outweighed by the major positive of having the interface work like everything else on my console.
- Fast-forward / rewind - On the previous version, fast-forward and rewind were the best I'd ever seen in a digital device– a clear progress bar that showed where you were in the video at all times, accompanied by a slow-moving slideshow of frames to give you approximate context. Other digital fast-forwards and rewinds I've used historically have driven me nuts because they're hard to predict and almost impossible to control. This new app is among the worst.
- Kinect support is almost entirely gone- a smattering of voice controls are available, but it no longer behaves like a native Kinect experience. The interface sounds are gone, there is no acknowledgement that your command has been recognized. There is a non-standard voice command for "Exit Netflix", although if you say "Xbox, Go Home" it still works. Gesture support is entirely gone. I'll admit I didn't use gestures too often, but they were nice to have sometimes. A side-effect of this, the Xbox no longer un-dims the screen when you sit down in front of the TV.
- SmartGlass support is pretty much gone. In SmartGlass it is just like any other Xbox app now, you can control it using the standard "virtual soft-controller", but unlike before, you can't see what video is playing, you can't see the time elapsed/remaining, and there are no video controls.
- Interface lags, and there are no interface sounds at all - I strongly believe that interface sounds are super-important on a video player for a console, it's nice to know immediately that your button press is doing something. I miss it the most when using the search feature. This makes the previous version feel like a polished app and the current version feel cobbled together.
- Xbox remote/controller support has been severely downgraded. I used to be able to change screen format (e.g. widescreen -> letterbox -> native -> fullscreen etc.) by pressing DISPLAY (remote) or START (controller) . This feature is now gone. I used to be able to press TITLE on the remote to display the episode title on the screen, without stopping the video. No longer. I used to be able to press OK to bring up an on-screen UI with buttons. Nope, now it just toggles play/pause. There used to be a difference between hitting PLAY, PAUSE, OK, and ENTER. They are now the same button, as is A and START on the controller. B used to hide the on-screen UI. Frustratingly, it now quits the video.
- Unnecessary interstitial screen has been introduced when playing a video. Before when you clicked on a video it would just start playing and if you wanted to choose a different episode, you could do it while the video loaded. Now I have to tell it that "yes, I want to perform the most common action that everyone probably wants when they are clicking on a video, I want to PLAY IT".
- I've heard there used to be a feature to watch TV/movies with your friends and this is now gone. I never used it but if someone can confirm this, I'd appreciate it.
- This probably doesn't cover everything– if there's something you miss from the previous version, however small, please comment about it.
From the article I referred to above:
"We understand some devices do need to have a unique look and feel," Jaffe says, but from Netflix’s perspective the goal is to provide a consistent set of features to as many users as possible — allowing it to improve and tweak its service as it sees fit. "So the more people we can get on the train, then we can execute new features and raise everybody’s experience."
It would seem that Netflix has decided to lower the Xbox 360 experience down to the lowest common denominator in order to get everybody on this train of theirs. It's not "raising the experience" when you remove a ton of features that people are using and replace a standard, platform-native UI with half-baked, "common platform" crap.
I don't know what Netflix and/or Microsoft are thinking, but I definitely feel like my Xbox 360 needs to have a "unique look and feel" when it's running any video app, including Netflix. Running Netflix on a device with a well-designed interface is the main reason I pay for Xbox LIVE. I trust Microsoft to come up with interface guidelines and put most of the work into writing an excellent video player. I don't trust Netflix to do this– their apps on my old Roku, my Windows Phone, my iPhone, and my 3DS all leave something to be desired.
In my opinion, instead of this "common platform" nonsense, Netflix should be hiring expert developers and writing a slew of excellent, completely native apps for every platform there is. That way, if there is ever a question as to who has a better content library, maybe people like me would think twice about going somewhere else. As it is, I am getting tempted to check out what Amazon and other providers have to offer.