In a previous article I talked about the “Watch it Now” feature available to NetFlix customers (you can find that post here). That feature allows users to stream some of the massive NetFlix catalog over the internet so that they can watch the content on their PCs without having to wait for the DVD to arrive in their mailboxes.
One of the main problems with using Watch it Now is that you are required to watch the video content using a special Internet Explorer plugin, and that means that you can only watch that content on a PC instead of on the TV in your living room. The solution to that problem was to use PC or a laptop which was hooked up directly to your TV. Now there’s a better solution, and its name is vmcNetFlix.
What is it?
vmcNetFlix is a 3rd-party add-in for the version of Media Center which ships as part of Windows Vista Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate. This add-in integrates the Watch it Now feature directly into Media Center so that you can watch a video stream from NetFlix as easily as you can view pictures or watch other recorded video. Even better, the Watch it Now video can be viewed on any Media Center Extenders you may have hooked up to the TV in the living, room, including the XBox 360.
In order to use vmcNetFlix you’ll first have to be able to use the “real” Watch it Now feature from NetFlix. vmcNetFlix doesn’t try to circumvent or duplicate any of the technology that’s used in the plugin supplied by NetFlix — instead, it just uses that plugin from inside of Media Center instead of from within Internet Explorer. That means that you won’t be able to use vmcNetFlix unless you’ve already installed the Watch it Now IE plugin from the NetFlix website and you know that it’s working properly on the same system which is running your Media Center application.
Once you know that your installation of the NetFlix plugin is working properly you can install the vmcNetFlix application. The application is designed to work with the version of Media Center which comes with the Premium or Ultimate versions of Windows Vista so if you’re using the XP-era Media Center you won’t be able to take advantage of this add-in.
After you run the vmcNetFlix installer you’ll have a new choice available to you when you start up Media Center (look under Online Media -> Program Library). When you pick the vmcNetFlix application for the first time you’ll be prompted for your NetFlix username and password. vmcNetFlix uses this information to log into the NetFlix website and pull down data about the catalog of videos available for streaming, including their cover art, genre, and descriptions.
The application makes extensive use of the cover art to help make your content quite easy to find. You can choose from the list of content which you’ve added to your “Instant” queue on the NetFlix website, browse the complete list of available streaming content by genre (Drama, Comedy, TV Shows, etc.), or check out the “Top 50″ list to see what other people are watching. Once you find the content you’d like to watch just hit “Play” and you’ll be on your way.
Watch it Later
One additional feature of vmcNetFlix which the original Watch it Now plugin doesn’t have is the ability to save the video stream onto your hard drive so that you can play it back at a later time. While there may be no benefit to doing that If you’re at home and have a working internet connection, it may be a handy feature to those of you who are looking to download content so that you can watch it without being tethered to the internet (like on a laptop while traveling, for instance).
While the main goal of vmcNetFlix is to allow you to stream Watch it Now content from within Media Center, the application handles much more than just streaming video. You can also perform other NetFlix tasks like adding movies to your DVD queue, viewing your rental history, or even seeing what new videos NetFlix recommends for you. The list of vmcNetFlix features is complete enough that you may never have to go to the NetFlix website again!
If you’re a NetFlix member and you own a computer running Windows Vista Premium or Vista Ultimate you should check out vmcNetFlix. It provides an easy way to handle most, if not all, of your NetFlix tasks, and also allows you to seamlessly integrate your NetFlix streaming content right into your Media Center. And if you also happen to have some type of Media Center Extender (remember, the XBox 360 counts here) hooked up to your TV this might be just what you’re looking for – a way to watch NetFlix videos on your TV instead of on your PC.
So that’s vmcNetFlix — it’s fast, it’s free, it works well, and it may even allow you to watch NetFlix content right in your living room. Check it out.