Media Guide: Watch Feature-Length Documentary Films Online with Netflix “Watch Now”

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Netflix's 'Watch Now' feature allows instant viewing of movies for PC users

We test out the service from Netflix that allows instant viewing of movies for PC users.

When Netflix’s ‘”Watch Now” feature, which allows users* to watch* movies* instantly*, launched earlier this year, there was some excitement, until all those asterisks reared their ugly heads. And rear they did, and quickly, which is always how things happen on the Internet. Though the promise was great, the delivery proved less so: “users” means only PC users (and then it’s recommended only those 1.5 GHz or faster with 1 GB of RAM or more); “watch”-ing is limited to 5-48 hours monthly, depending on your Netflix plan; “movies” is a small subset of the 90,000+ titles offered by Netflix — less than 10%; and “now” requires Windows Media Player 11 be installed, as well as additional Netflix Digital Rights Management (DRM ) software, and a decently fast broadband connection (1.5 mbps recommended, a notch higher than the baseline DSL service). If you can overcome these hurdles — and there’s a clamor from the many who can’t — the service actually works rather well. The streaming quality is surprisingly good, and though the selection is by no means exhaustive, there is still plenty to see. For those looking for an online resource for great docs, Netflix’s “Watch Now” is worth keeping in mind.

For example, this past week I watched a bunch of docs worth seeing, including the recent Helvetica, and Franny Armstrong‘s McLibel, a film about two activists in London who take McDonald’s to task — and to court — on environmental, social and health issues. One of my all-time faves, POV veteran Terry Zwigoff‘s Crumb is also available. A number of POV films are available for instant viewing, including Jessica Yu‘s Emmy-nominated In the Realms of the Unreal (POV 2006) and Mashall Curry‘s Street Fight (POV 2005).

So if you’re looking for new or classic docs — or just want to catch up on some POV broadcasts you may have missed — the imperfect but useful Netflix service can be a great resource. And Mac users take heart: Netflix has indicated that ‘Watch Now’ access for Macs is on the horizon for 2008.

David Nanasi
David Nanasi
David has worked on POV's website since its infancy, helping to develop and nurture it, as well as producing special features. David also oversees and administers POV's internal network, maintaining hardware and software for the POV staff. Prior to joining POV, David, served on the staff of CyberEd, an 18-wheeler Internet classroom that toured nationwide. Since 1997, David has worked independently as a computer consultant, including systems, networks, databases, and web design and construction. David's favorite documentaries are: 1. Eyes on the Prize - Henry Hampton (Executive Producer) 2. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 3. The Thin Blue Line - Errol Morris 4. Roger & Me - Michael Moore 5. The Camden 28 - Anthony Giacchino
  • http://www.pbs.org/pov/blog/writers.html#theresa Theresa Riley

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    There’s a decent guided tour video of the service on CNET’s Crave blog that I found to be a helpful overview, as well. It’s from January and might be sligthly out-of-date, but it’s an excellent walk-through that some of you might find helpful. I know a lot of my friends without cable use the service pretty regularly. Have you used the service to watch docs? We’d love to hear more about others’ experiences here.