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Netflix streaming movies hit Microsoft's Xbox 360 (legitimately)

Microsoft is bringing Netflix into your living room without you having to buy any new hardware--that is assuming you own an Xbox 360.

Microsoft on Monday morning announced upcoming support for movie rental service Netflix as part of its system software update for the Xbox 360 (see live blog here). Console owners who are also Netflix subscribers will be able to take advantage of Netflix's Watch Now streaming movie service on their consoles without any additional software or hardware.

It's actually not the first time 360 owners have been able to accomplish such a feat. Several third-party tools that use a workaround in Windows Media Center's plug-in architecture have let you do this with just a small hit in performance. However, such a system required users to have a linked-up Media Center PC in the first place. With the new system, no new hardware is required.

Xbox 360 users will also be able to view streaming movies with other people on their friends list as part of the newly updated party chat system. This means you can watch and control a streaming movie with up to seven other people as part of a party--something not possible on the browser-based iteration (unless you've got a couch that is). Similar efforts from Lycos and YouTube have proven fun to play with.

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What makes the move interesting is that the Xbox 360 does not currently have a Web browser built in, unlike competing consoles from Sony and Nintendo. Netflix's Watch Now service requires the use of Internet Explorer, which means Microsoft has likely ported an iteration of IE over to the 360 for the sake of making all of this work.

Update: Microsoft has updated with further details and the full press release. Some tidbits worth noting:

  • Use of streaming Watch Now videos on your Xbox 360 requires both a Netflix membership as well as an Xbox Live Gold membership, which runs about $5 a month.

  • You can mark Watch Now movies or shows in your browser and they'll show up in your media list back on the Xbox. Likewise you can browse and rate the catalog right from the console.

  • Microsoft says the movies should start playing in 30 seconds or less--the same as the desktop version.

  • Users can fast-forward, rewind, and pause videos using the controller or a compatible media remote.

  • The Watch Now library is the same as what's available on the desktop and on other set-top streaming devices.