Since Netflix introduced its Watch Instantly service back in January 2007, Mac owners have been left out in the cold. Besides using Apple's Boot Camp software, or third-party solutions like Parallels and VMware to use Windows, there was no other way to watch Netflix's streaming videos with out-of-the-box Mac software.
That's changing as of Tuesday, as Netflix has begun rolling out its new Microsoft Silverlight-based streaming service to a small number of monthly subscribers. I've been playing with it all morning, and it works marvelously. Both the Mac and PC players are identical, and in side-by-side testing the quality is too.
One of the most dramatic improvements is the new timeline navigation. This new system shows you thumbnails from a few seconds before and a few seconds after whatever part of the video you're on, giving you a quick way to eyeball where you are. In my case, I was picking up on an episode of Showtime's Dexter and was able to find the spot where I had left off without having to watch any of the video. This technology is actually saving Netflix some bandwidth, as users are able to pinpoint a precise segment without having to wait for the content to stream in.
Another small, but neat improvement is that you can now hop back and forth between episodes in a series with small arrow keys located on the bottom of the player. If you're sitting down to power through several episodes this skips having to go back to the content directory.
The weak point of Netflix's streaming service is still the selection of content. As others have mentioned, it's a far cry from the service's DVD selection. One thing that could change that is the inclusion of PlayReady DRM, which comes by way of using Silverlight. With that in place we could be seeing the company's selection of streaming titles increase dramatically by year's end as long as Netflix is able to woo more content providers to share their movies and TV shows with a more secure delivery platform.
Update: Here's a video of the updated service in action.