Thursday, June 9, 2011

Netflix' New Look, Subtitles Thoughts & News

So Netflix completely revamped the Watch Instantly section yesterday. We're just past the first week of June, and suddenly, the Streaming home page has become highly-personalized and works more smoothly. Some won't like it, some will love it, but nobody got a manual for using it. Instead of writing "good luck figuring it out" (which would be deliciously snarky, but still) I'll tell you what I've noticed so far.

For one, it's only the "WI" material that got a reboot. If you check out the other main Netflix tabs, everything works exactly like it used to. "Browse DVDs," "Your Queue," and "Suggestions For You" - no changes in form or functionality. In fact, I nearly started laughing when I found that using the search box on the WI Page will bring you directly to screens and lists with the old designs. The company's new focus is kinda half-hearted, I guess...

No, I won't let you see what I watched last.
The Netflix banner and site navigation are now a static part of the page. When you use a scroll wheel or hit "page down," the top of the page will stay still while everything else moves. And my browser doesn't give it any of the bars at the side and top of the window - there's no sliding the picture left and right. It's an up/down world, these days.

The whole section starts with the cover for the last Streaming flick you watched; the top line is a set of 10 Netflix recommendations. Gone are the "golden arrows" that would indicate that you had more entries in a list. You now have several movie categories (e.g., "Quirky Foreign Dramas,") that appear on a line that goes farther right than your browser window will show. At least some of choices (newest tv and movies, among others) are exactly the same.

And then the differences get bigger. After the familiar lists of "Starz Play" and "Local Favorites for [your city]" categories, there were 3 sets of recommendations based on specific tv shows I had streamed. Oddly, there were more lists to come, but these had the old look of Netflix's list. I got 10 additional, smaller sets of alternating film and tv recs.

They were divided by sub-sub genre, and I guess I do like "Quirky Horror," but I wouldn't say it like that. As usual, the names of these categories or how they were chosen was off; a lot of the specific  recommendations are wrong too.

How the lists work has changed, now, too. Highlight a video and the image fades - a white, black, & red "play" symbol appears in the center. The show description loads up as well, and nothing about that has changed (that I can see). Highlight the last full DVD cover, & you'll scroll through a steadily-moving list the pictures in that category.

If you highlight the last vid long enough, it'll scroll back through the list, which I like a lot. All the info is loaded right into the page, too. No delay while waiting on the "golden arrow" you just clicked - not anymore. This change took care of both the "loading list" nuisance and the "oh damn I want to see that movie in the first page of this list" problem.

I think that if this doesn't cause a lot of crashes and soon, Netflix did something ridiculously impressive. I've had a couple so far myself, but I can't tell if it's because of the re-design. The page itself certainly loads more slowly than it used to.

So far, the biggest downside that I can see is that selecting a tv show you've watched before brings you straight to a loading video page for the last show episode you watched. Sometimes, you'd rather look at the whole listing instead of picking up where you left off, right?

All these new changes are hard to judge. They'll annoy some, please others, and there will be a large group that simply adjusts. So too in life. What do you think? Is it too different? Is it too difficult to get to what you want?

Moving along, I've written before about Netflix' subtitles, but I haven't ever seen them until this past week. Watching a spy comedy, I spotted the "Subtitles" option between the volume control and the "Full Screen" button. That called up a shadowed box offering the choice between "Off" and "English" choices.

The next thing you'll see is transparent lettering of the language chosen. It appears in the center of the viewing screen along with a "loading" symbol (a turning circle). Playback did not slow down, and the English language was soon loaded. It appeared at the bottom of the video, not below it, and in yellow.

The timing seems either a little off, or just about right. No matter what, subtitles occupy a weird relationship with the on-going action, especially when you know the film's/show's language. I'll give Netflix credit - all the dialogue is shown. Multilingual people, close-readers, and writers alike know how often words are dropped from transcription.

Sound effects are also appropriately displayed (e.g., [KEY CLACKS]). And when people say things intended to appear in quotes, the words also appear in quotes (e.g., >> Kreuger: I CALL IT "FORMULA K"). Have you noticed the problem yet?

Every word is in ALL CAPS, all the time. Maybe the subtitles are easier to read like that. Whichever way, it's impossible for net-savvy people to not think that everything's been screamed or said with heavy stress. You'll appreciate the ability to bring captions up, but it's sort of silly, at first. Later, it's quietly distracting.

The problem is compounded when you notice that the names of every speaker are listed before the dialogue - in normal print. Somehow, it's not the Netflix Captioning system that's stuck in all caps, just the on-screen words and sound that it conveys. If it were all the same, the "all cap" choice wouldn't stand out so much, or appear odder as time passes.

I figured all you Netflix users out there haven't had a chance to use this, so I'd give you an idea of what to expect. I'll only chime in about things like this when the availability rises, or some such.

It seemed a good chance to write about this, as the video giant has been in the news lately. For one thing, Deadline just released an article about Netflix' aquisition of movies and shows. Apparently, one exec thinks that content deals would've happened more quickly if not for Wall Street sentiment.

Further still, multiple online sources have been discussing a new state law in terms of Netflix. Tennessee altered their laws on stealing cable service to include sharing password/login info for online subscription services. The stated lawmakers' intent here is to prevent large-scale password theft, where people crack access to multiple accounts, then sell or share them on the Web. Regardless, it's not worded to allow one household to use the same login among them.

It's an incredibly weird law, too, as it classifies a small-time (>$500 value) sharing as a "misdemeanor" that's punishable by up to a year in jail; that's usually the dividing line to distinguish those crimes from felonies. To run right up to the mark like that makes it a misdemeanor in name only. And for voting rights and jury duty, et al....

Odder still, 3 news sources I link to here talk about the law in terms of Netflix. Pandora and other services are mentioned, an the RIAA is quoted heavily. That last sentence actually makes sense,as Nashville is important to the music industry.

Netflix' appearance as the highlight, then, makes me wonder "what gives?" Was the law inspired by political lobbying? It makes sense for moviefone to do that, though tAVC covers music just as fiercely as film. Look at the Huffpost's take on it. The article reads very much like the other two and has a Netflix image at the top. Read Moviefone's piece, as well, if you want to learn more.

I like how Huffpost finally ties it all together with a story about Kelly,  an 18 year-old college student who logs onto Netflix with her mom's password and login id. The stupid kid actually gives out that information to "friends who don't live with her," which means she's not only dumb, she's totally unappreciative of the fact that it's not her account. Way to look out for your mom, you jerk!

More to come soon, ya'll! I hope everyone reading this is enjoying a nice pre-Summer.


  1. Not a big fan of the re-design, just as I'm not a fan of the redesign of the interface used via the Wii (not surprisingly, both re-designs are similar in theme). They're cleaner, but not necessarily better.

    Any subtitles are better than no subtitles. My wife and I use them a lot for our TV watching and had come to rely on them (especially now with an infant in the house), and not having them on Netflix was a void. No system is great from what I've seen, and theirs isn't significantly worse than anyone else's. In-depth breakdown, though - wow!

    Very interesting stuff with the login laws; misplaced priorities as usual. Let's put away them evil password sharers for LIFE!

  2. Thanks, Dylan! I'm childless roommateless, and wifeless, so my need for subtitles comes from the occasional British show and movies where people mumble a lot.

    The password stuff makes perfect sense within one household, tho - but it makes less sense when some silly-ass freshman is giving it out to her random buds that she might not know in one year...

    I feel a little weird, sometimes, covering netflix as thoroughly as I have, but I'm glad that some folks find the coverage useful. =)


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