Netflix Watch Instantly and the “Quality” indicator

09Feb09

I’ve been using the Netflix Watch Instantly service on my TiVo for several months now. It’s great, but the “quality” display has always been puzzling. Some shows fill up the full set of bars and show the HD icon, but others never get past the next-to-last bar. Sure, not every show is available in HD, which explains the HD icon. But why doesn’t that last bar light up for every show?

Finally I realized what’s going on. No matter how fast or stable your Internet connection is, the last bar is reserved for shows that are available in HD. In other words, for all the bars to light up, your connection has to be fast, and the show has to be encoded for HD playback. I find this behavior quite confusing, since it suggests that the Internet connection is performing poorly even when the limitation is entirely on the Netflix side of things.

A much better approach, whether for Netflix or any other service, is to make sure the scale reflects what’s actually possible in that specific situation. In other words, if the content isn’t available in HD, the last quality bar and the HD area should be grayed out, maybe along with text that says “This program is not available in HD.” Whatever the method you choose, the goal is to give customers a clear idea of where the slowdown or limitation is taking place. That way, they’ll know exactly what to expect, and won’t try to troubleshoot a problem that is totally beyond their control.



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