I used a Winblows machine, plus IE, per their requirements. Logging into my account, I was presented with a new tab up top called "watch now." Clicking through, I was asked to install a cab file that was 800kb in size. That's the Netflix movie player.
I downloaded Real Genius. The 1 hour, 40 minute flick took about 16 minutes to finish on my 6mbit connection, which was being tapped at about 2mbits. And the stream started playing almost immediately. Netflix claims it can scale quality based on your bandwidth, and how hard their servers are being slammed, so quality will vary.
Quality was outstanding, with very few compression artifacts visible in either solids or motion. I'd guess the resolution for the standard def movies was at to be roughly 800 wide, by 480 tall. So, native DVD resolution. It looked good fullscreen on a 1280 by 768 11-inch Vaio, but probably would hold up on a larger screen.
Billing is smart...
For roughly every dollar of service you pay every month, you get an hour of play. And playback isn't counted as what you download. It's what you watch. I skimmed through Real Genius and True Lies and was only billed for what I saw, not what I FF'd past. I do not believe you can watch a movie twice for free the second time, though. And does this mean that if you are half way through a movie and you run out of minutes, you have to wait til next month or upgrade your subscription to watch the rest?
Oh, that's another thing, fast forwarding. I dragged the control bar forward and back and while I did, the display updated the hour/minute counter (sorry, no seconds were displayed.) Once you let go of the bar, it will cache the movie from your point. My experience says this should take no more than 3-7 seconds. Amazing.
The selection? It seemed to suck. But it can only get better, especially once Netflix sinks its hooks into Hollywood and net-infrastructure point of view. Speaking from an end user standpoint, I believe that Netflix is going to kick some ass.
UPDATES: There aren't subtitles on foreign movies, are there?
Netflix Video Download Service [Gizmodo]