Netflix subscribers, if you’ve got an Xbox 360 and a Windows Vista PC, you don’t have to shell out $99 for Roku’s Netflix Player box to get your Watch Instantly library on your TV screen-you already have everything you need. Using the free Windows Media Center plug-in, vmcNetflix, you can turn your Xbox 360 into a Netflix Watch Instantly box. Here’s how.
What You Can Expect
Once you’ve installed and set up vmcNetflix (original post), here’s a video demonstration of what you can expect.
With vmcNetflix, you can watch, browse, and queue movies to your Netflix Watch Instantly queue all from your Xbox 360 or Vista Media Center. A highlight of the list of growing features listed on the vmcNetflix site include:
* Stream WatchNow movies directly to the Media Center player.
* Download WatchNow movies to a “Watch Later” gallery.
* Support for Vista Extenders on both x86 and x64 platforms.
* Support for Netflix Instant Queue.
* Support for Episode listings.
* Search for movies by keyword.
* Browse DVD and WatchNow movies by genres.
* Sort Gallery by Title, Year, or Star Rating.
* View your queue, history, and recommendations.
* Add, remove, move movies in your queue.
* Supports DVD/Movie Parental Controls
What You’ll Need
Now that you’ve got an idea of the end product, let’s take a look at the short list of things you’ll need to turn your Xbox 360 into a Netflix player.
1. An Xbox 360
2. Windows Vista with Vista Media Center (it’s included by default in Vista Home Premium and Ultimate)
3. A Netflix subscription
4. The freeware vmcNetflix plug-in
Got all that? Then let’s set it up.
Step 1: Set Up Your Xbox as a Media Center Extender
If you’ve already set up your Xbox 360 as a Media Center extender, you can skip this step. Unless you’re already using your Windows PC as a Media Center powerhouse and have a tuner card installed on your Windows machine, chances are you haven’t had much reason to set up your Xbox as an extender. With vmcNetflix, you’ve got a great reason.
Microsoft already provides detailed instructions for setting up your 360 as a Media Center extender, so here’s the nutshell version. Start up your Xbox 360, head to the Media blade, and select Media Center. Since you haven’t already set up an extender, your Xbox will walk you through the setup process between your Xbox and your PC. The Xbox will generate an eight-digit code to authenticate the connection between the two. Then you need to fire up Media Center on your PC, go to Tasks -> Add Extender, and fill in the blanks in the setup wizard with your eight-digit code when prompted.
Step 2: Install the vmcNetflix Plug-in
Now that your Xbox is set up as a bona fide Vista Media Center extender, you’re ready to download and install the vmcNetflix plug-in. There’s nothing to it, so just download the latest plug-in from the link and go through the installer.
Step 3: Set Up Watch Instantly on Your PC
amedeus.pngBefore you can stream Watch Instantly videos to your 360 extender, you need to make sure your PC is Watch Instantly-ready first. If you’ve already watched videos on this computer using Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature, you can skip this step. If not, forge ahead.
Your PC needs to install a plug-in or two from Netflix to help deal with the DRM and such used to stream videos. Installing them is as simple as logging into your Netflix account using Internet Explorer, clicking the Watch Instantly tab, and then playing anything. You don’t have to finish it, so just click Play on the first video you stumble across.
Netflix will prompt you to install their plug-in before the video starts, so just accept their prompts and install. When you’re finished with the simple installation, you should be watching the video you just chose. Once you’re there, you can stop the playback. Soon you’ll be watching that through your Xbox, on your TV, from the comfort of your living room.
Step 4: Set Up vmcNetflix on Your Xbox 360
vmcnetflix-installed.pngNow you need to run your Xbox 360 in Media Center extender mode. To do so, turn it on, head to your Xbox dashboard, and fire up Media Center from the list where you set it up originally. Your Xbox will find your computer and start up in Media Center mode.
Once there, scroll down to the Online Media section and then move left to select the program library. You should see an entry for vmcNetflix. Fire it up.
watch-now-login.pngSince this is the first time you’ve run vmcNetflix on your extender, you’ll need to set it up with your Netflix account. Doing so is as simple as providing the plug-in with your Netflix username and password. Do that, and you’re ready to start watching movies.
Step 5: Enjoy!
netflix-listings.pngThat’s all there is to it. You can now stream any Netflix Watch Instantly video directly to the TV in your living room using the Xbox 360 that’s already there. No $99 out of your pocket, no extra piece of equipment to add to your entertainment center. vmcNetflix handles everything nearly perfectly, from separate episode listings for television shows to managing and accessing your Netflix Watch Instantly queue.
The vmcNetflix plug-in has been in steady development for a few months now, but as the video above points out, the vmcNetflix plug-in can be a little slow and sometimes buggy. I hardly notice the sluggishness, though thinking about it, it does feel a little slower than normal Media Center extender operation. If you run into bugs, the vmcNetflix homepage offers tips for troubleshooting. I’ve found that restarting my 360 and/or Media Center PC remedies any problems. Be sure to check back in with the vmcNetflix homepage from time to time and keep an eye on updates, since the developer is fixing problems and adding features at an impressive pace.
Also-as the video pointed out-vmcNetflix can download Watch Instantly videos and save them on your computer. This comes in very handy because saving videos means you don’t have to worry about downloads buffering, and video playback, fast-forwarding, and rewinding all work better. The downside is that saving videos is not part of the Watch Instantly terms of service.
If you’ve been using vmcNetflix to turn your Xbox 360, Vista Media Center, or other Windows Media Center extender into a full-fledged Netflix streaming device, let’s hear about it in the comments.