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Netflix Watch Instantly no longer works with older Windows MCE versions

Written by Rich Fiscus (Google+) @ 14 Jan 2008 10:19 User comments (13)

Netflix Watch Instantly no longer works with older Windows MCE versions Last Monday Netflix made some changes to their Streaming video service, known as Watch Instantly. Although there was no big announcement, they began requiring Windows Media Player 11 (WMP 11) for access to the service. While this may seem like a minor change to most people using the service, if you're running Windows Media Center Edition 2002, 2003, or 2004 it means your operating system is no longer supported.
So far Netflix hasn't responded to a press inquiry I submitted nearly a week ago. I called customer service today on the chance that they might be able to tell me something. Although the representative I spoke with was friendly, courteous, and professional, this was the first she'd heard about the issue.

And really it's not an issue with Netflix as much as with Windows Media Player. WMP 11 works fine on a standard Windows XP installation, and even on Media Center Editions from 2005 on. But if you bought into the Microsoft HTPC technology before it reached its fourth generation you're out of luck unless you want to use a hack that will cause the Media Center application to stop working.

At this time the only workarounds for the problem are either upgrading your version of Windows MCE or changing HTPC software. Unfortunately, dropping MCE also requires that you replace your remote as well since no other software is capable of communicating with a MCE remote.

If you're considering a change to keep streaming from Netflix there may not be any good solutions. If you upgrade to a newer version of Windows MCE you're essentially paying Microsoft to fix the problem they caused in the first place, and it will probably cost you a minimum of around $200.

If you go with different HTPC software, such as BeyondTV or SageTV, or even a free option like MythTV, you'll need a new remote, or at least a new sensor for the computer to receive signals from the remote. In addition you may also need to buy a regular copy of Windows XP, or at least learn to hack the version you have to get around Media Center's limitations.

We'll make sure to keep you updated with any new developments - hopefully including a response from Netflix.

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13 user comments

115.1.2008 9:58

that doesn't make any sense since you an update windose media player to the newest version...

215.1.2008 11:34

The point is you can't update to the latest version if you have one of the old MCE systems without a hack that also kills the Media Center program. So basically you can either install WMP 11 or keep Media Center working - but not both.

From the Readme for Windows Media Player 11 for Windows XP:

Originally posted by Microsoft:
Installing the Player on Windows XP Media Center Edition
Windows Media Player 11 for Windows XP supports Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 with KB900325 (Update Rollup 2 for Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005) and KB925766 (the October 2006 Update Rollup); however, it does not support previous releases of Windows XP Media Center Edition.
I'm working on an alternate solution right now.
This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 15 Jan 2008 @ 11:40

324.1.2008 4:03

I found something that worked for me with my MCE 2004. I posted it on my totally unrelated blog in case anyone else was searching for help:
http://www.craftzombie.com/wordpress/?p=248

I've been happily using Watch Instantly again for several days now with no issues.

This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 24 Jan 2008 @ 4:05

424.1.2008 11:42

Originally posted by czombie:
I found something that worked for me with my MCE 2004. I posted it on my totally unrelated blog in case anyone else was searching for help:
http://www.craftzombie.com/wordpress/?p=248

I've been happily using Watch Instantly again for several days now with no issues.

Yes, I had discovered this as well, and in fact we have a guide now on that sort of manual installation:
Installing Windows Media Player 11 on Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004

Does Media Center still work on your computer since installing WMP 11? As per Microsoft's warnings, the Media Center app doesn't work properly on mine since installing WMP, so I've been forced to stop using it and install SageTV.

524.1.2008 12:00

Quote:
Does Media Center still work on your computer since installing WMP 11? As per Microsoft's warnings, the Media Center app doesn't work properly on mine since installing WMP, so I've been forced to stop using it and install SageTV.
I just tested it and everything seems to be working fine. The only part I can't test is the TV because my graphics card died last month and I was broke. My new card has no tuner. Even if MC didn't work, it wouldn't bother me so much because I never use it anymore anyway. I'll have to make a note of possible issues on my blog post. Thanks for letting me know.

624.1.2008 12:16

You're welcome.

In my case I found that Media Center doesn't see that I have any music or videos any more. For example, if I list music by songs it will start out showing me all the music, but it randomly jumps from one spot to another in the list as songs start disappearing. Eventually it just tells me I have no songs.

727.1.2008 17:56

They caused their own headache here. I am eagerly waiting to see what comes of this because in my book NetFlix has to either compensate those who have lost their service as to no fault of their own or fix the glitch and let the users use their old versions. Remember the old saying if it aint broke dont fix it :P

827.1.2008 18:37

There may be a legitimate reason for the switch, although since they refuse to even acknowledge my official request for information I'm not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I also don't place the blame entirely (or even mostly) on them because it's not their fault MS decided to screw over their MCE customers.

927.1.2008 19:53

When I called NetFlix, I was told that Microsoft updated WMP because someone was able to hack the DRM. According to NetFlix, they have no choice but to go along with this otherwise Watch Instantly can't exist. The employee I talked to told me that if I figured out a way around the problem, to please call back and let them know. I did. The woman I spoke to was very appreciative. This was before I knew about the possible issues with it messing up MCE, otherwise I may not have called them back.

I'm kind of curious to see what they would say if I called back right now and pretended to be someone else. Would they give the above "fix" as an option? Or would they still say there is no way around it?

At first I was angry with NetFlix, but the more research I do, the more I realize that Microsoft is the problem. DRM is the problem.

1027.1.2008 20:04

Originally posted by czombie:
When I called NetFlix, I was told that Microsoft updated WMP because someone was able to hack the DRM. According to NetFlix, they have no choice but to go along with this otherwise Watch Instantly can't exist. The employee I talked to told me that if I figured out a way around the problem, to please call back and let them know. I did. The woman I spoke to was very appreciative. This was before I knew about the possible issues with it messing up MCE, otherwise I may not have called them back.

On one hand that's better than the response I got, which was basically "we don't know what you're talking about." However it's a lame explanation since WMP 11 had been out for over a year when they switched. I also know for a fact that they were at least experimenting with the switch earlier in 2007, because the first time I had the problem was in October, and then I stopped getting it within a week. I emailed them at that time but got no response. They've had at least that long to make some public statement.
Quote:
I'm kind of curious to see what they would say if I called back right now and pretended to be someone else. Would they give the above "fix" as an option? Or would they still say there is no way around it?

I'd also be curious to hear the answer to this. I doubt their customer service reps have a clue about it, but it might be worth asking just to find out.
Quote:
At first I was angry with NetFlix, but the more research I do, the more I realize that Microsoft is the problem. DRM is the problem.

As I've said previously, I certainly consider MS to be the big problem here, but Netflix isn't blameless either. So far they don't even seem willing to own up to what they did, let alone offer a public explanation. Until they give a better reason than they have I'll assume it's because they don't really care what their customers think because they have no real competition.

1127.1.2008 20:18

Although I do not blame NetFlix for the problem, I do blame them for not being honest with us. They need to come out and say, "You know what? We think this sucks too. We don't want you to be without our service. This makes us look bad and we're going to do everything we can to get some kind of solution from Microsoft." Who knows for sure whether they really are working on some sort of solution or not.

Its kind of ridiculous when you think about DRM, because they are trying so hard to protect the content that they are actually preventing the entire use of it. In the case of Watch Instantly, its free content so who cares, right? (their thinking i'm sure) But I was also unable to use MovieLink too, a service you have to pay for like iTunes. MovieLink is losing my money. You'd think there would be more of an uproar from these companies that are forced to do things the Microsoft way. I mean, we can't be the only ones still using MCE 2002-04, are we?!?!?!?

1228.1.2008 0:51

Did you see this?

http://www.hackingnetflix.com/2008/01/video-of-protot.html

If he is successful, it would be nice if he made it work on all versions of MCE.

1328.1.2008 1:25

Originally posted by czombie:
Did you see this?

http://www.hackingnetflix.com/2008/01/video-of-protot.html

If he is successful, it would be nice if he made it work on all versions of MCE.

Unfortunately he's essentially just changing the frontend for WMP 11 to be Media Center instead of the Netflix custom app. While I agree that it's about time someone did this, and in fact the only reason I can see that Netflix hasn't done this is that an apparent arrogance that simply defies explanation.

Sadly, the only people that can fix the MCE / WMP 11 issue are at Microsoft, and they make Netflix seem humble by comparison.

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