Using a Mac to stream Netflix Instant Watch to a PS3

Standard

My original plan for viewing Netflix Instant Watch video on my TV, sans laptop, was to rely on the upcoming Xbox 360 Dashboard update. However, now that I’ve traded in the 360 that is obviously not an option.

The PS3 provides built-in support for media servers. Being a Mac user my options are somewhat limited. The same company that makes Connect360 for streaming media to a 360 also has a PS3 product. Unfortunatley, it doesn’t stream Netflix Instant Watch content, which is primarily a limitation caused by the inability to using Netflix Instant Watch in OS X (something that may be remedied with Microsoft Silverlight in the near future), though I have no idea whether or not the developers plan to add Netflix capability once it is available natively on Mac systems.

While reading through various posts on this subject, I kept finding references to PlayOn!, a program that handles many of the media server functions commonly associated with Microsoft’s media server and is capable of streaming Netflix content in addition to other media to a 360 and/or a PS3.

Oh, what is a Mac user to do?

Enter virtualization via VirtualBox. Granted, Parallels and Fusion would probably work just as well but for home use I didn’t want to invest any cash into something that might not work. So I loaded up Windows XP in VirtualBox, installed PlayOn!, and off I went.

To my surprise it works very well and since the data is being converted and streamed to the PS3 directly my virtual machine didn’t even need to have the sound card device activated.

On the PS3 you will need to enable an option to look for media servers. Note that it will take a moment for the list of items in your Netflix Instant Watch queue, Hulu vidoes, or other items to load. At first, I thought it wasn’t working because I did not leave the menus open long enough for the system to download the information.

Don’t forget to check your OS X and Windows firewalls (depending on your virtualized network connections). My PS3 and Mac are both wired into the same ethernet switch. My PS3 has always been connected to the wired network, though technically a standard ethernet network should out-perform common broad-band data rates meaning a wireless connection should work fine (but overhead always seems to be a factor when dealing with bandwidth-intensive applications over wireless).

Performance was very good for Netflix content, but there is one important difference between streaming to the PS3 and running the video directly from Windows. PlayOn! does not send buffering information to the screen. However, when you start a Netflix movie just pause it for a couple of minutes. By pausing it seems to buffer (probably on the PC side). I’ve watched two movies using this method and never experienced a stutter in audio or video.

Hulu has been a different experience. I was able to watch a short film but TV episodes haven’t worked so well and it doesn’t seem to continue buffering when paused – I tried to watch an episode of the Outer Limites and when I played after several minutes paused it began to stutter and then stop within less than a minute. It’s possible the videos on Hulu come from different servers and thus video performance may vary.

So far this method for viewing Instant Watch videos on my PS3 via a Mac has worked great.

Connect360 – http://www.nullriver.com/products/connect360
MediaLink – http://www.nullriver.com/products/medialink
Netflix Instant Watch – http://www.netflix.com/MediaCenter?id=5384 (press release)
VirtualBox – http://www.virtualbox.org/
(free for personal use)
PlayOn! – http://www.themediamall.com/playon ($30, 14 day trial)

[Updated 11/13/2009: In November of 2009 Netflix and Sony added Instant Watch support to the PS3 for Netflix members. Visit Netflix for more information.]

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