Just days before it officially launched Windows 7 around the world, Microsoft quietly updated the Windows Media Center component of that OS, dramatically increasing the availability of online content. The update takes two forms: Compatibility with Netflix "Instant Queue" streaming and the final version of Internet TV, which provides a pretty decent selection of free TV show content as well as, surprise, surprise, access to video podcasts via Zune Marketplace.
The addition of Netflix was expected, since Microsoft had previously offered access to that service via the Windows Vista version of Media Center. Using this new add-in, you can access your Instant Queue, of course, and the video quality is decent. You can also view your DVD queue and browse new arrivals and other DVDs that Netflix has on offer. Installation simply requires you to find the new Netflix icon (its under Movies) and follow the prompts.
There's a search feature which is surprisingly useless. Searching for "Bruce Willis," for example, showed no Bruce Willis movies at all. But it did come up with "My Name is Bruce." Close.
Internet TV, like Netflix, requires a manual install (this time from within the TV submenu). But unlike with the previous beta releases, there's a lot of content available. (Previously, it was pretty much "Arrested Development" and not much else.) You don't typically get full season access to anything, but I did view a few complete episodes of "CSI Miami."
Almost as interesting is the surprise first appearance of Zune branding outside of the traditional Zune ecosystem. Previously, Microsoft had said that the Zune Video access via the Xbox 360 would be the brand's coming out party. But with the addition of Zune Podcasts on Media Center's Internet TV service, that's no longer the case. It makes me want to see Zune Marketplace video content in there as well. Come on, Microsoft. It's time.
Anyway, here are some shots of the Netflix and Internet TV experiences in Media Center on Windows 7. This is a nice freebie for those who adopt Microsoft's latest OS platform.