I decided to poke around my Netflix account today, wondering if the beta program for NetFlix streaming video had been extended to more members. Lo and behold, as soon as I arrived on the Your Account page, I saw the small screenshot above (here is a full sized shot). I asked a couple Netflix-using friends to try their own account page as well and they saw it too.
After clicking on the link, you'll arrive at a page leading you through the streaming video process as found on the Hacking Netflix blog:
Once you've clicked the button there, you'll have the "Watch Now" tab on your Netflix nav, and if you've got Windows/IE (or Parallels running XP on an Intel Mac), you'll be asked to download a Netflix app and upgrade your Windows Media DRM. Titles listed at Netflix under the Watch Now tab will have a "Play" button where the "Add to Queue" button usually is.
The selection of streaming video is fairly odd. It's mostly second-run films, outsider documentaries, and lots of old stuff from the 80s. It's probably a pilot program that studios agreed to test with lower demand stuff. Here's a shot of Bring It On 2 playing on my browser:
The video quality is so-so, a bit better than stuff you'd see at YouTube, but obviously pixelated if you chose to view full screen and even at the default size it's got compression artifacts (I'm on a 8Mbit connection so I should be getting fairly high quality streams). I watched a standup comedy movie I didn't know existed from a comedian I love and it wasn't so bad. I had the window running in the corner of my desktop and I listened to jokes and glanced at it while doing other stuff.
I would definitely prefer to watch movies on my TV with increased output quality but it was kind of cool to watch something instantly and maybe sample a movie before I throw it in the rental pile.