Netflix Instant Viewing to my iPhone

I subscribe to Netflix and I use a mac and an iPhone. I want to watch some of my “Instant Viewing” content on my iPhone. This process isn’t for the faint of heart, and it isn’t for Windows users (I don’t have instructions for Windows). By following a series of steps I can:

  • Download the whole movie content without watching it. (Therefore I don’t use up all my Instant Viewing minutes for the month)
  • Remove the DRM from the content, so that I can watch it offline.
  • Convert the WMV crap to MP4, which is more compatible
  • Drop it into iTunes and sync it to my iPhone.

Get the Movie

The first step, being a Mac user, is to fire up Parallels for the Mac, where I have a working Windows XP instance. You must use crappy Internet Exploiter and Windows Media Player with all its DRM crap. No other choices here. I go to the “View Instantly” page and start watching a movie. While I’m watching it, I’ll see a progress meter like this:

Partial Upload

This shows that I’m watching a 23 minute movie. The grey bar is the play head (i.e. where I am in the movie, and the dark bar to the right shows me how much of the movie has been downloaded so far. It’s only a fraction of the total movie. Can’t do anything until that whole bar is full! Now, The surefire way to get the whole movie to load is to just watch it. You don’t have to, however. You can move the play head to the right (but not really far) and it will start downloading movie you haven’t watched yet. It’s not linear, though. Remember that Media Player can download random bits from the middle of the movie. So, if you pull the play head all the way to the end of the movie, that doesn’t mean it will download the whole thing. It can skip ahead and download just the movie near the play head. This is the part that’s annoying. You have to pull the play head around bit by bit and get it to download the full movie.

Once the download is done, and I can freely view any part of the movie, then I’m ready to make a copy of it and remove the DRM. Let’s make a copy. My Windows Login is just “Administrator” (security, shmecurity!), so I find the WMV file in the following location:

C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator\Local Settings\Temp\AxPlayer\pbuffer.wmv

Note: Don’t let the file size fool you. Moments after my file download begins, the file will be full-sized. I.e., if I do dir pbuffer.wmv I will see something like this:

09/20/2007  07:08 AM       372,471,801 pbuffer.wmv

Now there’s no way I have downloaded 372 megabytes in 15 seconds. It’s just a buffer. I only have the full movie when that progress meter shows that the whole movie has loaded.

At this point I make a copy:

copy C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator\Local Settings\Temp\AxPlayer\pbuffer.wmv “......\My Documents\movie1.wmv”

Remove DRM

For removing the DRM, I use well known tools for doing it. I didn’t write these things, I didn’t write the instructions on how to do it. I just followed the instructions. One good web site is this one. I found a using BitTorrent.

Generally, this stuff works as advertised. The only notes I have for this step are:

  • I had to upgrade to Windows Media Player 10 by using this link from Microsoft. I had WMP version 9. There are various warnings about compatibility of mirakagi with different variations of WMP 11, so I stayed with 10. It works fine.
  • I have to start the WMV movie playing and get the license window that says “Press Play to play your movie.” I don’t close that window, or press Play. While it’s open, I have license keys to the file, and the FairUse4WM program can do its thing.

I’m not sure what it means, but since I save the WMV files, I have the DRM-protected versions of the movies and can watch them later. I don’t know if Netflix tracks my usage and records the hours spent playing if I don’t play the movie in my web browser.

Convert to MP4 for iPhone

At this point, I have an unprotected WMV file, which usually has a file name like [NoDRM]-movie1.wmv. When I’m running Parallels, my virtual machine’s C: drive is available to me as a folder in MacOS. To convert it for my iPhone, I use a program called iSquint. It’s fantastic. Just point and click. I browse my virtual machine’s C: drive, pick the NoDRM file, and then tell it to convert it and store it somewhere on my Mac. Done. If I use MP4 encoding, the 23 minute movie that I tested would convert in about 7 or 8 minutes. If I used h.264 encoding, it takes about 20-21 minutes.

Sync to iTunes

Finally, iSquint has a “add to iTunes” checkbox. So, when it does its conversion, it automatically notifies iTunes of the new movie and puts it into my library. I have to manually go into iTunes and give it the information for the episode number, show name, etc. None of that’s in the WMV or the MP4.