Streaming Netflix Movies on a PS3 in China (FAIL)

I got a PS3 late last year, and soon after Netflix announced a new feature: the ability to stream unlimited movies on the PS3 for only $8.99/month.

This got me thinking… even if you only pay 5 RMB per pirated DVD in China, it only takes about 12 movies per month to hit the equivalent of $8.99. I know many people here who watch far in excess of 12 DVDs per month, and they rarely ever watch the same DVD again, leading to piles and piles of unwanted DVDs, and just tons of DVD waste in general. And this Netflix plan is actually a legal alternative.

The way it works is you sign up online (yes, with a credit card), and then they immediately mail the Netflix PS3 disc (required for streaming) to your US address. Your two-week free trial starts at the same time.

There’s not really time to receive the disc in the States, and then ship it to China and still have time to enjoy the free trial. The people at Netflix are very nice and accommodating, however. So I had my dad mail the Netflix disc to me in China, then called up Netflix’s toll-free number (a free international call using Skype). I explained that I had received the disc, but hadn’t been able to try it yet (they can verify this), so the free trial had expired. Could I have another free trial? Oh, and by the way… I’m in China.

The customer service representative was happy to help me out, but let me know she wasn’t sure if it would work in China. Netflix is working on offering the streaming service internationally, but the movie studios are holding it up. I was hoping that Netflix was depending on very few people going to the trouble of shipping a disc to a US address and then re-mailing it to another country.

Anyway, after I inserted the Netflix PS3 disc, there was a rather long wait (2 minutes?) before the screen came up with the verification code. My customer service representative used that to reactivate my free trial. I could then browse all movies through the PS3 interface. I was told to try playing one. That’s where I got this message:


So Netflix is quite thorough in their streaming setup, it would seem. I’m disappointed; I was hoping Netflix could give me a (almost) legal alternative to buying pirated DVDs in China, and at a competitive price point. I would definitely pay Netflix a monthly fee for this service because:

1. It reduces waste
2. It rewards the creators of the films and the legitimate distributors
3. It’s super convenient and competitively priced

For now, the best similar alternative is very illegal: download movies to one’s home computer via bittorrent, then stream them to the PS3/TV across the network using PS3 Media Server.

What Netflix is doing really gives me hope that a legal, economically feasible alternative is on the way, though.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I don’t watch many movies, but I watch a decent amount of TV, and until a legal solution is both inexpensive and as near-real-time as TVtorrents + rss + an RSS-capable BT client, I’m just not going to bother. I’m not going to pay for inconvenience and proprietary non-interop.

    Also, Step Brothers? Seriously?

  2. Hehe… I just picked a random category and movie, and it was right there. 🙂

  3. Maybe if you used a US-based VPN?

  4. Anyone ever give apple tv a spin on the mainland? I’ve been using it in Taiwan for movies, tv programs, YouTube and even ChinesePod. I’ve been doing this since before the iPhone, app store and iTunes was availae in Taiwan. Prices aren’t great for movies-10-20 US each and 1-2 bucks for tv, but it is very, perhaps too convenient. My hope is it will work over there as well. Anyone have any experience with this?

  5. I’ve gone the Hulu + Netflix route for several months now. I don’t have cable or satellite. I was previously using an alternative solution similar to JohnB. Hulu is awesome. You subscribe to your shows or just pick something. Either way, they’re available the day after they air on TV. Netflix… I stream via my Xbox and I also get one DVD at a time.

    I’d definitely check usage through a US-based VPN.

  6. dont use torrents they are so 2008, sign up for a rapidshare account, I think its 6 us dollors a month and anything you search for is direct download so no waiting for seeds or what not.

  7. I’d agree with Matt, and go one further. Given you have a webhosting account overseas (the US), tunnel the traffic to the webhost via SSH, and it will appear you’re visiting Netflix from the US. And unlike a VPN, given you already pay for hosting, this would incur no extra charge.

  8. @Alex, but remember that it will count towards your site’s bandwidth quota. 12 movies a month at 1GB a movie, that’s 12GB less for your website to use. If you’re well below your quota that might not be an issue, but it’s definitely something to consider.

  9. DVD shopping is more fun! And how long before your ps3 runs into a streaming buffer problem with that spotty Internet connection? Can always donate unwanted DVDs to colleagues and friends.

    You’re right, John, most films are not worth watching a second time.

    If a movie is worth renting (1 in 10 blockbuster releases these days is even worth watching), just head down to the neighborhood grocery store and the DVD machine (Redbox) dispenses the DVD for $1 USD.

    I haven’t used it, but a couple people have raved about it, have you tried Slingbox?

    Geez, I feel guilty even mentioning these technologies because you can see how commercial it all gets.

  10. I gave up on DVDs specifically for the waste factor. Witopia is still often too slow to do much good for streaming, so I’m left with Youku type sites. I was really looking forward to Netflix on Xbox LIVE, until I got banned for having bought my console in China. Though in hindsight I would have had the same problem you’re having.

    Donating DVDs to colleagues/friends doesn’t reduce waste. It just makes it not your problem. That chunk of plastic is still gonna get pitched in the gutter.

  11. I read this article a little while ago and was going to respond but forgot all about it till today.

    Essentially I was going to say that this has always been one of the bigger problems with anti-piracy movements. They provide a legal way to get the content conveniently and relatively cheaply but then, not content with making money, they slap all these boundaries and restrictions on them.

    One restriction that has been going on since the first days of DVDs is the use of Regions. The only real reason I can see for the use of regions is secondary marketing and advertising. The secondary marketing and advertising in one country or region is going to be different to another.

    There is of course the excuse of formatting (I.e. PAL/NTSC) and translating (I.e. Subtitles and dubbing) but as technology has improved and production sizes increased, this excuse has been wearing thinner and thinner.

    I find it hard to believe that a production house can’t have the subtitling and formatting done within a matter of days, when piracy groups have the same content released in multilingual formats within 24 hours of the movie or tv show being “announced” let alone properly released. A slight exageration there but not much of one.. Have a think about it though..

    What possible reason would there be for 3 to 6 month delays in today’s times? None that make any sense. So people pirate or buy pirated goods… because even though the networks are finally getting it together with services like Netflix, they are still placing ridiculous limitations on it, forcing the hand of consumers and pirateers alike.

    A lot more could be said about this topic, on many different socio-economic levels but I’ll just leave it at this.. A simple opinion by a layperson 🙂

  12. Matt Seigal Says: January 21, 2010 at 7:41 am

    Using a US based VPN allows me to access Hulu from Shanghai, and I usually get reasonable streaming speeds when using a California based server.

    I also have a UK based VPN, which gives me full access to the BBC Iplayer library.

    I’m sure this approach will work for Netflix.

  13. John P and Matt S,
    I’ll be relocating to Beijing pretty soon and am very interested in knowing the updated solution on this, so my understanding is:
    1. All those Netflix, Vudu, Hulu kinda sites would work in China correct?
    2. So “Using a US based VPN” is a working solution currently? What does that mean exactly? (sorry i’m not really tech savvy type:) Can i pay for that service in a monthly fee?

    thanks in advance guys!

  14. I am in the same boat as you. I would really like to avoid stealing, but the movie industries seems bend on making that impossible!

    Why not allow me to watch a paid movie from any location?

    Why force other nationalities to watch movies later than Americans?

    Why doesn’t the movie industry sell movies with other languages in the states?

    My Wife doesn’t speak english so when we move to the USA I will be forced to use bit torrent and SRT files. Here in China the movie industry refuses to allow me to pay and stream movies.

    You would think the movie industry dislikes my money!

  15. you guys need a proxy server witch could give you a US ip address. VPN is not working well on PS3.
    i use it for PS3 gaming and pandora radio.

  16. Hey, I am going back to China during Xmas break, and not going be back to US until 1.4.2012. However, I really want to watch Rose Bowl which is on 1.2.2012, is there a way you can watch ESPN in China? or other live stream? I have been looking for this so long, and wondering maybe you know how?

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