Netflix enters the Net-to-TV video race with the introduction of a $99.99 player that enables its members to stream up to 10,000 movies and TV shows. The company has let paying members of its DVD-by-mail service watch content on their computers for some time now, but the new device moves the movies to the TV.
The Netflix Player is made by Roku, which has marketed its well-engineered SoundBridge music streamers for several years. The Netflix Player box connects to your TV via standard links (HDMI, component video, S-Video, composite video) and streams the video content from your PC via Ethernet or 802.11b/g Wi-Fi. I haven’t seen a demo of the video quality, but I’d bet the box would benefit from 802.11n for hiccup-less streaming. You select videos from your PC, which then streams a menu to your TV, enabling you to use the included remote control for navigation, play/pause, fast forward, and volume.
The price is right at $99, but one drawback is the selection of videos. I’ve watched a few of the free Netflix movies on my PC, and the selection is decent, if stale, but it’s nothing compared with Netflix’s entire catalog. Meaning you’ll find something you like, but you’re not likely to find exactly what you want. But if you do, you can watch as much and as often as you want without eating into the number of DVDs you can rent each month with your Netflix account. The videos are not in high definition, although the Netflix Player will be able to play HD video once Netflix makes that available.
Still, the Netflix player represents an interesting challenge to Apple TV, which draws its content from the iTunes Store and costs $229. The Apple device does include a hard drive for storage of content you own; the Netflix Player doesn’t.
The Netflix Player is an intriguing entry. Let’s hope it encourages other companies to ratchet up the innovation.