Netflix's set-top box: Is it really a game changer?

The reviews are in and Netflix's set-top box--the Netflix Player by Roku--is a hottie. Then again we've heard this set-top box euphoria kick in before.

The reviews are in and Netflix's set-top box--the Netflix Player by Roku--is a hottie. Then again we've heard this set-top box euphoria kick in before. Is Netflix really the company that will crack the code?

Forgive the skepticism, but we've been down this road before with Apple TV--Apple's forgotten product. However, this time could be different.

Netflix has a few things in its corner (Techmeme, statement). For starters, the device is $99.99 and streams more than 10,000 movies and TV episodes. David Carnoy's review is also positive. Here's the synopsis:

The good: Streams Netflix Watch Now titles to your TV; affordable $100 price tag; unlimited viewing with no additional charge beyond standard ($8.95 or higher) monthly Netflix fee; PC-free movie watching; simple setup; includes built-in wired and 802.11g Wi-Fi networking; works with all TVs; upgradeable firmware allows for new features, interface improvements, and bug fixes.

The bad: While growing, the number of Watch Now titles currently available for streaming is still pretty paltry, especially when it comes to popular recent releases; video quality doesn't come close to DVD or HD; far too many titles don't appear in their original wide-screen version; no surround sound; can't manipulate queue via TV screen; yet another box under the TV.

The bottom line: While it's still a work in progress--and currently lean on quality content--the Netflix Player's simple operation, overall convenience, and cheap price makes it a compelling option for Netflix subscribers looking for instant gratification.

Overall, the Netflix's player is important as it gives the company another distribution channel--it can't rely on DVD rentals via snail mail forever.

Among the key details to know:

  • The Netflix player is the size of a paperback;
  • The player is Wi-Fi enabled;
  • It has all the connections--HDMI, S-Video, digital optical audio etc.--to fit in with your home entertainment system.

It all sounds swell on paper. But the real test will come in the months to come. Will consumers buy it?