Netflix's first streaming box is finally here and it's pretty damn brilliant of a set up. First of all, the box is 99 US bucks, and designed by Roku. It's fanless and quiet; has HDMI and optical outputs; and is about the size of 5 CD cases stacked together. Any Netflix disc mailing plan over US$9 gets you unlimited streaming of almost 10,000 titles. Unlimited! 10K titles! Take that Apple TV and VuDu!
You boot up the box, set the network to wireless or ethernet connectivity. You get a 5 digit code, head over to netflix.com/activate using a browser on a PC or other device, log into your Netflix account and enter the code. The Roku box gets your queue and the movie/show cover art. There are HDMI and optical connections on top of the standard video outs, but those cables are not included.
The box itself doesn't have menus. No, instead, you use Netflix's brilliant website to load up your queue. You just use the remote to scan through your instant viewing queue (now separate from the disc queue) select a movie and play. It starts streaming. (Remember, there's no download/purchase program here and the device has no HDD, just 64MB of buffer.) The box is completely quiet, again, due to its fanless design. Movies stream in at different VC-1 bitrates of 500kbps, 1Mbps, 1.6Mbps and 2.2Mbps, depending on connection speed. Quality is not great, even at 2.2 Mbps, but I'm happy enough considering viewing is instantaneous. Note: Unlike Apple TV, scrolling between cover art is not done in an animated way. HDMI res is 480p, while all the other outputs are 480i. Fast forwarding is handled by key-framing movie content every 10 seconds, so you can FF to parts of the movie that haven't been downloaded yet, at three speeds. Once you hit play, the movie buffers for a few seconds and resumes. Speaking of resuming, the player itself does remember where you left off last in a movie and will continue playing from that point. One nice touch: You can score movies from the movie detail page. One bad thing: You can't search the Netflix website specifically for instant titles.
While appearing to have double the collection of Apple TV of Vudu, what do you get in Netflix's 10,000 movie collection? Basically, you get a lot of back catalog (classic movies) and a lot of TV shows (unheard of in rental situations!) right as they hit the market. But you don't get the same blockbusters on day one release that you'd get from Apple TV or VuDu. That makes the Netflix box and disc system a great supplement to those systems, which seem to specialise in new releases. (Kudos to Saul from the NYTimes for discovering this initially.) The business model behind a flat rate unlimited streaming system is unheard of. Sure, they're taking a lot of older content, which is inherently cheaper. But think of it this way. For a nine-dollar-a-month account, you can hold off on buying older DVDs or watching TV shows. A box set of Ghost in the Shell or 30 Rock costs over 50 bucks on DVD or by renting individual downloads, but you can stream many of these episodes for nine bucks a month. Buying the Karate Kid, an old movie not on many download services, costs a few bucks on DVD, but I can just watch it whenever I want as long as I'm a Netflix customer. (And consider that the number of great back catalog titles like that will probably outpace new releases you'd find on Vudu or Apple TV.) It's basically the same as Netflix's current model, but instead of being limited by the postal service, you're limited by your spare time and interest in older titles. (And don't forget Netflix's disc-by-mail service, which still covers new titles.)
Netflix is planning HD streaming and this box will support it. When Netflix gets HD streaming content, they'll update the box by firmware to support HD resolutions at higher bitrates of 4-6mbps, including 5.1 surround (everything is stereo now.) The menus will also be upgraded to HD res, too. In the future, the Roku-branded box will be upgraded to accept non-Netflix content, too. (And btw, the update on the Mac client situation is that they're just trying to sort out the DRM issues, or lack of a suitable system they can stream to Macs on.)
The box will be sold on Roku's website directly. Worth buying if you're a Netflix customer (or thinking of becoming a Netflix customer) and can find enough titles for Instant Viewing on their site. [Roku and Netflix]
NETFLIX TEAMS WITH STREAMING MEDIA INNOVATOR ROKU ON PLAYER
THAT INSTANTLY STREAMS
MOVIES FROM NETFLIX DIRECTLY TO THE TV
Priced at Just $99.99 and Available Starting Today,
The Netflix Player by Roku™ is Compact,
Easy to Set Up and Intuitive to Use
LOS GATOS and SARATOGA, Calif., May 20, 2008 - Netflix, Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), the world's
largest online movie rental service, and Roku, Inc., an innovator in digital media streaming
technology, today announced the introduction of The Netflix Player by Roku™, a device that
enables Netflix subscribers to instantly stream a growing library of movies and TV episodes from
Netflix directly to the TV. Priced at just $99.99, the player is available for purchase starting today at
The player is simple to install, easy to use and gives Netflix members instant access to more than
10,000 movies and TV episodes.
"We're excited to bring the first Netflix ready device to the market, " said Anthony Wood, CEO and
founder of Roku. "The seamless integration of the Netflix service into our player has resulted in
true ease of use for the consumer. Now, streaming video isn't limited to people sitting in front of
the PC; it's ready for the TV in the living room."
"The key breakthroughs of The Netflix Player by Roku are simplicity and cost," said Reed Hastings,
chairman and CEO of Netflix. "First, it allows consumers to use the full power of the Netflix Web
site to choose movies for their instant Queue, and then automatically displays only those choices
on the TV screen. That's a major improvement versus the clutter of trying to choose from 10,000
films on the TV. Second, there are no
- more -
extra charges and no viewing restrictions. For a one-time purchase of $99, Netflix members can
watch as much as they want and as often as they want without paying more or impacting the
number of DVDs they receive."
About The Netflix Player by Roku
The Netflix Player by Roku is surprisingly compact - roughly the size of a paperback book - and
can integrate easily into any home entertainment system. All it takes is connecting the player to a
TV and to the Internet. For homes with wireless Internet connectivity, the player is Wi-Fi enabled
and offers the ultimate in placement flexibility.
From the Netflix Web site, members simply add movies and TV episodes to their individual instant
Queues, and those choices are then displayed on the TV and available to watch instantly. With
the player's accompanying remote control, members can browse and make selections right on
the TV screen and also have the ability to read synopses and rate movies. In addition, they have
the option of fast-forwarding and rewinding the video stream via the remote. In all, the Queue-
based user interface creates a highly personalised experience that puts members in control.
Additional features of the product include optimization of the Netflix video streaming technology,
which eliminates the need for a hard disk drive associated with video downloads, and built-in
connectivity for automatic software upgrades, which will keep the device current with service
In the Box
• The Netflix Player by Roku set-top box (approximately 5"W x 5"D x 2"H)
• Remote control (including 2 AAA batteries)
• A/V Cable (Yellow/Red/White RCA)
• Power Adapter
• Getting Started Guide
- more -
Video and Audio Connections
• Component Video
• Composite Video
• Digital Optical Audio
• Analogue Stereo Audio
• Wired Ethernet
• Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g)