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$100 Roku Device Provides Unlimited Instant Viewing from Your Netflix Subscription

Posted on Tuesday, May 20th, 2008 2:29 PM

Regular readers here know how I feel about Netflix and the convenience it offers for renting DVDs and Blu-ray discs (and for a little while longer, HD DVDs), but one aspect of their business has always eluded that level of value and convenience; Instant Viewing.

Instant Viewing is a feature of the Netflix service that allows subscribers with Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player on Windows platforms to stream movies and TV shows at no additional charge. The service has been available for quite some time and in January, they lifted a previous limit on the number of hours that could be watched.

The major problem with Instant Viewing is that it required a Windows computer to view the content. I don't know about you, but I don't have a Windows PC connected 24/7 to my television, and I do actual work on my computer monitors, and I have no free space for watching movies or television shows.

All that has changed with today's announcement that Netflix and Roku have teamed up to create a box that connects to your TV and to the Internet and ties into your Netflix subscription so that you can watch Instant Viewing content from the comfort of your living room! The Netflix Player is a 5" x 5" x 2" box that costs $99.99, is available directly from Roku, and it can connect to your television with HDMI and component connections, and other standard definition connections as well. It connects to the Internet via wired Ethernet or 801.11 b/g WiFi.

On their site, Netflix says that they are working with hardware manufacturers to embed Netflix functionality into TVs, Blu-ray players, and game consoles, but they also say that the Roku device is "likely to be the lowest cost Netflix-ready device for the forseeable future." 

The rear panel shows a multitude of connections possible to hook up the Netflix player to your TV.

Even though it sports an optical digital audio connector on the back, it's not capable of 5.1 surround sound (stereo only), according to CNet's review. That's makes this box only good for watching talking head shows and stuff made before surround sound became a staple in movies. CNet does say that 5.1 could be added later, so I guess there's that...

High definition playback isn't immediately available, but reviews of the unit that I've read say that it is ready for it as soon as Netflix makes HD streaming available. I'm not holding my breath, because movie studios are very nervous about HD and even highly compressed HD takes a lot of bandwidth, which means that this little streamer (there's no hard drive, only a 64MB memory buffer) will have to have a good connection to Netflix's servers to keep the family fed.

Another annoyance is the reported issue of not showing movies in their original aspect ratio. Widescreen movies should not be shown in 4:3, and if I wanted to watch Ghostbusters with only two guys on the team, I'd watch my movies on the freebie channels like TNT and TBS. 

Will I be getting one?

No, not at this time. My experience with Instant Viewing when I've experimented with it hasn't been the greatest, and the selection of movies and TV shows is very limited. The limited audio and video characteristics (aside from any quality issues, which I can't speak to because I haven't seen it for myself), also make this player a non-starter for me. Furthermore, if I'm going to spend $100 on something, it won't be yet another box that has to be connected to my entertainment system.

I tried to view a movie last week on my 15Mbps cable connection and right away, Netflix complained that my connection to them was too slow for Instant Viewing and that buffering would be required. It took 45 minutes to begin watching the movie I selected. Way too long to be useful. My situation may be unique, but I would imagine that ISP's are going to have a problem if a lot of people start hooking devices like this up to their networks and streaming videos on a regular basis. Not only will bandwidth be consumed to the point of causing problems on the network, but ISP's price their packages using assumptions about how much bandwidth you'll consume in a given time. Devices like this consume much more than web browsing ever could!

If the fine folks at Roku would like to send me a unit to review, I'm open to checking it out and reporting my opinions. I think the box is a step in the right direction, and it definitely shows Apple a thing or two about pricing and convenience, but until Netflix's Instant Viewing selection gets more compelling and my network issues are cleared up, I can't see this device joining my entertainment system any time soon.

To find out more about the Roku Netflix Player, you can see the official product web site or check out the related links. The full press release from Netflix also appears below.

Related Links

Press Release

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, Calif. and SARATOGA, Calif., May 20 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- 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 http://www.roku.com/netflixplayer.

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 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 personalized 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 enhancements.

Technical Details

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

Video and Audio Connections

  • HDMI
  • Component Video
  • S-Video
  • Composite Video
  • Digital Optical Audio
  • Analog Stereo Audio

Network Connections

  • Wired Ethernet
  • Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g)

About Netflix, Inc.

Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ: NFLX) is the world's largest online movie rental service, with more than eight million subscribers. For one low monthly price, Netflix members can get DVDs delivered to their homes and can instantly watch movies and TV episodes streamed to their TVs and PCs, all in unlimited amounts. Members can choose from over 100,000 DVD titles and a growing library of more than 10,000 choices that can be watched instantly. There are never any due dates or late fees. DVDs are delivered free to members by first class mail, with a postage-paid return envelope, from over 100 U.S. shipping points. More than 95 percent of Netflix members live in areas that generally receive shipments in one business day. Netflix is also partnering with leading consumer electronics companies to offer a range of devices that can instantly stream movies and TV episodes to members' TVs from Netflix. For more information, visit http://www.netflix.com/.

About Roku, Inc.

Roku is a market leader in innovative applications for digital media. Through its work in both software and hardware, the company develops and sells consumer products and business solutions to bring rich media to the end user. Its products include: The Netflix Player, SoundBridge and SoundBridge Radio digital music players, and BrightSign digital signage controllers. Roku is privately held and based in Saratoga, Calif. For more information on the company and its products, visit: http://www.roku.com/.

SOURCE: Netflix, Inc.; Roku, Inc.

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