A set-top box for streaming movies right off the internet and straight to your telly? We’ve heard that one before. Apple TV does it, Xbox 360 does it… and although each of those are technically impressive, they haven’t set everyone’s world alight. So at first glance it seems that the Netflix Player by Roku doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
However, where its rivals have let themselves down – being limited to fairly narrow selection of content – Netflix might be able to find an edge. As the US’s largest online DVD rental service, it doesn’t lack for potential content.
The box itself isn’t really anything to write home about. It’s small, black and nondescript, as you can see. The connections in the back are decent enough though, ranging from crusty old RCA and S-Video, to hip, modern HDMI and component connections. For audio there’s also an optical output. And of course an Ethernet connections so you can get at content.
Interestingly, the device doesn’t have a built in hard drive, so it’s limited to streaming and streaming alone. Roku recommends that users have a 1.5Mbps internet connection or higher and depending on your speed you’ll be able to pick up different quality streams. They start from sub-DVD level, currently ranging up to proper DVD quality.
In future HD movie streaming will also be offered and the box is designed to cope with it, but how long it will take to make that possible and practical is anyone’s guess.
So does it have a shot at succeeding where other devices have met with a what we’ll politely call a ‘slow start’. Netflix has a couple of aces up its sleeve. Well, make that 8.2 million aces, or ‘subscribers’. Then there’s the price: just $99 (along with the $8.99 Unlimited subscription). How cheap is that, eh? Certainly makes Apple $229 TV look like a bit of willy.
At the moment, just 10% of Netflix’s 100,000 strong DVD collection is available to the service, and it’s probably not all the classic JCVD movies either. It’ll all be You’ve Got Mail, Maid in Manhattan and Father of the Bride 2 or some shit. Obviously more and more will be popping up later.
Will we ever see this in the UK? Well, will we ever see Netflix reach the UK? Neither is looking likely and with ISPs having seizures over the amount of bandwidth existing online streaming software is using, it would seem that Britain has some technical hurdles to overcome before we catch up. On the other hand, internet streaming is pretty much the logical evolutionary step for film rentals and it will happen eventually. It’s just a question of who’s going to get it to work first. The DVD rental companies? The ISP themselves? The console makers? Who knows.