The Netflix Player by Roku
I’ve been a Netflix subscriber since 1999, and stayed true even when Blockbuster copied the Netflix model and tried to poach their customers. When Netflix rolled out its DVDs-by-mail service, I thought it was extremely innovative. It’s so convenient to handle my DVD rentals by mail. No more wandering the aisles of the video store wondering if the movies are going to live up to the sleek DVD cover or the quotes from critics on the back. For nine years, I’ve been able to manage my movie queue online with all the reviews at my fingertips, so it’s become a rarity to see a film that I didn’t enjoy.
Back then, I even thought about buying stock in Netflix, but didn’t pull the trigger because I didn’t think that DVDs-by-mail would be a viable business model long enough for Netflix to become profitable. I knew that, eventually, most of our entertainment would be piped in through our Internet connection. It was just a matter of time.
To a certain degree, that time is now. Last May, Roku rolled out The Netflix Player, a little black $99 box that allows Netflix subscribers to watch movies instantly through their broadband connection.
That sounds great, doesn’t it? There are a few catches. First, not all of the Netflix library is available. In fact, only a small portion (12 percent) is included. Still, when considering the size of the Netflix library (100,000+), that’s 12,000 titles. You can expect a wide variety of older movies, independent films and TV episodes. It’s a great supplement if you run out of DVDs at home or feel like watching something different.
The picture is said to be DVD-quality, but I’ve noticed that it’s a tad less. This isn’t much of a concern for those with smaller TVs. Those with 42” or 50” sets might not notice much of a difference, but if you have a bigger screen, the picture is still pretty good -- it’s just not DVD-quality.
For you HD buffs, there is no high-def content currently available. In the Netflix FAQ, it says that Netflix “will be working to make movies and television episodes available in high definition in the future.” I would much prefer that their statement read, “are working,” but it’s good to know that the company is thinking about providing HD content. The box has both HDMI and component video outputs, so the guts are there. The limiting factor is probably download bandwidth.
Speaking of output, in addition to component and HDMI, the box also has composite, S-Video and optical audio outputs. (Unfortunately, Netflix is not streaming 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound yet.) You can connect to your local network via a wired Ethernet connection or via the box’s internal wireless connection. I tested both the wired and wireless connections and there wasn’t a difference in connection speed, so I opted for the wireless.
The box itself is rather plain looking (some would say unattractive) and the remote is simple yet functional. It’s quite small, so it’s fairly easy to tuck away out of sight. The box costs $99 and there is no additional fee for using the “Watch Instantly” service. I bought a package of cables with the box, and with shipping the total was around $150.
If you’ve ever used Netflix before, adding movies to your Player’s queue is virtually the same as adding movies to your by-mail queue. Unfortunately, there is no way to browse movies through the player itself, but it’s easier to manage the queue online anyway. The menu is simple yet effective. You just hit your queue, scroll through the available movies/episodes (there’s a movie poster and description for each selection), and then pick the one you want to watch. The box contacts the service for a few moments and the movie starts playing within 30 seconds.
The lack of HD content and 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound are certainly cons, but for the price, the Netflix Player is a good deal for anyone who is currently a Netflix subscriber, or is thinking about taking the plunge.