For those of you who like to watch movies, the ability to rent them has been around since the advent of the VCR. In the past three decades, we have witnessed a changing of the guard, from “mom and pop” video stores to the “big chain” rental establishments. When DVDs became the de facto standard for watching movies at home, their compact form lent itself to easier distribution; now mail-order rental and DVD kiosks are the major players in the rental business. One limiting factor in all of these is the need for a physical media to play, be it a VCR tape or a DVD. While Netflix has been providing DVD rentals for nearly ten years, a new method of watching movies has emerged, and the convenience is only limited to your access to a computer and high-speed internet.
Watching media on a PC is nothing new, but with the proliferation of high-speed Internet access, it has become possible to watch full movies over the web. Netflix offers their subscribers the ability to “watch instantly”, and there are a couple of requirements. First, you must have an active Netflix plan that includes unlimited DVD rentals (from $8.99 a month), and second, you need a broadband Internet connection. If you are content watching a movie on your PC, then you are all set, but for some, their screen might be too small to compare to watching on the TV in the family room. For that, you need network access at your TV, and then your choices are many.
While “media center” PCs have been available for a while, that’s just a PC using your TV as the screen. There now exist devices that have eliminated the PC from this setup, and Netflix has a few options available. A few years back, Netflix was going to launch their own media player, but scrapped their plans at the last minute. While that might have seemed like a dumb business move to some, this change in plans allowed them to spread out their influence in the marketplace. Their research and development was integrated in the Roku Digital Video Player, which allows you connect your TV with Netflix. It features wired and wireless network connectivity and a multitude of connection options, like HDMI, Component Video, and older connections like S-Video and Composite Video. With an optical digital output for audio, the Roku eliminates the need for a PC next to your TV, and the box is as small as a paperback book.
Another Netflix capable device is the Xbox 360, which added the ability to stream videos from Netflix in a major update to the Xbox 360 dashboard last year. While it does require an Xbox Gold LIVE membership, there are a lot of people who own this gaming console, and if it is already connected to your TV, then you are ready to watch. Network connectivity has always been built in to the Xbox 360, and with an optional wireless adapter, no network cables are necessary. With an attractive and easy to use interface, this was one of the neatest and most useful features that Microsoft has devised in some time.
As of late, a number of new devices have added Netflix functionality, including Blu-Ray players from LG (LG BD370 and LG BD390), Samsung (BD-P1600, BD-2500, BD-P3600 and BD-P4600), and Insignia (NS-BRDVD3 and NS-WBRDVD). LG even offers a line of HDTVs (55LH50, 47LH50, 42LH50, 60PS80 and 50PS80) that include Netflix connectivity as part of their “NetCast Broadband” feature. Last, but certainly not least, is the DVR leader TiVo, which provides streaming Netflix video.
While the ability to watch movies online isn’t a new concept, Netflix has brought this technology into the living room, and making it easy to use has only added to their customer base.