Thursday, July 17, 2008

Netflix Player gets five stars

I just got myself a Roku Netflix Player.

I've been a Netflix subscriber for a while now. After some initial teething problems I've found it an excellent service. We especially like the wide range of lesser known movies that they carry, including several quite obscure Australian movies like this one.

The only downside is because we're away a lot we often pay for a month's subscription without watching a single DVD, and there's no rollover of unused DVDs to the next month.

In recent months I've also begun watching some of the instant streaming movies and TV shows that Netflix have available. The range is still only a fraction of their overall catalog but I've been very impressed by the quality, at least on my computer monitor. Of course that's partly dependent on my Comcast cable internet connection which I am pleased to say has been steadily improving over the past four years - from typical download speeds in 2004 of 2-3 Mbps to consistent speeds of 10-15 Mbps now.

I'm also a big fan of my Roku Soundbridge so when I saw that Netflix and Roku were offering a "Netflix Player" that would let me stream Netflix video to my TV for only $99, I just couldn't resist (not to mention, being a typical techie, I love playing with new gadgets!)

I assumed that the picture quality would degrade somewhat in moving from my computer's 19 inch LCD screen to my 42 inch TV, so I didn't expect the video quality to be great. Boy was I wrong. It's certainly not High Definition (the Player supports HD including a HDMI connector but Netflix are not currently making HD content available) but it's pretty damn close to DVD quality and definitely better than my non-HD cable channels.

I also expected the occasional interruption due to network issues (either at Comcast's end or on my wireless network - the Player has a wireless 802.11g adapter built in) but I've watched several hours of content so far without a single interruption.

Like the Roku Soundbridge the user interface is excellent - simple and intuitive - and the setup was a breeze. And the unit is amazingly small. The website says it's the size of a paperback but I was still surprised. It looks positively tiny next to my other home entertainment components.

For a first release I'd have to say that it's almost perfect - five stars out of five. The only criticism I have is that you can't browse the catalog from the TV - you have to access the Netflix website on your computer and add items to your instant play queue for them to show up on the Player. But I'd be very surprised if they don't fix that in the first software update.

Here's the silly thing though, and it's silliness on the part of Comcast not Netflix. Here in Steamboat Comcast doesn't offer their On Demand service. I've been told by the local Comcast office that this is awaiting a trunk infrastructure upgrade (which will also allow us to receive the networks in HD). But Netflix and I are effectively using Comcast's infrastructure to achieve the same thing!

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