Netflix Player to Deliver Video via Online Streaming

Online-Movie-Rental Firm Teams Up with Roku on $99.99 Set-Top Device

Online-movie-rental firm Netflix introduced a set-top device that will allow movies and TV shows delivered by its online-streaming service to be viewed directly on a living-room TV and that will sell for $99.99.

Netflix Player

The Netflix Player, made by Saratoga, Calif.-based Roku, is the latest in a range of “media-extender” devices from companies like Apple and Hewlett-Packard that are designed to serve as a bridge between Internet video and the traditional TV-viewing experience.

The Netflix player doesn’t store video, such as Apple’s $229 Apple TV box, but instead facilitates the viewing of streaming video from Netflix’s online service. Netflix subscribers with a minimum package of $8.99 per month get unlimited access to movies and TV shows, although the selection is somewhat limited and dominated by older titles.

The Netflix Player connects to the Internet via an Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection and connects to a TV through standard video and audio connections to deliver DVD-quality (480p) video. Netflix recommends broadband service of a minimum speed of 1.5 megabits per second for the device, but it suggests 4 mbps for a high-quality viewing experience.

The set-top also has an HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) connection to support HD video, which Netflix said it will deliver online in the future. Netflix also plans to offer a similar set-top device manufactured by LG Electronics -- a deal it announced at the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.

How consumers will respond to the Netflix device remains to be seen. Media-extender devices have been available for years but have gained little traction with consumers, who generally don’t want to add to their living-room clutter by adding another box.

Cable operators are also dramatically expanding their video-on-demand offerings, adding more primetime shows and HD content; Comcast, for example, announced at The Cable Show ’08 in New Orleans this week that it now offers 500 movies and TV shows on-demand in HD and will provide 1,000 by year-end.

And in the movie-rental space, Blu-ray optical discs that provide HD quality are being heavily promoted by both consumer-electronics companies and movie studios and may become the benchmark for watching rented movies on new HD sets.

Editor’s note: To hear more commentary from Broadcasting & Cable senior editor Glen Dickson on the new Netflix box, check out this video clip from Time Warner Cable’s New York 1 News.