Tuesday, June 10

Shiny New Toy

Recently the Netflix DVD-rentals-by-mail service introduced a new product, a set-top box that lets you stream movies from the Internet directly to your television.

They've had the "Instant View" capability for quite a while now, but you needed to watch the movies on a Windows PC. Now, though, they've teamed up with media-device company Roku to produce the Netflix Player to put those movies from the Internet onto your TV screen.

When I first heard about the Player, it seemed interesting, but I doubted that it would be worth it in my home. First of all, my wife and I cancelled our Netflix subscription back in 2005 after only about three months with the service. While it's a great service, we found ourselves feeling that we had to watch the DVDs as soon as possible and send them back for new ones so that we were getting our money's worth. Those red envelopes consumed nearly all of the free time we had (especially since we were on the plan that let us have three movies at a time).

However, I read a blog post by a fellow member of the local Linux Users' Group that changed my mind. He wrote about opening and setting up the machine, and I was really intrigued; especially by the mention of the television shows that were available for viewing with this method.

I looked around on the Netflix site to see how the pricing works, and it turns out that even the $9/month plan allows for unlimited Instant Viewing on the device (the plan includes one DVD in your home at a time). Well, that's barely more than the price of two Blockbuster rentals. Regardless of whether we went through the physical DVDs quickly, we could definitely get a good bang for our subscription buck with the Netflix Player. Granted, the device itslef costs $100, but we hadn't put any of our tax rebate into the US economy yet...

So I restarted our Netflix subscription a couple of weeks ago and ordered the Player. It was delivered by FedEx last Friday, and I've been really impressed by it. The only difficult part was entering the 64-character randomly-generated strong password for our wireless network on the little 9-button remote control. However, the onscreen keyboard was versatile enough to provide all the characters I needed, and the box downloaded my Instant Queue list immediately and was ready to start playing movies.

You have to choose the movies for your Instant Queue list by visiting the Netflix website on a computer, and then your only options on the Player itself are to change a few settings or play one of the movies you've pre-selected online. Most of the titles available are fairly old, though there are some newer movies. In a really cool twist, some recently-aired NBC shows (Heroes, 30 Rock, The Office) are already available for Instant Viewing. If more television gets added to the list in such a timely manner, we might even be able to cancel cable.

All in all, this is a great device that I recommend to anyone with a decently-fast Internet connection. Check it out!

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The Geek Code desperately needs updating, but in any case here's mine (as of 2010-02-28):

Version: 3.12
GIT/MU d+(-) s:+>: a C++> ULXB++++$ L+++ M++ w--() !O !V P+ E---
W+++ N o++ K? PS PE++ Y+ PGP t !5 X- R- tv+@ b++ DI++++ D--- e*++
h--- r+++ y+++ G+

If you really care about knowing what that all means, you either know the code already, or you can get it decoded for you here.