You can now get some movies and TV episodes streamed instantly to your TV via the Netflix Player by Roku, available for purchase today for only $99.99.This is great on many levels. First, it recognizes that HTPCs are not and will never be the mainstream method to get online video to a TV. The concept has been around long enough that if the public were going to embrace HTPCs, they would have already. Second, the price is right. No one wants another box sitting under their TV no matter how small. But for $100, a lot of people may say, "Eh, what the hell." This is going to put the online, on-demand streaming world right at the fingertips of a lot of people that wouldn't have otherwise considered it. Third, the remote (right) has just nine buttons, a pretty good indication that this device is designed with simplicity in mind.
Netflix already operates a web-based streaming service called Watch Instantly that's packaged as a free extra with any subscription. Unfortunately, it's relatively useless without an HTPC to get the video to your TV. However, if you do have an HTPC, it's a very nice service. After a one-time application download, Watch Instantly is pretty intuitive and easy to use. The movie selection is a little weak but the TV show selection is decent. Every once in a while, I'll throw on an episode of the A-Team and relive my childhood. (Wow, that show is awesomely cheesy!) Quality depends on both the source (e.g. A-Team is an old print and doesn't look very good) and your internet connection speed. Any level of broadband connection is likely to get you their highest quality stream, which is a touch below DVD-quality.
It's probably a fair assumption that the Roku box will just port directly into the Watch Instantly system, so interface aside, it should function very similarly.
A couple questions:
Does the simplicity hinted at by the basic remote make it's way to the visual interface? It better.
HD-quality streaming may still be years away, but can this device handle it? Or will a new device be necessary? Unless Netflix is subsidizing the price, at $100, my guess is the latter.
Who designed this sucker? The design is way too clunky. Did they even glance at the Apple TV box? This isn't a direct competitor to the Apple TV, but it's in a similar market. Sure, small is important, but people want sexy/sleek/shiny/stylish in their living room, not drab and blocky. Hopefully future iterations improve on the exterior.
I'm excited to see what kind of market there is for a device like this.
UPDATE (8/7): I probably should have googled this product before writing because it appears that it's been out, at least for media reviewing, since the end of May. There's a particularly good review by David Pogue over at NY Times. He answers my first two questions above: yes, the interface is very simple, and yes, it's capable of decoding and displaying HD-quality streams in the future. WOW. For only $100, this is a pretty impressive piece of technology.