Thursday, January 3, 2008

Netflix News!

Big news today about Netflix teaming up with LG to make a set-top box that will play their 'Watch Now' library. Nobody has a whole lot of information on this for now, but have some links: [1], [2], [3].

I've been a Netflix fan for about 3.5 years now (my grad school career, as it were, including a pointless year of about 370 movies (not all from Netflix)) and recommend it to any friends or family that talk about movies. I have at times been up to the 5-at-a-time option, but have since slacked off a bit, down to 1-at-a-time. I still aim to watch and return movies the day I get them. When they started their 'Watch Now' thing I was optimistic, but this was quickly shot down when I realized it only worked under Windows. As a Linux-only user (at home), I was disappointed, but not particularly suprised.

This optimism is cautiously renewed with this news for their set-top box(es). As usual, January will be a fun month for tech people, with the CES and Macworld shows (and I feel like I'm forgetting at least one more). I guess LG is expected to do something about this box at CES. But we can't forget Apple TV (actually, given how many people I know that have ever talked about it = 0, maybe we can), which may also get new news soon. [Competely off topic, but Google also apparently has 2 booth at CES. Go Android!]

Now, as a fan and movie watcher, I can actually give my own opinions related to this news. I'm glad to see it happen, and I hope it is a success (in some sense, see final paragraph). It sounds like this LG box is the first of hopefully several different hardware options, so I expect at some point one might come along that fits me. Now if LG decides to include this Netflix thing in their $800 box (as mentioned at engadget), count me out. I've already got a dvd player, and am avoiding the HD/Blu-Ray argument - hoping for the next format to come along quickly (I seem to recall reading an article along the lines of this being the last hardware format war, but haven't yet found a link). So all I'm looking for in a Netflix box would be something that'll hook up easily to both my tv and router, and will play the 'Watch Now' titles. The above articles mention that the movies you want to watch will have to be selected from a computer. I'm not entirely sure what that setup entails, but I wonder why its necessary - why the box can't handle that itself.

In brief, here's what I'd be after in a Netflix set-top box:
  • Easy to install. Plug in the wires, set up accounts, and go. It should, probably, permit multiple accounts, like if roommates have seperate netflix plans, but I don't see this as a big issue. If it does have multiple accounts, they should clearly be password protected, and whenever you pick a movie (or maybe whenever you turn the thing on?) you are presented with an easy way to choose which account to use.
  • Cheap. I don't care if the box doesn't have any optical drive (leaving one out and getting a nice, smaller, form-factor is appealing. I'm thinking cable-modem size/shape). I don't care if it only has enough internal storage to do whatever buffering it needs. Simple means cheap, and simple fits my bill.
  • Linux based. This is the big one for me, and the one I worry about. The form factor doesn't matter too much, and I expect little trouble making the box easy to use (everything is these days). But if the box is some Windows-based box, I'm out, no question. I'd rather wait, and just do mail rentals. Even if I could do unlimited watch nows without changing my monthly plan (I mean, I should be doing work anyway).
This last point is where I think the problem will be. If I can't 'Watch Now' with my current Linux distro (Ubuntu-Gutsy Gibbon, if you were curious), then I don't expect the LG box to be Linux based. The next question is: If I could use Watch Now on my computer, would I also spring for a set-top box? Then the cost is the issue. I guess its academic though.

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