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Get Netflix movies on your TV, no mailbox required.
Despite the bold promise of Internet video, the reality is that your couch is much more comfortable than your computer desk. But there’s that old “last mile” problem—how to get the movies and other video content from the Net to your TV. Netflix has offered video streaming for well over a year, but the MPAA’s insistence on DRM-protecting the content delivered to paying customers, and Apple’s refusal to license its Mac DRM solution (while scofflaws continue to download things for free) has kept Mac users shut out. Roku has mostly solved both of these problems, with its new Netflix Player, a set-top box that brings Netflix’s streaming content directly to your TV.
Setting up the box was painless. All told, we went from zero to watching a movie in less than 10 minutes, including the time it took to move our entertainment center and navigate the maze of cables back there. The player sucks down video via your home network, connecting either over Wi-Fi or a wired Ethernet connection. Out of the box, the player comes with a composite A/V cable, but it also sports HDMI, component video, S-video, and optical audio outputs if you bring your own cable.
Once connected and powered on, the player guides you through a setup wizard via the included remote. If need be, key in your Wi-Fi credentials on the onscreen keypad, then the box presents you with an activation code in order to sync with your Netflix account. Enter the code on the Netflix website and you’re done. Any items in your queue that are available for streaming are then included in a secondary Watch Instantly queue, and are available for browsing on your television.
Once you’ve added movies to your Watch Instantly queue, they show up in a Cover Flow–style interface on your TV. Find what you want, click Play, and your movie starts up in a few seconds. Video quality is good (although HD content is still forthcoming), and we didn’t experience any skips with wired or wireless connections. You can jump forward or backward incrementally, but that requires a break in the action as the unit rebuffers your video stream. A small amount of onboard memory could easily solve this problem, and would be a much-appreciated improvement. Unfortunately, you cannot browse available content from your television; items must be added to your queue via the Web. And speaking of the queue, you can only add items to your player through the main account—additional profiles on your Netflix account can’t add to Watch Instantly. On the plus side, since content streams directly to the box itself, there’s no computer needed to play Netflix content.
In fact, the lack of available content is the Netflix Player’s biggest fault. The selection is still incredibly limited when compared to Netflix’s DVD offerings, although fans of classic or indie films might not notice. There’s a wide array of episodic TV, but if recent mainstream movies are your thing, you’re going to have to stick to DVDs by mail. Also, some episodic shows are incomplete, and the interface doesn’t make it immediately clear which series are complete and which are not. It can be a huge bummer to be four episodes into a new show you just discovered, only to find that Episode 5 is available on DVD only.
Service for the Netflix Player is included with all Netflix plans $8.99 and up. Best of all, it’s all-you-can-eat (provided you can find content you’re interested in, of course). And, as with traditional Netflix service, there are no deadlines—you can add content to your queue, and watch it whenever you have time, with no expiration dates. The player even remembers where you left off, making it easy to finish a movie an hour—or a week—later.Totally painless set up and unlimited viewing make the Netflix Player mighty tempting for movie and TV fans, despite the limited content.