There have been on-again, off-again rumors for a long time now that Netflix is working on their own set-top box to handle electronic movie rentals. These were reheated after their partnership with TiVo apparently flamed out. Now Engadget is reporting that Netflix has been conducting focus groups with two new STBs. The STBs act as clients for their streaming ‘Watch Now’ service. One is a $50 box with basic connections, the other is $100 with HDMI and component to handle HD content, both connect to Ethernet or WiFi to stream the content.
While geeks like to talk about how media is dead, and downloads will be the future – and I agree in general – physical media is going to stick around for a while. Music has increasingly shifted to download services, like iTunes, but video is a different story because the files are so much larger. And HD video is another story entirely. Then there is storage. You can have over 10,000 songs on a 40GB drive – but it may only hold 1 or 2 full HD movies. So disc rentals from Netflix, and others, won’t be going away for several years yet.
In the long run, I do agree that content will become digital data for download. We’re just starting to move in that direction now, but it will take a while for bandwidth and storage to mature to support wide use. Still, it is important for companies like Netflix to get out in front of the changes and be prepared for them. They’ve started with their streaming service – but that’s tied to a PC. Most people agree that to be a real player you need to get the content on a TV so people can watch it on their big screen in the living room. And that effectively means some kind of STB.
But do we really need Yet Another Box? I don’t need YAB to connect to my AV system. I think Netflix would be better off partnering with existing vendors that already sell STBs – TiVo, Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, Linksys, Sling Media, etc. (I’d list Apple, but I doubt they’d allow a 3rd party on Apple TV to compete with ITMS.) Netflix is a fine company, but they’re a service company and NOT a hardware company. Leave the hardware up to someone who is already doing it right and focus on getting your service on more platforms.