CNET is reporting on the Netflix Player by Roku. It is a very simple device that allows you to stream Netflix’s ‘Watch Now’ content right to your TV, via the box, over your broadband connection. No PC required. It is very basic, that’s all it does – allows you to stream Watch Now content you’ve already placed into your queue. But they did get something major right – it retails for $100, which means it will almost certainly be available for less. And the Watch Now content is available ‘free’ as part of a standard Netflix membership, so there is no pay-per-view pricing to deal with.
The biggest issues are the lack of content, there aren’t many first tier titles available via Watch Now, and the quality – no HD here, it is all 480i. This is all about convenience. As CNET put it:
We watched video on TVs ranging in size from 19 inches to 50 inches. While there wasn’t a huge difference in sharpness on any of the sets, the picture did look a little better on the smaller TV. Still, as long as you sit far enough away from a larger TV, the picture will seem OK. Just don’t expect the same kind of sharpness you’d get from a high-quality DVD. Think in terms of watching programming on one of the stations that your cable company doesn’t devote quite enough bandwidth to, and that’s the sort of picture you’ll be looking at.
The box is very simple. It has a wired Ethernet connection and built-in 802.11g WiFi. Output includes HDMI, component video, S-Video, composite video, optical digital audio, and stereo audio. So it should work with pretty much any TV shy of an ancient one with only coax RF input. CNet does say that you want a broadband connection that can sustain 1Mbps at a minimum, and ideally 2.2Mbps. So those with slow connections need not apply. The streams use the VC-1 codec, same as used when streaming to a PC. (Interestingly, the TiVo Series3 and TiVo HD have a decoder that can handle VC-1… I’m just sayin’.)
CNet has a full review if you’re interested. Since we know this capability will be coming to other platforms via partners like LG, I think I’d recommend holding off. It’d be a much better value to get an upscaling DVD player, or Blu-ray deck, with Netflix streaming built in. And Netflix hasn’t revealed all of their hardware partners yet – we could yet see Netflix streaming to TiVo, Xbox 360, etc.
EDIT: Gizmodo has also just posted a review which offers some more details.