Thursday, May 22, 2008

Things That Are Hooked Up to My TV (And Things That Will Be)

Netflix has officially unveiled their long-awaited set-top box.  And according to the review at Wired, it turned out spectacularly.

For those of you who don't have Netflix (or for you Netflickerers who haven't been paying attention), they've been offering the "Watch Instantly" feature on a steadily increasing number of movies.  At first, the only movies you could Watch Instantly were junk you'd never heard of - non-classic oldies, public domain schlock.  But they've gotten to the point where a lot of new, top-tier releases are available immediately.  They're working very hard toward the ultimate goal of all movies being available for instant viewing, on the day of release.

There have been three major problems with this service up to this point:
  1. You do not download the movies, you stream them.  With internet service prone to the occasional traffic congestion, this can mean stuttering or prolonged pausing in your movie-viewing experience.
  2. The service is not Mac compatible.
  3. You have to sit in front of your computer to take advantage of this option.
Obviously, the release of this new box takes care of those last two points.  But the greatest strength of this box?  You use it to watch movies for free.  Yes, free!

Ok, not free.  "Free" in this case means "at no additional cost."  You continue to pay for your Netflix subscription, which, by the way, is one of the best-value consumer services in the world right now.  You will also need to continue paying for your high-speed internet access, which, since you're reading this article online right now, probably won't be a problem for you.  Other than that, you pay a one-time $100 price to own the box -- more than a DVD player, less than every other current video player.

This, folks, is a great deal.  And my reflex reaction is that it's a no-brainer that I should get it.  But then, I think of all the other stuff hooked up to my TV, and I wonder if another set-top box is really what I need.

Just a couple days before the official unveiling of the Netflix box, I was thinking of ways to consolidate all the stuff hooked up to my TV.  I'm kind of an Apple guy, so I was thinking of how to apply their wares to my entertainment center.  The Apple TV is a contender for my master plan; but there are snags with that device which are holding me back from getting it.  First of all, Apple charges too much for both buying and renting movies and TV shows... especially in light of this new Netflix device.  I already own a Mac mini that could be converted to similar usage as the Apple TV, and also probably offers a little more versatility.  So the Apple TV is probably out.

Unless they add a Blu Ray drive to the Apple TV.  Then you'd have a device that can manage all your digital media, and have hi-def disc capabilities.  But I still doubt I'd ever rent or buy movies from iTunes.

Which is why Netflix needs to get over this Apple incompatibility issue it's having, and allow me to use an Apple TV to watch their streaming movies.

In a perfect world, the Apple TV would have a huge hard drive and a Blu Ray player.  It could act as my satellite receiver, my DVR, my Netflix player, and play all of my DVDs and Blu Rays.  Scratch that; it would import my DVDs and Blu Rays, creating a digital library much like iTunes does with my music.  But that's not going to happen.  Not in the realm of legality, anyway.

I would settle for Blu Ray and Netflix streaming capabilities on the Apple TV.  If it could do that, I would pay up to $400 for it.  (Current retail price of a 40 GB Apple TV: $229.)  Barring that, the Netflix box will probably be the way to go.  I'll start clearing room for an 8th remote in my remote control drawer.