In case you didn’t hear, Microsoft announced a partnership with Netflix a week ago or so that’ll allow all Gold Xbox Live customers to stream Netflix’s 10,000+ movies (it’s actually 12,000 now) and TV shows to their Xbox 360. My initial reaction was that it’ll render their stand alone player obsolete for many. After using the Netflix Player for 4 weeks I say ‘on the contrary my dear Watson’.
What does the Netflix Player do?
The Netflix Player allows you to stream (not download) over 10,000+ movies and TV shows directly to your TV. You just need a broadband connection and a Netflix subscription of $8.99 or higher.
What’s the video quality like and does it take time to load a movie?
I have a 6Mbps download connection from Time Warner and I experienced absolutely no lag in service or video quality. Speaking of which the video quality is almost DVD, but lacks the final sharpness. On my broadband connection it took about 10 – 15 seconds to get a movie going. If I fast forwarded more then a few ‘frames’, the process would start over again. I should note that fast forwarding with the Netflix Player isn’t like a DVD or VHS. The system uses tiny little chapters, or mile markers, which are represented by a still image. As you scan forward or backwards you see the still image, which probably represent about 30 seconds of footage.
Any problems or glitches?
Just recently the Netflix service went down and I wasn’t able to play any movies. Once the service came back I had to ‘reactivate’ the box. Reactivation requires you to login to your account via a computer, visit the on screen landing page’s URL and input the ‘access code’ displayed on your TV. This insures that the accounts are synced correctly. I experienced one other instance where the box wouldn’t play movies and I had to turn it off and then back on. This also made me reverify the Netflix Player. A bit frustrating but a simple and quick process I was willing to over look as a major drawback.
How’s the sound quality?
I tested the Netflix Player out using standard composite plugs. Once a movie actually began playing the sound was far louder than the menus’ sound effects or my cable’s audio. Other than that, the sound was fine. I did notice a little ‘crack and pop’ while watching ‘Ghost in the Shell’, but I believe that that could be attributed to the movie’s age and import quality.
What kind of inputs and hardware are available on the Netflix Player?
I was actually pretty surprised with the options considering the player’s small size. On the rear of the box there is the following: HDMI out, Optical Audio out, composite out, component and S-video outs. Oh yeah, there’s also an Ethernet port, which mind you isn’t necessary if you have a wireless network, since the Netflix Player includes that functionality. Since the Netflix Player only displays in standard definition, I didn’t see the point of hooking up the HDMI, but nonetheless it would’ve provided a cleaner signal to my 42-inch Plasma.
Can I add movies to my queue using the Netflix Player?
Nope. You have to login to your account via your computer and add them there. I found this to be a frustrating and probably the player’s biggest drawback, but this would probably be a cumbersome process given the remote’s lack of buttons (see my next QA for more info on that).
There’s no on/off switch. Yup, it stays on all the time. But thankfully the folks at Roku know what they’re doing and unlike my Macbook the Netflix Player emits ZERO noise. You heard me right, NO FAN NOISE. The included remote is somewhat limited in feature set, but actually ideal for the Netflix Player. It features play/pause, fast forward, rewind, home button, and a directional pad for navigating the simple and easy to use Netflix Player menu. As mentioned previously, you can’t add movies to your queue so there isn’t an alpha numeric keypad.
Should I buy it?
It all depends on what kind of user you are. If you’ve already got a PC media center hooked up to your living room’s TV than you can already stream Netflix. If you’re a Mac user like me or like the simplicity and convenience of having a stand alone and dedicated box than the Netflix Player is a promising addition to your home theater. Keep in mind the Xbox 360 will similar capabilities as the Netflix Player in the near future (more info here) but won’t achieve fanless operation and lower power consumption.
You can buy the Netflix Player here
You can sign up for Netflix here