My partner has a movie subscription with Netflix. It is the basic one in which he can have endless DVDs so long as he plays and returns them one at a time. So, in between watching and sending back and forth through the mail, I think he watches about 8 movies a month. Now, as some of my dear readers know, Netflix also has an online play now option. It is included with the DVD subscription and you can play as many movies as you want. That is, so long as you are confined to be in front of your computer, and you are happy with the selection of available movies (well, mostly older ones). My partner is someone whose movie viewing habits are difficult to change. I doubt he will ever watch a video clip in front of a computer screen.
This week, I decided to embark on a new experiment. I picked up a story in the New York Times about changing viewing habits and that Netflix has a box that streams movies directly to the TV. The Roku box. To start with, I believe the marketers got the entry price right – $100. Second, who does not want free movies? All the movies that Netflix can provide online can be played through the Roku box…and at 720p. So, with visions about cutting part of my cable programming service, I decided to buy the Roku box.
So far it has been a great experience. Having been used to sporadic YouTube downloads in my computer; I wondered how the Roku box would behave given that the main TV was downstairs and away from the WIFI router. No worries here. But for the initial 4 to 5 seconds download delay, the movies played perfectly. The amazing thing is that I could now treat the selected movies as if I was watching TV, flipping among them. The software is intelligent enough to remember where I stopped on each of them and continue from there. In a sense, it is like a multiple disks DVD player. The Apple TV box should have been like this to start with. But Apple missed an opportunity. Its box is double the price and there is no much free content, expect for the video podcasts (hint to Apple, the idea of free video podcasts of TV programs is a winner).
I am sure that the Roku will become an extremely successful tool to deliver video content. The company is now in the process of obtaining other content providers. So long as these new providers keep the price low, I predict is a win-win situation. I hope that the cable companies take notice. They have bee raising their monthly subscription fees, behaving like classic monopolies. I wish they will view this new competition as a warning about pricing themselves out of the market. But I fear, as my friend said, they will just simply increase the fee for providing Internet connection.