A set-top box that delivers streaming video from Netflix is now a reality. The Netflix Player is made by Roku, and retails for about $100. If you've got access to a broadband connection, have a Netflix rental account, and own a Roku box and some cables, you're good to go. Just not "go everywhere," yet.
Setup is simple, and--if you've got a solid broadband connection--picture quality is acceptable and streaming performance was almost entirely lag-free.
Those looking for the HD video quality and polished interface of Apple TV and Vudu will be disappointed. The Netflix Player is strictly barebones--you're not intended to do anything more than just dive in and watch the movies and TV shows you've already queued up via your online Netflix account. The biggest drawback--for now at least--is the dearth of quality content. Thanks to Hollywood's byzantine licensing system, less than 10 percent of Netflix's 100,000-plus library of titles is available for streaming to the Player. That means, for now, that only two of Netflix's top 100 DVDs are available for streaming: March of the Penguins and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
As they say, it's a killer app. This is the way of the future. Apple TV, Amazon Unbox and a few other services offer only pay-per-view, or download to own. Netflix' player makes the need for big hard drives to store video you've purchased or rented unnecessary. And if Netflix can eventually make all of the content it has for its mail-based rental service available for a set-top box, then going to a video rental store to rent a disc, or buying it and storing the disc or the file makes no sense. I imagine they all need adult diapers at Blockbuster today if they're reading this. To paraphrase from Jaws: We're gonna need a bigger Internet.