Inside The Tech Of The Netflix Player With Roku

A little over a week ago, Netflix unveiled a set-top box for watching on-demand movies and TV. The content box -- dubbed the "Netflix Player" -- was developed by the ingenious team at Roku.

We were curious about the box and how it came to be, so we chatted with Tim Twerdahl, the VP of Consumer Products for Roku. Tim told us a little about the guts of the box, the future of the set-top box, and what he's watching now. Here's what we found out...

Hey Tim, what powers the Player?

Tim: It's running on Linux and we're using an NXP core processor. I'm not really deep into the tech side of things, but the version of Linux it's running is not off-the-shelf.

Is there a storage device in the player?

Tim:  There's no hard drive. We're just using flash memory.

Why's that?

Tim:  Well, three reasons. For one, there's cost involved with putting a hard drive in each box and we really wanted to hit the $99 price point. Second, we wanted to avoid any failure issues associated with hard disk storage. Third, we've heard feedback from home theater purists who said that they don't want to hear fan noise.

Is that right?

Tim:  Yep. Quite a few people don't want to hear the hum of a fan in the background while watching TV.

How did the Netflix Player come to be?

Netflix has been interested in the idea of doing a set-top box for some time. They've also been working with Anthony Wood, the CEO of Roku for some time.

Before it launched, the box and about 20 employees were spun out to Roku for two reasons. One, it leaves Netflix an open to work with other hardware providers.  Two, it also allows Roku to seek out other content providers to put their content on the Roku box.

What's the future for the product?

Tim:  We're talking to all big web video providers right now. Of course, I can't go into specifics -- but we are looking into a number of ideas.

How big is the entertainment library going to get?

Tim:  Well, less than year ago Netflix had 3,000 titles available through their online streaming service. When we launched the Player, we went out with 10,000 titles available. So, I'd say we're on a great trajectory.

Will Netflix's recommendation engine be integrated with the player?

Tim: You can rate content on the box to help guide the recommendation engine, but recommendations are presented on the website where you go to select content for your instant queue. All Netflix subscribers now have
two queues available on the Netflix site -- a DVD queue and an instant queue. Ultimately, the decision was to keep simplicity in the living room and push complexity to the website.

What's the response been?

Tim:  Initial demand has been tremendous. We're sold out currently and we're running on about a  two week back order. The promoter in me wants to tell people to sign up now and get their names on the list.


How does Netflix decide what content to add to the service?

Tim:  Right now, they prioritize by looking at what's popular in the DVD queues of subscribers. Then, they try and get the digital rights for those DVDs. They're leveraging the data they have on what's popular to gauge their next moves.

Can users request new movies/tv shows to be added?

Tim:  Right now, no. But it's a great idea. I'll pass it along.

What have you been watching on your Netflix Player lately?

Tim:  I've been catching up on season 2 of Weeds. I'm really into it right now.

Thanks for your time and the sharing your insight, Tim!

Tags:  Tech, Roku, Netflix, Play, Player, etf, PLA, id, K