Sigh, Another Box

I'm happy and sad. The recently announced Netflix Player, by Roku, seems like something I would have ordered the second I saw it. I've been a Netflix customer nearly as long as they've been around. I talk up their service to anyone who will listen. I eagerly joined in on the Watch Now beta testing, and put up with the new client downloads seemingly every time I watched something. I even keep a Windows partition around on my MacBook, just so I can have IE and watch now capability (no Parallels on the MacBook).

Then there's my good buddy Roku. Well, it's more like a friend of a friend. The founder of Roku, Anthony Wood, is the man that gave us the ReplayTV, and it is well documented how much I love that thing.

So we have Netflix and Roku...together. They give us a fairly priced, one time cost, little box that will let me watch Netflix movies on my TV with no computer involved. This should be awesome...but it's not.

It's another box. I don't want another box. The days of a towering electronics stack being cool are long gone. I was there. I wanted to buy a separate CD player from my DVD player because it would be better and it would look sophisticated and privileged. I don't care about that sort of thing anymore. I want my hardware to blend in with the furniture. I want it elegant, but minimal. I want fewer things to dust. Fewer cords to plug-in. Fewer remotes to handle. Fewer interfaces to tolerate (most of them suck).

So what happened Netflix? We saw reports that you were bringing your service directly to the TV. Is that still coming? That's where it's at for the end game. No extra boxes. Just a service in the box. TVs are frickin finally getting smarter. Samsung's InfoLink looks pretty interesting for a start. RSS feeds for stocks and weather. Sounds familiar.

I think Apple has Netflix beat on everything but the price with their Apple TV. The Apple TV isn't just a movie box. It's a content box, with movies being one of the content types. Apple is pushing hard for you to buy stuff through the Apple TV, but is quite capable without spending a penny. I love its ability to subscribe to video podcasts. Where's that feature Roku? I love that it can play YouTube and view Flickr. Can't Netflix make these partnerships too?

Did I mention the Roku box is fugly? I'm eager to see what the other hardware vendors that have deals with Netflix will bring. The Roku box looks like a Radio Shack composite video switcher from the 90s.

The thing that kills me is that even though this thing is ugly and another box, I still want to buy one because that crappy experience will be amazingly pleasant compared to the crappy experience of booting a whole other OS just to access Netflix content and then sit at my computer desk for 2 hours.


Jason said...

Some other thoughts:

The pricepoint really is right, and being able to leave the computer and monitor behind for the TV is a huge benefit in my mind. However, the ugly box, lack of navigation GUI (other than to move around in your existing queue), and lack of HD in the initial software make me not even consider this early adopter offering.

I have heard we might see as many as 5 similar boxes before the end of the year, so I'm sure one of those will get it right. This seems fairly simple in my mind.

I don't actually want this stuff in my TV, I want my TV to be a dumb display. On the other hand, I also don't want a plethora of ugly boxes to plug in.

More and more I think a powerful Mac Mini is the right path. Let's make all of these services simply be software packages that install on the Mini, that is sitting as the sole box on the TV (along with a connected TV tuner and giant hard drive most likely).

---ryan said...

I agree with Jason on many of these. Like usual, my mind outruns my desire to type things up in a way I'll still be marginally proud of 6 months later.

Price point - absolutely. $100 is fantastic and even approaches impulse buy for folks that are into gadgets and movies.

UI - The UI looks reasonable in the screenshots, but how can you screw up next movie, previous movie, play? The functionality is very limited, which is a good thing when designing UIs. Limiting the user to things they've already put in their queue is an interesting choice to keep it simple through restriction, but then makes you run back to your computer when you don't see anything in your queue that you like.

Monitor vs. SuperTV - Most of me really hopes the TV wars are slowing down. The rest of me knows that Samsung, Sony, and the rest have revenue numbers to meet and will continue to crank out new display technology to keep that churn in effect. I can agree with the idea of *1* box hooked up to the TV. That allows for upgrades to either side independently. Anything beyond 1 and I start to get grumbly.