Tons of features, good performance and an unbeatable price make the Roku Streaming Stick by far the best value in the increasingly busy Smart-TV add-on category.
If you already own a Smart TV—a WiFi-connected, app-enabled HDTV—you really don’t need to read this. That’s because the Roku family of devices (to which the Roku Streaming Stick is the latest addition) is for all of us poor shmoes stuck with TVs that have no way of talking to the internet and thus no way to access content providers like Netflix, Crackle, CrunchyRoll or YouTube unless we stretch a very long and trip-hazard-creating HDMI cable from our PC/laptop to our TV sets. Don’t laugh. People do that. For real.
There is obviously a better way. It took a few years for electronics companies to figure it out, but simple WiFi add-ons are finally here.
Roku’s Streaming Stick takes the best part of Roku’s earlier efforts, namely the amazing collection of hundreds of “channels” that give the Roku its ability to deliver streaming content, and pairs them up with a dead-simple receiver and an included remote control, all for the rock-bottom price of $59 CDN.
Amazon takes the proprietary route with its Fire TV set top box and gives consumers one more choice that won’t serve all of their needs.
I’ve always admired Amazon for their customer-centric view of the world. Their online shopping experience is second to none. Their customer service is superb. Their dedication to creating devices and services to meet the needs of their customers has always impressed me – especially given that the hardware space is so competitive (and littered with failures).
So I was really keen to find out what Amazon’s latest toy, the $99 Fire TV set-top box had to offer. Even though it isn’t available to Canadians currently, the U.S. version is likely a very strong indicator of what we’ll get when it arrives.
Sadly, what we’ll get is a series of compromises.
Well this just makes sense. I’ve never understood why you had to use a disc to get Netflix up and running on the Wii or the PS3 when both of these consoles support downloadable games/applications and have more than enough memory to run them. Starting today, go ahead and hit that eject button because the era of disc-based Netflix streaming is over. In Canada, PS3 owners have always had the disc-free option, but Wii users still needed the disc.
According to a blog post published today by Netflix’s VP of Product Development, Greg Peters, this change comes with an entirely new user interface as well:
In addition to removing the need for discs, we’ve developed a new user interface on both applications that significantly improves the experience. The new applications will allow you to search for content directly from the device and you’ll also be able to view an increasing portion of our content library with subtitles or alternate audio tracks.
But wait, the good news train isn’t stopping here – there’s more excitement for PS3 owners … “starting today you’ll be able to instantly watch some movies and TV shows in 1080p high definition with Dolby 5.1 channel surround sound.” Netflix said more devices would be added over time to support streaming digital surround sound – hopefully the brand-new Apple TV will be amongst the first to be upgraded.
These are both worthy developments for the recently-launched service here in Canada, however based on discussions I’ve had with people who have signed up, the real improvement that is sorely needed is an increase in the number of titles in the Canadian catalog.
One subscriber observed that there isn’t a single movie from Disney for instance, which is frustrating if you’re a parent of pre-teens.
Netflix has already committed to growing its catalog for Canadian subscribers, but there has been no announcement regarding how soon or how many titles will be added.
So Sync readers – especially those of you who have subscribed to Netflix, what do you make of these announcements? Have you tried the new interface and if so, is it the improvement that Netflix claims?
Today’s the day many Canadians have been waiting for. Netflix, the company that offers unlimited DVD and Blu-ray rentals in the U.S., has opened their virtual doors in Canada. While their product at launch isn’t exactly the same as south of the border, it is the first service of its kind and promises to shake up the video landscape. Here’s what was announced:
- $7.99 CDN per month gets you unlimited access to Netflix’s online movie and TV database
- First month free
- 1/3 of the content that is available can be streamed in HD
- There is no disc-based option at this time (streaming over the internet only)
- Service is supported immediately on Wii, PS3, PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch
- Xbox360 support coming later this fall
- Some Blu-ray players from Toshiba and Samsung are already compatible
- The service will work with Apple TV and several other devices once they launch in the Canadian market
- The selection of movies and TV shows (which number in the thousands) are not new releases, but older “catalog” titles
There is really only one catch to Netflix’s offer: Since ISP price-plans vary wildly in terms of how fast your connection is and what your bandwidth cap is set at, consumers have to take a close look at their web-surfing habits so that their Netflix activity doesn’t end up costing them more due to overage charges. This will be especially important to monitor if you plan on streaming HD content – it doesn’t cost any more to do so from a Netflix perspective, but these movies will eat up a lot more of your internet bandwidth.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings responded to these concerns when interviewed by the CBC. He claims that in spite of evidence to the contrary, bandwidth caps should go up, not down, over time and will eventually cease to be issue for services like Netflix.
Interestingly, Blockbuster Video earlier this week launched a new price plan presumably aimed at people who like the idea of an all-you-can-watch pricing model, but who for whatever reason aren’t interested in Netflix or aren’t able to access it: $9.99 per month will let you rent as many DVDs or Blu-ray movies as you like, one title at a time. Similar to Netflix, the selection of titles is limited to their “favourites” category, which does not include new releases.
So Sync readers, what do you think? Has Netflix created the ultimate video-watching option, or do the bandwidth issues create too much of a headache? Or perhaps you’re content with the existing options you have with your cable or satellite provider? Do you think $7.99 is the right price for a service like this even if you can’t choose from new releases?
Update: On a related note, Netflix reportedly hired a group of actors to attend the launch event today in Toronto and instructed them to “… look really excited, particularly if asked by media to do any interviews about the prospect of Netflix in Canada.” Netflix later apologized for the gaffe, saying it shouldn’t have happened.
Update Nov 1, 2010: Netflix is now available on Xbox 360 in Canada: simply click on Netflix in the Video Marketplace on the Xbox 360 Dashboard.
Netflix, Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), the leading Internet movie subscription service, today announced it will expand into Canada this fall offering unlimited movies and TV episodes streamed instantly to TVs and computers for one low monthly fee. The Canadian launch will mark the first availability of Netflix outside the United States.
Unlike Netflix in the U.S., the Canadian version appears to be streaming-only, which means that if you were hoping for some disc-based competition for Zip.ca, you’re going to have to keep waiting at least for now.
While the company has yet to announce an actual date for the service to begin, you can sign-up at netflix.ca to be notified as soon as one is released.
The service will initially be English-only but the company expects to have a French version in the future.
In the U.S., Netflix streaming is available on several devices including all three major gaming consoles, net-connected Blu-ray players, connected TVs, PCs and even Apple’s iPad.
No word yet on which of these devices will be supported here in Canada, but let’s hope they’re able to extend all of these relationships.
In case you’re not familiar with Netflix’s service, they offer a subscription-based video streaming platform which gives members the ability to watch an unlimited number of TV shows and movies, in up to 1080p HD, for one flat fee which, in the U.S. is $8.99/month.
When they launch up here in Canada, they won’t be the first service to offer streaming video, since Xbox Live and Apple’s iTunes already let people do this, but they will be the first to offer a subscription based system that is available on more than one hardware platform, making them nearly ubiquitous.
Readers, if Netflix maintains the same price point here as in the U.S., will you be signing up with them once they launch?