Tagged: PC

Netflix launches in Canada

NetflixToday’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.

Consumers are confused about netbooks

Ok, so the child is actually holding a DVD player. But a netbook is nearly the same size.

Ok, so the child is actually holding a DVD player. But a netbook is nearly the same size.

Since Asus started the netbook craze a little over two years ago with their diminutive Eee PC, the netbook category has exploded. Nearly ever major PC brand (with the notable exception of Apple) has one, and prices have continued to drop as features and screen sizes have grown.

It’s no surprise that these little machines have become a hit: most models offer Windows XP, a 9″ or larger screen, built-in Wi-Fi, webcam, media card reader and a power-sipping processor that can last 5 hours or more on a a 3-cell battery. Higher-end models offer Solid State Drives, Bluetooth and multi-touch functionality. All this, starting at around $300.

There’s no doubt, netbooks offer superb value and portability for the money. So why then are a whopping 30% of all netbook purchases returned to the retailer where they were sold? The number comes from a recent Yankee Group report which concludes that consumers just aren’t well enough informed about the performance characteristics of netbooks before they buy.

Surprisingly, these consumers are not walking in to their local big box electronics retailer on a whim, and buying the first PC they see under $400. The same report claims that “consumers typically make a buying decision about a particular brand after hours, days or weeks of research—long before they ever walk into a store to purchase an item.”

If consumers are doing such due diligence yet are still unsatisfied with their purchase, it means that PC manufacturers, and all of us in the media, are doing a poor job educating buyers about netbooks before they even begin their research into which model is right for them.

The way to correct this apparent confusion is to start with some defintions that are meaningful to the average consumer. What is a netbook and what are the real differences between netbooks and their look-alike, but larger cousins, the laptops (or notebooks)?

Intel, the maker of the chips that are used in the vast majority of netbooks and notebooks, coined the term and has used it ever since to describe ultra-portable PCs that use their Atom processor. If we go with that as a starting point, any portable PC equipped with an Atom processor is a netbook, whereas any other CPU will make it a notebook.

But why does the processor matter? Aren’t size, weight, feature set etc. all important factors in identifying netbooks? Yes and no. While it’s true that most netbooks are small, with screen sizes never larger than 12″, and thin (often 1.5″ 1.5 cm thick) and light (some even as light as 2 lbs), it’s also true that they are no match for a notebook in the brains department.

And regardless how small and cheap a PC may be, if it can’t run all the software you could normally run (in the way that you normally run it) it’s not a notebook.

Well that sounds pretty clear: Atom processor = netbook, anything else = notebook. Right? Well…

It turns out that while Intel feels the netbook label is all about the CPU, other experts and some manufacturers disagree.

Sony just announced a machine they say is the world’s lightest laptop: the Vaio X.

And if the price is anything to go on, I’d have to agree. At $1300 it had better not be a netbook. But guess which processor is under the hood of this baby? Yup. An Intel Atom.

CNET, as recently as August of this year, argued that we should do away with the moniker altogether, claiming that “Netbooks are nothing more than smaller, cheaper notebooks,” and that “the distinction between the two can now be considered little more than marketing speak.” 

The same article doesn’t mention anything about the difference in processing power between the two categories, which is a shame, because it can really make a difference. How much depends on the CPU comparison, but Tom’s Hardware benchmarked the Atom against a fairly slow Celeron chip, and the Atom did not fare well. The Celeron was 35% faster, across the board. Remember the Vaio X? Still wondering about that $1300 price tag? Me too.

That sounds like a real knock against the Atom, but when you consider that the Atom consumes far less power than the Celeron, things begin to make sense, and it brings us back to the reason why netbooks are appealing despite their lack of processing power:  Their tiny size, and super-efficient internal components means that though they aren’t workhorses, they can go much longer without plugging in to a wall.

What consumers should remember is that while the line is blurring between netbooks and notebooks, there are some real differences in terms of performance. Want a super-portable PC that can give you quick and easy net access from a Wi-Fi hotspot so you can check your mail, surf the web, watch some videos and stay up-to-date on Facebook? Want to go up to a whole day without a recharge? Get a netbook.

But if you need a portable PC that can mutli-task, edit video, play 3D games, run Photoshop and do it all without grinding to a halt, you want a notebook.

Gorgeous: Thermaltake Level 10

level-10-angledIt’s not often that I find myself wanting a desktop computer these days. After finally getting rid of my aging desktop PC last year in favour of a 17″ Dell laptop, I’ve been perfectly happy without a big box taking up space under my ridiculously small home office desk.

And yet, every now and then, a product comes around that screams so loudly at my geek soul that I experience a moment of pause while I reconsider my new allegiance to portability.

Today, that product is Thermaltake’s Level 10 Case. In a word: stunning.

The black tower made of extruded aluminum, with its red striping and lighting accents evokes imagery ranging from 2001: A Space Odyssey to the exquisitely designed digital cameras systems made by RED. And that’s just the cosmetics.

On the practical side, this beast has hot-swappable SATA drive enclosures, separate compartments for every major component and an integrated cooling system that is both effective and silent.

The Level 10 should be available for purchase later this month at an estimated price of $700 USD, which will put a huge dent in the pocketbooks of those whose hearts have been stolen. That is, if they can get their hands on one. Given the general reaction that geek sites like Maximum PC are having to the Level 10, it may be in short supply.

More photos for you to drool over…

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