Digital video has its advantages over discs, but also suffers from a major flaw. I have to admit that (unlike others who are more diligent) I haven’t taken full advantage of the Netflix streaming video service, because I find that being tied to the PC screen just isn’t the most convenient location for watching movies. I do use Hulu.com a bit but still, it’s being tethered to the PC that really inhibits usage. I’ve found that I do watch a lot more anime now, though, because I can torrent the AVI files, put them on a USB jumpdrive, and watch them on my DVD player (which has a USB connection). However, that process is time-consuming since you need to download the whole video file before watching, and of course there’s the inconvenience (not to mention legal gray area) of finding torrents in the first place.
This is why Roku’s new digital video player
box is so exciting. Unlike the latest piece of s^&t from Sony, the Roku player is a simple and small box with the standard video outputs (component, HDMI) and an ethernet jack, plus built-in wifi. It connects to the internet over your home network, plugs into your TV, and brings Netflix streaming-on-demand and Amazon.com’s video store right to your living room. The concept works because it’s so simplistic and cleanly executed – it doesn’t do anything else. Even the remote is a piece of utilitarian art.
There are other ways to get Netflix streaming onto your television – for example, the Samsung BD-P2500 Blu-Ray player, which adds the streaming capability. But at $300, it’s three times the cost of the Roku (and doesn’t support Amazon). Amazon’s video store lets you rent or buy movies and television and rivals Hulu.com and the iTunes store for selection, so the Roku really almost replaces the need to go to a retail video rental store like Blockbuster in a way that Netflix alone never could.
If digital downloads are going to really kill off the physical-disc format, it won’t be until devices like Roku become mainstream. And at the price point of $99, that’s not too far off at all.