Home Invasion: Netflix, the Game Console and You

Written by Jon Schwarzmann on . Posted in Tech

Chances are you either have Netflix, know someone that does, or at least watched a Netflixed movie. The hugely successful online movie rental giant somewhat recently launched their “Watch Instantly” option for all their plans, giving users lightning fast access to hundreds of movies, as long as their internet connection allows it. In fact, Netflix has provided the perfect solution for my weekly movie night with Jordan Petersen, using the economical $8.99 one-at-a-time plan to rent our flick, while still allowing us to stream movies individually throughout the week. It’s the perfect fix for any cinephile.

Last year, Netflix teamed up with Microsoft to provide Xbox 360 systems the ability to stream “Watch Instantly” movies straight to your living room (Xbox Live Gold membership required, $7.99 per month).  This was a smart move by Netflix, but of course Microsoft had to get their greedy hold on such a lucrative venture, forcing Netflix to sign a two-year agreement. The details are a bit fuzzy, but it appears the deal calls for Netflix to stay away from offering their services via any other gaming consoles.

Nevertheless, Netflix wiggled their way out from under the giants thumb last month and released a disc-based streaming function for the PlayStation 3.  This move allows us to assume the agreement between Netflix and Microsoft rested on integration into competing software, especially in light of Sony promising an update to the PS3 next fall that will eliminate any need for a disc to stream movies.

The console war has been heated. Many thought the Xbox 360 would benefit greatly from its exclusivity with Netflix, due to its need for some edge over the Blu-ray capability of the PS3. Unfortunately for Microsoft, Sony’s product doesn’t require an extra subscription to use Netflix, so the playing field seems to be weighted (at least in regards to streaming video) in favor of the PS3. Some might argue having to continually insert a disc is annoying, but I’d rather not pay eight dollars a month and I do the same thing with games and movies I own already, so what’s the bother?

These developments have made streaming video content near commonplace in living rooms with these consoles in tens of thousands of homes. Both Microsoft and Sony have realized neither piece of hardware can survive solely as a gaming machinem and Netflix is just a measure they’ve taken to ensure continued sales.

Netflix has also been busy getting their product attached to others’ merchandise. They understand the proliferation of their streaming service will make them an indispensable asset to any living room. Thus, Sony and Microsoft aren’t the only ones jumping on the Netflix-streaming bandwagon. TiVo, one of the bigger DVRs services, has also gotten on-board. LG has had a Netflix-capable Blu-ray player available for a while now, and will soon be releasing the first TVs with built-in streaming ability. Samsung has a line of players as well, and Roku, which appears to be a streaming-only device, is also currently available.

While streaming movies right to your TV is certainly convenient, I have to speak out against those who prophesy the demise of DVDs or Blu-ray discs. For one, streaming does not supply any of the extra features that are a big selling point for many individuals. You may like to watch movies, but there are some (the true cinephiles) who want to learn about the entire film, not just the story told. There’s also the it factor to actually owning the movie in a physical sense.

While CD’s have felt the crushing blow of the digital revolution and the innovation of mp3 player, movies are an entirely different experience. We don’t watch them on the go and we don’t take them on runs with us; we sit down and want to have an experience. On the same token, we don’t exclusively listen to our music via streaming anyway, so how can we compare the two? What may threaten our coveted discs more immediately is the increased ability to pack movies away, one after another, onto terabyte-sized hard drives.

Nonetheless, Netflix will be in your living room eventually (if it isn’t already), making movie-watching more convenient than ever. So this holiday season, if you’re looking for a gift for that technology-minded, yet film-loving friend or family member, keep in mind these various solutions. Who knows — maybe they already have a Netflix ready device and all they lack is a subscription.

Jon Schwarzmann is a deputy technology correspondent for Rhombus.

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