Archives For Netflix


In 2006, Netflix scored a grand slam when they announced a $1 million prize for anyone who could improve their recommendation engine by at least 10%. It took 3 years for a team of scientists to actually accomplish this feat, but the prize was ultimately worth far more than a million dollars in publicity and to Netflix’s bottom line. Better recommendations not only led to happier subscribers (less churn), but they also made it easier for Netflix to sell the niche content that they spend less money on. Recognizing the benefit that they received from the contest, Netflix was quick to announce a sequel, but ultimately had to suspend their plans over privacy concerns.

While a contest to replace Silverlight likely wouldn’t garner as much attention, I believe that the financial benefit to replacing this video platform could be just as significant.

Some will argue that I’m being tough on poor old Softie and that Silverlight represents some of the best video compression out there, but consider my logic for a moment. From where I’m sitting, Silverlight has two basic flaws: It’s buggy as all get out and it’s a bandwidth thief.

The screenshot posted above is a real life example of Silverlight in action. All video frameworks are prone to errors of course, but look at all the hoops Netflix makes their customers jump through just to support this buggy piece of software. Continue Reading…

Dave’s New “Temporary” TV

Dave Zatz —  December 4, 2010


Our big move begins today, although the movers don’t actually arrive until next Saturday, and I’ve been debating how to best handle our television situation. At the time of purchase our bedroom and living room HDTVs were top notch and reasonably sized for their respective placements (and eras). But bigger is better… Except when it’s a large tube TV I no longer want to mess with. So the current plan is to hand down the 30″ Panasonic HDTV CRT tomorrow to the in-laws for basement usage, leaving a void in our new master bedroom. Ultimately, the 42″ Panasonic plasma will move up there. But I’m not ready to research and purchase our next living room television (~55″).

So I swung by Costco yesterday looking for a smaller and economical “temporary” bedroom television. And, as you can see from the pics, I landed on a Vizio — the 22″ M221NV, for $230. It’s probably not the best display, it’s definitely not even close to good sound, but it’s Yahoo widgetized! There was a nice looking 23″ Samsung at the same price point, but I figured the integrated apps might be fun to have around. Although Sony and Google would have us think different, Internet-connected televisions aren’t a new phenomenon. In fact, the folks behind the Popcorn Hour used to build HP’s retired solution and Yahoo TV has been around a few years.

By default, a number of widgets are pre-loaded and viewable in the collapsable ticker. Not only can you add and remove apps, but I discovered you can even load custom content for a quick look – like the local weather or stock prices (see bottom right pic). I couldn’t remember my Pandora credentials and gave up on the tedious text entry, but had better luck efficiently linking Netflix. Over the integrated 802.11n connection, a few minutes of playback was super smooth and looked good. I had wanted to link my Vudu account, but it seems like I may only be able to create a new one. Will need to examine that further.


As far as what I don’t like, the remote is perhaps the worst fingerprint magnet ever. Also, it relies on the Yahoo Widget blue button to cycle through screen resolutions and viewing options – something that wasn’t apparent (as I skipped the quick start guide). Lastly, it’s not clear which apps can expand beyond a sidebar display into fullscreen or how I’d toggle it.

In the end, I assume this TV will be perfectly suitable for a few months of bedroom CNN and HGTV… and suspect we’ll also get in a decent amount of box-less video streaming. Although, we’ll save the big event content for our living room. At the end of its service period, I imagine the Vizio will become a kitchen TV or maybe an external 1080p computer display that could serve double duty for various blog projects. I continue to be amazed at how far flat panel display prices have fallen. Beyond that, it’s also pretty surprising that one can get a display with Internet-connected content for $70 less than the cheapest Google TV product.

Click to enlarge:

A major shift is taking place. The interwebs are now important enough for major content providers to start throwing their weight around online. Sure, they’ve been doing it to some extent over the last several years – networks keeping content off Hulu, broadcasters blocking video scrapers like RedLasso – but the studios are upping their game. The latest evidence is a report from Reuters that “senior executives at three of the big six television and movie studios” are looking to renegotiate their deals with Netflix. You know those 28-day DVD release windows before Netflix gets access to certain movies? The studios are looking at extending them further. And the money Netflix pays for digital rights to studio content? Increases are likely on the way. (Of course Netflix may be very willing to pay. There’s one report out that the streaming company would pay up to $100K per episode if it could get its hands on current TV line-ups.)

None of this is surprising. Just look at the retransmission wars taking place between TV networks and cable providers. As Netflix moves closer to that latter category, the company is going to start getting similar treatment. It’s just a distribution channel after all. And now that it’s a highly profitable one, the content companies are going to shorten their leashes.

There are other recent examples of networks putting pressure on digital distribution too. The limitations placed on the likes of Google TV and Boxee Box count as one example, but I also listened in at an industry event yesterday where it became clear that networks want to increase the ad loads for content online. Will Richmond of VideoNuze hosted the event with execs from MTV Networks, Comcast, and elsewhere, and one of the discussions centered on how much advertising consumers will tolerate online. The prevailing view seems to be that there’s still a lot of room for ad growth.

Don’t get me wrong – I do believe content producers and providers have a right to get paid for their work, and high-value content isn’t cheap to make. As a consumer, though, I can only sigh with resignation as I watch the online distribution channel evolve along the lines of traditional television, and hope that greed doesn’t push the pendulum too far.

Netflix recently launched a Windows Phone 7 app that lets subscribers stream “watch instantly” videos to their phones. The company has been offering this feature for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad users for a few months. But what’s up with Android? You’d think that Netflix would have released an app for the fastest growing smartphone platform before the brand-new Windows Phone 7 OS, right?

Well, as it turns out Netflix has been working on Android software. According to a recent blog post though, there’s just one problem: There’s no universal Digital Rights Management solution available for Android, which means that Netflix has to work with hardware makers on device-specific DRM technology. That process takes a lot more time than developing software that can run on all Windows Phone 7 devices — and it also means that not all Android phones will be able to run the Netflix software once it’s released early next year.

Read the rest of this entry »

Not only is Comcast planning to launch a TV remote app “very, very soon,” but CableLabs is making it possible for other cablecos with fewer resources to do the same. At the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo last week, CableLabs execs were talking up a proof of concept the organization has developed for smaller companies who want to get in on the iPad action. The technology uses an IP remote web server (SOAP in this case) to communicate to an EBIF application in a consumer set-top. It’s very similar to the Comcast implementation, but I was assured that the same functionality could be developed using any kind of web services protocol, and could even be accessed on the set-top through something other than EBIF. (OCAP/tru2way optimists live…) The remote application includes the ability to surf an integrated program guide on the iPad, search for program information, and change channels directly from the touch screen.

Setting aside whether one wants to use an iPad as a remote control, the new technology does provide an easy way for operators to push out a better electronic program guide to their subscribers. An iPad EPG not only looks better, it adds features that are sorely missing from most existing guides: the ability to merge linear and on-demand listings, more intelligent search, and greater programming detail. Operators want you to think of the iPad as a TV companion device – one that you won’t only use to watch subscription Netflix streams.


Today’s question of the day comes to us by way of Jason M:

Any chance you guys might be able to do a review of the new wifi router from Vizio? They have been shipping for a few weeks now, but official reviews are extremely scarce. They seem to be inexpensive (cheap?) for what you are getting, but I have yet to see someone go through all the specs and report on it.

Jason’s right that the Vizio XWR100 is competitively priced for a dual band 802.11n wireless router ($80). And it does feature DLNA USB streaming functionality. But, generally speaking, this market has been commoditized — most devices provide mostly the same functionality. Sure, there’s various interfaces, security features, and even range could be a consideration. However, the vast majority of people I know are simply looking for a reliable wireless connection within their homes. So, unless you’re seeking out some very specific functionality (Powerline, Time Capsule, hackability, 3G, or that DLNA), I’d say take the safe route in going with a market leader (Netgear, Cisco/Linksys, D-Link) and grab a highly rated, yet discounted, model off Amazon.

Regarding reviews in general, we’re very selective in the products we request (or purchase) as in-depth coverage is very time consuming and most gear doesn’t motivate us enough (love or hate) to take that deep dive.

As far as my household, I overpaid for an Apple Airport Extreme Base Station a few years back specifically to turn any USB printer into a wireless printer or hang a USB drive from it for network storage. But, when HP’s MediaSmart Server failed to recover my imploded Macbook, I purchased the Time Capsule AEBS variant for a higher tier of insurance. At which point, I essentially reconfigured the original AEBS as a wireless bridge for the living room — our XBox 360 and TiVo Series3 are hardwired into that AEBS, which broadcasts to/from the Time Capsule at 802.11n. Given how I consume media and what we cover here, you’d correctly assume this config successfully streams all sorts of media (video, audio, Xbox Live, Slingbox) around and beyond the home.

Starting tomorrow, PS3 owners slightly inconvenienced by running Netflix instant streaming off disc will be treated to a native app on Sony’s more-than-gaming platform. And it’s not just any ole’ Netflix app, as this will be the first to feature (up to) 1080p video content and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Score! Even if you don’t own PS3 hardware, all signs point to these AV improvements landing on additional platforms.

From the official Playstation Blog:

In addition to eliminating the disc, there is a new user interface that brings a much richer and faster browsing experience, content search directly on the device, and dramatic improvements in how fast playback starts.

From the Netflix Dolby press release:

Beginning October 18, the PlayStation®3 (PS3™) computer entertainment system from Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc. will be the first consumer electronics device to support 5.1-channel surround sound on movies streamed from Netflix. Netflix said more devices would be added over time to support streaming digital surround sound.

(Thanks, Eric!)

This week in Department of the Obvious, we find Blockbuster filing for bankruptcy. The only possible surprise is that it took this long. As chapter 11 was the inevitable outcome after failing to modernize their operation quickly enough and, in my experience, providing years of poor customer service. Fortunately, for them, they intend to emerge from bankruptcy proceedings having shed a ton of debt and still in business. As I tweeted yesterday, “The smart moves for Blockbuster are to shutter stores & double down on kiosks.” They’ve got a well-known, if sullied, brand and should work additional licensing deals to preserve their legacy and the business. Whatever that business turns out to be.

And on the other end of the spectrum… Netlflix, who has done a rather masterful job navigating these uncharted waters, confirmed the obvious: “We are looking at adding a streaming-only option for the USA over the coming months.” No surprise there — Netflix has repeatedly stated they expect digital video streaming usage to continue increasing, as shipments of physical DVDs ultimately decrease. The only challenge they’ll have is pricing such a service. Right now, the $9/mo single disc rental package includes unlimited online playback. And I can’t imagine they could take a digital-only package much lower. For comparison, the new discless Canadian subscription runs $8/month CAD. Unfortunately, at these price points, I fear we’ll continue to miss out on premium new releases.