Roku Netflix Player upgrade in the works
Christopher Null: The Working Guy
Wed Jul 9, 2008
Has the battle to create a dream product to link online digital media to the TV quietly been won? Despite competition from just about everyone—Vudu, Apple, TiVo, Xbox, and more—humble Roku, which released its Netflix Player set-top box barely over a month ago (making it a distant latecomer to the game), sold out of its first shipment in three weeks. Demand is so strong that the company is air-freighting new units to the U.S. in order to keep up.
Almost thrown off as an aside in a Forbes story about Netflix's online ambitions, Roku VP Tim Twerdahl mentions that later this year the $99 box will be upgraded to stream content from other providers aside from Netflix. That would make it the first major set-top box to hook into multiple services and could turn what is already a very good product into a category killer.
Even without the extra features, the Roku box is already a hit, and I think it's because it's embraced the idea of simplicity. There's nothing complicated or even sophisticated about the Netflix Player. There's no display on the box, and the remote control is reminiscent of the original Zenith "clicker." Next to famously "simple" products like TiVo and the Apple TV, the Roku player makes them look like baffling mainframe computers in comparison. Anyone who can plug in their television should have no problem setting up the device.
Naturally, the price is another huge boon for the product. At $99, it's cheaper than dinner and a movie. Since the service is free if you already have a Netflix account, what possible objections could anyone have to hooking one up?
Add in more streaming options and the Roku gets even better. Roku teases us by not mentioning exactly what services it will link to, though; they are described only as "other 'big name' providers." My only concern is that the box needs to retain its simple nature. If I have to input a credit card number using a remote with no number buttons on it, I'll unplug it in disgust.
Meanwhile, Netflix is wasting time with other set-top box providers (including Microsoft's Xbox), all of which is just a distraction that keeps it from adding to its 10,000-movie library available for streaming. Does anyone really watch movies on the Xbox 360 as it is? The fan is so loud it drowns out the dialogue.
Memo to Netflix: Stick with the Roku. Expand the library. Dominate the market.