Last month, TiVo pushed an update to Series 3 (HD) boxes that supports Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature. In short, Internet-connected TiVo boxes can now stream movies/TV shows from Netflix. This had been promised for years, but it’s finally here, and it’s great.
I’d previously enjoyed Amazon’s Unbox service on the TiVo, watching several movies which downloaded to the TiVo in just a few minutes. Amazon’s pricing is often better than the same movie on demand from Comcast (though Comcast is in HD, while Amazon is not), and it was pretty convenient.
But this is much, much better. I first tried Netflix in 1999, paused my subscription in 2001 and came back in 2005. I stopped using it in late 2006 after we stopped watching as many DVDs, and this announcement convinced me to try it again. First things first: kudos to Netflix for preserving all of my ratings (nearly 500 of them) – Netflix remains a terrific predictor of what films and tv shows I’ll enjoy based on past ratings; had this info been nuked when I cancelled my subscription (which would be well within their right), the service would be far less valuable to me when I went to resubscribe.
The TiVo/Netflix integration could be better: you can’t browse the Netflix library on your TV, you must do that from your computer, add movies to your “Watch Instantly queue” and then select a movie or show from your queue to watch on the TV. And the Watch Instantly Queue is apparently time-limited, so instead of putting movies in my queue that I’d like to watch eventually, I’ll have to re-load the queue to replace any movies that I didn’t get to watch by the deadline. Those quibbles aside, pulling up a movie is easy: from your TiVo menu, select “Video on Demand” and then Netflix – your movies will show up after that.
First up has been Friday Night Lights, a show I’d never seen but heard terrific things about. I’m seven episodes in, and it’s every bit as good as I’d heard. The video quality is good – not always great, there are occasional pixellations that are visible – and it’s exceedingly easy. I much prefer the all-you-can-eat pricing model to the pay-as-you-go model (like Amazon’s Unbox or Comcast On Demand): this way there’s no incremental cost to watching another show. (This is also why I love Rhapsody for music instead of buying CDs.)
Overall, I’m quite happy with this. The Watch Instantly titles are a bit more sparse than they could be (12,000 out of 100,000 titles) but that will no doubt improve with time. Since I don’t really care to have the physical DVDs mailed to me, I’d love for Netflix to offer an online-only option (right now the least expensive plan that includes online streaming is the $8.99/1 DVD at a time option), since presumably I’d be saving the company some money by not incurring any postage on the DVDs or physical distribution costs.
In any event, if you have an HD TiVo and a few bucks a month to spare, I’d strongly recommend the Netflix integration: it makes the TiVo box much more useful, and ensures you’ll have something worthwhile to watch.