How to Navigate the Deluge of Netflix Streaming Devices

You can stream Netflix to more than 50 devices, including game consoles and HDTVs. Here's how.

Getting a movie (or an entire season of Lost) delivered in the mail used be the height of convenience, but discs are so last decade. Consumers are increasingly seeking instant satisfaction, in the form of streaming video on demand. Netflix says that 48 percent of its 12.3 million subscribers used its streaming feature in December 2009, versus just 28 percent the previous year.

(See our companion slideshow, "Netflix Inside: A Comprehensive List of Netflix Streaming Devices.")

And the trend won't stop there. Steve Swasey, Netflix's vice president for corporate communications, says that the company hopes to double the number of devices with Netflix Instant Watch Streaming to more than 100 by the end of 2010. The products we know about include the Sony Dash tablet, the D-Link Boxee Box, the Nintendo Wii, Philips Blu-ray players, and Syabas Technology's Popbox (successor to the Popcorn Hour media streamer).

Swasey also told us that Netflix plans to add more titles to its streaming library this year, focusing on "meaningful and relevant" material that people want to watch.

To that end, the company just signed a deal with Warner Bros. that allows it to offer a wider range of Warner Bros. content through its streaming service. But where there's give, there's also take, and the trade-off in this case is rather unfortunate: Consumers now have to wait 28 days after a Warner Bros. DVD's initial release before the title is available on Netflix. (Warner has also pressured Redbox into a similar deal.)

Another consideration: Right now, only about 6 percent of Netflix's streaming catalog is in high definition (roughly 1000 out of 17,000 titles, Swasey said in a recent interview). And by HD, we mean 720p--regrettably, 1080p support is not planned for this year, though improvements such as 5.1 surround sound and closed captioning are on the way.

If you're ready to stream Netflix into your living room, the following hardware list includes the key specs you need to know. Remember, though, that not all Netflix-ready devices are created equal. Some players will let you choose new movies right on your TV, while others will allow you only to play movies you've already placed in your Instant Queue via the Netflix Website.

In addition, don't forget that you'll also need a Netflix streaming subscription. Unlimited access to watch as much as you want starts at $9 a month.

Video Game Consoles: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii

Price: Xbox 360 starts at $200, PlayStation 3 starts at $300, Wii starts at $200

Netflix selection: Full streaming library, Instant Queue

Web content: Online gaming, BD-Live (PS3 only), video rentals (PS3 and Xbox 360), YouTube

Connection: Ethernet, Wi-Fi (Xbox 360 requires Wi-Fi adapter, sold separately)

Video outputs: Component, composite, HDMI, S-Video (PS3 and Xbox 360); the Wii uses a proprietary video output

Since you may already have a game console connected to your TV, this is one of the best ways to access Netflix. Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 can already stream Netflix, and the feature is coming to the Nintendo Wii this spring. But each console has its quirks.

Microsoft currently has an exclusive deal that conveniently (and stylishly) integrates Netflix into the Xbox 360's dashboard interface. The 360 version also lets you host a virtual party-voice chat and stream a Netflix movie with up to seven friends. You will, however, need an Xbox Live Gold membership--which costs about $50 a year--on top of your existing Netflix membership. Xbox Live Gold also gives you multiplayer online gaming and advanced matchmaking features, and we've heard rumors of possible streaming access to ESPN and other premium content from Disney.

In contrast, the PlayStation 3 offers online gaming "extras" for free. To access Netflix, however, you'll have to pop in a disc that loads a basic version of the streaming interface. Thankfully, Netflix will send you the disc for free, and the company says it hopes to have an embedded solution available for PS3s via a system software update later this year.

Netflix for the Wii looks like it will also need a disc, and it has an extra drawback: no HD (the Wii is limited to 480p).

PlayOn Software

Price: $40

Web content: Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, Hulu, more

A less elegant but more affordable way to bring Netflix to your television is to use PlayOn software from Media Mall technologies. PlayOn lets you stream Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, YouTube, Hulu, and other video to your PC and then display it on your television via a Wi-Fi or ethernet connection.

Supported devices include the Xbox 360 (no Xbox Live subscription required), PlayStation 3, Wii, Moxi HD DVR, HP MediaSmart TV, Netgear Digital Entertainer Live EVA2000, and Western Digital TV Live.

Play On is free to try for 14 days; after that you have to pay a one-time licensing fee of $40. Be advised that Media Mall says it gives refunds for Play On software purchases only in exceptional circumstances, so you're better off trying out the software first to make sure that it works on your device.

Roku Digital Video Player

Price: Roku SD $80, Roku HD $100, Roku HD-XR $130

Netflix selection: Instant Queue

Web content: Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, MLB.TV, Flickr, Facebook photos, Pandora, Twit.tv, Mediafly

Network connection: Ethernet, Wi-Fi

Video outputs: Component, composite, HDMI, S-Video

If you want the original Netflix set-top box, you can choose from three models, including two high-definition devices. The differences among the three versions--the Roku SD, HD, and HD-XR--come down to the picture and wireless-signal quality. The Roku SD gives you standard definition and 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi, while the Roku HD adds an HDMI connection and high-def playback. Roku's top-of-the-line model, the Roku HD-XR, is similar to the Roku HD but uses the latest Wi-Fi standard (802.11n) for improved wireless streaming, especially on HD video.

TiVo HD DVRs

Price: TiVo HD $250, TiVo HD-XL $500, TiVo Series3 prices vary

Netflix selection: Instant Queue

Web content: Blockbuster, Amazon Video On Demand, Walt Disney Studios, Jaman, YouTube, Music Choice, more

Connection: Ethernet (Wi-Fi adapters available)

Video outputs: Component, composite, HDMI, S-Video

TiVo offers Netflix on its TiVo HD, HD-XL, and TiVo Series3 DVRs. Other Internet services available on your TiVo DVR include Blockbuster and Amazon Video On Demand, Walt Disney Studios movie rentals, international films via Jaman, YouTube, Music Choice, Fandango movie ticketing and previews, One True Media video sharing, and TiVo's own Web-video search. You can also use your TiVo box to listen to podcasts, view photos from your computer, or enjoy pictures on online services such as Photobucket and Picasa.

Insignia Blu-ray Players

Price: NS-WBRDVD $180, NS-BRDVD3 $100

Netflix selection: Full streaming library, Instant Queue

Web content: Netflix

Network connection: Ethernet, Wi-Fi (NS-WBRDVD only)

Video output: Component, composite, HDMI

The Insignia NS-WBRDVD offers Netflix streaming and BD-Live features using 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity. We gave it an overall rating of 3 stars after evaluating its performance, features, and design. Though we liked the Blu-ray player's low price, Wi-Fi connection, and startup time, we also thought that it was a little noisy; the first-time setup for the player's Wi-Fi connection seemed difficult, too.

Insignia also offers the less costly NS-BRDVD3 for Netflix streaming.

LG Blu-ray Players

Price: BD370 $250, BD390 $350

Netflix selection: Instant Queue

Web content: Netflix, YouTube, CinemaNow, Vudu (BD390 only), more

Connection: Ethernet, Wi-Fi (BD390 only)

Video output: Component, composite, HDMI

LG offers the BD370 and BD390 Blu-ray players with Netflix streaming. Of the two, only the BD390 is Wi-Fi enabled (featuring 802.11n connectivity). In our reviews, we hailed both LG Blu-ray players for their fast response times and fantastic Blu-ray image quality, but their standard DVD images left a lot to be desired.

Samsung Blu-ray Players

Price: BD-P1600 $200, BD-P3600 $300, BD-P4600 $350

Netflix selection: Instant Queue

Web content: Netflix, Pandora

Network connection: Ethernet, Wi-Fi (BD-P1600 requires wireless adapter, sold separately)

Video outputs: Composite, component, HDMI, S-Video (BD-P1600 only)

Similar to LG, Samsung has a line of Blu-ray players that offer Netflix streaming. The Samsung BD-P3600 and BD-P4600 (pictured) also include your choice of ethernet and 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi connections. The less pricey BD-P1600 doesn't come with Wi-Fi, but you can buy a peripheral wireless adapter. We recently chose the BD-P4600 as one of the greatest tech designs ever, honoring the Blu-ray player for its sleek 1.5-inch profile, 18-by-8-inch footprint, and ruby and black color combination.

Sony BDP-N460 Blu-ray Player

Price: $200

Netflix selection: Instant Queue

Web content: Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, Slacker, YouTube, Crackle

Network connection: Ethernet

Video outputs: Component, composite, HDMI

The Sony BDP-N460 does more than just stream Netflix--it also gives you access to YouTube, Amazon Video On Demand, Slacker Internet radio, and the classic-video streaming site Crackle. Sony's sole Blu-ray player with Netflix inside has an ethernet port, but if you want Wi-Fi you'll have to pay extra and pick up the Linksys Wireless Ethernet Bridge ($75 to 100).

LG Internet-Capable HDTVs

Price: $1300 to $2700

Netflix selection: Instant Queue

Web content: Netflix, Vudu, Yahoo TV Widgets, Flickr

Connection: Ethernet, Wi-Fi (see specific models for connectivity details)

Video outputs: Component, composite, HDMI/HDCP, S-Video (PS80 models only)

LG offers five different HDTVs from its LH50 and PS80 lines that feature Netflix capability. The 1080p LH50 LCD televisions have a refresh rate of 120Hz and are available in sizes of 42, 47, and 55 inches, priced at $1300, $1600, and $2500, respectively. Two 1080p plasma sets from LG's PS80 lineup offer the same streaming options as the LCD sets; the 50-inch 50PS80 is priced at $1600, and the 60-inch 60PS80 costs $2700.

For a look at one of these sets, check out our review of LG's 42LH50 HDTV.

Sony Bravia HDTVs

Price: $1119 and up

Netflix selection: Instant Queue

Web content: Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, YouTube, Sony Pictures, more

Connection: Ethernet (Wi-Fi enabled devices are slated for 2010)

Video outputs: Component, composite, HDMI, S-Video (specifications for individual models may vary)

Sony may have only one Netflix-capable Blu-ray player, but the Japanese giant makes up for that with 11 different models of Netflix-capable HDTVs from its W, XBR, and Z series; sets start around $1119. Each HDTV features a wide range of Internet streaming entertainment--from Netflix as well as from 19 other providers including Amazon, YouTube, Sports Illustrated, and Sony Pictures.

For more, read our review of the Sony Bravia KDL-40W5100, and see the complete list of Sony's Netflix-capable Bravia HDTVs.

Vizio HDTVs

Price: SV422XVT $1200, SV472SVT $1800, VF552XVT $2200

Netflix selection: Full streaming library, Instant Queue

Web content: Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, Flickr, Rhapsody, Twitter, Vudu, Yahoo TV Widgets, Blip.tv, CBS, CinemaNow, CNBC, Free Stream Media, NBC, more

Connection: Ethernet, Wi-Fi

Video outputs: Component, composite, HDMI/HDCP, S-Video (SV422XVT does not have S-Video)

Vizio offers three Internet-capable LCD HDTVs--the 55-inch VF552XVT, the 47-inch SV472XVT, and the 42-inch SV422XVT--that can use ethernet or built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi connectivity. These three sets are the first to feature Vizio's Via Internet applications program, which provides content from sources such as Netflix, Rhapsody, Amazon Video On Demand, Blockbuster on Demand, Flickr, Pandora, Vudu, Showtime, Revision 3, Radiotime, and Rallypoint Sports, plus eBay for shopping and Facebook and Twitter for social networking.

Blu-ray Home Theater Systems

Price: $550 and up

Netflix selection: Instant Queue

Web content: Netflix, CinemaNow, YouTube, Pandora (Samsung systems offer Netflix only)

Network connection: Ethernet, Wi-Fi (specifications for individual models vary)

Video outputs: Composite, component, HDMI

LG sells two home theater systems that include the same streaming services as the company's stand-alone Blu-ray players do. The LHB953 and LHB977 (pictured) provide access to Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, and Roxio's CinemaNow Internet services. Among other features are an iPod dock, an AM/FM tuner, Dolby Digital Plus 7.1, and BD-Live access.

Samsung's HT-BD1250, HT-BD3252, and HT-BD7200 Blu-ray home theater systems boast Netflix access, and 2.1-channel (BD7200) or 5.1-channel (BD3252 and BD1250) surround sound.

For more home theater advice, see the following related stories:

* Top Choices: 46- and 47-Inch HDTVs

* HDTV Buying Guide: Making Sense of the Specifications

* The Best of CES 2010

This story, "How to Navigate the Deluge of Netflix Streaming Devices" was originally published by PCWorld.

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