Where TV and Internet collide

25 Dec

October 25, 2010

By Geoff Meeker

In recent weeks, there have been two new additions to the TV landscape, which – according to the marketing – are must-haves for serious channel surfers.

But what’s the real story? Is it the truth, or just a bunch of static? Grab the remote, and let’s take a closer look at Netflix and Apple TV.

Netflix

Netflix is a web-based movie channel that streams a variety of movies to your computer and, with minimal fuss, to your TV set. (It was launched several years ago in the U.S., but only became available recently in Canada.) The ads promise thousands of movies, new and old, for just $7.99 a month.

Yeah, for the price of two rentals, you can watch unlimited films… as many as you can squeeze into your day. What’s more, the first month is free, so you can take this baby for a decent test drive before paying the monthly fee. And you can cancel anytime.

Signing up is easy. They do want your Visa number, and the onus is on you to cancel after 30 days, or you start paying automatically. But it took just minutes to fill out the online form (at netflix.ca) and, just like that, I was browsing and playing movies.

It works like a charm on my iMac computer, and the image quality is good (though not as crisp as HD on your TV).  To watch Netflix on your TV set, you need a Wii, PS3 or Xbox game console with an Internet connection – which most gamers already have. Some Blu-ray DVD players can also serve as a Netflix interface.

As well, TV manufacturers are building more and more ‘Internet-ready’ sets. If buying a new TV, I highly recommend you seek out this feature, and ask about its limitations.

So here’s the big question: Is it worth the effort, and $8 a month? After spending some time browsing the library of titles available, I’ve concluded that many will be disappointed by Netflix.

The big problem is the lack of Hollywood blockbusters – especially any recent ones. The movies are broken down by genre, so this problem is readily apparent when you click on ‘New Arrivals’. I expected some box office hits from early this year, and certainly many from last year. But there were none. Not one. Nada.

There were a few recent releases, but all were obscure productions I had never heard of.

So we need to get that out of the way, right off the top: If you want the latest movies, soon after they go to DVD, head for your local video store, or perhaps browse the pay-per-view channels, because you are not going to find them here.

That said, if you like B-movies, or want to see old films that are hard to find at the video store, you are going to enjoy Netflix. There’s a great selection of documentaries, classics, horror, romance, comedy, and more – enough to keep film buffs curled up on the couch for many hours.

But if you want the latest blockbusters, give it a pass.

Apple TV

For a bunch of good reasons, Apple TV fizzled when first launched in 2007. Now it’s back, with a new, improved, cheaper ($119) and much smaller piece of hardware.

I was never sure what Apple TV was all about. What more could a TV viewer need, than a PVR, a good selection of cable channels and pay-per-view?

I read online reviews of Apple TV at several credible tech sites, and have decided against buying the technology for now.

Apple TV’s main claim to fame is its rental service, through iTunes, of the latest TV shows and movies (roughly $1 for TV episodes and $5 for movies). However, the selection is limited at this time by the number of studios who are feeding content to Apple.

Essentially, Apple TV serves as an interface between your computer and TV set, allowing you to stream video and audio from hard drive (and Internet) to TV.

On the plus side, Apple TV is easy to use. You log in to your iTunes account, and it pretty much does the rest. You can stream Netflix through it. It has great image and audio quality.

The real question is, can Apple TV replace your PVR and cable? At this time, due to content restrictions, I say no. But this is a smart little device, and Apple is clearly making progress toward that goal…

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted atwww.thetelegram.com.

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