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Thursday, June 05, 2008, 05:55 am PT (08:55 am ET)

Review: Netflix Player vs Apple TV


New and Premium Content

That's really the biggest downside to the Netflix Watch Instantly service: the selection is fairly limited unless you're a big fan of obscure movies. There aren't very many newer or more popular titles available for streaming and no HD content yet. Foreign films and documentaries are well represented however, including a number of engaging Red Envelope Entertainment titles produced by Netflix itself, many of which are award winning political or human interest titles.

Even most of Netflix's popular TV shows aren't available to watch on demand. For example, Family Guy, The Sopranos, Strangers with Candy, and Reno 911 are all only available from Netflix on DVD, but you can watch the L Word, Weeds, the Office (both BBC and US versions), and Fat Actress (if you dare) from the Roku box. Most TV shows only have older seasons available within Watch Instantly, with no episodes more recent than 2006.



With Apple TV, the primary focus is on new movies (available at DVD release) and TV (the day after airing), but you must reach into your pocket to rent or download them. Because Apple TV also serves up user content (such as home movies, photos, and music), alternative content (podcasts, shared Web Gallery, and YouTube) and the latest release HD movies, there is really minimal overlap between what it does and the Roku box.

For that reason (in addition to cabling simplicity), it would be great to see both products converged into a single device that offered downloads, rentals, all you can watch subscription content, and access to user and alternative content. Until then, users will have to weigh their specific needs against Apple TV and Roku's box to determine which box, both, or neither is right for them.

Rating: 3 of 5
3 Stars


Pros
Easy to setup and use
Fairly cheap hardware purchase
Watch Instantly service is great deal for existing Netflix users
Fairly decent video quality, with a 720p firmware update promised
30 day money back guarantee
Works with both standard TV and HDTV sets

Cons
Content is currently limited to mostly older, foreign, and obscure titles
Cheaply designed box is pretty basic looking
Requires ordering content from the web on a separate computer
No hard drive to buffer or store content
Requires a fast network connection

Products Mentioned
Roku The Netflix Player
Netflix Netflix Ready Devices
Apple TV (Review: Part 1, Part 2)