Archives For Netflix

The folks at Netflix ran a most interesting post yesterday on the company’s technical blog (via ReadWriteWeb). According to the director of engineering, one Netflix device is responsible for roughly 50% of total API calls. The same device, however, isn’t responsible for a comparable level of streaming traffic. In order to cut down on the “chattiness” level, the Netflix team is looking at redesigning the API for greater efficiency. And while the engineers are at it, they figure they’ll play with reducing overall payload (bits delivered) at the same time.

It’s great that Netflix is planning to improve its API, but the story certainly makes me wonder: which Netflix device is causing all that trouble? Is it one that continually drops signal, as some have reported with their TiVo boxes? Or is it one with a more advanced and therefore more demanding UI, like Dave’s favorite, the PS3? Netflix certainly won’t name names, but perhaps somebody else out there has an educated guess. I’d say it’s not the Roku given how long the little-box-that-could has been out, and the fact that API requests started seriously spiking only a few months ago. Anyone else willing to speculate?

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ZNF friend Tech of the Hub has round up a variety of Netflix streaming hardware for comparison. They’re not the first to go down this path, but they are the most recent. Although I’d have liked to see an Xbox 360 in the mix, the Roku, Apple TV, Wii, PS3, and TiVo analysis is thorough… if subjective in many respects.

Tech of the Hub concludes the Apple TV provides the best experience. However, I’d argue the continually updated HTML5 PS3 UI and higher quality content puts it at the head of the pack. And we can probably all agree that TiVo has the most dated Netflix interface, yet the app’s limitations are significantly offset via TiVo’s universal search capabilities and “input one” position on the television.

At the end of the day, the best Netflix player is the one you have around. Fortunately there are quite possibly hundreds of devices to choose from.

Boxee announced today that its Netflix app has been delayed because of Netflix security requirements, and I joked on Twitter that maybe the company’s misfortunes are the fault of the “oxi” sound in its name. After all, Moxi didn’t do too well with its retail efforts either.

However, in thinking about it further, I realized there are other parallels worth drawing between Boxee and Moxi. Both companies introduced revolutionary products that got a lot of people jazzed about a new paradigm for watching TV. Both ran into challenges around content security – Boxee with content distributors/producers, including Netflix, and Moxi with CableCARD. (CableCARD installation issues hamper retail DVR success, and Moxi initially also had no VOD offering because of CableCARD limitations.) Both companies got their products to market after multiple delays, but missed the window when their products were truly innovation leaders.

Perhaps Boxee can succeed where Moxi has failed. But as the GigaOM folks point out, it’s always a challenge to meet the demands of a conservative content industry while still appealing to early-adopter consumers. Netflix has managed it so far, but only by getting the timing just right. Boxee has to do the same.


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Netflix will be publishing ISP performance stats, in regards to HD streaming rates, and their first batch is up. While the chart is colorful and somewhat interesting to ponder, I’m not quite sure anything of significance can be divined from these numbers (nor am I clear on Netflix’s objective here).  The typical assumptions appear to play out… cable is generally faster than DSL which is generally faster than (throttled) wireless. As a customer, I’d think performance would be dependent upon and identified via one’s data plan… and one’s home network, which Netflix may not be in a position to monitor. Additionally, they’re not breaking out DSL versus fiber connection from a company like Verizon that offers both.

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In 2006, Netflix scored a grand slam when they announced a $1 million prize for anyone who could improve their recommendation engine by at least 10%. It took 3 years for a team of scientists to actually accomplish this feat, but the prize was ultimately worth far more than a million dollars in publicity and to Netflix’s bottom line. Better recommendations not only led to happier subscribers (less churn), but they also made it easier for Netflix to sell the niche content that they spend less money on. Recognizing the benefit that they received from the contest, Netflix was quick to announce a sequel, but ultimately had to suspend their plans over privacy concerns.

While a contest to replace Silverlight likely wouldn’t garner as much attention, I believe that the financial benefit to replacing this video platform could be just as significant.

Some will argue that I’m being tough on poor old Softie and that Silverlight represents some of the best video compression out there, but consider my logic for a moment. From where I’m sitting, Silverlight has two basic flaws: It’s buggy as all get out and it’s a bandwidth thief.

The screenshot posted above is a real life example of Silverlight in action. All video frameworks are prone to errors of course, but look at all the hoops Netflix makes their customers jump through just to support this buggy piece of software. Continue Reading…

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Our big move begins today, although the movers don’t actually arrive until next Saturday, and I’ve been debating how to best handle our television situation. At the time of purchase our bedroom and living room HDTVs were top notch and reasonably sized for their respective placements (and eras). But bigger is better… Except when it’s a large tube TV I no longer want to mess with. So the current plan is to hand down the 30″ Panasonic HDTV CRT tomorrow to the in-laws for basement usage, leaving a void in our new master bedroom. Ultimately, the 42″ Panasonic plasma will move up there. But I’m not ready to research and purchase our next living room television (~55″).

So I swung by Costco yesterday looking for a smaller and economical “temporary” bedroom television. And, as you can see from the pics, I landed on a Vizio — the 22″ M221NV, for $230. It’s probably not the best display, it’s definitely not even close to good sound, but it’s Yahoo widgetized! There was a nice looking 23″ Samsung at the same price point, but I figured the integrated apps might be fun to have around. Although Sony and Google would have us think different, Internet-connected televisions aren’t a new phenomenon. In fact, the folks behind the Popcorn Hour used to build HP’s retired solution and Yahoo TV has been around a few years.

By default, a number of widgets are pre-loaded and viewable in the collapsable ticker. Not only can you add and remove apps, but I discovered you can even load custom content for a quick look – like the local weather or stock prices (see bottom right pic). I couldn’t remember my Pandora credentials and gave up on the tedious text entry, but had better luck efficiently linking Netflix. Over the integrated 802.11n connection, a few minutes of playback was super smooth and looked good. I had wanted to link my Vudu account, but it seems like I may only be able to create a new one. Will need to examine that further.

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As far as what I don’t like, the remote is perhaps the worst fingerprint magnet ever. Also, it relies on the Yahoo Widget blue button to cycle through screen resolutions and viewing options – something that wasn’t apparent (as I skipped the quick start guide). Lastly, it’s not clear which apps can expand beyond a sidebar display into fullscreen or how I’d toggle it.

In the end, I assume this TV will be perfectly suitable for a few months of bedroom CNN and HGTV… and suspect we’ll also get in a decent amount of box-less video streaming. Although, we’ll save the big event content for our living room. At the end of its service period, I imagine the Vizio will become a kitchen TV or maybe an external 1080p computer display that could serve double duty for various blog projects. I continue to be amazed at how far flat panel display prices have fallen. Beyond that, it’s also pretty surprising that one can get a display with Internet-connected content for $70 less than the cheapest Google TV product.

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A major shift is taking place. The interwebs are now important enough for major content providers to start throwing their weight around online. Sure, they’ve been doing it to some extent over the last several years – networks keeping content off Hulu, broadcasters blocking video scrapers like RedLasso – but the studios are upping their game. The latest evidence is a report from Reuters that “senior executives at three of the big six television and movie studios” are looking to renegotiate their deals with Netflix. You know those 28-day DVD release windows before Netflix gets access to certain movies? The studios are looking at extending them further. And the money Netflix pays for digital rights to studio content? Increases are likely on the way. (Of course Netflix may be very willing to pay. There’s one report out that the streaming company would pay up to $100K per episode if it could get its hands on current TV line-ups.)

None of this is surprising. Just look at the retransmission wars taking place between TV networks and cable providers. As Netflix moves closer to that latter category, the company is going to start getting similar treatment. It’s just a distribution channel after all. And now that it’s a highly profitable one, the content companies are going to shorten their leashes.

There are other recent examples of networks putting pressure on digital distribution too. The limitations placed on the likes of Google TV and Boxee Box count as one example, but I also listened in at an industry event yesterday where it became clear that networks want to increase the ad loads for content online. Will Richmond of VideoNuze hosted the event with execs from MTV Networks, Comcast, and elsewhere, and one of the discussions centered on how much advertising consumers will tolerate online. The prevailing view seems to be that there’s still a lot of room for ad growth.

Don’t get me wrong – I do believe content producers and providers have a right to get paid for their work, and high-value content isn’t cheap to make. As a consumer, though, I can only sigh with resignation as I watch the online distribution channel evolve along the lines of traditional television, and hope that greed doesn’t push the pendulum too far.