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My thoughts on Video on Demand with the Roku

As you know, I bought that $99 Roku  box that lets me watch 12,000 Instant Videos on Demand on my TV set.

Instant Video on demand is a freebie if you have any Netflix subscription. (my subscription is $9 per month).

It has totally overwhelmed me. It has excited me about movie watching in a way I’ve never been before. Details.

  1. Selection is very limited. 12,000 sounds like a lot, and it is. But you will notice a lot of what it doesn’t include for instant viewing.  But they have a lot of classic  movies (Singing in the Rain, Casablanca, the complete Monty Python episodes, Walle. Birds, Psycho).
  2. Think of it as going to a video store which stocked only titles beginning with the letters A-D. You wouldn’t be able to find most of what you are looking for, but some would be there, plus you’d discover a lot of hidden gems.
  3. They have a surprising number of recent TV shows and old ones. Friday Night Lights, Heroes,  South Park, Dexter, Lost,  plus a lot of minor TV series that premiered on cable. The important thing is that they have complete series of these TV shows. Plus complete collections of some old series (Columbo, Dragnet, Adam 12).
  4. Lots of British TV shows from the 1970s and 1980s. Also some hot British shows from 2000s.
  5. Lots of foreign films, a large number from France and Spain, but also a decent number of ones from Brazil, Japan, China, Italy. Lots of South American titles nobody in the US have reviewed.  Quality on these titles varies.
  6. In general, it has a lot of films from the last 3-5 years. Not a lot before 2000. They have multiple films by several famous directors  (early stuff by Godard,Fassbinder, Pasolini). About 10 titles by Hitchcock.
  7. Lots of Hollywood mediocre star vehicles from Hollywood. But also a moderate amount of recent quirky American indie titles from the 2000s.
  8. An extremely good collection of documentaries and TV nonfiction specials. I added about 5+ Imax titles for HD viewing.
  9. The Roku box was dead simple. Required 5 minutes of set up time.  It can connect via ethernet or Wifi.  I used a $20 HDMI cable to connect to my HD TV, but that wasn’t mandatory. Update: Apparently you can buy a HDMI cable for much cheaper than that.
  10. The box has exactly 6 buttons. Play, pause, forward, backward, menu, select. Any 80 year old could use it. (Compare to the  remote control for cable TV,  which I find unfathomable). It is simplicity itself.
  11. When you select Menu, you see all the Netflix Instant Videos in your Queue. You can scroll through these titles and choose any of them easily.
  12. You are allowed to have up to 500 titles in your queue. 1 title could be “Friday Night Lights Season 1”. If you clicked on it, you would choose from the 10-12 episodes from that season. But Season 1 would be considered 1 title in your queue.
  13. You may think that 500 titles is generous for your queue, but in fact,  I am always hovering at 499-500 videos on my Instant Watch queue. Whenever I find a new title for instant Watch, I end up Adding the DVD, just so I don’t exceed my queue quota of 500.
  14. Didn’t find good selection in  Sci Fi, except for sci fi TV shows, which I thought was ok. Children’s selection was below average (in terms of quality), but they had a lot of titles; there’s bound to be something good there. Also, lots of educational/documentaries.
  15. As I said, the interface was simplicity itself. But scrolling through 500 titles can become tedious one at a time. You learn to arrange the order of your queue by going to netflix.com and doing it.
  16. I spent a considerable amount of time adding to my Netflix queue online (that’s how I got 500 titles).
  17. It seems that Netflix has slowed down or stopped the addition of new titles  for instant viewing. I suspect that they are in the process of adding a more expensive membership tier that includes more titles than what is already there.
  18. The first title I watched was Spice World (silly film about Spice Girls). The second title was Being There, and the third title was Pee Wee Hermann’s Big Adventure. I had not seen Spice World (it is totally frivolous and uninteresting but fun), but I had already seen Being there and Pee Wee.  Seeing both again was glorious.
  19. My threshold for what I would consider a “watchable movie” has declined considerably. I sometimes added movies that I’m unsure about, if only because I know that I could always turn it off after watching it for 15 minutes.
  20. Netflix doesn’t have a good search engine for Instant Viewing. However, this site lets you search for titles and list titles more easily.  This site seems slightly out of date, but it basically works. ]
  21. At initial loading, it requires 7-10 seconds to load. This is not that big of a deal, but it makes it difficult to fast forward to another spot (you have to wait every time). On the plus side, Roku will remember exactly where in the movie you left off even if you return to the movie days later.
  22. On Instant Viewing you do not have the ability to view DVD extras or change the subtitles.
  23. Here are some (likely) video gems I can’t wait to watch:  Sherry Baby, Life After Tomorrow, Mimic, Ong-Bak: the Thai Warrior, Good Neighbors, Comizi d’amore, Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Series, a Time for Drunken Horses, King of Masks, Blink, Xala, Red River, Hot SummerTully, Kontroll, Avalon, Nanking, Timecrimes, Cool & Crazy, Persepolis, Charlotte Sometimes, L.I.E.  I have no idea how many of these titles are going to be crap, but I smell a few winners here!

I have had this service for less than a week. Here is how it has changed me:

  • I have stopped watching network TV altogether (except for the 15 minute Tonight Show monologue). Even if I had cable TV, I am pretty sure I would stop watching cable TV (even if I could  tivo  past the commercials).
  • I have had to restrain myself from watching more TV. I can’t wait to sit down and catch up on my list!

This device has a lot of potential. i could see how Netflix could push all their movies this way. From Netflix’s standpoint, that saves the cost of having to mail the physical media.  As much as I appreciate the convenience of Netflix’s DVD distribution system, once you have instant download, you have no more interest in handling DVDs. You have no more interest in broadcast TV.  For the time being, a lot of quality content will be on DVD only through the subscription services. However,  this will change rapidly. From my standpoint, once you’ve started instant viewing, it is impossible to mess around with commercial TV or DVDs.

Update: Netflix has a twitter feed of new instant movies it’s been adding.

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