Netflix has unveiled its first video streaming gadget: With a $100 box from Roku and a $9+/month subscription, you can watch as much of Netflix’s (NFLX) digital library as you want on your TV, over the Internet.
The problem: There’s not much worth watching. For now, the selection is limited — 10,000 titles, or less than 10% of Netflix’s catalogue — and weak. CNET notes that only two of the top 100 movies are available for streaming. The rest: “Like the kind of DVDs you would see in the bargain bin at the 99 cent store,” commenter “Joe” once said on our site. And — for now at least — you can’t use the box to tap into other digital video services, like Hulu, your Apple (AAPL) iTunes or Amazon (AMZN) Unbox library, Google’s (GOOG) YouTube, etc.
Why does this matter? Most people haven’t even thought about adding a Web video set top box to their living room setup, let alone a $100 box that’s, at best, going to replace a few obscure cable channels showing reruns and bad movies. If newer movies are available for a few bucks on your cable box’s on-demand system, that still makes more sense than wasting time with a Netflix box.
The $100 price tag will make this an attractive toy for early adopter-types. But we have a tough time seeing a lot of Netflix’s 8 million subscribers running out to buy one of these one-function-only gadgets, especially when they can continue sampling Netflix streams on their PC. We’re more excited about multi-use gadgets with Netflix streaming software built in, like whatever LG is working on (a Netflix-integrated Blu-ray player?) and the Netflix-Xbox tie-up we keep hearing rumours about.
The best news for Netflix and rivals Apple, Vudu, etc: This is still a wide-open market, and will be for a long time. Eventually, someone will come along with a system with the right price structure, gadget features, and content library. But we haven’t seen it yet.