Hollywood Release Windows Suck

A couple of weeks ago I extolled the virtues of my new Netflix Player. I’m still thrilled with it, but the other day I happened to be looking at my instant queue from a web browser, and I noticed several lines in the queue that looked like this

Netflix Instant Queue

Notice anything about that? Yeah, it’s the “Available Until Dec 31, 2008.” WTF? Out of 53 entries in my instant queue, 9 of them will no longer be available after January 1, 2009. That really, really sucks. According to this article and this one, the reason for this is something called “release windows.” These are time periods that the movie studios allow their movies and shows to appear in a given format. Basically, after a certain amount of time, the studios yank content from one medium, such as downloads, and make it available on another, such as broadcast TV. According to the articles, that’s what the studios think will rake in the most money. It seems to me that the best way to maximize profit for a movie or show is to maximize exposure. This means making it available in as many formats as consumers are willing to pay for, for as long as possible. This would give consumers the most flexibility in how they watch the content. And maybe, just maybe, if it were super easy to legally watch the content that people want to watch, piracy would decline. I’m just speculating on that one, of course.

I understand that businesses have to make money to stay in business, but I’m really not happy that 17% of my queue will evaporate on January 2.

Thanks, Hollywood.

Three Days With the Roku Netflix Player

My Netflix Player arrived on Wednesday. It was supposed to be a family Christmas present, but you know how those things go. When something this cool arrives this early, there’s no way it’s going to stay boxed up for three more weeks.

The box is very small, maybe 4.5 inches on a side, and about 2 inches think, and it will fit easily next to our DVD player. Installation was absurdly easy. I attached it to the A/V input jacks on our DVD/VCR and plugged it in. I was planning on connecting to the Internet using my WiFi router, and as the player was coming on, I told the family to pray that it supported WPA2, and not just WEP, because if it didn’t, I’d have to reconfigure the router. Fortunately, it did support WPA2, and within about 30 seconds of connecting the A/V wires, it was online.

After it phoned home, it gave me a code that I had to enter at netflix.com to tie the box to my account. I did this on my laptop and almost before I could pick up the remote again, the screen had changed and was telling me that everything was now set up.

The first screen you see is your “Instant Queue.” This is a CoverFlow-like page which shows you the covers of all the videos in your Instant Queue. This is the one thing that I don’t like about the player: you can’t search for things to watch using the player itself. You have to go to the website using a computer, find what you want and stuff it into your Instant Queue. Once you do that, it shows up on the player within seconds. This is a bit hokey, and they really should have come up with a better solution. However, this is my only real complaint about the thing.

We did get off to a slightly bad start, though. The first thing we decided to watch was an episode of Doctor Who from 1974, featuring the One True Doctor™, Tom Baker. (Nothing against the current fellow, whom I like quite a bit.) I clicked the Play button and it started buffering. And buffering. And buffering. After about three minutes, it started playing, but within 30 seconds, it was buffering again. This was discouraging, but we decided to try something else, and the problem seems to be with this particular episode, as everything else has worked flawlessly.

The way it works is after hitting the Play button, the player buffers for about 30 seconds, then it starts playing. That’s it. You can pause and restart. You can rewind and fast-forward, though this is a bit klunky. What I really like is that if you stop watching a show and come back later, it remembers where you left off. I don’t know how many shows it will remember, but it’s at least one.

So, what did we watch? First, I watched the wonderful concert movie by Talking Heads called Stop Making Sense (it never gets old). Then we watched the first episode of the original (and best) Battlestar Galactica series. We then moved on to season 1 of The A-Team. Those things Thomas and I watched together. After he went to bed, I watched the first episode of season 2 of 30 Rock. We’ve also got season 1 of the original Knight Rider, Buck Rogers and Airwolf in the queue. Lots of great, old shows.

We were slightly disappointed that several of the shows Thomas was hoping for are not available for instant viewing. These include Fraggle Rock, Invader Zim and The Muppet Show. Perhaps these will be added later. Netflix currently has 100,000+ DVDs, but only 12,000ish of these are available for instant viewing. I have to believe this number will increase.

(I should note that they do seem to remove the ability to stream some DVDs occasionally. When they first announced support for OSX, I watched part of Purple Rain, just to test it out. Purple Rain is no longer available for streaming. I don’t know why, but it isn’t.)

So, after three days, we all love the Netflix Player. For us, it was certainly worth the $100 it cost.

Speaking Punctuation

So we’re watching Project Runway (don’t ask) and the designers only have 5 minutes left. Tim Gunn walks in and says

Designers! Five Minutes! And some of you are still sewing? Question Mark!

I laughed out loud at that. And of course, the way Tim says it, with his “gay lilt,” it’s far funnier than if someone else had said it.