Okay, now there’s one less reason to roll your own Media Center PC in order to watch movies from the Internet on your HDTV. Roku announced yesterday that their $99 Netflix Player will now support streaming HD content. The company does not specify what “advanced compression technology” it uses, but I’m guessing that it’s some form of H.264/MPEG4 AVC, as that’s one of the most effective compression schemes for video that is widely available today. As a result, if you have a good high-speed broadband Internet connection, the picture quality should be very good: noticeably better than a standard DVD. Netflix recommends at least 3 Mbs connection speed.
The software upgrade required to support HD streaming is free to existing Roku owners. The one speed bump in the announcement is that the number of HD titles offered for streaming by Netflix is limited; only 12,000 of the company’s 100,000+ titles are available for streaming at all, and only a portion of those are available in HD. The good news is that it’s all you can eat; if you have any of the Netflix unlimited mail rental subscriptions — starting at $9 a month — you can watch all the movies you want on the Roku box.
According to the Roku announcement, it plans to add access to other (unnamed) HD content providers in the first quarter of 2009. Depending on your viewing preferences, this $99 box could make a digital video recorder obsolete.