Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube Seek Big Break on TV
Video content from Amazon Video on Demand, Netflix and YouTube is becoming commonplace on devices that stream Internet content to the living room TV. You'll find some or all of the services pre-loaded on a variety of streaming devices, from connected TVs and Blu-ray players to DVRs to stand-alone media streamers. Below you'll find desciptions of the content offered by each service, along with release dates and pricing information.
Amazon Video on Demand
Available on: Roku, Sony Bravia Internet Video Link, TiVo
Cost: Varies; TV shows are typically 99 cents to rent and $1.99 to buy; new movie releases are typically $3.99 to rent and $14.99 to buy; other movies are typically $2.99 to rent and $9.99 to buy.
Amazon's online video store has scads of titles for rental or purchase; movies show up on the day of DVD release, and TV shows arrive the day after they air. The service also has one great big hole: No Disney releases (think No Country for Old Men or Wall-E) are available. At press time, everything was offered in merely adequate standard definition, though reportedly Amazon is readying high-def offerings.
Once you've rented or bought a video, it goes into a video library that you can stream to any Amazon-compatible device--including a PC or a Mac. The service lacks the iPod/iPhone compatibility of Apple's iTunes, but you can download your purchases onto a handful of other phone and media-player models.
Netflix Watch Instantly
Available on: LG BD-300, Roku,
Cost: Included in Netflix subscription (starting at $8.99 per month)
If you're the type who makes a beeline for a video store's new releases section, Netflix's streaming service probably won't impress you; for the most part, the newest, hottest titles aren't here. But if you like to rummage around for older items to catch up on--and obscure stuff you never heard about--you may go gaga for the 12,000 items it does offer, all available for unlimited viewing.
Picture quality isn't stellar for either standard-definition content or the 200-odd high-def items. But everything about this service is simple and convenient, from the 2-minute setup to the way it shows thumbnail previews of what's ahead as you fast-forward. Rather than browsing for movies on the box itself, you do so at Netflix.com in a Web browser, where you add items to a queue that you can access from the box, from a PC, or from a Mac. This isn't much of a hassle, since searching is so much easier with a keyboard and mouse than with a remote control.
Available on: Everything here except Roku
Includes: Millions of user-generated videos, random clips, and a smattering of longer-form items
It's possible to lose yourself in a jag of YouTube watching on a TV. No other service offers so much to see, and it's all free. But after spending time watching the Google-owned video megasite through multiple boxes, I concluded that it's most addictive on a computer. For one thing, much of its content doesn't even qualify as standard definition, so stretching it onto a 50-inch HDTV can be hard on the eyeballs.
Most YouTube clips are short, so you spend plenty of time browsing for new items to watch. Unfortunately, nobody's come up with a truly pleasing way to search for videos via a remote control. With the possible exception of the Vudu Box, every box I tested made finding videos slow and tedious--not words I'd normally associate with YouTube.
For additional elements of this story package, see "The Connected TV: Web Video Comes to the Living Room" (emerging technology for transferring Internet video to a TV); "12 Ways to Bring YouTube to the Boob Tube" (a slideshow of hardware options); and "Is Your Living Room Ready for Internet Video?" (setup tips).