In January, Netflix (NFLX) announced the first of several ambitious partnerships to integrate the software behind their “Watch Now” streaming video service into TV-connected consumer electronics. The deal, they revealed just prior to the Consumer Electronics show, was with LG (LPL) for a set-top box. At the time, the battle for next-gen DVD standards was still ongoing so it was unclear if “set top box” meant we might see a DVD player (HD DVD or Blu-ray) or some other device. Little clarifying information was provided. Today, long after the standards war ended, the mail-order DVD pioneer and the South Korean electronics giant filled in the blanks with detail.
Labeled the LG BD300, the player will allow existing Netflix subscribers to browse their rental queues and stream on-demand movies from the more than 12k titles in the “Watch Now” catalog (Netflix has more than 100k titles in its rental catalog but so far has only been able to secure licenses to stream a fraction of them).
As with Netflix's other consumer electronics partnerships, beyond monthly membership dues, there will be no additional charge to use the streaming service nor will there be a quota on how many movies are streamed.
The LG BD300 will be the third consumer electronics product to bring the Netflix internet service directly to the television. Netflix recently announced a partnership that integrates “Watch Now” with Microsoft’s (MSFT) Xbox 360 gaming platform. They have already gone to retail with a $99 stand alone player made by Roku.
As with the other two devices, the LG DVD player appears to suffer from one small usability flaw that interferes with how viewers choose what titles to watch. Specifically, it appears viewers won’t be able to browse the entire Watch Now catalog through the player. Instead, they’ll need to first log into their accounts by computer and set up a queue of preferred titles (there are separate queues for mail order rentals and the Watch Now service). The Watch Now queue, which can be loaded with hundreds of titles, is the list of titles accessible via the set top players (Roku, LG BD300, etc).
The LG player is expected to be available at retail in September at a price “well below” $500.
Dell was previously in the MP3 player business between 2003 and 2006 but failed to capture more than a few percentage points of U.S. market share.
The new effort, according to several reports including one in the Wall Street Journal, is part of a broader plan to integrate more home entertainment functionality into Dell PCs and across their product lineup.
One big question is whether the offering will add anything sufficiently unique to allow it to stand out from the already crowded marketplace or compete against Apple’s (AAPL) dominant iPod line up (Apple has more than a 70% share of the U.S. market).
Historically, Dell hasn’t fared well with expansion efforts outside of PC products. The first foray into MP3 players failed as did the company’s effort to sell TVs and hand-held mobile devices.