Blu-ray and Netflix Streaming Video – So Easy a Caveman Could Do it (Wait, Is That Copyrighted?)
I’ve come late to the Blu-ray party. Like most HD junkies I was waiting for the fight between HDDVD and Blu-ray to be won, which it was in convincing fashion in 2008. Now that I’ve arrived at the party with martini in hand, I’m happy to be here. What I’ve ended up with is an LG BD300 Blu-ray player with built in Netflix streaming capabilities. If you’ve dismissed Blu-ray or streaming video you owe it to yourself to investigate this. What’s sitting in my entertainment center now is proof positive that we’ve reached an age where even stupid people can be dangerous with technology.
First, Netflix has always seemed like an alien concept to me. I hate using snail mail. Now don’t get me wrong, I think that the US Postal service is the best bargain to be had on the planet. Paying someone a few dozen pennies to hand carry a piece of paper across the country is an incredible deal. However, it’s the main reason that I never signed up for a Netflix account. It seems like a tremendous hassle.
However, the built in Netflix streaming capabilities in the Blu-ray player had me intrigued. Since my XBOX is not on my main television, I didn’t go that route after it was implemented last month on XBOX live. The surprise was how easy of a set up this entire outfit turned out to be. It’s proof positive that even the world’s most tech-ignorant goon could be dangerous with technology.
First, the greatest invention in the history of humankind to this point is HDMI. Had I been the guiding hand in the evolution of man, I would have skipped the wheel and gone straight for HDMI. For every woeful man that has spent a substantial portion of his life moving entertainment centers and spending hours untangling wires, rerouting speakers, and basically contemplating suicide because of it, HDMI is wonderful. One cable. Video. Sound. Perfect. I’m not sure that there’s any real quality improvement in the picture over the old DVI format, but the hassle factor is beyond measure.
Lets walk through the steps of setting this monstrosity up.
I removed my progressive scan upconverting standard DVD player, leaving the HDMI cable in place. Replacing it with the Blu-ray was simple. The total time it took was a couple of minutes running the power cable and the LAN cable (to use the streaming Netflix features).
Providing network connectivity was the next step. No LAN interface in my living room and no wireless support on the Blu-ray player meant that I had to get a Netgear Powerline network extender into an outlet near my TV. The Netgear device was simple to install. There’s no software required for this, just simply plug the transmitter into a power outlet near the router, hardwiring it with a LAN cable to an open router port, then the receiver into a power outlet near the TV and run a LAN cable into the back of the Blu-ray player. The wireless extender required absolutely no soft set up. They automatically connected to my network and were up and ready to go. In fact, I use the term “transmitter” loosely. Both boxes are identical, whichever one you plug into the router becomes the “transmitter”. The initial investment was in the Netgear XE104 that functions using the power circuits in your home.
Once I booted the Blu Ray player it had some trouble finding the network when I went to the Netflix option in the root menu. This was resolved easily enough by going into the network set up and re-affirming it as a “dynamic IP.” I’m assuming this just forced the DVD player to renew it’s IP address. As soon as I had network connectivity, it instantly informed me that there was an update to the Netflix software and it took less than a minute to download.
I took the plunge and went online and signed up for the Netflix 2-week trial on the $8.99 plan, the lowest unlimited plan they offer. Even though the first two weeks are free on the trial, it did require credit/debit card info. It also requires you put the Netflix device ID of the Blu-ray player in when you sign up online. Very simple, as soon as the Netflix update downloaded it gave me the ID on screen. Within seconds of entering the ID into the Netflix website the player informed me that it was authorized.
The $8.99 plan entitles you to put up to 9 films in your Netflix queue, 6 of which can be streaming picks. Only selected titles are available for streaming to your device, and almost none are new releases, however this plan allows you to do mail and/or streaming in any combination. There are still thousands of streaming titles. Once you complete the sign up, you can add any “instant titles” into your queue and they show up immediately in your DVD player Netflix menu. From the player’s menu you can also remove the films from your Netflix queue instantly or hope between multiple features on the same title. It’s really incredibly cool.
Overall, from not having the seals on the boxes broken to set up and ready to go was about 15 minutes. Another noteworthy plus on the LG BD300 is that it that my Toshiba LCD picks up the fact that the Blu-ray player has been turned on and automatically changes the input setting on my television over to it. I found this particularly interesting because the this was not the case with my LG upconverting standard def DVD player, hooked up to the same input and using the same HDMI cable.
The difference between the upconverting 1080P standard DVD and the Blu-ray is considerable. The Hi-Def picture is better than you get through your cable or satellite provider (most networks aren’t broadcasting 1080p yet anyway). The first disc we watched in Blu-ray on our 52inch Toshiba LCD was The Dark Knight, and it was stunning. The IMAX sequences, mainly the long cityscapes, were mind-bogglingly sharp. It’s really a perfect first choice film to start with.
Pixar’s Wall-E was another mindblowingly sharp presentation. It’s odd nowadays that when you sit down and watch a film like Wall-E, you’re watching a product that in spite of being called a “film” actually had absolutely no film involved. Straight digital transfer to a 1080P picture that is sharper than the 3rd blade of a brand new cartridge in my Gillette Fusion Razor.
With the lessons of XBox Live/Netflix issues expressed in the article referenced above, I did start to become somewhat concerned about the picture quality of the Netfix streaming. And sure enough, the first film into my queue, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, wasn’t giving us HD quality.
Here it came as described, the “cheesecloth” quality video, suddenly I was watching YOUTUBE on my big screen TV. It was quite disappointing. Then about 30 minutes into the start of the film, we lost connection completely. I was getting steamed about my stream. I went back the DVD player HOME menu and re-entered my Netflix queue and tried to resume Spotless Mind where we left off. Then, suddenly poof, the signal meter zipped all the way up informing me that I was getting full HD quality. We watched the rest of the film and the picture quality seemed ok.
Subsequently though, every title we picked looked like hell. After doing some research I found the several tech sites like Endgadget pretty much said the Netgear XE104 generally could not handle the bandwidth of an HD signal and in average operating conditions tested by the reviewers usually didn’t even manage the bandwidth for standard def quality.
Further investigation led me to the XDH111, Netgear’s latest and greatest powerline Ethernet adapter tested to and advertised to handle the bandwidth of an HD signal. The practical advantage of this was that not only did I get to upgrade to a better product, but it was $10.00 cheaper at Fry’s Electronics than the substandard XE104 was at Best Buy, where it was originally purchased. Fry’s in store had it for $119.99. The cheapest I could find online was $113.99. Good old Fry’s Electronics.
The XDH111 improved the situation immediately. The signal meter shot to it’s highest for the first HD title we streamed and to the top level of the standard def level on the non-HD titles. The Hi-Def titles look amazing over the Netflix streaming, but the standard def titles still seem just a tad soft even though the signal meter on the player is showing the best signal. I’m going to experiment by moving the location of the Netgear station to a different location in my house on the same electrical circuit as the player – fortunately, I have some options here because I have hardwired Ethernet jacks at several locations in my home.
Stupidly, when I built the house 5 years ago, I never considered needing an Ethernet jack behind my TV. I mean, after all, game consoles would never offer online play and there’s no reason to have a PC in my living room…Ugh, what an idiot I was.
As for Netflix, even though new releases are mostly not available for streaming, there is one huge piece of the Netflix instant queue that I immediately zeroed in on: TV Box Sets galore. I could get classic and new Doctor Who, 30 Rock, The Office (both the UK and US versions), Charles in Charge, Heroes, The Tick (the live action series)….you name it, and there it was instantly watchable on my TV. In my eyes, this calls for installing a bedpan and refrigerator in my living room couch. For $8.99 per month this is potentially the bargain of the century (next to the US Postal service). In fact, I just enjoyed watching the pilot episode of The Tick, which I hadn’t seen since, well…since the damned thing first aired. I also noticed the they had Heroes Season 3 available for streaming even though it’s not available on DVD yet and the season’s not over. The most recent episode is just about a week or two behind.
I guess I’m still of the opinion that Netflix by mail is going to be a tremendous pain in the ass, but we’ll definitely be giving that a shot with newer releases.
I have to say that now’s the time. Blu-ray is a phenomenal thumbs up. Oddly enough though, I would have to say that this whole streaming Netflix feature may be more valuable than the disc player itself. It’s nice to have both. If you have FIOS or a Wideband Cable connection (Docsis 3.0) you should be set. I have neither right now, but I’m still able to get HD quality across, but I imagine we’re on the cusp of the bandwidth no longer being an issue for HD streaming. Time to sell your children off for scientific experimentation and finance yourself a Blu-ray Home entertainment system.
On a side note, there were some moments where the investment in a PS3 was considered rather than a standalone Blu-ray, but in all honesty, I’m not sure I would want to give up the Netflix option, especially with the small number of PS3 exclusive titles that intrigue right now. Also, it’s another check mark on the list of horrific mistakes that Sony continues to make with voir film streaming the marketing of the PS3. Netflix wanted deals with Sony and Microsoft. They didn’t give a flying flip how they got their content into the home. Sony’s John Koller basically told them to take a flying leap. “Our customers want to own the content,” he commented. What the hell?