You thought you had seen the last of Auto-Tracking!

Afterward they develop brain parasites that just tell you the basic plot of a movie in a conversational manner.
Not to beat a dead digital video format horse, but this beating stick has a few more whacks left in it (and its got a nice weight… feels really good in your hand.. ya know?). Yesterday, Netflix announced a $100 set top box that (with at least a $9 monthly plan) will let you stream 10,000 movies and TV shows. I know other services exist with this same technology, but not at a $100 price point, Netflix’s catalog and Netflix’s installed user base. You see, if you are already a Netflix subscriber you are already paying for this service. You just need the box. That’s fuck-tastic. I’m going to eBay most of my DVD’s (the one’s I don’t care about at least) and get one of these.

I might have told this story before, but in 2001 or so my friend Farris G. said, “why can’t we just subscribe to a service that has every episode of every TV show ever on demand? You wouldn’t need cable or satellite of DVD’s or anything.” Now, he was making this argument almost solely based on a desire to watch “Quantum Leap” reruns at a moment’s notice, but his point was valid. 7 years later we are extremely close to that ideal.

As I get older and life gets busier and more complicated, I care less and less about owning a physical representation of my audio and video media. I find DVD’s expensive and cumbersome (how’s that for jaded?). I’m sick or storing them and sick of paying $20 for them when I typically watch them 0-1 times over their life span. I don’t care about special features or commentaries any more. I am a perfect fit for a service like this.

I think we all realize that Blu-Ray is a stop gap to all-digital distribution. I predict it will have the shortest overall lifespan of any major format before it. The Netflix service isn’t HD yet, but it will be. And the box they are selling today will be firmware upgraded to accept HD content.

Give me a box that can stream any movie or TV show, and a wireless internet iPod that can access any song instantly and I will most likely stop trying to “own” my files. Sure, I’ll but the LOTR trilogy in the highest definition possible, and certain albums I might want in lossless format, or buy just to support the artist, but for the most part I just want to be able to call up an episode of “Arrested Development” from any TV in the house without having to go the store or fumble with a disc.

Speaking of, I’ve been doing just that on Hulu lately as I draw and it’s pretty fantastic. I also watched “Dave Chapelle’s Block Party” this morning… instantly, and for free. I highly recommend both the service and the Chapelle. The movie was very fun and uplifting. He’s just a normal guy living an extraordinary life.


Several mostly positive reviews of the ROKU Netflix box.

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  1. I want Quantum Leap on a moment’s notice! They showed it on scifi when I was younger… not seen it in ages. (Whenever I catch a glimpse of Enterprise, I think “oh look it’s Sam”. I have no idea what the actor’s name is or what he’s called in Enterprise. He is and always will be Sam.)

  2. Temporal snootiness: I "invented" the idea in '89 or so (much like my Dad "invented" the cassette tape or the triple-stack hamburger), actually began to do something about it in 2001, and in 2003 claimed a small victory over the problem:

    Oh, and watching those shows (QL and MacGyver) on crappily encoded digital copies of old VHS home recordings is so much more satisfying than whatever pristine progressive-scan format, physical or ethereal, the content owners will ever provide.

  3. You don't even need the box. The box just makes it more convenient. I have a PC in my living room that I hook up to my TV to watch streaming movies from Netflix.

  4. Ok, so as someone currently using this service, what's the selection like? I keep hearing that it's not all that great. But at $10 I could drop all the premium channels (I'd just have to catch Dexter and Weeds on DVD or something) and save a bunch of money and still get to watch movies.

    But the streaming thing also worries me a lot. Seriously, I think we can all count the number of flawless streaming 5 minute cat videos we've seen on one hand, and now they want to stream a whole movie! How has that worked out as a PC user? I've rented a number of movies on my Apple TV and so long as I allow a good 20% or so to download before I start watching it, the experience is flawless. If I start it when the box says it's ready, or if the roommate starts using the Internet in the middle, I often have to pause and resume later, and with streaming you don't really get the option to walk away and come back later when it's all downloaded.

  5. "Conversational Manor"

    Fucking SWEET. Is that a grandiose house that talks to you, or a grandiose house who's sole purpose is to host chit-chat sessions? It's probably nothing like the 600-grand house we just got a ratified contract on today. w00!!

  6. And please tell me the nametags are because future-Joel and future-Eli are too senile to remember each other's names, and not because Monday's comic proved that at least several of your readers are too fucking dumb to recognize non-sequential timeline versions of your avatars.

  7. And the first person to hack this box to provide the service for free from an alternate source and include tons of amateur porn in the mix as well and name it something cool with a too-many-letter-acronym will bring the whole thing full circle.

  8. So far the biggest draw back I hear of is that the box can't fast forward or rewind. It can only skip to key frames. Also it has just 64mb of RAM for a buffer. Probably enough for now, but how is that going to fair with HD content?

  9. Pretty cool! Kinda like how I had the idea for Tivo back in the 80s. My plan was for a VCR with a tape hardwired into it, so when you time-shift shows off TV, you can watch them from that, and if you want to keep it you can pop a tape in and dump it to that. I had the idea when I was trying to edit the commercials out of my Robotech tapes.

    The only person I shared the idea with at the time was my mom, whose response was an apathetic, "but they don't make VCRs with the tape built in."

  10. I used to go to a video store where the owner would scream at you if you didn't rewind your tapes. people would run in drop off the tape and run out again. It was a good place though. It had all the stuff that was banned in ireland. Like from dusk til dawn.

  11. i ment like a reaheatable hungery man chicken dinner. OOh and the lame credit parts occur when you heat it up. It would go something like this

    Chicken-main storyline

    corn-odd side puns you notice over the serious action tones

    mashed potatos-the actiony parts

    gravy-the explosions!

    beans- boring talky parts

    delicous brownie- nude scenes!

  12. You're so right about Blu-Ray being the format with the shortest life. It's just stupid, especially the name. I'm pretty sure I'll never be caught saying "Be back soon, just going to rent a couple of Blu-Rays"…

  13. I hear ya about reaching the age when you no longer care about all those heavily-emphasized tokens of added content that used to pique my interest. Looking at your comic, all I see is the money I spent being led along by the nostrils as the tech companies kept finding newer and snazzier ways to convince me to part with my hard-earned cash. The end result is a bunch of CDs/DVDs/video games stacked up all over the place to the point that my entertainment center resembles the Archive of the Citadel in FotR. Scary. Still, at least the video games, with all their interactivity, still get some use, as opposed to the DVDs, which have been gathering dust since I lost the patience to sit passively for two hours the way I did in my 20s.

    This NFLX box makes it look like I was right to think that Blu-Ray's emergence in the format war was little more than a pyrrhic victory. I might have considered returning to big red to get this box but for my reluctance to tear myself away from GTA IV. Besides, I've never been a fan of early adoption…I shudder to think how much moolah I'd have pissed away otherwise.

  14. It's funny to me that we have technology that is commercially successful and based primarily on digital content, yet we still can't get to the same place of having our cake and eating it in other industries, mainly energy and transportation. I like the idea of low price renting matched with higher priced owning.

  15. Man, this is the saddest comic you've made so far. It's really sad for Eli, having to constantly reinvent the wheel–smaller, more grabbier tread, etc. etc. And VHS? -Betamax, you schlub!

  16. Most DVD's are capable of outputting 480P but your player has to support it and you have to use Component, DVI or HDMI connectors. Most DVD's players sold in the last 3 years are progressive scan, so let's assume for the sake of the comic that Eli was viewing them at maximum resolution.

  17. I can't tell you how much I want an HD version of this. I've got a pretty nice HD tv, but nothing (yet) that really takes advantage of it – I held out on the great format war of aught-seven and aught-eight, and was disappointed when the winner turned out to be Sony. As it is, my only way to enjoy eye-bleeding HD content is when I order an On Demand movie from the cable company's box. As much as I'll miss being anally raped when my monthly cable bill comes in, I think the move to a set-top box is going to be total win.

  18. Ever read Transmetropolitan? The last panel reminded me of it. Some people had wires and tubes going into their brains so that they could put liquid thoughts and drugs straight into their heads, I think that's one of the ways they watched TV.

  19. Yeah, I'd be wary of being an early adopter of this if you're expecting to do HD content without a hardware upgrade. If it meets your need now and you're happy with it, by all means, but don't be surprised if the current hardware isn't HD capable. If they're feeling generous though maybe they'll offer a trade-up program when the HD hardware finally gets released.

  20. I used to play Doom on my Dreamcast.

    A used Dreamcast: $90.
    A non-shareware copy of Doom: $10.
    CD-R to burn the ISO on: $1.
    Playing a 10 year old game designed for a pentium 90 on a custom built piece of gaming hardware with a 200 Mhz CPU: Priceless.

  21. Actually they have fully working ones that utilize something like 68 basic scents to simulate just about any smell you could possibly imagine, it's just that there's no call for them. You could get one, but they're expensive, and honestly, who wants to smell a show? Now, when we finally get full force-feedback total immersion systems, then we'll see a need for simulating smells.

  22. We actually had a day in school where we studied scented movies. Like, films where you got a scratch and sniff card with your ticket. I don't really remember anything about the lesson, as all of my attention was focused on the card and trying to figure out which childhood toy each of the squares smelled like. I swear one of them was Strawberry Shortcake and I think there was a Big Cat Flowering Cone firework, and maybe a dreampop. The movie itself was stupid. Oh well.

  23. Oh yes, I should have kept reading, as per usual.

    I just don't know if that's viable. I can't help thinking it will always be a kitsch thing, the "4th D" on Disney rides or whatever. I'm not all so certain I want to sniff an episode of Dirty Jobs.

  24. I have Blockbuster's mail-in service. I thought about switching to Netflix but with Blockbuster I get 3 mail-movies at a time and I can trade them in at the store for more movies, plus I get two free game rentals a month, for $18. This on-demand set-top streaming business is quite interesting, though, especially since our Dish Network bill just inexplicably went up $30.

  25. This is not correct. DVD-video (the disc) itself is encoded in an interlaced MPEG-2 format. So-called "progressive scan" or "upscaling" DVD players outputting over component/DVI/HDMI are merely doing the same thing that your HD TV would do internally if you fed it 480i — upscaling and deinterlacing the video feed — but often, the upscaling DVD players have better deinterlacing equipment (better filtering) and as such can produce superior picture quality from the interlaced source. Some of the last Toshiba HD-DVD players to hit the market before that format died, for example, were often bought simply because they had superior upscaling and deinterlacing chips, giving better picture quality as compared to an ordinary DVD player, when viewed on a progressive-scan or high-resolution HDTV. Nonetheless, the DVD disc itself still contains simple 480i interlaced video. It is merely a difference in what component in your setup — DVD player, receiver, or TV — that does the deinterlacing and upscaling. The quality difference when using superior filtering algorithms can sometimes be startling.

  26. That Netflix box might be worth it. I switched to Flock a while ago and have never looked back. The fact that it doesn't support the Netflx player is literally the ONLY drawback. But I feel guilty about not using my Watch Instantly minutes. Like I'm giving Netflix money or something.

  27. Every home in America could have cheap solar cells on the roof, either supplying the home directly or suplimenting the grid. Reducing/eliminating our dependence on oil should be a government regulated initiative. If only we had trillions of dollars to invest in something to better mankind….

  28. Sony is selling a blu-ray player. Microsoft is selling a game system that can also download hundreds of movies and TV shows on demand for cheap. Guess which console I bought?

  29. I'm considering a box as I don't have a PC, just a mac and I'm too lazy to install windows. I do have a concern over one issue though. Back when I had windows installed I used it one evening to watch the office. I saw all of season 1 and some of season 2. However as soon as my room mate came home and jumped online the quality became shite. Everybody became a blur and the sound was like it was coming through thread and can speakers. Pissed me off so it did.

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