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The Ever-Expanding Video on Demand Options

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The world is growing ever smaller and we are ever more connected. Of course, as this is a technology piece we're not so much going to focus on the ever more connected with one another aspect, but rather the ever more connected with other stuff aspect. And, let's face it, why would you want to be connected to others when you can be connected to infinite amounts of media?

It was recently announced that several Hollywood studios and a few large cable companies were launching a 30 million dollar advertising campaign to promote video on demand, something completely and totally and easily accessible from your cable box… unless, of course, you own one of those HD TiVos in which case you've been cut out of the on demand loop. What you're not, though, is out of luck, and that's because while an HD TiVo doesn't allow you access to your cable company's on demand library, the cable (or satellite) company isn't the only game in town.

Netflix, the nice folks who have helped force Blockbuster to grossly change their business model, allows for a lot of movies and television shows to be streamed directly to your TiVo. Netflix doesn't seem to do the day-and-date big budget streaming releases like VOD, but Amazon Video on Demand, also available from a TiVo (as is Blockbuster's VOD service), does. Netflix isn't actually hugely behind either as they are currently (as of the writing of this article) offering Julie & Julia streaming, a title which was released to video at the end of last year.

It should also be kept in mind that Netflix and their streaming capabilities can follow you anywhere – you can stream video to your PC, PS3, Xbox 360, TiVo, several different Blu-ray players, Roku boxes, and now on your Nintendo Wii as well (Amazon's service is also available on PC, Xbox 360, and other devices). Though certainly a boon for those who lack one of the other Netflix enabled devices within their home theater system, the Wii system is not as good as the others.

In order to access Netflix from your Wii, first one has to request a disc from Netflix (the same is true of the PS3 solution). Said disc then has to be in the system any time one wants to stream a movie (again, like the PS3). Additionally, the Wii hardware does not support HD output – unlike the other devices which do – and what you end up seeing on screen doesn't look as good as good on the Wii as on a TiVo HD. It's definitely a less clear, less sharp image. It's not that Netflix looks bad on the Wii — in fact it is perfectly acceptable — it's just not as good as on other devices. Additionally, Wii owners will be familiar with the fact that the Wii doesn't come with an Ethernet port, only 802.11g connectivity (a wired Ethernet adapter is available for purchase), while most of the other Netflix capable devices can function wired with no additional purchase (save the Ethernet cable). Simply put – your wireless network has to be up to the task.

Does that make Netflix the best solution? You can take it anywhere and watch it on everything. Well, even when running on an HD device, what you get isn't really HD, and if you get HD On Demand from your cable company it is (all "i" vs. "p" arguments aside). Amazon Video On Demand for TiVo also provides a higher quality picture than Netflix, but that is actually downloading an entire program to your TiVo instead of streaming it and consequently ought to look better.

In terms of quality of video, number of workable devices, and size of library, for my money Amazon's Video on Demand is the best choice. However, the biggest issue with it is that money factor – Amazon doesn't have an all-you-can watch monthly rate, and without that it makes it a little harder to pull the trigger on each individual purchase (at least it does in my world).

There are a lot of ways out there for one to get their VOD fix, and none of them is perfect, but I for one certainly dream of a future where a single company for a single monthly rate can provide me all the movies and TV shows I watch on every single device I own and/or dream of owning. Or, even better, perhaps someone will figure out a way to stream the content straight to our brain.

Ahhh, but we can dream.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • Greg Barbrick

    Interesting, and well written.

  • http://danmorrismarketing.com Dan R Morris

    I love video on demand. I’ve been a Netflix subscriber since 1995 at the $9.95/month level just so I can have their on demand stuff. Then I found Playon.com which allows me to stream things like Hulu, YouTube, WB, DisneyKids and and about 50 other channels through the xbox. Awesome stuff.

  • Mike DeWitt

    It should get really exciting with the new 1.4 version of HDMI cable. Not only do you now have an Ethernet capability it has 3D capability and additional features like picture-in-picture video commentary.

    HDMI is a standard and to truly experience the new version’s capabilities you will need to have hardware with a supporting chip set. Currently only the PS3 has that chip set, but others will be coming with new introductions.