Review: Netflix Watch Instantly on 4 Devices
We compare Netflix streaming on TivoHD, Samsung Blu-ray, Roku Netflix Player and Windows Media Center.
August 10, 2009 by Stephen Hopkins

It seems that every TV or settop box manufacturer is now supporting Netflix for their CE products. Enter the Netflix menu and you can review and select titles in your Watch Instantly queue – from the convenience of your couch.

But the Netflix experience is different across all of the different products. Which is the best?

I’ve been lucky enough to incorporate into my home theater several different devices with Netflix Watch Instantly support:

How do they stack up?

The TivoHD has always been the most used source device in my theater.

When Netflix support originally appeared on my TivoHD, I was excited by the promise of a new content avenue. But I was instantly let down by the lack of interesting content. Luckily, over the last several months, partnerships with Stars, CBS, Disney, and other studios have expanded the available content.

The TivoHD implementation of Netflix feels very much at home on the device.

Menus retain the standard Tivo format, fonts, and overall feel, with Netflix branding only going as far as the logo and color scheme. Netflix on the Tivo feels like an extension of the Tivo service, not a separate application that happens to be added on to the Tivo hardware. 

Your Watch Instantly queue is shown with titles in LIST view and cover images to the right, in contrast to the rest of the devices that implement a side-scrolling panel view. This arrangement fits the feel of the Tivo interface well, but at the same time makes it feel much more like you’re getting ready to watch a TV show as opposed to a rented movie.

Content loads quickly and the on-screen UI (user interface) elements are logical, although a bit more of a departure from the rest of the Tivo style.

One major boon of the TivoHD is it locks in at higher quality levels all the way up to HD a bit more consistently than the rest of the devices. Image quality for HD titles is somewhere between DVD and HDTV and very acceptable, even on larger screens (like my 100-inch 720p front projection setup). SD titles, however, are tough to watch on larger screens, though passable on anything 42 inches and below (what most casual viewers will be using).

Tivo has done a great job integrating Netflix Watch Instantly into the TivoHD without it feeling like an add-on. It feels like it belongs right where it is and has been there all along.  It probably won’t be the reason you buy a TivoHD, but it’s a great addition if you’re considering the box or already have one.

Having multiple devices, it’s not my first choice for Netflix viewing, but if it were my only option I wouldn’t feel the need to add a different dedicated device.

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Stephen Hopkins is chief technology editor for EH Publishing. He writes product reviews, features, and focuses heavily on 3D TV, iPhone and iPad apps, and digital content.

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