Monday, LG announced the first TVs with built-in Netflix streaming, due to arrive in the U.S. this spring. The models will go by the generic name "Broadband HDTVs," but we have a feeling they'll be known as "Netflix TVs" soon enough. The plasmas and LCDs are equipped with Ethernet jacks that allow them to stream movies and TV shows from Netflix, including HD content when available.
Netflix currently offers online streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows, dubbed "Watch Instantly," to its customers who pay $8.99 per month and up. But you need to connect an external device, like the Roku Netflix player, an Xbox 360, a TiVo DVR, a specially equipped Blu-ray player like the Samsung BD-P2550 or LG BD300, or even a PC, to enjoy it on your TV.
The LG TVs eliminate the need for an external device. They will cost around $300 more than similar LG models that lack the streaming capability--a pretty steep premium considering that you can get a Roku for $99 or an Xbox 360 for $199, but a premium typical of any technology "first."
"It's hugely symbolic," said Netflix's chief executive, Reed Hastings. "The holy grail has always been to give the TV an Internet jack in addition to the cable jack. It's an early glimpse of the long-term future."
Like other Netflix-equipped devices, the LG HDTVs will use a queue-based system, where Netflix subscribers select from the service's Watch Instantly catalog on their computers. Any titles in a queue are immediately available to watch on the TV. That's different from a true video-on-demand system, where you browse the catalog on your TV screen.
While Watch Instantly has more than 10,000 titles at last count, and is constantly adding more, the service lacks most first-run movies and current TV shows. That said, its addition of Starz movies with fresher titles is a step in the right direction, and Netflix also announced today that it would add a selection of Showtime original programming to its offerings, including the season premieres of United States of Tara, The L Word, and Secret Diary of a Call Girl.
The LG sets will stream additional content from other providers yet to be disclosed, although we consider YouTube and CinemaNow, recently added to the LG's Blu-ray player, distinct possibilities. The sets lack built-in wireless capability, which the Roku box has.
We expect other companies to announce their own Netflix TVs, if not at CES later this week then sometime later this year for sure. We also expect to review one of the Netflix TVs as soon as they become available.