This changes everything

Just after Christmas, our DirecTV receiver unceremoniously gave up the ghost. I had been looking into alternatives, and wasn’t encouraged by the lack of incentives for us to stay with DirecTV: In order to upgrade to a DVR, we’d have to pay $200 up front for the new unit (and still wouldn’t own it, as I understand), plus the additional monthly fee. By comparison, a comparable package with Dish Network was substantially less expensive, and they even offer an option to opt out of the 24-month contract — which is still cheaper than our existing DirecTV package.

But that’s not actually my point. My point is that when the first receiver broke, DirecTV promised to send us another one right away, but it would still take several days. And, quite honestly, we were bored now. So we gave ourselves a late Christmas gift: The Sony N460 Network Blu-Ray player (amazon link). Very briefly: it changes everything.

Devices like the Roku have been offered this capability for a while, of course [expanding from initially streaming Netflix, to Amazon on Demand and music via Pandora], and we’ve connected the MacBook video to the TV once in a while for Hulu or a Netflix stream. And more recently there’s a whole crop of blu-ray players that are internet-enabled, with varying service connectivity. Actually having the networked device connected directly to the TV is new to us, and the difference is stunning. I underestimated by a massive degree just how cool and convenient it is to push a button and have a library of streaming content available without screwing around with video cables. The N460 supports Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, Youtube, and a small grundle of additional services, in addition to NPR streaming radio and slacker radio.

Netflix streaming — arguably the headline app — is excellent. Items in your instant queue are displayed in tiled icons on the screen, and it’s a serviceable presentation, though I’d prefer the coverflow-style presentation that Roku uses; the tiles are a little hard to read, and the lack of ability to organize a very large queue might eventually become a problem. Once a video is selected, the streaming starts up quickly and you just go to town (we connected the N460 directly to our Airport Extreme via ethernet cable). Browsing YouTube also works very well (and looks surprisingly good in fullscreen, too), and Amazon on Demand is simply sweet: We rented Star Trek for $3 and got Hi-Def streaming with digital sound. As Doctor Egon Spengler best put it, yes, have some. All of those singularly are super-cool, but as a package it means a new digital on-demand library. I’m still getting a handle on just how big that is for home video.

It’s big.

Oh, yeah, it plays blu-ray discs, too. That’s cool.