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The Netflix Player by Roku that hit the market last year is getting a name change–and a significant upgrade. The $99 set-top box will retain its original price tag, but will henceforth be known as the Roku Digital Video Player. It will also now offer content from Amazon’s On Demand service, which includes over 40,000 titles.

One of the chief complaints about the Netflix box was its lack of selection; because Netflix is subscription-based and not a-la-carte, major studios didn’t get on board, and the on-demand selection remains primarily indie films and older releases. Amazon’s On Demand service, however, is similar to iTunes and Blockbuster: you can rent or buy films, and thus, new releases from major studios abound.

The rental prices for movies, as well as their restrictions, are at this point an industry standard. Any new release will likely rent for $3.99, with some older titles available for $2.99 or even $1.99; television shows will generally be $1.99. As with iTunes and Blockbuster, users have 30 days to watch the rented content before it disappears, and the viewing period for a movie is still a paltry 24 hours from when the user first presses play.

Films can be purchased for $14.99 (new releases) or roughly $9.99 (older titles). All content is stored “in the cloud”–there’s no downloading here, only streaming, and just like with the Netflix content, your bitrate, and thus video quality, is determined by your bandwidth. Generally, Amazon content uses the H.264 codec with a resolution of 480i, which is standard definition. While the box is HD-ready, there is still no HD content available at this time. All purchased and still-valid rented content will appear under a tab called Your Video Library under the Amazon menu of the Roku box.

For those who already own the box formerly known as the Netflix Player, your system will automatically update itself to include the new Amazon features. And, lest there be any concern, none of these new developments affect the original Netflix features–users now have full access to both. Unlike the Netflix service, Amazon On Demand’s section of the Roku box requires no computer at all.

The Roku Digital Video Player is available now via Roku’s Web site, as well as Amazon.com.

Post by Tim Gideon


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