In a phased rollout over the next six months, Netflix will give customers the option of streaming video to their PCs. The new option will be available to subscribers at no additional charge.
Netflix said viewing will require the installation of a small browsing applet that requires a one-time download taking about a minute. Streaming of films can be accomplished with a broadband connection as slow as 1 Mbps, which provides what Netflix called “preview” quality. A 3 Mbps connection is sufficient to provide DVD-quality video, Netflix said. The service also supports PVR trick-play functionality.
“While mainstream consumer adoption of online movie watching will take a number of years due to content and technology hurdles, the time is right for Netflix to take the first step,” said Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, in a statement. He said subsequent steps will include delivering video to handhelds and directly to TV screens.
Subscribers will be able to choose from approximately 1,000 movies and TV series. Most major studios support the service, Netflix said, and additional content is being provided by A&E Television Networks, Anime Network, Allumination FilmWorks, BBC Worldwide, The Independent Film Channel, and Starz Digital, among others.
The streaming library will gradually be expanded, the company said. Netflix has a DVD library that currently contains about 70,000 titles.
Netflix said it expects to make the new feature available to all Netflix subscribers by the end of June. The hours available for instant watching will vary based on subscribers’ monthly plans. For example, subscribers on the entry-level $5.99 plan will have six hours of online movie watching per month, and subscribers to the $17.99 plan will have 18 hours of online movie watching per month.
The introduction expands Netflix’s capabilities just as Blockbuster has finally countered with its own DVD-by-mail service that is combined with its storefront service.