Wednesday, October 28, 2009

In Praise of Low-Tech Elegance

Sunday night, Sony finally announced their long-awaited streaming relationship with Netflix, enabling PlayStation 3 gaming consoles to access Netflix’ Watch Instantly—now, PS3 users who subscribe to Netflix will have access to thousands of movies at a moment’s notice. As a guy who’s been streaming video throughout my home for years (at varying bitrates and with varying degrees of success), my kneejerk reaction to the Sony-Netflix announcement was summed up in a single utterance.


I mean, I have a reasonable amount of gear in my home--as many as five wireless routers operating at any given time (ah, the joys of channel conflict at 2.4 GHz), gigabit Ethernet, a VPN, terabytes of network-attached storage, a couple of media-centric servers, boxee, Front Row, multiple TV-connected media players, a couple of MagicJacks, a few SIP phones, and other stuff I’m likely forgetting, mostly wrapped up in the warm hug of DLNA and UPnP. Why the heck would I do something as low-tech as ask Netflix for a physical disk to enable streaming through a PS3? What are these people, Luddites?

Well, yeah. Which turns out to be the point.

When I look at the amount of time I’ve spent building routers (using dd-wrt and tomato), configuring devices, downloading and upgrading software, and generally being a geek, I shudder. Why the heck does this stuff have to be so hard? The good news is, UPnP makes device and service discovery dramatically easier than using proprietary point solutions; DLNA provides similar efficiency for content sharing. The bad news is, none of this stuff is as easy as dropping a disk into a DVD player.

Until now.

Kudos to Netflix and Sony for not over-engineering a solution from the get-go. In the desire to deliver on the promise of the fully-connected home, manufacturers and service providers all-too-often deliver a wedding cake, when a cupcake would suffice. Netflix already has arguably the world’s coolest snail mail distribution network, so it’s a negligible incremental cost to ship a single disk to enable this capability. At some later date, you should certainly expect to see a Netflix widget on your PS3.

But, for now, enjoy your cupcake.

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