As more movies and TV shows become available via the Internet, making the "last connection" between online and high-definition TVs is the key remaining obstacle to transforming the Net into a full entertainment medium. On Monday, LG Electronics moved to bridge that connection with the announcement of HDTV sets that are broadband-enabled and contain Netflix streaming software.
The new models, including both LCD and plasma, have an Ethernet connection, do not require an external device, and allow Netflix members to watch streaming movies. The new sets will be demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which opens this week.
A Growing Alliance with Netflix
The announcement extends LG's growing alliance with Netflix, which offers more than 100,000 movies via mailed DVDs and a smaller but growing collection of more than 12,000 titles available for instant streaming. LG's BD300 Network Blu-ray Disc Player was the first such player to offer streaming movies from Netflix. Recently, LG said its players would also be able to deliver CinemaNow movies on demand and YouTube videos.
The broadband TVs, expected to be available in the spring, will let any Netflix member with an $8.99 per month membership or higher to watch an unlimited number of films.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said LG Electronics "was first to embrace Netflix as a streaming partner a year ago" with the Blu-ray player, so it is "fitting" that LG is the first to introduce Netflix streaming to HDTVs.
Netflix members who get the new LG set will use the movie service's online user interface to choose movies and TV episodes. The selections will be available instantly and begin playing in as little as half a minute. The TV's remote control will allow users to browse and choose selections, read summaries, rate movies, rewind or fast-forward.
'Forget the Bridge'
Bobby Tulsiani, an analyst with Forrester Research, called the new broadband TV "exciting." He noted that companies have been "trying to bridge the gap" between the Net and TV, and LG has basically said "forget the bridge and go right into the set."
He said the new models are yet another circumvention of the cable set-top box. "Cable has a vested interest" in keeping control of the box, Tulsiani noted, because it doesn't want interference with its own pay-per-view movie business.
He pointed to a "Netflix anywhere" strategy as the movie service strikes deals with TiVo and others to get its movies into television sets. The long-term momentum may be on Netflix's side, given that Tulsiani believes broadband-connected TV sets will become commonplace.