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      Suspended Animation

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Netflix Launches High Definition Streaming

Netflix has put its stake in the ground for high definition video streaming. Soon customers with the Xbox 360 and the Roku box will be able to receive a limited selection of HD movies, about 300 titles for starters. The move is part of a continuing stream of aggressive announcements from the DVD rental company.

Netflix, based in Los Gatos, CA hasnit made a formal announcement, but Steve Swasey, V.P. of Corporate communications told this reporter that Netflix is starting to put its stake in the ground in terms of delivering high definition content.

As part of an agreement with Microsoft, Xbox 360 customers will be able to receive about 300 selected titles in HD, (resolution TBD) very soon, Mr. Swasey said. However, the audio will remain limited to simple stereo instead of Dolby Digital 5.1, typical for streamed or broadcast HD content.


Roku

Home Media magazine also confirmed that the Roku box will be part of the rollout, but HD resolution in that case will be at 720p, and lower bit rates (higher compression) than the Xbox counterpart.

iPO was also told by Mr. Swasey that they have plans to expand the title count and quality of the streams, but there have been no official announcements. Also, Mr. Swasey had no comment on plans to expand the HD service to the currently supported Blu-ray players from Samsung (BD-P2500/2550) and LG (BD300), but considering Netflixis launch with other boxes, that has to be considered a future possibility since the Blu-ray players have the electronics to output 1080p.


Xbox 360

At issue may be the expected broadband connections of Xbox and Roku owners compared to the typical broadband accessibility in the living room for purchasers of stand-alone Blu-ray players.

Mr. Swasey also responded to reports that Netflix would cease selling used DVDs. "We decided weire a DVD rental company, not a sales company," Mr. Swasey said. "We see DVDs continuing, for five to 10 years, to grow in popularity for rental."

Netflix has been aggressive in securing its position as the premiere movie rental service by quickly expanding Internet options over and above the usual delivery of DVDs via U.S. Mail. That has included streaming to PCs, the Roku box, Xbox, TiVo, and selected Blu-ray players.

Earlier this week, Netflix announced that it has made the beta testing of its Microsoft/Silverlight Internet plug-in available to all Netflix customers with Intel Macs. That plug-in allows Netflix customers to select from over 12,000 movie titles, in SD, and view on their Mac for no extra charge.

HD movies rented on the Apple TV provide 720p resolution and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. A 5 Mbps broadband connection is recommened for the Apple TV, and that suggests some level of compression over and above the broadcast standard. Whether Netflix will also expand its HD streaming directly to Macs via Silverlight remains to be seen.

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