Satellite, Cable, Air, and Now ODS
Television viewers typically have the choice of receiving service via Satellite, Cable, Air, and now ODS. ODS (On Demand Service) describes a service where the service provider maintains a library of content that you can watch from your TV whenever you want. This is usually accomplished by a small box resembling a satellite or cable receiver that is connected to a TV allowing a viewer to choose what to watch and view instantly.
The ODS receiver connects to the Internet using your existing wired or wireless Internet connection. Watching content is like watching it from a DVD: you can fast forward, pause, reverse, and even stop watching entirely to move on to another show. When you come back to the first show, it will continue playing from the point at which it was stopped. Some DVD features, such as the ability to turn on subtitles, are not available on ODS. For some viewers, ODS can be a complete replacement for linear providers (satellite, cable, air); for others, it can provide additional content. ODS generally provides content that is, or would later be, available on DVD. They usually do not provide sports or news.
Currently, the most complete, integrated, and easiest to use ODS providers are Netflix and Amazon. These providers offer different types of service and both are incredibly easy to use.
Netflix offers a selection of about 12,000 titles that includes TV shows and movies from around the world. A subscription provides unlimited access to this library. Netflix already provides ODS access to all Netflix subscribers that subscribe to any plan above the most basic plan. This means that if you already have a Netflix DVD account, you may already have access to their ODS selection. Netflix plans that feature ODS start at about $9/month. Content is easily selected by using your computer to go to the Netflix Web site to browse through the library. Desired content is added to your "Instant Queue" and is then available from your TV within seconds. There is no limit to the amount of content you can store in your Instant Queue. Watching your ODS content is easy: after your TV is on you are presented with your Instant Queue and can select anything with your remote control. If you have added a current TV show, new episodes will be added to your queue automatically so that you don't have to keep going back to the Netflix Web site for each new episode.
There are choices of ODS receiver boxes available for Netflix viewing since Netflix, instead of locking viewers into only one piece of equipment, provides interface information to companies wishing to create Netflix compatible ODS receivers. The easiest receiver right now is the Roku receiver which costs about $99, is small, and works with both Netflix and Amazon, with support for more ODS providers in the future. The Roku can utilize your Internet connection via a wired or wireless connection. Wireless access is provided by either the built in wireless card or by adding an external wireless bridge for a stronger and more consistent connection.
Amazon offers a non-subscription ODS that is meant to provide an alternative to going to the store to rent a movie. The library contains about 40,000 titles and Amazon works with the same Roku receiver that can be used for Netflix. Choosing content can be done either right from your TV or computer. Content can be "purchased" or rented. "Purchased" content is available for you to watch indefinitely and rented material is available for about a day. The price for movies is comparable to renting a DVD, however the price for TV episodes is extremely high as episodes are rented individually, making renting a series more costly than simply buying the DVDs.
Amazon provides content that can easily match the video quality of a DVD, while Netflix quality varies and is generally either DVD quality or slightly less. ODS is not yet intended to compete with the great quality provided by Blue-ray. ODS is optimal for those who feel an advantage to being able to have easy and instant access to a large library of content from their TV.