Netflix Expands HD Streaming Options

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Netflix has quietly signaled its interest in offering consumers more high-definition content online by making available a limited number of titles that can be streamed to Microsoft’s Xbox game console and to certain Blu-ray disc players from LG Electronics and Samsung.

The move comes as more companies, including Blockbuster, VUDU, and Hulu, are either expanding their HD content or preparing to offer high-def fare.

Netflix is downplaying its initial HD offering, which currently totals about 300 titles, a tiny portion of the 12,000 titles that its subscribers can stream online. Over 100,000 DVD titles are available through its main service.

“We have not announced anything formally,” said Steve Swasey, Netflix vice president of corporate communications. “There was a kind of soft announcement with Microsoft about the Xbox getting some HD content but the HD offering we currently have is decidedly underwhelming and we are not promoting it in any way because it is so underwhelming.”

The limited HD titles are being streamed in 720p but not in Dolby 5.1.

Swasey declined to discuss Netflix’s plans to expand its HD offering, saying only that “this is really just a stake in the ground” to show the company’s interest in HD content.

Netflix subscribers who own a LG BD-300 Blu-ray player and the Samsung BD-P2500 and BD-P2550 can stream the HD titles to those players.

TiVo and Netflix have also announced that subscribers to Netflix and the TiVo Series3, TiVo HD, and TiVo HD XL will be able stream movies and TV episodes from Netflix’s library directly to their TVs.

Netflix’s decision to “plant a stake in the ground” comes as several other companies are expanding their online offerings and HD content.

Last week, Netflix rival Blockbuster launched a movie-download service, Blockbuster on Demand. It uses a $99 set-top box from 2Wire that is capable of downloading HD content. The box comes with 25 free movies so it is effectively free. Blockbuster is not currently offering any high-def content but has indicated its intent to offer HD content soon.

Also in late November, Hulu.com expanded its free HD Gallery to include its first full episodes of HD content. Series available in high-definition include 30 Rock, The Office and Heroes.

Meanwhile, online video provider VUDU is now offering well over 1,000 titles in HD and on Nov. 18 introduced a new box, the VUDU XL2, which has a 1-terabyte hard drive. The product, which is targeted to the high-end video market, is being delivered in a new rack-mountable format and will be available only through custom installers.

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