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The Tech-pert: Tips for Getting Started with Netflix Streaming

By Guest Blogger(view all posts by Rick.Broida)
at 11:57AM Thursday September 8, 2011
under Spotlight Deals

If you've never tried Netflix before but always wondered what all the fuss was about, now's the perfect time to find out. For a limited time, Netflix is offering a one-month free trial of its streaming service. Usually it's just 14 days.
In other words, you can watch all the movies and TV shows you want for an entire month, no strings attached. At the end of the trial, you can cancel your account--or pony up $7.99 monthly if you want to continue.

Netflix has just two requirements: a broadband Internet connection (cable is preferable, but DSL will suffice) and some kind of device for watching the streaming content. It's up to you to supply the former; I'm here to discuss your options for the latter.

Although you can watch Netflix right on your PC, the real appeal lies in making it appear on your TV. Some Internet-connected models, like those from LG and Vizio, have a Netflix "app" already built in, which is decidedly convenient. But most TVs will need help in the form of a set-top box, and here you have a number of choices:

Apple TV
Apple TV
Price: $99

The Scoop: Apple's tiny box not only streams Netflix, YouTube, NBA, and MLB, but also shows off photos, videos, and the like stored on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Thus, it's the best bet for users who also own some kind of iDevice.

Blu-ray player
Price: Varies

The Scoop: Many current-generation Blu-ray players support video streaming from Netflix (and other services, like Amazon Instant Video and Pandora). And if you shop around, you may be able to find a player that costs less than streaming-only boxes like Apple TV and Roku. For example, at the time of this writing, has the Insignia NS-WBRDVD Blu-ray player with Wi-Fi (!) for just $59.99 shipped. It's a refurbished model, but I'll vouch for it: I own one, and it's been great.

Game consoles
Price: Varies

The Scoop: The Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and Sony PlayStation 3 all support Netflix streaming. However, the Xbox requires an Xbox Live Gold membership ($60 annually), while the Wii is limited to standard-definition (as opposed to HD) output. Thus, your best bet is the PS3, which also doubles as a Blu-ray player. On the other hand, it's not cheap: prices for that console start at $249.

Roku 2 XD
Roku 2 XD
Price: $79.99

The Scoop: I have mad love for Roku's little box, which can stream from more sources than just about any other device: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, Crackle, Pandora, and on and on. This model supports 1080p streaming, but if you have a smaller TV and/or can live with 720p, the HD model sells for $20 less.

There are other devices that offer Netflix streaming, but those are my favorites. On the flipside, free Netflix apps are available for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and many Android devices--great for watching on the go.

I should also note that Netflix does a rather mediocre job showcasing your streaming choices, meaning it's not as easy as it should be to see "what's on." That's why I always head to first; it's a fantastic site for finding out what's new and popular on Netflix--and adding picks right to your queue.

Finally, I'll leave you with some viewing recommendations. (Netflix may not have the world's best selection, but there's plenty of great stuff.)  On the TV side, some favorites include "Firefly," "Mad Men," and "Party Down." As for movies, check out "Dazed and Confused," "Star Trek" (the J.J. Abrams reboot), and "Toy Story 3." Oh, and don't miss the criminally underrated "Go."

What are your thoughts on Netflix streaming? What's your pick for the best way to view all this cool content? And what's the best thing you've seen lately?

Self-proclaimed cheapskate Rick Broida has been a technology writer for over 20 years. He has authored over a dozen books, including, most recently, "How to Do Everything: Palm Pre." Currently he writes the Cheapskate blog.