Couch Potato

I Like to Watch (Instantly)

Blue Collar (1978): Captain Beefheart under the title sequence, a great script, and a cast for the ages: Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto.

Cash-strapped couch potatoes rejoice! Netflix, having largely crushed the competition in the DVD rental business, has sprouted another tentacle. The Netflix “Watch Instantly” service has been around for a while, but now, with daily title updates and new releases hitting the instant service the same day they come out on DVD (including recent arthouse hits like Let the Right One In and Tell No One), it has matured into a serious couch potato resource. For $9 a month you can watch all you want, plus have a single DVD out at a time. It’s more TV than I can possibly watch for less than the price of an import six-pack.

So now that I have established that I am a fan, here are my tips:

1. Get a Roku Player. For $99 plus shipping, this tiny, silent network gizmo plays titles out of your instant queue with the best possible image quality. You can watch on your Windows PC or Intel Mac, but just about everyone agrees that Microsoft’s Silverlight player sucks. The Roku box, on the other hand, delivers a DVD-quality picture via multiple cabling possibilities. It will work with any TV out there.

2. Use instantwatcher.com, a great independently-built website that allows you to hunt through only the instant titles, and the pull up such useful “smart” lists of titles as “new,” “expiring,” and “NYT Critics’ Picks.” It so totally trumps the Netflix website for this purpose that I can’t believe they haven’t bought instantwatcher.com outright already.

3. Faster internet = better picture. I have great luck with Qwest’s Connect Platinum service (whereas the Connect Silver I upgraded from used to trigger lots of rebuffering) and have heard overall positive reports from cable internet users. If your service is pokey, consider upping it.

4. While there are more and more new-release titles and TV shows, the strength of the Watch Instantly is still in its vast repertory catalog, including such odds and ends as the ultra-scarce Paul Schrader film Blue Collar (unavailable on DVD), the Burt Reynolds spaghetti western Navajo Joe, the awesome widescreen war drama The Sand Pebbles, and all six seasons of The Rockford Files. If you don’t like hunting for buried treasures like these, you might want to stick with your normal couch potato programming.