Some owners of Microsoft's Xbox 360 who have signed up to receive movies via Netflix's streaming movie service have seen the same loss of video quality as owners of Roku's Netflix Player.
A mysterious glitch has been hobbling video streams distributed by the two set-top boxes for at least two weeks, said a source close to Netflix on Thursday. The problem is the first setback for Netflix's streaming, which has won accolades since the $99 Roku box debuted last spring. Microsoft, LG Electronics, and Samsung followed with their own set-top boxes featuring Netflix's service. Microsoft did not respond to an interview request.
Those affected by the problem have been frustrated by long delays before a movie is playable and "unwatchable," according to one Roku box owner. Steve Swasey, Netflix's spokesman confirmed the company is working on a fix but declined to discuss which set-top boxes have seen a drop-off in video quality. He said the glitch is affecting a relatively small number of Netflix users.
"We can't stress highly enough that we want everyone's experience to be the best it can be," Swasey said. "We've seen the (complaints on the message boards). It's a small number of people involved but we don't want to diminish the fact that's it important."
The malfunction has apparently stumped Netflix and Roku engineers for weeks. Roku, which counts Netflix as one of its financial backers, asked those affected by the problem to post information on the company's forums that could help the company pinpoint the problem, such as their ISP, what kind of connection speeds they typically get, and what part of the country they live in.
Earlier this week Roku posted a message on the forum asking any San Francisco Bay Area residents having problems whether they would mind letting engineers poke around their system for clues. Netflix has also been working hard on the problem, Swasey said.
"We're doing all of the analysis we can," Swasey said. "We're looking at region, at carriers...we're working diligently to identify the problem. Until we have, we certainly don't want to speculate at all. Look, there's no manual to take off the shelf here. Netflix has created something new here."
Delivering full-length movies over the Web is extremely complicated and has always been plagued with long download times or fuzzy streams. But Netflix is also competing with itself here. The streaming service was free of these kinds of quality issues for six months.
Why are they cropping up now?
A Roku executive told me earlier this week that the problems coincided with changes Netflix was making with its content distribution network (CDN). It may be a coincidence but about the same time Roku customers began seeing problems with video quality, some Apple TV owners began complaining on the company's message board about long delays downloading movies.