Netflix & the hacked DVD Player
How Netflix1 and a hacked DVD player form a more perfect union.
This information follows up on Copying a DVD to VHS. As
it turns out, the combination of a hacked DVD and a Netflix subscription is a
very empowering solution, that allows you a great selection of movies and a high
degree of flexibility in the way you watch them at a very reasonable
What Netflix is
- Netflix is an online DVD rental service with over 12,000 titles in stock
and a very nice movie database to help you find what you want.
- It's trivial to subscribe online, costs $20 U.S. per month and is available
for use immediately after you subscribe. They were even offering a free
trial last time I checked.
- What have I forgotten? Hmmm, well, first off you'll be blown away by
all the titles. This week we watched Billy Jack, Witches of Eastwick
and Catch 22. Next up, Annie Hall, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and
Easy Rider. My movie tastes aside, try finding those at your local
Blockbuster. In fact try finding much of anything at your local BB
lately. If it hasn't come out in the last six months, chances are they
don't have it. Worse yet, Blockbuster has probably run all the locally
owned competition out of business. I know they have in my little town.
How Netflix Works
- Once you subscribe, you are entitled to rent an unlimited number of DVDs,
but you can only have three checked out at a time.
- There's no time limit for how long you can keep the movies, but you don't
get any more until you start returning the ones you already have out.
If you lose a DVD you can either pay for it, or just "keep it
forever" and you'll only have a two movie rotation instead of three.
- The DVDs are sent and returned via snail mail, and it seems to take about
three days each way. Netflix has distribution centers in several
locations and your movies come from the closest one. You aren't liable if
movies are lost in the mail.
- To pick your movies, you access the database and put the ones you decide to
"Rent" into on your personal rental queue. You can change
the priority of the listings anytime you want, so you always know what movie
is coming next. This is more fun than a barrel full of movie
critics. My list currently has several dozen titles on it and we
adjust the priority of them almost every day.
- They start out by sending you the first three, then every time you send
one back, you get the next one on the list.
The bummer about DVD for me was that I'd gotten really used to taping VHS
movies so that we could watch them whenever we wanted and not worry about when
they were due back. This kind of "Time-shifting" has been upheld as a valid application of Fair Use, and I don't consider it a violation of copyright laws2. The bad news is that virtually all DVDs are double
copy protected, they use a nasty piece of work call CSS copy protection to
prevent DVD to DVD copying. And they use a less virulent but still pesky
thing called Macrovision to prevent you from playing the DVD and copying the
analog signal on a VHS tape.
I'm staying away from the CSS thing altogether, but getting around
Macrovision has become my cause celebre. One way to do this is to remove
the Macrovision signal before it gets to your VCR using a signal converter. These are fairly
inexpensive ($25 - $125 U.S.), and they sorta-kinda-work. There is, however, a better
solution. A DVD player with the appropriate firmware disables the
Macrovision by preventing it from being injected into the signal in the first
How they work together
So, once you've got your Netflix subscription, the movies will come rolling
in. As many as you want, as fast as you can watch them. And therein
lies the rub. A big movie weekend around here gobbles up three flicks
easily. Since you can only have three out at a time from Netflix and there's a
six day snail mail turnaround, we've got a little logistics problem. Not
too bad admittedly, but annoying. If, however, you have your shiny new
hacked DVD player, you can time shift the whole process as much as you
want. You just tape anything you want for later viewing. For
example, we rented a half a dozen movies and taped them before we watched any at
all. Now we've got a backlog that will probably always be there.
Netflix and the hacked player work together hand in glove to make up the
2My copyright ethos: Respect copyright laws, but demand fair use rights.