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 cost.  

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.

Why you need a hacked DVD player 

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 place.  

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 coolness.

Happy Viewing!

1Netflix: http://www.netflix.com/
2My copyright ethos: Respect copyright laws, but demand fair use rights.

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