Netflix delivers movies directly to the PC

Netflix has announced a service to deliver movies and TV shows directly to users’ PCs — not as downloads but as streaming video, which is not retained in computer memory. The service, free to Netflix subscribers, is meant to give the company a stake in the emerging world of Internet movie distribution.

Netflix’s chief executive, Reed Hastings, demonstrated the system for "The New York Times" at Netflix’s headquarters in Los Gatos, CA. On a laptop PC, he pulled up a Netflix Web page where some titles displayed a play button in addition to the company’s familiar add button, which adds movies to a subscriber’s queue for mailing.

Initially, the service will begin a limited catalog of about 1000 movies and TV shows. Titles from NBC Universal, Sony Pictures, MGM, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers are included.

The service, which will be introduced during a six-month period, works only on recent versions of Windows and Internet Explorer and uses Microsoft’s streaming platform. There is no Macintosh support. Hastings hopes to expand the catalog of titles and eventually make the service available on other hardware and software combinations, including set-top boxes, TV screens and portable devices.

The bulk of Netflix’s subscribers, who pay a monthly $18, will receive 18 hours of free watching every month.