LG, Netflix to launch TVs with instant movie viewing

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Netflix and LG Electronics said on Sunday that LG will soon introduce TV sets that can screen Netflix movies directly from the Web without an external box.

Workers at an LG booth set up a display featuring the 50PG60 television, a 50-inch 1080p plasma TV with a single layer design, as they prepare for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada January 6, 2008. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

Last year, the U.S. DVD rental company and the Korean electronics giant launched set-top boxes and Blu-ray DVD players equipped with the same Netflix software.

Netflix, which is seeking to equip all home-entertainment screens with instant movie-viewing capability, also announced other partnerships, including one with Microsoft’s Xbox 360 to embed the movie software in its game consoles.

Netflix subscribers who buy one of these devices can hook it up to their TVs to watch movies that can be downloaded from the Internet instantly, as part of their monthly rental plan.

Subscribers can choose from about 12,000 movie titles and television episodes for instant viewing -- an option the company introduced in 2007. Netflix’s entire library consists of more than 100,000 titles.

The new high-definition LG televisions, which will be on view at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, are targeted at those Netflix customers who want the convenience of Internet-to-TV movies without the clutter of a set-top box or an additional DVD player.

Some people “do not like to be encumbered with a rack of boxes around the TV,” Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey said.

Swasey added Netflix is working on similar partnerships with other gadget makers, but declined to mention names. “The goal for Netflix is to be ubiquitous ... (on) whatever device connects Internet to the TV.”

But the Los Gatos, California-based company, whose trademark red envelopes are shipped to nearly 9 million subscribers, has no immediate plans to tie up with mobile phone companies, Swasey said, despite the growing popularity of smart phones like Apple’s iPhone and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry.

“There’s a limited market for people who want to watch a 2 1/2-hour movie on a 2-inch screen,” he said.

LG aims to begin selling the Netflix-enabled LG TVs this spring, said Tim Alessi, LG Electronics USA’s director of product development.

These televisions, which use broadband Internet technology, will be available in four models -- LCDs with 42-inch and 47-inch screens, and plasma TVs with 50-inch and 60-inch screens, he said.

Alessi did not disclose a price for these new TVs, but said the company would charge a “small premium” over the typical cost of similar high-definition televisions.

On average, these TV sets cost about $1,000 at a store like Wal-Mart.

“The main point is to add a lot of value for the consumer,” he said, adding that they were encouraged by sales of the Netflix-ready set-top boxes and Blu-ray DVD players.

If anything, Alessi was optimistic that the economic recession might help TV sales, especially as people look for cheaper entertainment.

“When economic times are tougher, people tend to stay home more, through ‘stay-cations’ or cocooning, and in those environments, TVs tend to do better,” he said.

Editing by Maureen Bavdek