Whoa. Holy Game-Changer, Batman!

Wowsers. Netflix and LG are apparently set to release a set-top box for direct downloads of movies in the very near future:

Netflix enters internet TV race
US DVD rental firm Netflix is to release a set-top box which will let subscribers download movies and other programmes over the net.
The box will be built by LG and is the latest move in the battle among content providers and hardware manufacturers to dominate the digital living room.
Netflix subscribers will be able to use the device at no extra charge.

Emphasis mine.
This is huge news, in my estimation. A company whose service is already used by millions of subscribers is set to make the corner video stores of the world completely obsolete. That giant thunking sound you just heard was the sound of Blockbuster executives’ foreheads hitting their mahogany conference table in unison.
I don’t think the timing is without its symbolism either — Apple has been dropping hints about offering movie and TV rentals via iTunes for quite a while and looked to be ready to announce it at this month’s MacWorld Expo in San Francisco. Word on the street is, though, that Apple is having a tough time getting the major studios to sign on, with only Disney (duh) and Warner showing any interest. That, plus the fact that the AppleTV is a for-pay set-top system, while this Netflix gear will be free to subscribers just may kill Apple’s entree into the market before it’s even official.
Me, I’m heavily weighing canceling DirecTV and starting my Netflix account back up. The only thing I’d miss would be the NFL, frankly…
Looks like I spoke too quickly. The BBC link above is vague in its wording, while this Ars Technica piece puts forth that no device pricing has been announced. The units are likely to cost some money, while the service itself will be free. Mea culpa.
I still hold that it’s a distinct shot across Apple’s bow.