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Rooting for Roku

September 24, 2010

Picking up on previous posts on LiveDigitally what makes a great Google TV or Boxee app, I thought I’d jump in with some thoughts of my own on one of my favorite devices, the Roku box.

I got my Roku about four months ago and I love it, I really do. It gives me about 75% of the content I would want on my TV, which was enough to get me to “cut the cord” and cancel my cable subscription. So for the past few months, Roku has been my rocket ship to the TV universe.

I haven’t seen Roku’s latest offerings, but here are some thoughts on what I have seen and heard about their current boxes:

  1. Roku wins universal praise for its ease and setup, but not so much fanfare for its UI; I can’t disagree. The box is dead-simple to set-up and use, which is great. But the UI is uninspired and doesn’t really encourage you to really delve in to what is on offer
  2. Another piece of high praise is reliability, my box hardly ever flakes and we put it through the ringer. It is hard-wired into my router so I can’t vouch for the wifi capability, which appears to be improved in the new boxes launched today
  3. Content: At the outset, Roku was essentially a Netflix box. That was great a year-or-so ago but now, everyone and their brother is a Netflix box. Roku has some nifty content like MLB, Pandora, Amazon and a few others, but they need to continue to expand with more mainstream stuff.  Apple has Netflix and just scored ABC and FOX. It isn’t a huge leap forward, but it may be enough to peel off Roku users.
  4. Developer community: Related to the content problem, I know from some developer friends that Roku isn’t the easiest platform to develop on. Obviously this is a problem as competitors, both large and small have strong developer communities. Difficult development platform=difficult to get the choice apps/content.

Some of the pet peeves that are missing from my current box have been addressed by the new ones, the biggest being previously a lack of USB. With my current XR, I don’t have USB to view my own content, which is frustrating. Happily, that has been solved with the XDS

But even as it evolves, Roku is firmly staking ground in the low-end market, which I think is a good move.

The big battle around media-streaming boxes will be around price/performance; Google TV seems to be on the highest end, with estimates that their box will be in the $200-$300 range, Boxee is next at under $200, with Apple TV and Roku coming in at the sub $100 range.

GoogleTV and Boxee promise a more active experience, with more features, web surfing  etc., but also with a more complicated remote/UI. AppleTV and Roku look to be more of lean-back experience of just watching content via a simple remote/UI.

My money is on the lean-back experience, which I think is more viable for the short term. A simple box that lets people access most of the content they want will be the gateway drug to media-streaming boxes. Boxee and Google TV look/sound great on paper, but I wonder if they may be too complex too early in the lifecycle of this product segment.

(Cross posted from LiveDigitally)

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2 Comments
  1. Ian permalink

    What about the Xbox 360 and HTPC’s like the new Dell Zino HD?

  2. Michael Robertson permalink

    Roku can also play your iTunes music so it’s a capable music device as well.

    See how at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctn4Dx0IGPE

    It really is an incredible package and they just reduced their prices so you can get one for as little as $59.

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