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Competition nears for upcoming Apple TV from Google, Roku, Boxee

Apple's drastically updated Apple TV won't ship until late this month. But home viewers looking for simple ways to enjoy Internet video and audio on their HDTVs will get a few other new options soon afterward -- or in one case, maybe before Apple TV's retail rebirth.

The best-known among these competitors is Google, which demonstrated its Google TV software in May. This Android-based product, to be available in some Sony HDTVs and Blu-ray players as well as a separate Logitech box, will act as a front end to both the cable and satellite programming you already pay for, as well as Web video and audio sources.

Google hasn't offered a ship date more specific than "fall" so far. Last week, however, Intel chief executive Paul Otellini may have forgotten his PR guidance when he told the Wall Street Journal, "Google TV starts shipping this month."

Over the weekend, news leaked of new Web-media boxes from one of the longer-lived competitors in this young field, Roku. Engadget noted a set of Federal Communications Commission filings that suggest the upcoming arrival of two new Roku "XD" boxes, plus a Netgear receiver with Roku's software.

You can expect that, like Roku's existing boxes, these will connect to a wide array of video sources, such as Netflix and Amazon, plus sports programming -- most notably, Major League Baseball's -- unavailable on other devices in this category. Now that other leagues seem to be showing more interest in online distribution, will a future Roku box expand your choice of games you can watch over the Web? Stay tuned.

Finally, Boxee -- the developers of the simplified media-browsing software of the same name -- began taking orders for D-Link's Boxee Box this morning. This media receiver has gone through some design changes since I first saw it at the Consumer Electronics Show in January; Boxee switched to an Intel processor and other components, which helps explain what happened to its original second-quarter ship date.

The Box will sell for $199 and ship in November. Like the Boxee software, it will provide a remote-control friendly interface to browse video and audio programming from a wide variety of Internet sources -- plus media from your own computers. Boxee's system invites tinkering; that has had a cost in usability but has also allowed its software to continue providing access to Hulu despite that TV-viewing site's repeated efforts to shut out Boxee users.

It will be interesting to see how the different presentations of Web content in these devices fare in the market. Will consumers gravitate toward Apple TV's promise of simplicity, even if it precludes easy TV viewing of many of their favorite video sites? How will Roku's more varied menu compare with Boxee's wider-still selection but less polished interface? And if the price of using Google TV is tinkering with the "IR blasters" necessary to relay a Google TV remote's commands to a cable or satellite box -- something that's as fun as it sounds -- how many users will tolerate that initial complexity?

I'd like to see your predictions on those points in the comments. Set aside your willingness to puzzle through setup routines; which of these products do you think might appeal to consumers who use only 15 buttons of the 40-plus on their cable or satellite remotes?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 13, 2010; 3:24 PM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , TV , Video  
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Next: Consumer Reports still doesn't like the iPhone 4


If you were up-to-date, dude - you'd know that some of us expect our new AppleTV to be shipping by the weekend.

Resellers expect them in-house by the 17th.

Posted by: Eideard | September 13, 2010 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Great article Rob. I'm glad to see that you mentioned some other players, beside Google and Apple. Another one that some may not be aware of is Seetvpc [dot] com. They offer a software solution to online TV - no hardware
box required for it. Seems like this is better for those on-the-go, wanting TV access from their laptop.

Posted by: monicapellar | September 14, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

I expect Boxee to find itself in court facing several content providers if it continues to steal content. Among them will doubtlessly be Hulu. I do not know why you are encouraging Boxee's illegal activity.

Furthermore, the Boxee software is foul, including being pretty much impossible to uninstall from a computer. People use Boxee to 'beat the system' but go through so much rigmarole that doing so isn't worth it.

Last, but not least, the clunky Boxee Box is now among the most expensive options, with Apple TV selling for only $99.

Suffice it to say, I don't think Boxee is going to be successful, or deserves to be.

Posted by: query0 | September 14, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

I laughed when Jobs announced the Apple TV box. We have two Roku boxes, one of which we've been using for more than a year. They are simple to set up and use, and they work very well with Netflix. I expect Roku to do well. Their biggest challenge is an almost complete lack of name recognition. Even may tech-savvy people have never heard of them.

Posted by: rmcd | September 14, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

@query0 boxee doesn't do anything illegal, they are merely a GUI for a web browser that access the different sites and allows subscribing to rss feeds and different TV programs. It is not any different than watching it in your web browser and even congress was confused why they blocked it. Hulu just wants money from them and hasn't blocked content for over a year now so they must be content.

Boxee also allows you to access media files on your network in almost any format to play, which the AppleTV and Roku do not do or do with very limited file types. Plus the Boxee box currently will do 1080p which is coming to Roku soon. If I want to be able to play my media and stream from the internet (Hulu, Nextflix, EPSN3, NHL, MLB and independent movie studios) but pay EXTRA for it then Boxee. If I am doing Netflix, watching web only shows, renting HD movies and some sports Roku. If I am doing Netflix, renting HD movies and paying for some current TV programs AppleTV. If I want to be able to make my current TV selection easier to use and search for content that is playing Google TV (this functionality will expand greatly with time). GoogleTV currently looks to be designed for full keyboard use, which is not what I want on my TV but some do. It all depends on what you want, me personally I want to dump my cable bill and watch streams online and my personal content so Boxee is my option for ease of use and install. If I wanted the best option I would be building a HTPC with XBMC and/or Win7 media center which allows me to access everything online and record live TV for around $300.

If AppleTV opens up to apps like GoogleTV then this is a completely different game. The first player to the market usually wins, not the best option. This is going to be an interesting fight but I have a feeling Google is going to win this and it may require them dumping a lot of money into it, which they have.

Posted by: atkruz789 | September 15, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

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