Three reasons to dump your cable provider: Boxee, Roku and Apple TV (updated)

Three reasons to dump your cable provider: Boxee, Roku and Apple TV (updated)

Summary: I don't know of anyone that doesn't want to cut the cord with their cable provider and now it's possible thanks to several inexpensive solutions like: Boxee, Roku and Apple TV.

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I don't know of anyone that doesn't want to cut the cord with their cable provider -- at least the television part, that is. Now it's possible thanks to several inexpensive solutions for Internet and streaming TV that are worth looking at including: Boxee, Roku and Apple TV.

The $99, second-generation Apple TV is a great Internet-to-TV streamer. It excels at Netflix, AirPlay and AirTunes, but it doesn't get you all the way there. It's not 1080p and doesn't have Hulu Plus. Luckily it has been jailbroken and is eminently hackable. If you have all your content in iPhoto and iTunes and like to buy and rent content from Apple, the Apple TV is your ticket.

I found that the $99 Roku XDS was more my speed. It has Netflix, Hulu Plus, 1080p and a USB port where you can connect a big old drive full of movies (as long as they're .mp4, that is). Roku is the same price as the Apple TV but with a different, arguably better, feature set. If you're not locked into iTunes and like USB support, then Roku's your play. [Update: many people go with Roku for its support of live sports, incluing MLB, UFC, NHL and shortly NBA.]

If you have a large library of video content that's not in .mp4 you should probably consider a $200 Boxee Box (or rolling your own). It has more apps, movies and TV shows than Roku and supports an insane list of codecs (audio, image and video) and play your own content locally from USB or SD card or you can stream it from another computer.

Here are my notes on the three competitors in the $200 and under space:

AppleTV 2G - $99

Roku XDS - $99

  • 1080p
  • 75 apps
  • Netflix
  • Hulu Plus
  • Amazon VOD
  • USB (only MP4 video)
  • Private channels

Boxee Box - $199

  • 1080p
  • 400 apps
  • More movies than Roku
  • More TV shows than Roku (40k)
  • insane list of codecs (audio, image, video)
  • play from network, USB drive, or SD card
  • full Webkit browser (with Flash)
  • QWERTY remote
  • Netflix
  • NO Vudu
  • NO Hulu Plus (January)

Obviously, picking a streamer depends on your specific requirements and tastes, but the current crop of devices are probably keeping cable company executives awake at night. Unfortunately none of the current crop of stream does it all and you need all three to have the most options -- and you still won't have live sports.
At the end of day, with a few compromises I could live on a budget of $16 per month - $8 for Netflix and $8 for Hulu Plus. It beats the hell of out the $75 per month that I'm paying Comcast now.
What about you? Considering cutting the cord? What video streamer would you chose if you had $200 to spend?
Update: Danny Sullivan has also posted an excellent comparison of the Roku, Apple TV, Boxee & Google TV -- that is recommended reading.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Networking, Telcos

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81 comments
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  • AppleTV is much better choice thanks to iTunes Media/Air integration

    It has it lacks in other fields, but this advantage overpowers it by a huge margin.

    Also, some of Apple TV lacks and limitations are going to be fixed with updates in the future.
    DDERSSS
    • RE: Three reasons to dump your cable provider: Boxee, Roku, Apple TV

      I never liked Apple TV because Apple controls what you watch. I have nothing against Apple I own a few of their fine products. But to leave programming up to Apple is not my ideal of open programming.
      jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376
    • RE: Three reasons to dump your cable provider: Boxee, Roku, Apple TV

      @denisrs The integration with iTunes (and the complete lack of options because of that) is exactly why I won't touch it.
      trent1
    • RE: Three reasons to dump your cable provider: Boxee, Roku, Apple TV

      @denisrs Yeah, the AppleTV is entirely too restrictive... Plus I absolutely hate iTunes and refuse to switch to Windows or OSX just to use it with an iPpliance.
      snoop0x7b
    • RE: Three reasons to dump your cable provider: Boxee, Roku, Apple TV

      @denisrs I don't like iTunes and don't want it, therefore those reasons are negatives not positives. iTunes does not give me what I have in Netflix and Pandora.
      DevGuy_z
  • RE: Three reasons to dump your cable provider: Boxee, Roku, Apple TV

    Roku or Boxee Box? i'll choose Boxee for its apps, movies and TV shows. And I'll use this theory to make a decision between Boxee and Apple TV, if I've $200. Then no matter which stream you want to purchase, you will embarrassed by video formats limitations, especially, apple users. So, we need a video converter, isn't it? Handbrake, iFunia...<br><a href="http://www.ifunia.com/video-to-appletv-converter-mac.html" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.ifunia.com/video-to-appletv-converter-mac.html</a>
    John Titlow
  • RE: Three reasons to dump your cable provider: Boxee, Roku, Apple TV

    You do know that you can import almost anything you want into your iTunes library so you are not restricted to iTunes purchases.

    You just need something to convert it which is apparently something you also need to do for the Roku.

    Handbrake works well.
    alsobannedfromzdnet
  • Friggin' Nazis

    "Luckily it has been jailbroken and is eminently hackable."<br><br>When will these electronics and software manufacturers realize that not locking down these devices in the first place will only increases their sales and when will media distributors realize that they can no longer sell content that they've already distributed freely on network television. Someone will record it, someone will stream it. They might as well make everything available, unlock the devices, and get some of the revenue from the commercials.
    Socratesfoot
    • Why should they 'leave money on the table' ...

      @Socratesfoot ... if people will pay for these extra services. If they "open it up" far more people will STEAL IT and that just raises the price for those honest folks willing to pay.
      M Wagner
      • money on the table?

        @mwagner@...
        I don't think it is honest to charge for what they have already given away, as in broadcast TV. So if people are willing to pay for something already put out for free consumption, then I guess PT Barnum was right one is born every minute!

        I must say it is a lot more work, kind of like when you would time shift with a VCR. Pay for the convenience, OK, but don't try to paint those not willing to pay for the convenience as thieves. I only take what is offered over the air for free.
        miatapaul
      • Yes, money on the table

        @miatapaul

        Yes, they would be leaving money on the table. You see no one is offering it free over the air. If you watch it over the air, then (in the U.S. anyway) the advertisers are paying for the content. Most streaming services eliminate, or drastically reduce, the advertising presented. Thanks to that little detail the revenue for content production is drastically reduced.

        So yes, "streaming for free" really does leave money on the table.
        use_what_works_4_U
      • Broadcast TV is not free

        I wasn't able to respond under miatapaul's post, so

        @miatapaul...

        Broadcast TV is not "already given away", it is subsidized by the commercials which are run during the broadcast. If there are no commercials, someone's gotta pay for it.
        It is not "offered over the air for free."
        roninido
  • Xbox 360 and PS3

    I think both consoles can be added to the list of options. Both can stream from Netflix (PS3 in 1080p, 5.1 audio) and Hulu Plus (coming soon to X360), an option not available in the Apple TV. Plus X360 has ESPN3 and it works very nice. And both had videos markeplaces with 1080p movies, something Apple TV lacks. The X360 works as a media center while the PS3 has DLNA support. The only advantage I see on the other devices is price and power consumption. A part from that, IMO, consoles have the advantage.
    dvm
    • RE: Three reasons to dump your cable provider: Boxee, Roku, Apple TV

      @dvm Use the XBox 360 for Media center...it's sweet. Have it on the three TV's (long story of how I ended up with 3) but I do and they are nice.
      ItsTheBottomLine
    • RE: Three reasons to dump your cable provider: Boxee, Roku, Apple TV

      @dvm At my X-wife's I have been thinking of setting up an older XBox and mod it using XBMC as they do not have an HDTV yet. though my son now wants a Sony PS3 so that may work without modification and will allow them to move to High Def when they get the hardware.
      miatapaul
  • Why?

    So why would I do this? I pay Verizon ~$150 a month for FIOS Internet + TV. For the TV I have 1 DVR, 1 HD box, and 1 SD box. I can watch TV on 3 TV's in the house and I miss commercials, watch what I want when I want, and get great HD.<br><br>Why would I take a step down in Picture Quality, have to buy expensive boxes for each TV, have to work to find my shows, and have to watch commercials? And then I may even have to go without some shows as they are not legally available online.

    Every time I've run the $'s, "cutting the cord" Is more expensive for us. Maybe it's OK if you only own 1 TV or are single but those of us with multiple TV's it makes no sense.
    itguy08
    • RE: Three reasons to dump your cable provider: Boxee, Roku, Apple TV

      @itguy08 Who said that you have to? This items isn't for everyone. It's not for me. BUT, those that use cable service such as Comcast may find the benefits of being liberated from them. Especially since Comcast like to find ways to squeeze money out of you and limit what you can watch. To make your watching limits worse, they want to charge Netflix and like fees now to view their streaming movies. And if Netflix refuses to pay, they will degrade the streaming quality on their already sh#tty network.
      dove-7
    • RE: Three reasons to dump your cable provider: Boxee, Roku, Apple TV

      @itguy08

      You're getting screwed on the bundle. I've never had Verizon, so maybe you're SOL, but I've been able to talk down most ISPs at least 33%. You're paying at least $100 for TV depending on how you're being charged for your DVR.

      You may have a point on quality, if Verizon is substantially better than the U-verse offerings I've seen.

      At $200 a box, you'd recoup your initial investment in 7 mo. Maybe there's a mistake in your math, 'cause you're not coming out ahead dollar-wise.
      tkejlboom
      • RE: Three reasons to dump your cable provider: Boxee, Roku, Apple TV

        @tkejlboom No he doesn't. The Roku is HD at 1080p
        DevGuy_z
    • RE: Three reasons to dump your cable provider: Boxee, Roku, Apple TV

      @itguy08
      $150 a month times 12 months = $1800 a year.
      Let's go with the most expensive option up top.
      box $200 x 3 (600) + internet $40 x12 (480) + Netflix and Hulu $16 *12 (192) = $1272 the first year and $672 a year after that. I'm not sure how you ran your math.

      Only the Apple TV has less than HD picture quality, you are currently leasing the boxes you have which cost you more in the long run. I've never seen a commercial on Netflix and can find my shows a lot easier than flipping through channels. If you want to cut out commercials on cable you have to DVR them first, which means foreplanning. Sounds like more work to me. Still you will have more current programming options on cable and with $150 a month you probably have every channel there is.
      Greenman76