Apple TV: You're a Glorified Roku

Apple's updated Apple TV, while more streamlined and less expensive than the original, offers little more than what Roku already offers today.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Apple's updated Apple TV, while more streamlined and less expensive than the original, offers little more than what Roku already offers today.

Steve Jobs: "One more thing..."

Me: Wait... they're really going to do it! They're gonna launch the new iTV! It's gonna have apps and all the shows and movies I want to watch, and they're gonna be cheap! And it's gonna be integrated with all my social media services and all that good stuff! Ooooh! Look how small it is! Wait... no storage? Wait... It doesn't have apps? Only two TV networks? But it can stream Netflix! And I can rent movies!

Oh wait, I already own one of those. It's called a Roku.

Also See: Roku issues major Netflix channel feature upgrades

Don't get me wrong, I think the device will probably sell a lot of units, especially at $99. But this is not the "iTV" many analysts were thinking that was going to be the cable and satellite TV and video game console killer.

Indeed, they got the $1 per show, with no commercials part right -- but with only two networks to choose from, ABC and FOX, that's not that much of a selection. I'm not betting on the rest of the big players on "Seeing the light", as Jobs so eloquently put it.

Indeed, and what my colleague Matt Miller has already noticed, most of what the Apple TV 2.0 already does I can already do with my Roku.

In fact, with the Roku, besides the Netflix, I can rent the very same first run movies from Amazon Video which iTunes has at competitive pricing ($3.99) plus a large amount of TV content that won't be available with Apple TV at launch. I also can play free streaming music with Pandora or radio stations with RadioTime piped right into my Hi-Fi system, and play my Flickr and even FaceBook photo albums and YouTube content. As a company, Roku isn't at all standing still in terms of its hardware development, and I expect Amazon to have a lot up its sleeves when it comes to expanding its content pantry to combat Apple's offering.

So is the Apple TV really then a Roku-Killer? I asked Roku's Director of Corporate Communications Brian Jaquet what he thought about Apple's new entry into the streaming video market, and his response was thus:

Roku created the category for streaming players over two years ago with the original Netflix player for $99. Since then the category has continued to grow rapidly with large hardware entrants like Xbox, PS3, Wii, blu-ray players, and now AppleTV adding streaming capabilities. At the same time, content is becoming more readily available thanks to Netflix’s increasing popularity, but also from Amazon, MLB.TV and most recently Hulu Plus. During this time Roku sales have continued to accelerate as the overall streaming market grows, and customers enjoy our simple interface, low cost and large selection of services. Our customers are using the box more and more. Two years ago the average Roku customer used our product 11 hours a month, but now it’s 43 hours a month.

Beyond Netflix we have introduced over 50 additional content partners on our open platform that offer customers access to over 100,000 movies and TV shows, live sports, music, photo and video sharing, and more — all while continuing to reduce the cost of our products. Today, a customer can get a Roku player for as low as $59.99 and an HD-capable model for as low as $69.99, plus a 1080p model for $99.99. By selling direct to customers (on roku.com) we can offer more while maintaining lower prices.

Roku is completely confident that our strategy of offering more features and lower cost than competitors continues to be the right plan."

However, unlike the Roku, the Apple device will have seamless integration with Macs and other iOS devices, such as the iPad. As a iPhone or iPad peripheral the new Apple TV makes sense. At 99 bucks I can see a lot of folks beaming movies they've already amassed on their Macs with iTunes (I haven't seen any evidence this works with iTunes 10 on a PC yet, but it would be nice if it did) with AirPlay directly to their TVs.

What Steve Jobs did with the iPad on stage using AirPlay to the new Apple TV was pretty nifty, but in real world application, I don't see that scenario happening too often. More likely, I see the AirPlay feature of the new iTunes being used by DMCA scofflaws to strip DVDs and to play pirated video content on their TV sets, much like it is done with iPads and iPhones today.

Also Read: Apple, Google TV: Does Pay as You Go Make Dollars and Sense?

Murky and most likely applications of the new device aside, both Roku and the Apple TV are at best supplementary content devices, not total replacements for Cable and Satellite TV packages and your DVR. The rental pricing (and content availability) just doesn't make sense yet. And without Apps, and extremely limited prime time TV content selection, I just don't see what the value play of the new Apple TV is yet.

Will you buy the new Apple TV? Talk Back and Let me Know.

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