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Netgear gets back into Internet video with Roku

Netgear has wanted to get into the video-extender business for years, without any real success, now, with Roku they may be on their way.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Everyone knows Netgear as, along with D-Link and Cisco's Linksys, as one of the leading SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) and home networking companies. What's less well known is that, like D-Link with its Boxee Box, Netgear would like to compete with Apple's Apple TV and Google's upcoming flood of Google TV-enabled devices.

The reason why you don't know about this is that Netgear has, well, flopped at this business with such non-starters as the NTV550 and NeoTV 550. That may change now. Netgear has quietly started selling a Roku XD under its own name at Fry's.

At Fry's, you'll find the Netgear NTV 250, a re-branded Roku XD for $79.99. This is the same price that the Roku XD retails for at other retailers.

By either name, it comes with access to Roku's Channel Store. This interface lets you access such 'channels' as Netflix, Amazon's Video-on-Demand, the Pandora Web-radio, Major League Baseball's MLB.tv, and, shortly, Hulu Plus.

Now, if only it supported YouTube or came with a decent search function. The last, I should note, is a problem with all the current generation of Internet media-extenders.

The XD, which is Roku's middle of the line model, supports 802.11n. It can't, however, handle dual-band 802.11n, which makes its 1080p video support pretty much pointless in most homes. You'll need to use the supplied wired Gigabit Ethernet port if you want to see 1080p video. Even then, both your Internet connection and the video streams provided by content providers will limit your access to high-end HD video.

That said, no matter what you call it, this device should do quite well for anyone wanting to watch decent quality Internet video at home. From a business perspective, it should do well for both companies. Netgear get a good video-streaming device and Roku will finally get into more big-box retailers that already carry Netgear equipment.

In fact, I wonder if Netgear and Roku may have bigger plans in mind. Roku was exploring an IPO earlier this year. I've also been told that Netgear and Roku will be making a big announcement next week.

What could it be? It might simply be the public unveiling of their joint branding and sales plans. Or, could it be that Netgear, looking at the growing Internet video market, might want to purchase Roku?

Netgear has a close to a billion-dollar market-cap and Roku, with only about a dozen employees, was looking to raise a mere $30-million before its IPO. Thus, with a relatively small purchase price for Roku, Netgear could get a dog in the Internet video fight and steal a march on its arch-rival in the home networking market, Linksys, which doesn't have a home Internet video product. This is pure speculation on my part, but it's interesting to think about.

In any case, if you've been thinking about buying Roku, but you actually wanted to see one before putting down your cash, you can start looking at retailers for the Netgear NTV 250 in the few weeks.  It should be there.

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