Media Set-Top Boxes: Make Web Viewing More Like TV and Less Like PC

  • In his Wall Street Journal “All Things D” Personal Technology column this week, Walt Mossberg reviews three set-top boxes: the $100 Roku 2 XS, the $99 second-generation Apple TV and the $199 Boxee Box from D-Link.
  • “The intent of the three products I tested is to do what a computer can, but in a simpler, cheaper and more TV-like manner,” he writes, “with easy setup, clear onscreen menus and small, simple remotes.”
  • Mossberg endorses the Apple TV for those who use iTunes or who own an iPad or iPhone. Apple’s AirPlay allows you to wirelessly stream content to your TV. For others, he likes the simplicity and price point of Roku, which also has a game function. Mossberg suggests Boxee is a bit too complicated and rough around the edges, but might be a good choice for techies.
  • Bottom line: “To watch Internet video easily on a TV, either Roku or Apple TV is the best choice for average consumers.”

iTunes on Movie Share Upswing: Report Credits AirPlay and iPad

  • The recent IHS Screen Digest Media Research report indicates that Apple’s iTunes held the number one spot for movie electronic sell-through (EST) and Internet video on demand (iVOD) with 65.8 percent of the market in the first half of 2011. The Zune Video Marketplace was second with 16.2 percent, while Walmart’s Vudu came in third with 5.3 percent.
  • The research suggests much of Apple’s success can be traced to AirPlay which allows you to stream wirelessly to other devices including TVs.
  • “IHS believes that the ability to stream media from Macs or iOS devices to an Apple TV or third-party AirPlay receiver has prompted users to buy more movies from iTunes — presumably so they can AirPlay them to somewhere else,” reports Ars Technica.
  • It should be noted that Amazon spent this period shifting its strategy to streaming video on demand (SVOD), which IHS ranks in a separate space from iVOD. According to the article: “Amazon still saw a small bump from 4 percent in the first half of 2010 to 4.2 percent a year later, showing that users are still sticking by Amazon’s ‘old’ service.”

Apple Expected to Launch iTunes Replay in Coming Weeks

  • Apple is rumored to be securing the rights to allow downloading of TV shows and movies in addition to previously announced music in a new service called iTunes Replay.
  • The service will allow users to access movies they purchased since January 1, 2009. Some content will only be available for download five times.
  • Streaming will be to Apple TV and most likely iOS mobile devices.
  • AppAdvice reports: “The name, iTunes Replay is currently being used internally, and is planned to be kept when Apple makes this public. You should expect this to go public in the coming weeks, as the necessary changes are being pushed to Apple’s servers at the moment.”

Apple may Offer Streaming Video to Devices via AirPlay

Apple is considering adding streaming video to its AirPlay service, which currently allows users to stream audio from an iPhone, iPad or iTunes to a home stereo or other devices. According to Bloomberg, two people familiar with the matter (who asked to remain anonymous) suggested the new feature would enable streaming video from an iPhone or iPad to television sets — and that Apple would license its software to CE manufacturers who could potentially use AirPlay in their devices for streaming movies, television and other video content.

Expanding AirPlay functionality could possibly spark more use of Apple devices and services in the home, despite the company’s limited success selling the $99 Apple TV set-top box thus far. Bloomberg reports that, “For Apple, AirPlay is a way to expand into the living room without having to introduce new products.”

While Apple and others such as Google are looking to explore the possibilities of streaming video and Web-connected televisions, a challenge for streaming content from a mobile device involves bandwidth issues and whether signals can be carried without interruption. Regardless of any technical obstacles, there is clearly a shift in how consumers are accessing TV shows and movies, with an increasing number of people accessing instant streaming services from the likes of Netflix and Hulu. Apple’s Steve Jobs — banking on a complete shift from physical media toward content distribution in digital form — has gone so far as barring Blu-ray players from Mac computers.

Apple TV Offers Live MLB and NBA Games

Baseball and basketball fans can now turn to the second-generation Apple TV for live and on-demand archived games streaming in HD.  The subscription service will cost $100/year for (spring training and regular season games and access to archived games).  A $120 premium version provides access to both home and away games.  Basketball games are accessible via the NBA League Pass Broadband service. The NBA service offers two options: a $65 version lets users follow up to seven teams throughout the regular season, while a $99 option provides games from all 30 teams.

Both services have blackouts based on the subscription’s registration address.

Access to the new services is enabled by the iOS for Apple TV 4.2 update, and will work similarly to Netflix. Users sign in via an account and password, and then access whatever content the subscription permits. Roku has offered similar access for some time and recently added NHL and UFC options. This could be what sports fans need to ditch traditional cable services.

In a related Wall Street Journal “All Things Digital” article (3/14/11), ESPN reports that only a tiny fraction of sports fans have cut the cable cord, a number that may be moot considering the equal number of fans who added cable and broadband access during the same period.


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