I’ve prevously mentioned the Roku digital player as a game changer for home entertainment, but haven’t actually bought one yet. It looks now like there’s some serious competition to Roku, which is of course a good thing. The first is Boxee, which has a software-only variant you download to yor PC and also actual hardware slated for release this year. Like Roku, the Boxee box has simple connections for your TV, has built-in wifi, and USB for external drives. Boxee also has an SD card slot and intriguingly, a full QWERTY keyboard on the back of the remote. It isn’t clear if Boxee supports Netflix or the Amazon video store, but unfortunately Boxee was forced to yank Hulu support recently. Boxee is expected to cost about $200, which about twice what Roku costs.
The other challenger to Roku is popbox, which is an evolution of the Popcorn Hour box which Nick has been using (and promising to blog about for ages! *nudge* *nudge*). The popbox looks to be a simpler deice than Popcorn Hour’s flagship model the C-200, and promises support for pretty much every file format out there (including MKV, which doesn’t seem to be supported by Roku). Popbox will support netflix, and also crunchy roll which pretty much screams “otaku buy me!” – and its price is more comparable to Roku at $129 (available in March). The only downside is that it doesn’t come with wifi included, you have to shell out a little for that.
So, whats a prospective consumer like me to do? The ideal device for me would be to support every possible format (like popbox), built-in wifi (like boxee and roku), and be priced no higher than $150. And of course netflix support is the key. Its worth noting that both popbox and boxee also will have app development platforms so presumably someone could add support for other services. I also imagine that Roku isn’t going to sit back withouut any competitive response; if Roku could add MKV support then I’d probably still favor it over these other more featured, but more complicated and expensive, options. That has to be a simple firmware or software update, I imagine.
Regardless, it’s great to see how this market is coming along. With the death of disc imminent, it’s where the future is. You can easily imagine someone taking a BD player and adding a Roku to it and making a complete convergence device. In fact, what if Nintendo were to do that with Wii v2.0 – have it be a BD player like the PS3 and also support all these features in software? Given all the hype about mobile device convergence (camera+phone+PDA+apps) it makes sense that we would see a trend towards convergence in our living rooms. Theres no reason I should have to have a separate device for DVDs, games, and digital entertainment. The PS3 is closest to this now, in fact – but its expense still sets it apart. A fully converged device as I describe above, my hypothetical Wii 2.0, shoudl be priced no higher than $300 to really make inroads.
Related: article on Popbox at Electronista