Set-top boxes: is simple better?

I blogged a few weeks ago about my positive experience with my new Roku, and it appears that the battle of dedicated Internet connected set-top boxes is starting again.  (Note that gaming consoles such as the XBox360 or PS3 could also be considered competition in this space.)  Specifically, Apple has announced its newly updated AppleTV, D-Link will soon be launching their Boxee device and Logitech will be releasing the Revue based on GoogleTV.  All of these boxes are designed to dominate your living room by providing access to rich Internet content.  However, the strategies used by these vendors vary.  The Revue and Boxee bring a full Internet experience while the Roku and AppleTV focus on a streamlined approach.

The living room has always been a consumer electronics battleground.  An early company targeting the space was WebTV who sold a set-top box that accessed the Internet and provided a web browsing on the TV.  WebTV’s devices were relatively complex and included a dial-up modem (limited broadband back then), a traditional remote control and a wireless keyboard.  The company was not successful and was purchased by Microsoft for very little.  I believe that the device was overly complex for the living room and did not provide a quality Internet experience.  Ironically, Logitech and D-Link appear to be following a similar path. Continue reading Set-top boxes: is simple better?

Roku: So simple and yet so useful

I am a techie and love buying new gadgets.  However, every once in a while, a device comes out that makes you think, “how could something so simple be so useful,” and this describes Roku perfectly.  It is a single purpose device designed to stream audio and video from the web.  There are no fancy LED displays or LCD remotes or flashing lights; it is a small black box that just sits there and does its job consistently and effectively.


My interest in the Roku stemmed from a desire to watch movies on TV.  My cable company, Comast, offers video-on-demand, but I had been frustrated with the lack of choice and particularly in the area of children’s content.  At the same time, I had also recently become entranced with Pandora.  It is an amazing service that does a great job streaming a customized mix of music over the Internet.  The combination of these two requirements originally drove my search for an appropriate device.

My first thought was to put a computer in the entertainment center which could meet both of the above requirements and more, but the thought of having to boot something and then manage a keyboard, mouse and potentially a complex remote control was too much.  Another option I considered was a videogame system.  Most of today’s consoles serve as portals to the Internet and can stream audio and video, but the problem was cost and functionality.  These systems can be expensive and bring a whole range of videogame features which I would love , but currently have no time for.  It rapidly became clear that I needed a dedicated device, and I wanted something that would pass the wife test meaning that it was unobtrusive and easy to use. Continue reading Roku: So simple and yet so useful