I bought Roku recently after comparing it with Apple TV, Boxee and Google TV. I also have some Digital TV apps built in my LG TV. After spending time with these, I have concluded that there's a lot left to be desired in this space. There are a plenty of innovations that need to be happen in this ecosystem and I believe that those are about to happen in the next 5-10 years. After all, TV is the most watched screen among the 4 main screens out there today among PC, tablet, phone, TV.
Here is my review of the various products.
Apple TV: It's content is limited mostly to movies and TV shows. It does not have a browser. Also, it offers only 720p. However, it has great hardware and it also lets you Airplay which is a cool future if you also own an iPad or an iPhone.
Boxee: Very open, lot's of creative ideas but the content is not yet there. You can play any web content on it because it has a flash-capable browser. But sometimes sites disallow playing on Boxee (e.g. Hulu). You can also play it on your laptop or mobile just as easily as the TV box. It also integrates with social networks but none of my friends seem to be there.
Google TV: It promises a lot of cool features but is unable to deliver overall value mainly because it's light on content and does not have cool hardware. The Logitech Revue box that carried Google TV completely bombed. In fact in their Q1 results, Logitech had negative sales because their returns were greater than their sales. I feel Google TV's problem is that it has too many features and does not strongly deliver on any.
Roku: Roku came out top in my analysis mainly because it is simple to use and seems to have the most amount of content. While the hardware can play 1080p, most of its content is of much lesser quality and often not HD at all. Although it offers a lot of content, once I started using it, I realized it didn't quite feel that way. They have recorded news, TED shows, congressional hearings, Khan Academy videos, some free/useless Bollywood content. The best it gets is live streaming Fox news from 9am-3pm. But unfortunately I don't watch Fox :) In short, there is very little live content and is not mainstream content. The content options are good but it doesn't feel like great TV experience.
After playing with Roku and reviewing the others I feel there's a lot left to be desired for digital TV. Here is my wish list of things that need to happen to offer really awesome digital TV.
* There is a huge need for mainstream and live content. There needs to be the ability to subscribe to live news, talk shows, live sports etc. There also needs to be the ability to get local content (e.g. local news, events).
* Vudu (owned by Walmart) is the best movies app. It offers most number of latest moves for a reasonable price and superior quality (1080p video, 5.1 dolby sound). However, none of these boxes offers Vudu. I have it on my LG TV and I absolutely love it. All other movie/TV apps (Netflix, Amazon, HuluPlus) offer only upto 720p.
* Most of the content is not in HD. With most people buying large flat-screen TVs, its a very poor experience to watch anything less than HD quality.
* 3D content is missing on any of these boxes. I bought a 3D TV but there's almost no 3D content out there. My only option today would be to buy a Blu Ray player and then buy 3D blu ray disks. I don't want to do that :)
* Searching for good content is difficult and requires too much clicking. Also the content is not personalized. Content discovery has a lot of opportunity for improvement. This could be personalized with your viewing habits or your friends viewing habits, Also, the user experience of clicking/typing with a remote control to find content is really painful. While there are some options to search on your phone/tablet, it still needs to become simpler.
* One of the most important problem that needs to be solved are business models. All of them need to work with content owners to figure out intelligent business models that will bring high quality content in both recorded and streaming format. From my experience, I am happy to pay per content (streaming/recorded) if I am interested in it (e.g. I'll buy NBA channels but don't care about NHL). An iTunes like model applied to digital TV is what we need.
I can't wait for the technology developments that will unfold in the digital TV space in the next 5-10 years. This is one area that's waiting to be disrupted.
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