The rise of streaming music and video devices has been the biggest thing to happen to home electronics in the last few years. With a variety of set-top-boxes, Blu-ray players, game consoles or internet-connected smart TVs, we can get access oodles of content, all without the help of a cable or satellite subscriptions.
Analysts have noted this shift. More people are dumping cable, ignoring broadcast radio and opting to stream rather than buy music. About a week ago Roku released a list of products that will be compatible with the company’s upcoming Roku Stick—a device that looks like a USB thumb drive but fits in a port that looks like an HDMI port (not a standard HDMI port but an MHL-enabled port that also supplies power to the device) and acts essentially just like a Roku streaming box.
About the same time, Apple added Hulu Plus to the short list of apps available on the Apple TV. That one addition does not make it much of a threat to Roku’s 500 apps, but with the Mountain Lion update that allows Mirroring of a wirelessly connected Mac, iPhone or iPad, the Apple TV seems like a killer product for any entertainment system.
Apple’s move marks a big change because Hulu directly competes with Apple’s own sales of TV shows. An even bigger move would be if music services like Pandora, Slacker or Spotify showed up on Apple TV. With the Mirroring feature, we practically already have that.
Yet I’m more intrigued by the Roku product. If Roku can boil its set-top-box down to the size of a thumb drive, what’s to stop it from coming as a built-in feature on a Blu-ray player, home theater receiver or television.
Every brand offering an internet-connected AV product has its own unique interface. Some companies, like Samsung and LG, actively invite developers to produce proprietary content for their platforms, while others just stick with the handful of major streaming services (Netflix, Youtube, Hulu, Pandora, etc.) and the navigation of those services can be wonderful or haphazard. Having Roku embedded on the device would offer a market-proven interface, loads of content and easy implementation.
That’s essentially the model Google was aiming for with the over-complicated and too expensive Google TV. But Roku on your TV? Yes, that could work.
As more services become embedded into devices and it becomes easier to replace cable subscriptions with cheaper online options, the entire delivered content world will be turned upside down.
Of course what about all the speculation over an Apple television? Would that be cooler than a Roku television? Frankly, I think Roku built into a TV is much more likely than an Apple television, but assuming both happen, the market could easily support both. Apple’s fans, and people willing to pay the Apple premium, would be attracted to that product. An LG, Samsung, Panasonic or Toshiba TV with Roku built in could be competitively priced and offer an equivalent (possibly superior) experience.
Existing smart TVs and connected Blu-ray players already give us similar product/service scenarios, but products with Roku embedded in them would offer considerably more choice to the user as well as a proven reliable interface. Make it so.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.