Roku announced today that it has added MLB.TV to its channel lineup, so anyone who owns the little set-top box and has an MLB.TV Premium subscription can now stream live out-of-market baseball games directly to their big-screen TVs without the need for a PC. We sat down with Tim Twerdahl, Vice President, Consumer Products at Roku, who gave us a quick video demo of MLB in action.
This marks a pretty big content shift for Roku. This is the first time the company is providing live content as opposed to VOD, and it’s the first sports channel for the box. It’s important because often the reasons people give for holding on to their cable or satellite subscription is that they still want their live sports. While this news won’t send a flurry of people into cord-cutting mode, it does show that over-the top video delivery is getting closer to replicating the TV experience.
MLB.TV on the Roku works just like it does on the PC, only the controls and look have been customized for the Roku experience. The picture on the live games is quite good if your connection can handle it, but it uses the adaptive streaming from Swarmcast, so picture quality can vary depending on your bandwidth. When I watched at Roku’s offices, the video was excellent and sharp, but it did get pretty blocky from time to time.
Games are kept on demand for a week, and you can look ahead to see the upcoming week’s games as well. There are also DVR-like controls, so you can pause a live game, rewind and fast-forward. You can also leave during mid-game and when you return either resume watching where you left off, or join the live game in progress.
In addition to the MLB update, Roku also added search functionality to its Amazon VOD channel today. For anyone who has tried sifting through the content on Amazon, this is a welcome addition. Even better, the search query is remembered, so let’s say you searched for “DeNiro” and came up empty on Amazon, the box will seek out that search term on other Roku channels to see if it can find a match. The on-screen keyboard still isn’t the most elegant of input devices, but it’s better than scrolling side-to-side looking for what you want. Twerdahl said that interface issues are not lost on the company, but it has to strike a balance with keeping the interface simple.
Twerdahl said the Roku box will have 10 channels up by the end of the year. Last month, blip.tv announced its content would hit the box this fall, and support for MediaFly will be arriving soon. You can also expect to see non-video applications like Internet radio and photo sharing.
The company is also planning to open up its platform for anyone to develop on it. When asked about those plans, Twerdahl said that there will eventually be a Roku Channel Store that people can develop for and that Roku is not going to go the Apple route and certify all the apps before they are allowed in.
Twerdahl is still cagey when it comes to sales specifics saying only that the company has sold “well into the hundreds of thousands” of units since launch. It came to light yesterday that Roku raised an additional $8.4 million in a fourth round of funding, bringing its total amount raised to at least $24 million.
The MLB update is rolling out in waves starting tonight. If you don’t see the update right away and are desperate to see some baseball, you can go to the Roku’s settings menu to force it.