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Summary:

OEM manufacturers are showing off a number of Android-powered set-top boxes at CeBIT this week. That could mean many of the cheaper media streaming devices available in U.S. stores could soon be based on Android — but it also signals a market shift toward Android.

android tv stb

We could soon see a flood of Android-based set-top boxes and video streaming devices, if news coming out of CeBIT is any indication of future releases. A number of OEMs are showing off video playback devices based on Google’s Android OS at the expo in Hannover, Germany this week. Some of the gear being showcased is still in the prototype stage, but other manufacturers are ready to deliver units in the next month or two.

ARMDevices.net has been publishing a number of videos of these Android set-top boxes in recent days, showing what OEM manufacturers like Shenzen Ider Technology, Cideko and Zinwell have in store. Check out the video below for a closer look at the Ider product:

Ider’s media player comes with Android 2.2, an interesting Wii-like remote control, a full browser, and a number of apps, which at this point mostly seem to be for Chinese video sites and services. The company representative interviewed for the video says the device could be available for sale as early as next month, with a wholesale price starting at $60. Other manufacturers have similar offerings in store, but it’s worth pointing out that the customization options offered by Zinwell include an OTA tuner.

Watching these videos, you’ll notice the ARMDevices reporter is keen on pointing out that these ARM processor-powered devices could eventually run Google TV as well. That may theoretically be true, but I have my doubts about the practicality of doing so. Google is reportedly working on an ARM-based implementation of its Google TV platform, but that doesn’t mean that it will run on just any ARM hardware, or that it would make sense to port it.

Google has some pretty stiff hardware requirements for its TV platform, including the mandate to have one GB of RAM and four GB of flash memory on board, which aren’t likely to be changed even if Google adopts ARM. Official Google TV devices also have to be delivered with a full keyboard, which could bring the price point of these devices up further.

Still, that Android is gaining traction in the set-top box market is significant. First of all, it offers companies like Seagate, WD or Roku a platform that’s far more extendable than their current media player offerings, and it could help them to sell inexpensive devices that go far beyond what Apple TV & Co. currently offer.

More importantly, these OEM offerings tend to signal where the overall market is moving. In early 2010, we saw tons of cheap Android tablets pop up at trade shows like CeBIT and CES. Fast forward a year, and all the major manufacturers are working on their own potential iPad killer.

I wouldn’t be too surprised to see the same major CE makers release set-top box and connected devices running some flavor of Android next year. And yes, some of these devices might run Google TV, but others could also simply utilize Android to power their own platforms.

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  1. My guess, like with Android, the code is going to be open source shortly (my guess by the time Google releases Google Marketplace for Google TV), and at that point all these cheap ARM based devices can port it over and use that. But that may not mean Google will allow Google Marketplace support nor to put “with Google” on branding of the devices. But hopefully, Google will not put such restrictions, even if it’s easy to add Google Marketplace to any device using a GoogleMarketplace.apk, it’s better that Google not put restrictions on hardware required.

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  2. We at Mediafly experimented with an early Android STB from a Taiwanese OEM. The results were interesting. For general-purpose browsing, controlled music playback, and attached- or NAS-based video playback, the devices perform well. When you start to require support for the broad spectrum of codecs and containers, these cheap devices really struggle. They are missing the proprietary hardware video decoders and accelerators that you find even on Android phones these days, and the results are that very few kinds of videos will play.

    For controlled video environments, they will suffice. But as general purpose media tools, good luck.

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  3. What happened to “no body wants a set top box”? Doesn’t that sentiment make this announcement a non-starter?

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  4. Lucian Armasu Wednesday, March 2, 2011

    Boxee should do the same for their Box. Put their UI on top Android and release Boxee Box 3 with Tegra 3 in fall, since it supports high-profile playback like they wanted. But they should also ask Google for permission to use the Google TV/Android market.

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