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A Fresh Look at the Ever-Changing Set-top Box Scorecard

The notion of cutting the cable cord has gotten a lot of hype lately, but that’s because there are now more ways then ever for consumers to access premium content on their TVs without using a cable or satellite provider. In fact, the landscape of choices has changed dramatically even since we did our first Internet set-top box scorecard last year. Here’s a rundown of the major players in the space right now.


What’s good: The tiny li’l set-top box is (relatively) cheap at $99 and easy to install. It now features 40,000 titles (including new releases) available for à la carte rental or purchase through Amazon VOD, in addition to the 12,000 library titles available through Netflix’s all-you-can-watch video buffet. All content is streamed, so there is instant watching and no downloads to clog up a hard drive.

What’s not so good: Amazon content is not in HD, and only a handful of random titles are available in HD through Netflix. Notably for video enthusiasts, there isn’t support for surround sound, either.


What’s good: Movies are available on the same day as they are released on DVD. Vudu offers 1,300 titles in 1080p HD, and has opened up its box to enable other services beyond just movies. The price was recently lowered to $149.

What’s not so good: The company has been through some turmoil in recent months with a couple of rounds of layoffs, making those price cuts seem like a desperate ploy to gain some traction in the marketplace. Who knows if Vudu will survive another year?


What’s good: This is a solid product that’s been out for awhile, and it comes from a trusted brand. Movie and TV content (including HD) is available from all the major studios. It also allows you to access your photos and music through the TV.

What’s not so good: At $229 for a 40GB model, it’s not cheap. And there’s no streaming, so if you purchase any content (especially HD content), the hard drive space available will be whittled away quickly. Plus, Apple has made clear it still considers this device a “hobby.”


What’s good: Boxee lets you access online content from Netflix, CBS, ABC, and Joost, as well as your music and other media through one central interface. It’s free and open source, so developers are adding to it and improving it all the time.

What’s not so good: There is no “box” in Boxee; it runs on PCs, and hooking up a computer to a TV is not for everyone. And as we recently learned, Boxee is not entirely in control of its own destiny, either, as it had to remove Hulu from its service, drastically reducing its appeal.


What’s good: Not only is it a DVR, but it also provides access to Amazon VOD, CinemaNow for Disney movies, and independent movies from Jaman as well as web video content like podcasts and YouTube. Plus, TiVo is a reliable product that’s easy to use.

What’s not so good: An HD TiVo will set you back $299 and the subscription fee is $12.95 a month just for the service. The company has been hemorrhaging subscribers, so who knows what’s in store for it?

This isn’t a comprehensive list. There are other players out there, like Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 game consoles, as well as smaller set-top players and an assortment of PC media extenders. Plus, what’s available is constantly changing. More Net-connected Blu-ray players and television sets will hit the market this year, and just this week a new entrant called ZillionTV stepped onto the set-top playing field with the backing of major Hollywood studios and Visa.

Personally, I’m loving the Amazon/Netflix combo on the Roku. It’s got a good price point, has a small footprint, and it’s easy to install and use. I haven’t cut the cable cord yet, but I’m close, and if Netflix offers a streaming-only subscription service, I may not ever rent another DVD.

16 Responses to “A Fresh Look at the Ever-Changing Set-top Box Scorecard”

  1. I can stream Netflix on my Xbox, TiVo, and Roku. But I choose to watch it mostly through the Roku. The device boot up and UI are quick. If only I could browse titles from the couch or bed on TV instead of via laptop.

  2. Never forget Vista Media Center. Certainly more expensive then any of the other options listed here, but the only one that handled DVR, Amazon VOD, NetFlix, Joost, etc – plus pushes all that content out to XBox360’s and media extenders – never violating the 10-foot rule.

    Pros: does it all, great interface
    Cons: $$$

  3. Sorry to plunge in off-topic.. but: I’m desperate for help — I’m hoping someone can help me find a partner who can offer a service bundle like this:

    Video Asset Mangement/DAM (extensive meta/tagging important. Inc: HTML page, links, multi-tier categories, preview clip and cover image)

    Hosting (Streaming, Scheduled & Live)

    Transcoding (FLV,WM,QT etc etc and All Mobile formats)

    Low-cost bandwidth ;-) (burstable)

    High-qual network ‘edge’ partner

    Open Player Architecture (API)

    High Quality player (Flash & Silverlight, self-aware, self-updating)

    Integrated Social/Community Tools (Important.. something like Pluck, Userplane?)

    Some Widgets


    Good Admin… CMS, channel management etc

    Advertising Engine

    Multiple User Accounts

    There’s a LOT of crossover in this market… and, after a few days searching for the perfect fit, i’m looking for some help in finding a partner that can tick all of these boxes…?


    Thank so much if you can help with other suggestions or can offer a decent resource which would help to make an evaluation.


  4. Im looking at the Wii as a contender in this market also In Japan there is a VOD service on Wiiware called Everybody’s Theater and Nintendo intends to launch thier own “lifestyle” video channel later this year .

    The Japanese Wiis also have a TV guide service .