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Apple (s AAPL) unveiled its updated TV set-top box today, with new streaming functionality and 99-cent TV rentals from ABC (s DIS) and Fox (s NWS). The offering represents Apple’s second attempt at capturing some of the online video market. Unlike the previous offering, this incarnation of the Apple TV comes at a lower price point — $99 compared to $229 –which should make it more attractive to consumers.
Even so, before running out and buying one, users should consider Apple’s competition: in this case, Roku’s existing broadband set-top offerings and the upcoming Boxee Box. While Apple was busy recreating its digital set-top, these startups were busy bringing their own offerings to market, and despite all the hype of the new Apple TV, they stack up pretty favorably.
|Apple TV||Roku||Boxee Box|
|Top Video Quality/Format||720p H.264 & MPEG-4 video||720p H.264 & MPEG-4; HD-XR upgrading to 1080p||1080p H.264 video, Flash 10.1 capability|
|Wireless/Wired Connectivity||802.11N & Ethernet||Roku SD & HD: 802.11A/B; HD-XR: 802.11N wireless||802.11N wireless & Ethernet|
|Outputs||HDMI, optical audio||Roku SD: composite only; HD & HD-XR composite & HDMI||composite & HDMI|
|Other Inputs||1 micro-USB port||Roku HD-XR: 1 USB Port||2 USB Ports, 1 SD Card Slot|
|Third-party Content||First-run movie rentals and TV show rentals from ABC and Fox; Netflix, YouTube, and Flickr access||More than 50 Roku channels, including Netflix (s NFLX), Amazon (s AMZN) Video on Demand and Major League Baseball||More than 400 apps from third-party content providers|
Despite its startup status, Roku still gets high marks for a product line that’s on par with — if not better — than what Apple announced today. Roku’s high-end HD-XR, priced at $99, has HDMI and 802.11N wireless connectivity, which is in-line with Apple TV is offering. It also has Netflix Watch Instantly and a video rental service in Amazon Video on Demand that rivals Apple’s iTunes store. Roku has also promised a 1080p upgrade to its HD-XR product for personal streaming, going one better than the 720p streaming Apple TV is capable of.
The wildcard here is the Boxee Box, due to be released in November. While pricing hasn’t been announced, it’s a good bet that it will be priced close to $200, which would put it at double the cost of the other two products. However, Boxee potentially has a much larger base of content to offer consumers. Since the apps that run on its software pull in video content from existing online video sites, it isn’t as reliant on striking deals with content providers. The flip-side to that is that some content providers — like Hulu — have acted to block Boxee from displaying their videos through its media center software in the past and may do so again when the startup’s set-top box is available.
No doubt Apple will still attract a new group of users that hadn’t previously bought an Apple TV. But this time around, it could face some stiff competition in the increasingly crowded connected TV market.
Check out the Cord Cutters review of the Apple TV below:
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