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Comparison: Apple TV vs. Roku vs. Boxee Box

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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
Price $99 $59-$99 >$200
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
Local Storage none none none
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:

Related GigaOm Pro Content (subscription required): Three Reasons Over-The-Top TV Apps Will Beat Big-Cable

75 Responses to “Comparison: Apple TV vs. Roku vs. Boxee Box”

  1. I’m not sure if anyone has pointed this out yet, but above in the side-by-side comparison, it is said that that Apple TV has no local storage. This is incorrect. If you dis-mantle the device, you will find that there is 8gb of flash storage. To kind of shed light on apps situation, this could be a sign of future development of apps and eventually an App Store.

  2. This week I have tried both the Apple tv and the $99 Roku HD .. Both are great units. I thought the user experience on the Apply TV was much better. Slickers and more responsive. However the Roku has an impressive service offering. Once they get Hulu Plus they will have the 3 major streaming services on one device Netflix, Amazon VOD and Hulu.

    One thing I really liked about the Apple TV is the ability to stream content from my computer. My entire Itunes library is available on my HD TV. Additionally you can stream any podcast available in ITunes and there are some good free shows even from major networks. This extends its capabilities some and is overlooked on almost all review sites.

    I’ll be curious to see what value the soon to be release airplay may add (basically allowing you to beam content to your tv from iphone, ipad, ipods.

    Both great units though.

  3. For the record, you’ve got some statistics wrong on the Boxee Box.
    1. It has optical audio output, as well.
    2. It has MPEG4 processing, as well as just about any other format you can throw at it. It’s far less limited than you make out above.
    3. It’s <$200, not >$200.
    4. Not all apps are third-party. Boxee has a number of official apps for partner providers in addition to the third-party apps.

  4. Alfmeister

    I’m holding out for the Boxee Box. It will have IMHO the best remote control for watching TV. One side is the navigation controls and the other is a keyboard. Also it’s RF so you can completely hide the ‘box’ if you wish or leave it visible to make a statement. It will accept both a USB flash drive and an SD card so I can plug my camera/camcorder memory cards into it directly and you can access your network to watch your videos and pictures. The built in web browser which is linux based will be great for streaming videos from any site on the net. It’s really a HTPC with a cool RF mini keyboard/nav control for a fraction of the price. I can’t wait!

  5. I have been using a Roku HD-XR box for a year now. It’s absolutely wonderful. Streaming Netlix has been stellar. I have had issues with Amazon Video on Demand. In fact, as much as I love Amazon for everything else, I much prefer Netflix for movies. Plus, streaming Netflix is free since it’s included in the cost of my monthly DVD rentals.

  6. Boxee Box and Apple TV both have HDMI only. Also add in the Google TV box, same thing.

    Roku HD and XR both have HDMI + Component and Composite inputs.

    If you don’t own a HDMI capable TV then you know what that means?

  7. There is nothing that Boxee or Roku offer that Apple cannot and will not offer — just wait till January and Apple’s next show for additional revelations. There are several things that Apple CAN offer than Boxee and Roku cannot, such as iTunes integration (not an iTunes substitute), TV show rentals from major studios, iOS apps from the App Store, and, when Apple gets round to announcing it, streaming iTunes audio/radio. So it does not look good for those start-ups. Still, Roku and Boxee have enough venture funding to survive long enough to see Apple finally kill off the old DVR concept. Properly executed catch-up TV, whether via Apple-like TV show rentals, cable-like TV Everywhere, or Hulu-like ad-supported or subscriptions, provides consumers with what we want — TV when and where we like it — and a credible business model for content owners and carriers. Consumers won’t have to program a recorder and they won’t skip over commercials once TV programming is accessible off-schedule and off-TV set. Apple and Amazon help us get there.

    • Roku can already stream music from your computer to your TV, including iTunes. Or did you mean the ability to purchase iTunes music via the box? Doesn’t Amazon do TV show rentals? At the open platform allows private developers to put apps on the box. They actually have a current contest for this. I use a few of these Apps or “private Channels” myself.

    • This commentary is all wrong. Sounds like a blinkered Apple fanboy wrote it. I like Apple too but I also like truth.
      To rebut the first sentence: AppleTV doesn’t have Amazon video on demand. Roku does.
      To rebut the second sentence: boxee and roku DO integrate with iTunes AND do TV show rentals from major studios.
      To put a nail in it:
      Roku beat apple to streaming radio/audio from iTunes, Shoutcast, Pandora, RadioTimes, and more.

      Apple is playing catch-up here.

  8. I have used ROKU box for almost 2 years with little to no problems. I have has some issues with having to reset the ROKU box, because of no sound, but that may be a problem with the my bedroom tv. I have used the roku box on the road and it works flawlessly. It is a great addition to any TV. I use the PS3 to watch netflix on my home theatre and it works great. So netflix works with both my systems with no problems. I use a wifi connetion and get HD quality. I have comcast Ultra high speed connection in my home. Once I get access to hulu on the roku box or PS3, I may drop to a cheaper cable package. The future are these boxes and hopefully will help lower cable prices. The future is bright for online tv viewing.

  9. Great Article Ryan.

    The grid is great but it would be nice to have another grid that expands the Third Party Content by calling out the small differences in AppleTV rent service and Amazon’s service, plus what is available per box and call out what is missing (i.e. College football, etc)

  10. Error above – Roku does ethernet.
    Error above – micro USB on Apple TV is NOT an input.

    In 2 years of Roku I have never had a problem. In 2 years of Apple TV (current version) I have had multiple problems with forced reboots, spastic linking back to iTunes and overwhelming heat issues from the unit. But this is the legacy platform. Apple’s new product fails with 720 output and really bringing very little that is new to the table. I have Netflix access via my TV, my Blu-ray and Roku today. Same with access to Amazon. No new Apple TV for me. And even if I did not have the legacy platform I would not be buying it. I will be upgrading to the HD-XR, though.

  11. Ryan- really nice grid. I think I’ll blog about it because I was too lazy to do all of that cutting and pasting and thinking… not to mention chart building and all. BTW- did I tell you yet that the NTV logo makes me feel at home. But the giga thing above… it’s like some tech conglomerate hijacked my sweet little friendly blog.

  12. bonelyfish

    The most interesting thing about AppleTV is sharing. You rent and (I suppose) can play on any device, switch from mobile to TV, stream from PC. It is almost dream comes true. For the others, they are in store for some times and are they leading the market to somewhere? I doubt.

  13. bonelyfish

    The most interesting thing about AppleTV is sharing. You rent and (I suppose) can play on any device, switch from mobile to TV, stream from PC. It is want non-geek expected from a living room device. For the others, they are in store for some times and are they leading the market to somewhere? I doubt.

  14. While appraisement hasn’t been announced, it’s a acceptable bet that it will be priced abutting to $200, which would put it at bifold the amount of the added two products. However, Boxee potentially has a abundant beyond abject of agreeable to action consumers. Since the apps that run on its software cull in video agreeable from absolute online video sites, it isn’t as codicillary on arresting deals with agreeable providers. The flip-side to that is that some agreeable providers — like Hulu — accept acted to block Boxee from announcement their videos through its media centermost software in the accomplished and may do so afresh if the startup’s set-top box is available

  15. This is a non-event. Apple is coming to the party with a too-little, too late product. There are tons of DVD and Blu-Ray players that have built-in Netflix. Xbox360 and PS3 do the same thing, and give you a console, on top of it. It’s no wonder that Jobs reportedly wasn’t convinced this product is going anywhere.

    • XBox360 requires a soon to be $60/year subscription to get Netflix streaming. PS3, requires a separate disk. There are those of us who do not do Blu Ray, because we want to stream out videos from a local server and don’t want 8GB+ files. For $99 to have access to all my iTunes stuff and NetFlix, and local movie files, plus all the radio stations – plus whatever the hacking community can offer? I’m there. I’ll be selling my Current Apple TV’s and probably my Roku box as well – it will essentially be a no cost update for me.

    • Um, it may be impossible for you, but it’s a bit pretentious for you to assume it’s a problem for everyone. The thing is tiny. I can’t imagine many people will have any more issue finding a place for it than any other tiny streaming device. If you’re stacking stuff on top of a WDTV, Popcorn Hour, AppleTV, or any of the others, you’ve got a bizzare home theater layout to begin with. Is it unique? Sure, enough to create a love-it-or-hate-it response from a lot of people. But it’s also eye-catching, which is a positive attribute for a device in any competitive market.

  16. CORRECTION: Roku devices have ethernet ports too, despite what this article’s chart indicates.

    Also, BTW, I use Roku+Netflix all the time, and never have the types of problems described by “BW”.

  17. Where is the WD HD TV Live Plus? Stupid name, but it streams just about anything you have locally. Using DVD Shrink you can make an ISO files of your DVDs and have them instantly available. At $120 it’s not much more and is so much better than a Roku.

  18. I’ve been a Roku user for almost a year, and would never buy their product again, for two key reasons:

    Streaming issues with Netflix

    Roku has a connectivity problem with Netflix Watch Instantly which causes it to drop the connection every few minutes. This makes it virtually impossible to have a good user experience with Netflix. The service works flawlessly with Amazon Video On Demand, but Netflix is a disaster. This is a widely reported problem, and from time to time, credits have been issued to users due to the problem.

    Awful, and I mean just atrocious, customer service

    Roku runs its customer service out of India. Customer service works through a set of resolution steps which completely ignore the reported issues of the customer. If customer service is unable to resolve the case, they log a ticket, and then you wait AT LEAST FIVE BUSINESS DAYS before you get your next response. The eventual response will ignore all previous case history and attempt to walk you through the same steps. Escalation to live support for technical issues is impossible. When I complained, I was told “Don’t worry, you’re our very special customer”.

    Apple may experience the same issues, and the lack of access to Amazon is definitely a shortcoming, but I would absolutely never repeat the Roku experience.

      • John L Holt

        I also have never had a problem with Roku streaming from Netflix, Amazon, or any of the other programs. As an Apple addict I am forced to say that I see no reason to switch from my trouble free Roku to the Apple TV box. I can say that the Roku synched instantly and I was up an running on my network in my bedroom in about 5 minutes. Very small box and intuitive remote. You want go wrong with Roku and I assume Apple TV as well. Buy the upgraded version of Roku is my suggestion. By the way, most people say that 720P is more than sufficient for watching movies. Watching sports is better using 1080P which many TVs do not offer. Many are limited to 1080i.

    • Scaramouche

      Sorry to hear about your problems–but have to agree with Henny Smith-Fremont: the problems you describe are definitely outside the normal experience w/Roku.

      The HD-XR box has always performed flawlessly for us. The added benefit of all the other channels available make it the most-used gadget in our house. “Homebrew” channels are great, too.

    • BW, I experienced similar problems but NOT due to Roku. In the end it was my cable internet provider’s connection that was the culprit. Upon switching to a faster fiber optic internet connection, I have had zero problems with my Roku box or any of the services I receive through it. In my opinion Roku has been doing it longer and better and Apple is too late to the game. I also feel a little screwed by Apple that I bought the original Apple TV and no streaming update will be provided to me. I now have to create more tech trash and upgrade to a new product (which I will not be doing). Also, for those that want to rent/buy movies, Amazon’s service is superior in that the service manages your content for you. This takes the storage concerns off the shoulders of the consumer, so no worries about backing up or switching computers, etc. Amazon’s media library is a great solution. Apple has become powerful in recent years, but I think the argument that other providers steal their ideas is starting to reverse to Apple is becoming the last one to the show and “borrowing” technologies from others.

      • KnowItAll

        The Roku has had many models for several years. HaKrim, only the newest model has just recently been released but Roku has had other older models out for years. Anyone having problems with video streaming may need to check their internet connectivity either from within their dwelling or coming from their ISP as those may be the sources of the issue rather than the box hardware & software.

    • I agree with BW. I am having the same problem with Roku and Netflix. Amazon and other channels work fine. A quick Google search also shows that we’re not alone. Netflix is completely unusable for me with Roku.

  19. Another thing that I am interested in is the Airplay that is coming soon with 4.2. I would love to me able to use my iPhone like a remote control and once I find what I want to watch, click and button and it goes to my TV. Especially if there is something that I can’t get through my Boxee Box.

    I’m just wondering if ALL videos watched on my iPhone can be streamed to the Apple TV… do you know?

  20. I found your site searching for Apple TV vs. Boxee, and didn’t even realize that the Roku Box offered some streaming capabilities. I am most interested in the Boxee Box due to the third party apps that you can get for it. It seems like it has a lot more functions then the Apple TV. I like how it call pull video from the web (ie videos from ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.) which should be free anyways because you can still get them over the air with an antenna.

    Also, I am a YouTuber and I would be interested in creating an app for myself that people could download to their set top boxes like this and consume my content on their TV. Tv is changing, and I like it!

    Do you think that the Apple TV will eventually open up and let third party people create apps for it?

    • If Apple ever let’s 3rd party developers create apps for Apple TV, they’ll probably have to undergo the rigorous review process App store submissions receive.

      It’s great that products are finally coming to market from mainstream companies (Apple, Google, D-Link) that will turn Internet TV from the hobby that it is into something normal utilize everyday.

    • Matt Tanner

      I am not sure where that info come from. I can view CBS, NBC and all the local stations on my Apple TV as well. People just have a negative taste in their mouths all the time about Apple. Apple is the best way to go. Never any hiccups and never any problems. You Tube plays wonderfully on my ATV as well. People are starting to create stuff for the ATV as well now.

      • I have been looking at Apple tv as well, but was put off by the fact that they advertise that you have to pay a rental fee to view network stations shows (.99 cents, but this adds up). Are you saying that you are able to access this contact for Free?