Open Thread: Your Take on Apple TV, Roku & Boxee Box

30 Comments

We’ve all been there: Shiny new toys look great under the tree — but the real test comes a few days later, when reality sets in and you’ve had enough time to find all the bugs and flaws. That’s especially true for all the fancy new boxes that help you to get video content on the TV screen, which typically get a good stress test over a movie-fueled long holiday weekend.

We’ve recommended a bunch of those boxes over the last couple of weeks, but now it’s your turn. Got a Boxee Box, a Roku or an Apple TV (s aapl) as a present? Or maybe you got an Xbox 360 (s msft), complete with Kinect, and now you’re exploring the console’s online video options? Then tell us in the comments how these devices are working out for you!

Plus, here’s a bonus question: Now that you’ve tested your new gear for a few days — are you more or less likely to cut the cord?

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30 Comments

sandog

I don’t understand the whole fascination with recording all kinds of shows that most wont be able to watch. In any case RoKU works for me. I have been OTA only for over ten years. The ROKU is a nice complement. The only thing that many of these streamers are missing is sports programming (ESPN3, foxsoccer.tv, Goal.tv, NBA.tv). When the sports programming arrives, then you might see a small but significant amount of viewers cutting the cord. Of course, the government is trying to keep you hooked to cable/satellite as they plan to reclaim more bandwidth from the broadcasters and sell it cheap to ATT and Verizon.

JohnnyG

I had some trouble with quite a few UI’s, and even less luck with streaming local content. A co-worker suggested EyeconTroller, which I can now highly recommend, especially in light of the many comments above. I use Eyecontroller on my Android (they say it works with iPhone too, haven’t tried it), it’s a kind of media-management app that (when on a phone connected to your network) recognizes your local libraries (ie my NAS, XBMC and regular PC media libraries), and basically streams your content to any UPnP or DLNA certified players (most of the above are, same as mine). The app also has tons of online content (naturally YouTube etc.), plus personalized media like facebook, flickr etc. I’ve pretty much stopped using remotes or UI’s (except for reg Dish), just pop out my Droid X, find the online/local content I want (oh yeah – I can watch/hear/see it on my phone before streaming it on the 44″) and play it.
The app isn’t a perfect solution but is the best I’ve seen so far. I found the app on the Android Market, I’m assuming it’s on the App Store as well, and their site is http://www.eyecontec.com/

SB

I have an xbox 360 that I used to use for Netflix streaming, but since I picked up a Roku XDS the Xbox has been collecting dust. Between the yearly cost ($50 for Xbox live gold required for Netflix), power consumption (175W on Xbox vs. 4W on Roku), and the much better interface and general ease of use on the Roku, there’s just no need for the Xbox for its streaming functions anymore.

I love the Roku, and from reading about the others I don’t see myself switching away from it any time soon. I don’t think anything else out there can match Roku’s value/features/content balance at the moment. It’s not a 100% polished product yet, but I doubt that any product in this market will reach that level any time soon since this is such new territory that is still far from being settled.

mniz

Got a Boxee Box and love it. Along with the PS3 with netflix, vudu and hulu plus and a LG wi-fi blu-ray player (with a bunch of connected content, netflix and vudu) I’m more then set. Anything missing can usually be found online at the broadcasters sites. Cut the cord this week, hopefully it’ll stay that way.

It’s a shame that the Boxee Box is getting some negative attention, cause it really is quite nice – the UI isn’t as slick as the beta, but works well for the TV screen and distance. Aside from some content blocking, which I hope starts to get better when broadcasters figure out how to monetize in a way that works for them (and us), I have ZERO complaints about it.

Chuck Green

I would NEVER settle for the Apple TV. Being stuck in Appleworld for an Iphone is on thing my TV forget it. Plus the idea of paying for things I can get for free on other devices. No way. I have to believe the demographics have to be people who like it made simple and easy. PERIOD.

The limitations of that device more than any other makes me think of sheeps just following the prophet Steve (J).

While at this point, while it’s very early going in the TV-Internet convergence yes Apple probably is the easiest to use. But wait until those same people see a year or two down the road what they are missing.

Piplzchoice

Those of your readers, who are trying to select which Digital Media Receiver is right for them, may be interested in this research into consumer perceptions. It shows that Apple TV (2010) provides their customers with the most consistent positive experience when compared to Roku or Boxee Box. Here is the link to the details http://tinyurl.com/amp4dmr
You can check reputation of other products if you go to http://www.amplifiedanalytics.com/V2P-Product-Reviews/Demo, enter the product name or number (like “Samsung LN55C650 55-Inch 1080p 120 Hz LCD HDTV”) and click on “Submit” button. The system will aggregate and analyze customer reviews to calculate the reputation metrics for you and will let you read the reviews if you want to.

Chuck Green

I can’t wait to cut the cord. I have both Google Tv through Logitech Revue and Boxee both on a laptop and the Boxee Box.

Cut off by the networks aside as that will eventually get worked out, I WAS liking the Revue more than the Boxee. However as I have discovered more and more app’s at the various repositories, the new apps are filling in my needs. I too don’t care about sports but LIVE CNN, MSNBC, and CNBC are very important to me. I recently found an app that contains that and CNN INT’L, Al Jazzeriah (which I already had through Livestream) and more. It’s actually revealing Justin.tv live.

I am still getting xfinity playing on my Box. Now all I need is a access to nat geo, history, current, hgtv, HBO and I’m ready to cut. As for local OTA with rabbit ears is fine.

My one bitch not being a geek is saving websites on Boxee. If anyone has a solution?

On Google just the opposite , I can save every site I go to. It plays most of my movie sites and is much easier to enter login/passwords than Boxee.

I think in the next 30-60 days we will all be blown away by both Boxee’s next upgrade which supposedly adds Netflixs , Hulu+, and who knows what else but I bet they are back to over 200 apps again when they roll it out.

As for Google, we know they have virtually asked all manufactures to halt production. That can only mean a whole new UI. Additionally add in Androud apps and the google experience will be a whole new ballgame.

Boxee wants to BE YOUR TV INPUT-GOOGLE seems they want to be “in addition to”

My guess is at the end of the day I will be able to cut the cord in the next 6 months but still want to maintain BOTH systems for different needs. Ok a one time investment per TV of $500 three tv’ is $1,500. I can still subscribe to Netflux, Hulu, and a few others and still spend less in the first year than my Comcast is costing for one year. From year 2 on it’s virtually free…

Chuck Green

Thanks, as not being too swift or much of a geek I found this over my head, however the more I get into this the less threatened I am. I am ready to try this

You may want to check out the “live tv” working and “live tv” beta in the repository streamfree.tv. They have live news and sports channels working. Sports is more in the beta app.

Chuck Green

Janko,
I figured out Delicious.com. I actually have 51 entries marked. NOW I have another problem. When I download into Boxee feeds it only allows 15!

Help!!! How do I get the other 36 on?

Dave's Football Blog

Being a sports fan (and more specifically, a soccer fan) means dumping the dish is still not an option for me. ESPN3 is unavailable to me through Time Warner Cable unless I switch from DirecTV to TWC for TV service, and switching means losing GolTV and no longer getting Fox Soccer Channel in HD. I subscribe to FoxSoccer.tv, which is web-only (for now) and serves as a complement to Fox Soccer Channel rather than a replacement. It’s a very good service that would work well on a set-top box, but it’s not available on boxes yet, and until it offers everything that’s on FSC as well, it doesn’t make cord-cutting an option.

In the meantime, I did replace my bricked WDTV and my old DVD player with a new Samsung BD-C6500 Blu-ray player. It plays all the formats (MKV, DivX, H264, etc.) the WDTV did. It lets me stream video directly off my laptop, so I don’t have to fiddle with flash drives to watch podcasts on my TV anymore. It integrates well with my YouTube account, so if I mark a video as a favorite, I can bring it up quickly on my TV — a bit awkward and not HD, but still more than I could do before. Vudu trailer streaming looked good in 720p.

But again, until ESPN and Fox Soccer do something serious on a set-top box, I’m sticking with DirecTV. And I doubt Disney-owned ESPN will work with any company not owned by Steve Jobs. Apple is the only company that can help offset any loss in ESPN’s $4.3 billion in annual subscriber fees.

Janko Roettgers

Do you have any issues with buffering while playing YouTube videos? My father in law recently tried a Sony Blu-ray player, and watching YuTube was pretty painful on that device. Works much better on the WD TV Live Plus he has now.

Dave

I’ve had my Boxee Box for about a month now, and while I often hear complaints about things like Netflix and Hulu Plus, I couldn’t be happier with my box. I have external hard drives full of local content which I keep plugged into my Boxee Box, and in addition I can stream content from any computer on my network, including all my music, movies, and pictures, which means I don’t have to transfer the files onto a local drive connected to the Box in order to watch/play it.

Then, apps like Pandora, Youtube, and the ability to stream The Daily Show and more, are just the icing on my cake of local content.

If you download all your favorite shows and movies, and want a great way to index and play them in the living room, Boxee is the way to go.

Niel

Our family room with a 42″ EDTV has an OTA tuner, AppleTV v1 and a Roku XDS. The AppleTV is mainly for watching streamed movies that I’ve ripped and have stored on a server. I’ve tried the Boxee/XBMC hack for it, but it’s just too underpowered to handle Flash video (works fine on h264 sites though). I purchased the Roku mainly for the Hulu Plus content, but canceled the service after 3 days because the content was so meager. It wasn’t a total waste of time, because the Roku has a better Netflix interface than the Wii.

The daughter’s room has a 32″ 720p LCD with an OTA tuner, AppleTV v2 and a Macbook with an HDMI adapter. Again, the AppleTV’s main function is to receive streams from the server, as well as having a nice interface for Netflix. With the Macbook attached, we can watch the free side of Hulu, or another other website for that matter.

Bottom line – the Roku will really pay for itself if/when Hulu Plus content improves and the AppleTV v2 will shine if/when Apple adds channels (apps) for more content.

We cut the U-verse cable last month, and the family has been reasonably happy so far. We weren’t heavy TV watchers to begin with (and I don’t watch sports), so we’ve been happy to save the money.

Jared

I started with the first gen AppleTV. Great interface. After playing with it awhile, it just becomes an iPod for your TV. So, I loaded Boxee on it. That opened up a lot more options but still not enough to the cut the cord. So I got a Mac Mini and loaded Boxee and Plex on that. Now I had all the content I needed. Of course Boxee did not score a high WAF and I got tired of all the clunky-ness after awhile. Also, I realized I spent $500 to save money… didn’t make much sense. Enter the Roku, we bit the bullet and went to Netflix and OTA only with Hulu on the computer in the bedroom. After 1.5 years, we’re pretty content and can get all of our brain melting from that. I purchased the new AppleTV and it definitely had the sexiest UI i’ve ever seen. But I really needed Component cables for my sound system and Roku got Hulu+. Have to say Roku XR and antenna is enough for my household.

PS Netflix has enough children’s shows to replace Disney and Nickelodeon for my toddlers.

Mike Proulx

I have the Boxee Box, Apple TV (first & second generation), Sony GoogleTV, and Xbox 360. Of course each is strong in different areas.

1. Boxee Box seems to be the best around web streaming content but currently lacks studio content (which will change once it gets Netflix and Hulu Plus). It is easy to set up and use and I dig the Boxee tool bar that allows you to bookmark content online to watch later.

2. AppleTV is the opposite chock full of studio content but outside of YouTube doesn’t have options for general web streaming content. I really like the .99 cent HD TV episode rentals and its Airplay feature.

3. GoogleTV started out good but once networks blocked access to their respective online episodes its promise of true web + TV convergence is sort of put on hold. I also hated the fact that I had to give up digital 5.1 surround sound to hook it up to my home theater.

4. Xbox 360 has a lot of potential but as far as a connected TV device it is the most lacking in “TV content” but the technology and user interface are primed for it to be a big player in this space if Microsoft wants to go there.

Julian Scarfe

For non-geeks trying to replace driving to blockbuster or cutting cable, apple TV is ok. A little slow, a little plain-jane, a little hard to browse/search.

Roku & Boxee Box seem like good hybrids – good for geeks & torrent hounds, but also easy enough for the whole family.

I’ve had the boxee box since the day it was released. It’s a lot of fun and pointed in the right direction. There is a bit of a divide between the company – which smartly is trying to win new non-geeks – and the early geek adopters of the software on Mac/PCs. I hope boxee sticks to it’s guns and pushes on. It’s far from perfect – they point you to a lot of online content but a lot of it doesn’t work well in a TV interface – they should be curating/pointing only to video sites that work well from the couch. Can’t say enough about the joy of having a QWERTY remote… this always seems to be overlooked/underplayed in the press.

Kevin Reynen

I now have a Boxee box, Apple TV, Google TV (Logitech Revue), and Samsung LED with @Internet apps. Even with all of these devices, my goal of dropping Dish remains elusive.

@Internet – The UI for these apps are clunky and entering account info with the remote is painful. The Facebook app is what Facebook would look like pre-web2.0. Beyond Hulu+, I can’t see using any of these on a regular basic. The DNLA integration works well to show video and images from my phone or camera, but very few of the videos I’ve downloaded from a torrent tracker or recorded using EyeTV had a compatible codec.

Apple TV – This device is really worthless unless you are a fanboy/girl with a Mac and i-Phone/Pad/Pod, are buying/renting video through iTunes, and/or use only the H.264 codec. It’s basically a $99 AirPort Express that handles both video and audio. Beyond Netflix, the apps included aren’t worth using. I might use Pandora, but I’d have to leave my TV on to pass audio through the HDMI cable to my stereo, buy a optic audio converter to use another input, or replace my receiver with something that has multiple HDMI inputs. For 99¢, Webout is a slick app that allows you to get video from the browser on other iOS devices to the Apple TV if the site is using HTML5… but that requires another device and very few sites are HTML5 friendly at this point. I can see where the AppleTV is headed with AirPlay support, but it’s not there yet. Entering account information with the FrontRow-esque remote is also a painful process. Apple TV should be bundled with an i-Phone/Pad/Pod since one of those devices is required to make it usable.

Google TV – The UI of the Logitech Revue is a huge improvement over the UI of Dish HD-DVR. I like the full keyboard for browsing, but too many video sites are blocking it and my goal is to get off of Dish not pay $4 a month more for Google TV integration.

Boxee – This is by far my favorite device and gets my closest to cutting the cord. Great UI and remote! Lots of well designed apps. The apps are easy to write and distribute so I expect to see many more… an RSS driven app is just an XML file and a thumbnail! Easy to get content from any SMB share (Mac laptop, Window Desktop, and NAS). Didn’t have codec issues with anything I’ve tried to watch. LOVE recommendations from Facebook and Twitter. My only complaint… large, HD videos will buffer from time to time.

Unfortunately, none of these devices pass the cord cutting tests in my house. I have a user group of one to appease… my wife. Boxee with content from EyeTV and/or BitTorrent is the closest, but still lacks local content. I’ve started http://localr.tv to make it easier to find local stream and video on demand content, but many of our local stations are still Silverlight for their live streams which won’t work with any of these devices. The video on demand services have craptastic Flash wrappers than makes watching them painful. So not only do I have to find the URL’s of the feeds, I have to lobby these orgs to consider optimizing their UI for the Boxee… which (like my dream of dropping Dish) is unlikely to happen any time soon.

Kevin Reynen

Janko,

You’re right that OTA is a much better option than the live streams for network affiliates, but I don’t really want to record 5 hours of local news broadcasts for 5 channels each day to find a few 5 minute segments I’m actually interested in. I’m not into sports or cooking. I have much better options for weather and traffic reports. I really don’t need a national news story introduced by a local anchor. I need a feed of VOD that that I can browse quickly for the truly local news and coverage of community events. When I find something I like that I think other people would also like or should be aware of, I’ll ‘like’ it on Facebook or post a link to Twitter pushing that recommendation my cord cutting friends who live in Denver.

I’m also a fan of public access which isn’t available OTA. Most people think Wayne’s World when they hear public access. Those show’s exist… and are actually a GREAT way to discover up and coming local music.

Early OK GO on CANTV’s Chica-go-go – http://vimeo.com/8268111
Flobots and Ian Cooke on Denver Open Media’s First Friday – http://bit.ly/fSxEYY
Underground Musicians on SF Commons – http://bavc.blip.tv/file/3887209/

Of course public access is much more than Wayne’s World. In many cities, public access serves the role of local community archivists covering government meetings and documenting the stories of the local community…

Story on Sandy’s Music (Cambridge, MA) – http://cctvcambridge.blip.tv/file/576404/
Lessons Learned from Lowertown (St. Paul, MN) – http://spnn.blip.tv/file/4303436/
Sparechanger (Davis, CA)- http://dctv.davismedia.org/show/24547

When cutting the cable, many people are also cutting themselves off from local content.

mark

I have roku. It’s easy to use and nice looking, but the interface is slow to navigate. At the end of the day roku is really a netflix viewer. For me the netflix content is very thin, it’s always a challenge to find something to watch. And netflix on roku seems to be set up to prevent you easily finding the good stuff.

I could never cut the cord until live streaming sports is readily and legally available.

TechClicker

The non-premium content available on all these devices, including the Roku, is pretty poor. Except for a handful of television shows currently in production, the selection on Hulu Plus is a joke. The same is true for most of the freely available public channels Roku offers. I find the Roku box to be very technically functional in concept, but as long as this drought of quality content continues, it will never spur the kind of cord cutting needed to scare legacy content providers.

Joseph Flaherty

I love the Apple TV or at least the concept of it. It’s affordable, the remote is a genius design, and the potential is so exciting. The only major weakness is content. iTunes is expensive/Netflix is limited/Podcasts are the future, but aren’t ready for “Prime Time”. I’m not ready to cut the cord yet, but two improvements could:

1. Apple should develop a self serve advertising system. There is some really good HD content in their podcast collection now, but not enough and its often nichey. If Apple created a variant of iAds that worked like Spotrunner meets Adwords I think there would be a torrent of great content that would rival Food Network, Discovery, and similar basic cable offerings.

2. Better discovery – Searching YouTube/Podcasts with the Apple remote is tough. A remote like the Boxee would be better, but a next generation interface that helped me discover content would be ideal.

A lot of folks are saying it’ll be a long time before cord cutting becomes a reality because of content issues. I’d bet it happens faster than most imagine because great original content gets created. Really is there that much on basic cable or reality TV that couldn’t be closely approximated with a prosumer camera, some talented folks, and startup capital provided by KickStarter?

Marcus G

Bought my father a Boxee Box for X-mas. The device functions more or less as advertised, but still no Netflix and it appears that Fancast (read: Xfinity) is blocking content. So, the Boxee is rendered essentially useless at this point. Very disappointing…

mniz

I have one too and noticed that only certain fancast shows are blocked – those that are provided via hulu. Others work fine.

Cyndy Aleo

TVs need more ports! Had to rely on co-workers (thankfully, it’s you guys) to figure out a way to connect all my cord-cutting gear!

It was depressing to see that Xbox hasn’t improved the UX for Xbox Live in the past two years since I last had one. It’s kludgy, nearly impossible to sign up for without resorting back to your laptop (which I did). Comparing setting up Netflix on Wii vs. on Xbox is night and day… Microsoft has a long way to go.

Cyndy Aleo

Uh, well, there’s the Wii and the Xbox and the Apple TV… plus the old-skool DVD player until I rip all the Barbie videos… uh, I mean, repurchase Barbie videos as digital…

Joseph Flaherty

I have a new ($99) Apple TV, love the concept of it, and can’t wait to see what gets built on top of it. It works perfectly. The remote is an amazing piece of engineering, but I won’t cut the cable cord because of content.

iTunes shows/movies are really expensive, Netflix is great, but you burn through the best of their content quickly. My real hope lies with Podcasts/YouTube. I’ve watched a couple HD podcasts and they look great on a 55″ HDTV. I think Apple needs to figure out a way to make iAds a service that allows small content creators/advertisers to do self-serve advertising.

I was watching a news podcast made by a fairly small website/magazine that looked as good as Meet the Press. I think if content creators had a way to generate revenue without having to build a direct sales org we would see replacements for a lot of Food Network and Discovery channel programming fairly quickly.

The other big missing link is discover/promotion. It is hard to find good podcasts/youtube videos with the Apple TV interface. Solve both those problems and cord cutting will pick up pretty quickly IMO.

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