Looking for alternative to paying that monsterous monthly cable bill? Does it seem like the fight of paying additional fees never ends? Well, maybe you could unsubscribe to some of those expensive add-on movie channels and pick up a streaming media box. A web-based television experience is the way of the future.
As some of my friends know, I became a big fan of TheCoolTV. This indy channel was a syndicated music video channel that decided to “take over where MTV left off.” They played a weird mix of everything music video, and took pride in an ONLY music video format. That means no reality tv and virtually no content without the spotlight on music. When my local TimeWarner stopped carrying this “.1” channel, I thought it was gone forever. But I was wrong. I soon learned that I could see the coolness once again perhaps through streaming media boxes like Roku and Apple TV.
OTT (Over The Top) or Set-Top boxes like Roku and AppleTV are devices that receive the “media broadcast” or content over the Internet by streaming. All you do is plug a little wallet-shaped box into your HD television and your wireless router does the rest. They range from $60-$120 or so and offer loads of content without a monthly fee.
These little streaming media boxes warriors have subscription-based services like Netflix, HuluPlus, and Amazon along with other web-based media “channels” that provide audio and video content from the internet. Plugging one of these into your television’s HDMI connection brings to your screen an alternative platform to your cable provider that is similar to “On Demand” channels. Some of these channels you pay for, and some you don’t. Some channels have either live streaming programs, or an archived show library, or a combination of both.
Notable up-and-coming Contenders – are out there, trying to climb the championship ladder. These contenders include Western Digital Media Center, Roku, Boxee, YouView, SonySMP-N200 and Google TV, as well as Smart TV upgraders from companies such as Samsung and LG. While there are a handful of other streaming boxes out there right now, the two champions that really seem to be cornering the market are Apple TV & Roku. Overall for my specific uses, I believe that Roku beats out Apple TV.
IN THIS CORNER… APPLE TV –My wife bought me an Apple TV for Christmas. I immediately found that this tiny $100 box did all kinds of big things. Apple TV mirrored my ipad/iphone stream to the television so I could watch YouTube on TV using “AirPlay.” It also let me AirPlay Facetime from my phone so I could see people on other iPhones as I talked to them on my TV. Apple TV also offered the Apple ecosystem, in that I could seamlessly access my photostream from my iTunes account. And it also offered Netflix and HuluPlus as a subscription-based service on its menu. I could also access all my music files by using iTunes Match for $25 a year.
However, I found that Apple TV didn’t totally do what I specifically wanted it to do. It didn’t offer very much content without some kind of subscriptions involved… In other words, you had to pay for a lot of the content, and quite often, you were paying for stuff that you can find on the internet for free.
When I tried to AirPlay HBO-Go from my phone to my television, I only got the audio. “Did I mess something up?” No. For whatever reason, HBO doesn’t want to allow this to work with Apple’s mirror system… or perhaps, Apple doesn’t want to allow this to happen either. That way, you have to buy more content from iTunes.
In my opinion, this device is a great choice for people who want their iPhones & iPads to talk to their television sets. However, it is not a great choice for people who want to bring loads of content to their flat screens without having to pay extra for it. For the same reason why Apple doesn’t have USB inputs on their mobile devices, they can control what streams to your television and what does not. This is also why, I believe, there are far less non-apple channels available for Apple TV than there are to its biggest competitor Roku. Less channels means you have to buy more stuff from iTunes.
APPLE TV TALE OF THE TAPE KEY APPLE TV CHANNELS NOT ON ROKU: iTunes, AirPlay, YouTube, Mobile Me (photos). WEIGHT: Unlike the Roku, Apple TV is very strong and dense, and feels heavy like a brick in your hand. Unboxing it feels fresh. REMOTE: The factory remote is small and pointy and not comfortable in your hand. It also does not take regular batteries. I hate it. PROS: The onscreen interface is streamline and scrumptious. Just like all other Apple products, it has the easy user interface you’d expect from the creators of the iPod, iPad, and iPhone. AirPlay compatibility lets you stream anything you can hear (and, in some cases, see) on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. And any audio, video, or photos you have in your iTunes cloud will seamlessly stream to your TV. CONS: Apple TV costs $20 more than Roku and costs more to get the content overall. It offers far fewer content “channels” than Roku. Apple TV only works on HDTVs equipped with an HDMI input and deos not have a USB port to import content from a thumb drive. To get the best from Apple TV, you need to be committed to the entire Apple “ecosystem”: running iTunes, purchasing video via the iTunes Store, and using an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch as a remote control.
AND IN THIS CORNER…. ROKU XD or XS – I will admit, I marked out to the Apple TV idea at first, as did a buddy of mine. But then we shot a tweet to our favorite techno-God Michael Manna, (aka former WWE & ECW wrestler Stevie Richards.) Manna said that he heard Roku was perhaps cheaper, and better. So I picked up one to try it out.
I immediately found that Roku at $80 ($20 cheaper than Apple TV) is far more content-rich and still VERY simple to use. The Roku Store has a lot of channels and is getting more, and the directory changes every day. Right now, Roku has in the area of 700 channels or so, with additional sub-channel content. This is far more offerings than that of Apple TV.
Independent private channels like Mummy TV & Nowhere TV can be added to your Roku menu for free. By doing this, you open up hundreds of web-based network & cable streams from around the world. On top of being able to subscribe to Netflix and HuluPlus and also HBO-Go (not available on Apple TV), you also have access to free movie channels like Crackle, PopcornFlix and MovieBlast, and even crazy specific “On Demand Platforms” like The Kung Fu Channel and The UFO’s & Alien Abduction PodCast Archive Library. It has great B movies, horror films, and yes, it even has porno. And that’s not all…
For geeks like me, you can get JustinTV, Comicbook Vine, NWA Wrestling Channel & ProWrestling Channel, and a even a live stream of exactly what Shamu The Whale is up to at any given moment in his tank at Sea World on the Shamu Cam. The only real channel missing from Roku but present on Apple TV oddly enough is Youtube. While you cannot YouTube search on the television screen, there is a work around available via mobile device mirroring that will enable you to still view everything from that community.
Roku Mirroring is not as good as Apple TV AirPlay, but two mirroring apps are available. A new app called “Plex” allows you to stream media files from your phone to your TV. You can also “beam’ Youtube content from any mobile device through a channel called “Twonky Beam.”
ROKU TALE OF THE TAPE KEY ROKU CHANNELS NOT ON APPLE TV: Amazon, Hulu Plus, Crackle, MLS MatchDay Live, UFC, Al Jazeera English, FoxNews.com, Pandora, Rdio, Tune In Radio, Shoutcast, MOG, Break.com, Blip.tv, MediaFly, Facebook photos, Angry Birds, MummyTV, Nowehere TV and dozens of others. WEIGHT: Unlike the Apple TV box, the Roku feels like a happy meal toy in your hand. The ironic thing is that while Apple TV feels more dense to the touch, it has less free content inside it. REMOTE: Is easy to use and feels good in your hand. It takes traditional AAA batteries, and not the lame CR2032 or BR2032 coin looking batteries that the Apple TV remote requires. The XS model also has motion control which allows you to play Wii like games. PROS: Roku offers far more diverse programming options than you’ll find on Apple TV and far more free content. And, unlike Apple TV, Roku will work with non-HD TVs. CONS: Roku’s interface is not as polished and as sexy as Apple TV. And, although there are a variety of mirror apps for Android and iOS, Roku is not as good as Apple for Mobile Mirroring or easy way to stream audio or video files from your networked PC or Mac to the Roku.
Overall Decision – Ring the bell. The judges have declared the winner… ROKU!
The average television viewer is a person who watches TV so they can see either television shows, the news, or movies. Roku seems to provide the best selection of these three things, plus adding THROAT LOADS of unfiltered internet content with every interest in mind. Roku has far more “channels” than the Apple TV, and far more free content options. And with the speed of updates and channel additions, it also seems that some pretty dedicated people both within and outside the Roku company are in it for the long haul for developing even more.
REVERSED DECISION? So why even buy a Apple TV? For only the avid Apple product user, I would reverse the decision and declare Apple TV the winner, but only for those Applemaniacs looking for an Apple Ecosystem-based television-viewing experience. Apple TV is a great platform for mobile device interaction. It has the ability to stream content from iTunes up to your television with ease. Apple TV really “speaks the language” of iPads, iPods, and iPhones and creates a seamless roadway from them to your television set.
If you plan on using your OTT Streaming Media Box as an alternative additional to cable (as I do), I would totally recommend the Roku. But if it is apple juice you seek, you know the way.