POOR APPLE HASN‘T even had a chance to start shipping its new Apple TV before Roku made its announcement today which consists of no less than three competing products, the Roku HD, XD and XDS, all of which are priced at $99.99 or less. The problem for Apple in this case is that the $59.99 Roku HD is the direct competitor to Apple’s $99 Apple TV, which gives Roku the advantage of having two more advanced models to beat Apple with.
So what does Roku offer? Well, its devices are still streaming media players and as such they’re much more direct competitors with the Apple TV than most other devices in this price range in the market. The Roku HD which is the most basic model at $59.99 gives you the same 720p output as the Apple TV and it has an HDMI port just as the Apple TV, but it shuns the optical S/PDIF in favour of two RCA analogue audio ports and a composite video port. The other lesser feature on the Roku HD compared to the Apple TV is the wireless networking, as the Roku HD only comes with 802.11b/g support whereas the Apple TV supports 802.11n as well. On the other hand, the Roku HD also works with TVs that lack HDMI input, although you’re stuck with the poor quality of composite video.
Moving up to the Roku XD the port configuration remains the same as on the Roku HD, but the HDMI port will now output 1080p video. The Roku XD also supports 802.11n Wi-Fi and it also comes with a slightly more advanced remote. The Roku XD will set you back $79.99 which still makes it cheaper than the Apple TV, yet it trumps it in terms of features. Finally we have the Roku XDS which adds component video output and optical S/PDIF out to the spec of the Roku XD. It also has a USB 2.0 port on its side, but it won’t be “activated” until November, but it’s said to add support for local playback of MP4 video files as well as various audio and picture files. For now the file support is quite limited which is disappointing, but hopefully Roku will add support for more file formats later on. The XDS also supports 5GHz 802.11a/n Wi-Fi which means that there should be less interference when streaming HD video around your home. The Roku XDS is priced at $99.99 which makes it 99 cents more expensive than the Apple TV.
One downside with the Roku players is that they are – just like the Apple TV – limited to streaming content (with the exception of the Roku XDS in the future). Roku has its own service which includes both free and paid for content. Most of the free content is quite limited, especially when it comes to video content as you can only watch a couple of free channels as well as Vimeo. However, Roku offers all its premium content for an affordable $8.99 a month and claim to offer over 20,000 movies and TV episodes. On top of this you can also watch Amazon Video On Demand content and Amazon is even providing $10 worth of credit to new Roku customers and Roku also supports Netflix which is a big bonus. However, DLNA support will be launched in the future, but it’s unclear as to when this will be. This would enable the Roku players to become quite serious contenders in the video streaming market.
We’d pick a Roku any day over the Apple TV, but the bad news for both Roku and Apple is that there are plenty of devices on the market for about the same kind of money that offers much broader file support, although most of these devices lack Wi-Fi. At the end of the day it comes down to what kind of digital content you consume and how you want to access it, but it looks like Roku has a chance to steal some of the limelight away from the Apple TV, at least from those that aren’t die hard Apple fans, or for those that want more affordable content.S|A
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