boxee, roku, appletv, googletv?
November 22, 2010 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Christmas List Question: Boxee, Roku, AppleTV, GoogleTV, or other? Thoughts, Feelings, Emotions?

We are in the process of downgrading our Verizon FIOS account to save some money and want to get a box to do the on-demand stuff and other content to fill the gaps... Which would you recommend me ask for Christmas...

I'm going to drop movie channels and other excess stuff from my fios TV, so i'm hoping to still be able to watch favorite shows via VOD or hulu on one of these boxes, so that'll facture into equation...
posted by fozzie33 to Computers & Internet (36 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I am not really tech savy at all, but I have a Roku and I really like it. I have to have a broadband connection to use it, which for me is Comcast. So it didn't help with any expenses. I like it, and watch it quite often, but the movies available to stream are limited. Netflix will change them too, especially with popular new films. The newer films will be there for a while and then be taken down. I have heard that this is going to change, but I am not sure when.

Hulu Plus is available with Roku, for a $7.99 a month. It has all the cable shows not available On Demand, plus movies. Again, some, but not all movies and cable shows. Regular Hulu on the computer has a lot more but you probably know that.
posted by chocolatetiara at 7:10 AM on November 22, 2010

We did exactly this. We downgraded FIOS and got a Roku box. Love. It. Love. Mostly, we watch Netflix streaming, but they did just come out with Hulu Plus and we're toying with the idea of getting it - it's $7 or so per mo., which is a hell of a lot cheaper than cable. Also: Amazon video streaming on Roku, so if you have an account there, you can access all of your stuff that way. Only complaint is that it's not compatible with iTunes and I have a shit ton of TV shows in that format. Boooo.

TL;DR: Roku = The shit.
posted by sonika at 7:10 AM on November 22, 2010

Skip Google TV. The UI isn't very nice, the hardware is dire (the Sony remote is hilariously bad) and someone at Google dropped the ball and forgot to sign up content providers before they launched. As a result, all the major providers are blocking the box which limits its usefulness quite a bit.

The Boxee has had mediocre reviews. Turns out the content is limited and the software feels unfinished. I saw one review that suggested buying an HTPC and installing it yourself that way would give you a better experience. Check out Engadget or CrunchGear for more.

AppleTV may work for you if you're happy with the limited selection that Apple offers. From what I've read, it's not sold very well because people aren't happy with the limited selection that Apple offers.

No idea on Roku.
posted by mr_silver at 7:11 AM on November 22, 2010

I have a Roku as well and I like it a lot. I dropped cable tv altogether a few months ago and haven't missed it. Previously I was paying $50/month for cable, now I'm paying a little less than $20 (for netflix + hulu). It's simple to use and keeps us entertained pretty well.
posted by amethysts at 7:14 AM on November 22, 2010

The other important thing about Roku is that it will plug into an old fashioned tv that doesn't have HDMI input. It comes with a composite cable. Apple TV requires an HDMI connection.
posted by amethysts at 7:18 AM on November 22, 2010

Christina Warren mentions a few of these while discussing Boxee in Episode 7 of Briefly Awesome. Jump in at about 30 minutes or so.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:25 AM on November 22, 2010

Last night I connected my laptop to my computer w a VGA cable. Super easy to do & I can watch the entire Internet on my TV.
posted by TishSnave at 7:29 AM on November 22, 2010

Nthing Roku. It's the best purchase I've made in ages. And I bought it two weeks before they upgraded the whole product line and dropped the price by $30 (damn).
posted by falameufilho at 7:29 AM on November 22, 2010

We love Apple TV. Having an extra hard drive in the house is great, and we use it for our iTunes all the time.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:29 AM on November 22, 2010

I'm a Roku fan, too -- and while there's Netflix and Hulu and Amazon on-demand, they have a pretty good developer network who has made supported-but-not-official applications for YouTube and The Internet Archive and streaming from a home server and other things too. My favorite use for the Roku is to favorite a bunch of things on YouTube over the week as I find them (thanks, SLYT posts!), and then all at once the family sits down and watches a bunch of online videos from the couch on the big TV. We've got the cheapest Roku box, and it does everything we need it to do.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:29 AM on November 22, 2010

Forget everything else. Roku is where its at. It's cheap (most expensive model is $99). Super easy to set up and use and has tons of content provider partnerships (over 100 channels at last count and growing.)

You won't look back.
posted by jourman2 at 7:31 AM on November 22, 2010

My sister has a Roku and when I stay at her house and have to use it when no-one is home, I never ever have any trouble getting it to do what I want it to. Which is my way of saying that it's pretty user-friendly to houseguests who won't be familiar with your new-fangled nontraditional teevee set-up.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:40 AM on November 22, 2010

Have an Apple TV. Netflix and Youtube streaming are great, iTunes and Airplay integration are neat also if you already have an Apple ecosystem. I use it quite a bit for online radio streaming to my stereo also...but the UI is utterly atrocious. (Almost 300 stations in the Eclectic list, no search, no bookmarking, and half of the time quick scroll is broken and I have to click 200 times to get to WFUV in the morning. Gah!)

So yeah, unless you're already invested in other Apple products and/or the Apple store, it's not bringing much to the table.

Also, be advised the the v2 ATV doesn't have a hard drive like the first one did, and there's not much available yet in the way of hacks.
posted by a young man in spats at 7:40 AM on November 22, 2010

I have a Mac-only household, and the Apple TV was my choice. I strongly considered the Roku but the Netflix UI on the Apple TV, along with the Home Sharing integration, won it for me. I don't regret my choice one bit.
posted by hijinx at 7:40 AM on November 22, 2010

I bought a Roku when the first came out, and convince 3-4 other friends to try it out. Everyone without exception loves it. I love that it has an SDK so I can right custom software for it, but that's just me.

Netflix also just announced a streaming only plan for $7.99 a month, but be aware that not everything is offered for streaming. But that's getting better as rights are cleared.

I also have a small computer running Boxee for playing back media on my local network. It's nice, but not as easy to use as the Roku.
posted by beowulf573 at 7:45 AM on November 22, 2010

I have Boxee Box, and I love it. If you're not tied to Apple products (and don't rent from iTunes), and tend to get your media from, well, lets say more questionable sources, it's the way to go if only because it plays everything and everything you can throw at it. A lot of people don't like the UI, but I think that's because Boxee up until now had a techy, build-your-own-media-server type user, and the new UI is definitely more mainstream, with Apple influences. It's 'apps' are really just skinned websites, but if exists out there in the web, you can (almost always, exceptions below) watch it on your boxee. It's dead simple to set up, and the remote is awesome. (Not quite as awesome as I'd hoped, but the keyboard is really handy.)

Dealbreakers - the Netflix app isn't here yet; they're saying it will be before Christmas. No Hulu, the word is they're going the official Hulu Plus route and are still ironing out licensing issues.

When I move, I'm dropping cable. Shaw can bite me - I don't need it anymore with my Boxee.

That all being said, if I hadn't waited for the Boxee Box, I'd have a Roku.
posted by cgg at 7:52 AM on November 22, 2010

Response by poster: okay, leaning towards roku...

Anyone have any specific reason i should stay away from it?
posted by fozzie33 at 8:16 AM on November 22, 2010

Just another voice in favor of the Roku. I am a total Apple fangirl, but I've had a Netflix subscription for ages, and never rent from iTunes, so the Roku was a no-brainer. It's really easy to set up, and they keep adding channels like crazy. The Netflix streaming offerings have been steadily improving, and like others have said, there is more than just Netflix available. I can't really think of a downside (since I hated paying for cable TV, most of which I was never going to watch).
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:36 AM on November 22, 2010

No specific reason for staying away from Roku. We, too, love our little box for Netflix and the occasional Amazon video on demand, and for the streaming radio. Haven't tried Hulu Plus yet, but it sounds tempting.

My only complaint is that there seem to be a lot of Christian and Indian channels. Neither is our thing. Oh, and some of the channel logos are hella ugly.
posted by Work to Live at 8:38 AM on November 22, 2010

Just got a Roku. Seems good, but navigation is a bit clunky and the remote feels a little fragile in my big mitts.

So far only one Roku Downside: UFC PPV events that were listed as being available for purchase weren't really. There was verbiage that it would be available if I signed up for 'UFC Vault' at ~$50 plus the PPV cost. This only matters for UFC PPC events I suppose.
posted by anti social order at 8:54 AM on November 22, 2010

We just got a Roku for my parents, instead of the other top choice, the AppleTV. It't been good so far, though the Roku's Netflix UI is not as nice as Apple's. A big upside for me as the was that the Roku would connect out-of-the-box with their older, non-HD TV. The biggest downside of the Roku, in my opinion, is its lack of iTunes streaming integration, but that's a feature that I would miss, and not one that my parents will miss. They love the Roku and I have yet to receive any calls for tech support, so I'm pretty pleased so far. YMMV.
posted by mosk at 9:13 AM on November 22, 2010

If you want access to as much content as is out there, and you're willing to put in the effort, a computer hooked up to the TV is still your best bet.
We just went through this procedure and are in the process of tailoring it

Our current setup is:
* Antenna for whatever we can pull over the air.
* PS3 for PSN-store-video, Netflix, and Upnp client and disc player.
* Netbook hooked into the TV with a wireless keyboard/mouse, when we need it, to watch anything that falls through the cracks. Like Free Hulu.

* A separate computer on the network running a Upnp server ("PS3MediaServer") with various legal videos on it.

There are only 2 ways to get Free Hulu in particular on your TV:
1) An actual computer.
or 2) Something like PlayOn, which requires a process to be running on an actual Windows computer.

If you want any more of the gory details, mefi-mail me. I'd be happy to talk your ear off about how I plan to continue the madness.

But all that being said, if you're considering a simpler solution, I'll nth the Roku. It would have been my choice if I hadn't started tinkering.
posted by jozxyqk at 9:19 AM on November 22, 2010

As I said upstream, I'm a Roku fan. Downsides would be that pay-content outnumbers the free-content on the system-endorsed apps, and the unendorsed apps can be hard to add for the non-tech-savvy (it involves finding a code, possibly creating an account on the channel's website, then putting a code into your account on the Roku website. Simple, but not stupid-user simple). Also, a lot of the content won't appeal to everyone (as someone said upstream, a lot of religious and foreign-language stuff), so it might feel like there's less content than advertised, too. Lack of watching MPEGs from your local network (for which there are workarounds) can be seen as a drawback, too.

However, for the price and the convenience of accessing a bunch of internet things from the TV is definitely worth it. I paid $69 for my Roku, but I'd say it's worth at least $90 to me -- so if the Roku had cost $110, I probably would never have bought it, but at the current price I was stupid not to buy it. We watch Netflix and Youtube, my wife likes the Pandora app, when we're bored we watch old movies from the Internet Archive, and for the cost of the Netflix subscription and an initial investment of $69 it was well worth it.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:20 AM on November 22, 2010

One more thing that everybody is not mentioning and is a HUGE PLUS for the BOXEE box that Roku does not have. The boxee box is able to play pretty much ANY local file you have in your computer, while the Roku may be cheaper for just the streaming part, the boxee will give you better access to your local network (ROKU can only play certain files), and the Boxee app is invaluable in finding shows. The only drawback is that right now it does not have netflix/hulu plus app but it should be there by the end of the year.

I currently have a PS3 set-up with netflix and I am getting the boxee box, I cant tell you how annoying it is that the PS3 only plays certain video files.....the boxee box does not have that problem.
posted by The1andonly at 9:27 AM on November 22, 2010

I should have added: if you are tech-savvy and do not absolutely require Netflix, you might also want to consider a first generation AppleTV (the larger one with the hard drive), and modifying it with aTV Flash. This is what we did, and the aTV Flash mod dramatically extends the capabilities of the first generation AppleTVs: you can play local files through the included Boxee client, or through the included NitoTV app, you can browse the web, you can view all of your iTunes content, etc. It's great and I gotten a lot of use out of it, but it doesn't have the Netflix client software and probably never will.

The $49 fee for the aTV Flash utility is basically a convenience fee for having all of that software available in an easily installable package. If you really like to be a do-it-yourselfer, you could install it all manually...but their installer makes it super simple, and I, for one, have better thing to do with my time than re-program a set top box.
posted by mosk at 10:29 AM on November 22, 2010

Response by poster: I am "tech-savvy" but my wife isn't... so i was trying to find something to meet her needs rather than mine... for those suggesting computer connected to TV, while it would be nice and get content i want, my wife does not want this... she'd rather something less intrusive.... and my "main" computer is next to the tv anyways...
posted by fozzie33 at 10:47 AM on November 22, 2010

Boxee box is also easier to use than Roku if you are coming from the Non-Tech-Savy point of view.
posted by The1andonly at 10:48 AM on November 22, 2010

We LOVE our Roku!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:03 PM on November 22, 2010

Does the Roku also work as a DVR? Can it record TV shows, and stop/rewind live TV, a la Tivo?
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:35 PM on November 22, 2010

Does the Roku also work as a DVR? Can it record TV shows, and stop/rewind live TV, a la Tivo?

posted by sonika at 12:37 PM on November 22, 2010

My sixty-two year old parents are absolute technophobes who hate spending money on any form of technology. My sister bought them a Roku, to which they became so addicted that they started bickering over what to watch on it. They now have three Rokus- one for the bedroom, living room & family room.

I also have a Roku and love it.
posted by invisible ink at 4:37 PM on November 22, 2010

We're an Apple ecosystem house and we have an older (1st gen, large drive) Apple TV and a Roku. I love the Roku for Netflix streaming--we have Netflix instead of cable--and use the Apple TV primarily for music and trailers or for videos we download from the net. We don't buy/rent from Amazon, but might if we didn't have the Apple TV; we very occasionally buy/rent from Apple TV.

Using both is not a great solution for a non-tech-savvy person; it required some hacking on our part to make everything work with our sound system. I'm moderately savvy and I found it trying to make sure the stereo was set to the right output. For us the right solution will probably ultimately be the new Apple TV since it also has Netflix and we don't need the hard drive. For you, I would say one or the other, depending on whether you'd rather do your one-offs from Amazon or Apple and on your need for a polished UI (Roku's is meh but the Apple TV stuff is very easy to use).
posted by immlass at 8:10 PM on November 22, 2010

God, I could have written this question. I just dumped our cable subscription. We've currently got a PS3 for Hulu + Netflix, but I'd get a Roku in a heartbeat if we didn't already have that. I'm also contemplating getting a ReadyNAS to serve media content via DLNA (read: stream to PS3). It also has built-in BitTorrent.

Question for the Boxee users: How's the video quality? It's just scraping web pages for most of it, correct? How's it look in an HDTV?

Pro Tip for TWC RoadRunner customers: I got their "Turbo" upgrade, which normally costs $10/mo, free for a year. YMMV, but I was with support complaining about my download speeds when I asked about it.
posted by mkultra at 8:02 AM on November 29, 2010

Question for the Boxee users: How's the video quality?

If you're watching your own files - as good as the files. If you're streaming over the internet, it looks as good as the feed. If it looks blocky and pixelated on your PC monitor, it's not going to look any better on the TV. Because yes, all they're doing is aggregating the content from the web. HD Youtube videos look fine. Watching the Daily Show (from the Comedy Network - I'm in Canada) is laughably bad.

Personally, I love my Boxee, but that's because I have a metric ton of my own files I'm watching (and really need a NAS; thats probably my next AskMe question!). If I were using it primarily for online content (especially since there's still no Netflix... they promise soon!) I would have returned it.
posted by cgg at 8:39 AM on November 29, 2010

I bought a cheap computer and bluetooth keyboard and hooked them up to my tv. I watch Hulu on it and the video quality is great. If I want to watch on HD I rent something on Amazon unbox.
posted by xammerboy at 11:16 AM on November 30, 2010

@mosk: you don't need to pay for the aTV flash utility. They're charging for something you can find for free, really.

Have you considered the WD TV Live Plus box? If you haven't made a purchase yet, look into one of those.

Or wait for the Iomega Boxee Box - it'll be a NAS too!
posted by drstein at 1:18 PM on January 18, 2011

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