So maybe this wasn't the best week for set top TV device makers Roku and Boxee to introduce new features and hardware. But as life returns to what we used to know as normal and viewers start looking for relief from all the shocking storm ravage stories, these improved "over the top" TV sources will sure come in handy.
Recent generation Roku boxes (starting at $49.99) became way more valuable this week thanks to a new search engine feature. Just enter the name of a movie or TV show, favorite actor or director and Roku looks for the applicable goods across multiple platforms – Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Crackle, HBO Go and Vudu HD movies.
I started to type in "Bill Murray" – but it only took a couple letters for his name to pop up as an option, then one more click to reveal a stockpile of 38 Murray movies and 1 TV show (multiple seasons of "Saturday Night Live") available on instant demand through my Internet connected Roku box. Then tapping on a particular movie like "Lost In Translation" or "Groundhog Day" revealed the various sites where I could get the flick and at what price. Both were free with a Netflix subscription, $2.99 (for "Lost") and $9.99 (for "Ground Hog") from both Amazon and Vudu. So this one-stop comparison shopping feature could definitely save you money.
Another search - for "Sesame Street" - brought up multiple seasons from 2004 forward. Amazon is hoarding the earlier years, I discovered. Netflix pulled out front (followed by Vudu) with the most episodes from 2007 forward.
Navigating through the masses of content was mostly a snap, though backing out of a chosen Netflix or Amazon selection to then return to the Roku search engine took a couple more steps than expected.
Boxee Re-invented: While Boxee has come up far short of Roku and Apple TV in internet TV receiver sales, to date, the new $99 Boxee TV rival has some intriguing features that set it apart. Question is, will the folks at Walmart – getting an exclusive on the device this holiday season – be able to explain the fine points? And will viewers looking for a way around monthly cable/satellite TV bills think the Boxee deal is all that?
Like Roku, Boxee TV brings in several "top tier" internet-streamed services – but skips on all the fringe content (like a Yoga exercise channel) and that expansive search feature which Roku also delivers.
Boxee TV boasts the paid subscription offerings of Netflix, Vudu (which Walmart owns), MLB.TV premium and Spotify, as well as free content from YouTube, Vimeo, Pandora, AccuWeather.com and WSJ Live.
Where Boxee TV now jumps out of the pack is with twin, built-in broadcast and cable TV tuners and a brand new recording system which lets users capture two shows at once or record one while watching another. Better still, this DVR places "No Limits" on storage capacity and has the ability to play back the saved content on other devices besides your Boxee-linked TV – like a tablet computer or smart phone.
All that becomes possible because your recordings aren't stored on the Boxee TV, but uploaded in some fashion to Boxee servers – aka "the cloud." The downside is that Boxee demands a monthy fee for using the "No Limits" DVR. Early adopters who buy-in this year will get the service for $9.99 a month (now and forever). Next year the monthly tab is supposed to go up to $14.99.
Boxee is offering three months each of No Limits DVR, Netflix and premium grade Spotify for "free" to box purchasers, plus a $5.99 Vudu credit. And there's yet another deal sweetener. Buy more than one Boxee TV for the home and you can then multiply the number of shows you're recording/cloud storing/viewing simultaneously, for the same $9.99 monthly household fee.
Out of the gate, Boxee TV is supporting broadcast antenna users in eight markets. Philadelphia is one of them, along with Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, DC.