App TV: Rockin' With Roku


It is an open question whether most consumers really want the web on their TV or not. Sure, sure, for dweebs like us the idea of streaming Cali Lewis or the usual You Tube suspects in higher def to our living room screen seems like the natural next step of Web video. Until you actually have to navigate an interface that accommodates all of that content. There still is a big disconnect between the keyboard-and-search-driven-more-than-you-can-eat Web and the lean-back-remote-in-hand-entertain-me TV experience. Go ahead and shoot me Web purists, but I just don't think most Americans really want to hunt and peck through way too many content options on the TV screen.

One of the things I like about the Roku Player I have been using the past few nights is the way that it broadens the choice of video content far beyond what is available on the new Apple TV, and yet it maintains a kind of manageable order. It pretty much feels like TV by app. You can rifle through scores of Web video channels, including Netflix, Amazon video, Revision3,,, etc. and assemble a set of favorite icons. Flickr, smugmug, vimeo and Pandora are also here, so it very much feels like a mobile extensions of familiar Web brands.



AmazonThen of course some drilling comes in as you find your way through the endless shows and episodes. Roku has made their system of subscribing to premium channels as easy as navigating to a Web page on your nearby laptop and entering a handshake code to activate the service on your Roku box. I was able to hook amazon on demand into my standard Amazon account and the Roku player even picked up some old videos I had purchased from them years ago. By the way, the Amazon ordering system is only slightly less convenient than Apple's media rental process. They make you input a PIN with every purchase, which is a pain. But I was able to rent Iron Man 2 in very pleasing 1080p (vs Apple's low-hi-res) and the difference was discernible. Amazon's selection and ordering process are good, and there is no reason why they shouldn't be a strong alternative player in the digital distribution ecosystem.

Likewise Netflix is actually superior on the Roku to Apple TV. Not only can it hit higher resolutions but the film browsing experience is closer to the iPad app than it is to the Apple TV experience. You can navigate a wall of movie posters and the movie details pop up when you hover over any one of them. Apple makes you click through for details.

Clearly Apple is pushing the narrow functionality of TV and film rentals. While podcasts are available on the Apple TV the range of Web video in app-like channels that you can surface easily is not. Roku appeals to the web video geek in me for whom more is always more. This gets us one step closer to making Web video a series of widgets or apps for truly customized TV. Is the road to future TV going to be by way of the smart phone?

3 comments about "App TV: Rockin' With Roku".
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  1. Jeff Bach from Quietwater Media, October 20, 2010 at 5:16 p.m.

    Wow. RR left quite the message.

    I think this article is right on the money. As one problem is solved the next one rises to the top. Up until now, just getting internet content across the final ten feet has been the issue.

    But now the issue is becoming - how is the content organized and made discoverable for the Lazy Boy consumer and who is the gatekeeper that organizes that content.

    Millions of "channels" can't all fit on an easy to use screen that works with 4 arrow keys on a remote.

    Who decides who gets to be displayed?

    The more things change the more they stay the same. Once content crosses the final ten feet, this will boil down to gatekeeper version 2.0, the "new old television". The show with the biggest marketing and promotional budget will win the coveted space on the guide and things will gradually go back to being the same, only newer.

    Hope I am wrong.

  2. Clinton Gallagher, October 20, 2010 at 8:42 p.m.

    I agree Steve, the plethora of choices has become overwhelming but it is foolish to presume those of us who design and develop the apps will not learn to respond as we have on other device platforms.

    As it pertains to Mr. HD Home Theater Domain Name Spammer I have one for sale myself: which is a real bargain at only $200,349,250.

  3. Joe Bencharsky from iNet Entertainment, October 21, 2010 at 1:21 a.m.

    I don't think mobile will capture the majority of the market. for the young, early adopters. TV is a comfortable interface that is the likeliest candidate (Intel agrees, as articulated in a recent conference) User friendly user interfaces and devices will ultimately determine the shape of the inevitable convergence of media. The technology exists for viewer-friendly interactivity and merely needs to be adopted. The hardware will evolve accordingly. Already there is Roku, Apple TV, Veebeam, FlipTV, Google TV, and more.

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