Roku's open TV platform
Roku's $99 set-top box made its debut last year as a tool for watching Netflix's online movie streams on a television set. It later added access to Amazon's video-on-demand service and Major League Baseball's online game broadcasts. Today it announced the latest step in its evolution into a more versatile device: a "channel store" of optional video sources for users to add to their boxes.
The store is an open platform, Roku says, providing a route to the TV set for any online video programmer willing to use Roku's software development kit. That's a promising development for content providers looking to bypass cable and satellite operators. Unfortunately, the first 10 channels available through the Roku store do not include Hulu, TV.com, Sling.com or any other source of network TV shows. Instead, they consist of a handful of sites with original online video, such as Revision3; Pandora's customized music webcasts; and sites for posting and sharing photos and home videos, such as Flickr. All are free to use and easy to add to the box's regular channel lineup, although some require viewers to register.
The biggest shortcoming is the lack of a search engine or program guide that would make it easy to browse across all the channels simultaneously. Users have to scroll through what's available channel by channel, which can be tedious.
Viewers looking for something to replace their cable TV won't find it from Roku -- at least not yet. What they'll find is a broader selection of content, a convenient way to display on TV the personal photos and videos they've stored online, and the promise of more to come.
-- Jon Healey
Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division.