Apple TV makes some set-top box makers jump
Perhaps feeling the heat from the much-hyped Apple TV launch, some of the leaders in the TV set-top box field did not take the news lying down on their couches.
Shortly after Apple's morning announcement, Boxee and Roku, two companies that provide systems for bringing Web content to the living room, both released statements saying they fill separate niches from Apple's.
Sony held a gathering of its own Wednesday to announce a media-streaming service called Qriocity. The program, which at first will only be available in Europe this fall, lets owners of Sony TVs and gadgets access music and video rentals. Apple also announced a video rental store, where TV episodes cost 99 cents each.
Amazon.com, which is reportedly in talks with movie studios to offer a subscription service, boasts a section of 99-cent TV episodes on top of its Video On Demand store. Customers get unlimited access to stream those purchases from Amazon's website or download a copy-protected version to some devices, whereas an iTunes rental expires 48 hours after you start watching it.
Roku makes a box, like Apple's, that connects to a TV and interfaces with the Internet. Also like the new Apple TV, Roku supports Netflix subscriptions, a popular service with set-top box owners.
So when Forrester analyst James McQuivey describes the Apple TV as "a slightly smarter Roku, that has a significantly better marketing push behind it," as he told the Associated Press, Roku may have cause for concern.
The company wasted no time trying to get its message out.
"Roku is completely confident that our strategy of offering more features and lower cost than competitors continues to be the right plan," Roku spokesman Brian Jaquet wrote in an unsolicited e-mail.
At $99, the new Apple TV is cheaper than previous iterations. But Roku offers a version of its hardware for $60.
While Boxee provides free versions of its software that can be installed on the previous Apple TV boxes and on computers, its Boxee Box hardware won't be competing in a price war.
The device made a splash at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, but delays and new entrants have slowed the hype machine. Now the $200 box appears to be on track for a November launch.
"We all watched the Apple announcement," Boxee Chief Avner Ronen wrote in a blog post shortly after Apple's news conference. "We walked away feeling strongly confident about the space it left for Boxee to compete. We have a different view of what users want in their living rooms."
Boxee lets users access full-screen videos from a variety of free, ad-supported sources, including networks' websites and Hulu -- despite best attempts by the latter to block it. With Boxee, you can also download apps to access streaming content and hook into social networking features.
Google TV will also create a similar window to the Web in living rooms.
On stage, Apple Chief Steve Jobs made what some thought were thinly veiled criticisms of Google's software, saying consumers want neither computers connected to their TV, nor "amateur hour" — perhaps referring to the home videos on YouTube.
Unlike others in the Web-TV-software space, Google did not acknowledge Apple's product announcement.
— Mark Milian
Photo: Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds the new, smaller Apple TV device at an Apple Special Event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images