Free updates enhance Roku’s digital video player

Last updated Dec 22, 2008 — 11918 views

[Updated Jan. 6, 2009] — Roku has announced two updates to its $99 box that streams Netflix movies directly to TVs via the Internet. The initial update adds advanced compression capable of streaming HD video over “average” consumer broadband connections, Roku says.

The HD-streaming update will be automatically delivered to all Roku-manufactured digital video player set-top boxes (STBs) “free-of-charge over the course of the next few weeks,” according to a Roku announcement.

Actually the new HD feature has already begun showing up in users’ STBs, as evidenced by the surprise update that showed up on our Roku STB today:

Roku’s digital video player STBs will soon show these new startup pages
(Click each image to enlarge)

Roku says it also plans to expand the $99 STB’s content sources — beyond Netflix video streaming — via further software updates that will be pushed out to the devices “early in 2009.” The updates will provide unspecified “movie channels, TV channels, Web video channels, and more.” Presumably this will include sources such as YouTube, Hulu, Comedy Central, MSNBC, etc.

Jan. 6, 2009 update: Amazon VOD coming soon!

Roku has just announced that all Roku digital video player customers will receive a free and automatic software update in early 2009 that will add access to Amazon’s video on demand service. This, according to the company, will give Roku STB users access to more than 40,000 commercial-free movies and television shows, at rental prices ranging from $0.99 to $3.99 for a 24 hour viewing window.

Roku faces growing competition from other providers of Internet-based video-on-demand (VOD) STBs, such as Blockbuster’s STB (based on 2Wire’s Digital Mediapoint STB), Syabas’s Popcorn Hour (aka NMT), LG, Samsung, AppleTV, and others.

Boxee: competitor or partner?

Another product putting pressure on Roku to grow its A/V-downloads support beyond those available from Netflix is Boxee’s multimedia center software, which runs on Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows PCs. Boxee is great for streaming movies and TV episodes from Comedy Central, Youtube, Hulu, etc., and for enjoying A/V content located on the PC or other local sources.

In addition to PCs, Boxee’s A/V-streaming software targets STBs along the lines of Roku’s digital video player, however.

Hence, Boxee’s software represents a potential threat to Roku’s early lead in the low-cost, Internet-enabled VOD STB market. Boxee already offers a free-of-charge AppleTV hack that adds a broad spectrum of Internet-based A/V content sources — soon to include Netflix instant video downloads — to the low-cost Apple STBs.

Alternatively, Roku and Boxee conceivably could become partners rather than competitors. In this scenario, Roku would integrate aspects of Boxee’s technologies into its low-cost STB, thus merging the best of both A/V worlds and leaning on Boxee for media center UI and downloads-access technology.

Further details on the Roku digital video player are available in our earlier coverage.

6 responses to “Free updates enhance Roku’s digital video player”

  1. Anthony DiBartolo says:

    I just installed the Roku box through Netflix. Will this HD be available on this box. Should I have waited for something better. Just did the install today, December 27.

  2. deviceguru says:

    @Anthony DiBartolo:

    No worries, you should get the HD-streaming upgrade pushed out to your box very soon. The updates have already begun arriving.

  3. Eas says:

    Boxee is intriguing, but their software, which is derived from the XBMC project, seems heavier in it’s resource requirements. The roku netflix box is pretty bare bones. I doubt that Boxee would be able to run on it, at least not well.

    I’m hoping that roku will include the ability to play back locally stored media. If they did, I’d buy one in an instant. I’d probably even be willing to spend 25-50% more

  4. FWSquatch says:

    I just noticed these changes last night on my Roku. Any word on who the new content providers will be and when they’ll be appearing?

  5. deviceguru says:

    @FWSquatch: Actually, just yesterday Roku announced that it will be adding support for Amazon’s Video On Demand service to its $99 STB. The announcement can be found on Amazon’s website, here. Quoting from the announcement:

    “Beginning in early 2009, the Roku Player, which currently supports only the Netflix service, will offer access to Amazon Video On Demand’s more than 40,000 commercial-free movies and television shows, enabling Roku customers for the first time to watch new release movie titles instantly”

  6. Jay says:

    can i take any streaming off any website and send it to my tv