The first reviews of Apple TV are hitting the Web today, and there are, for the most part, no big surprises. (As for the CNET review: Apple has indicated that our review sample will be arriving on September 30; we'll have a full hands-on review with video soon after.)
As expected, the new Apple TV delivers largely the same experience as the previous model, with the addition of an all-streaming rental service and Netflix compatibility, all crammed into a much smaller design. But it's the $99 price tag that's the real attraction here: at that price, the device is likely to become an impulse buy in a way its $229 predecessor never was.
That's the idea, anyway. Unlike the weak competition the first Apple TV faced in 2007, the new one will be entering a far more mature market for Internet TV, with everything from game consoles to Blu-ray players to TiVo DVRs offering the same sort of video-on-demand functionality. Add to that the forthcoming Logitech and Sony products offering Google TV, and the long-awaited Boxee Box product. Already going head-to-head with the Apple TV, meanwhile, is a refreshed line of Roku boxes, with models available at an even cheaper $59 and $79.
Roku got a big boost earlier today with the news that the Hulu Plus subscription service will soon be available on all of the company's existing and forthcoming models. On the surface, that strengthens Roku's pitch as an Apple TV alternative with far more choices. Roku lacks iTunes, of course, but it matches Apple TV's Netflix and Flickr support, plus adds Hulu, Amazon, Pandora, and MLB.TV--in addition to dozens of other, more niche-y "channels" available on its ever-growing roster.
Hulu Plus promises to deliver all current-season episodes of most ABC, Fox, and NBC shows (and quite a bit of legacy content) for a flat $9.99 monthly fee. That means--assuming you're interested in shows from those networks--that the Roku could save you a bundle versus Apple TV, where your best-case scenario (aside from Netflix) is to buy shows a la carte. Assuming a price of 99 cents, that's just 10 episodes on iTunes (say, two to three a week) versus an unlimited number on Hulu during the same month.
Meanwhile, for shows not available on Hulu Plus, Roku users could rent or buy them on Amazon's service, which has matched Apple's 99-cent pricing on ABC and Fox shows. (We're leaving out a discussion of the Roku versus Apple hardware costs, and Netflix subscription is identical--if not less, if you opt for one of the cheaper Roku boxes. That's at least a wash between these two options.)
So, game, set, match Roku, right? Maybe, maybe not. … Read more