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Roku 2 vs. the new Apple TV, what’s the best streaming solution?

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As Apple has finally launched a model of the the small, set-top Apple TV that offers full HD, 1080p resolution, consumers looking for a streaming option to take advantage of video over the Internet within the home theater may be comparing the new hardware from Apple against other options such as the Roku 2. Gaming consoles like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 also offer a solution for streaming video content within the home theater, but these options are at least twice as much as standalone set-top boxes like the Roku 2 or the Apple TV.  

Hardware

New-Apple-TV-Mirroring-2The only model of the Apple TV sells for $99 and is devoid of ports to access additional memory cards or flash drives. However, the Apple TV comes with AirPlay and will allow users to stream content from other Apple devices like the new iPad or the iPhone 4S. For instance, a user could stream music from Spotify from an iPhone into the Apple TV. During a party, this would allow the host to pump music through a home theater system while changing the music from the iPhone.  

The Roku comes in a variety of hardware options including a $49.99 base model called the Roku LT. However, only two of those options are capable of 1080p output. These options are the Roku 2 XD for $79.99 and the Roku 2 XS for $99.99. The latter option also includes a motion controller to play games like Angry Birds, an Ethernet port and a USB port for accessing content such as movies or music from a flash drive. The Roku 2 also comes with a MicroSD memory slot for adding additional storage as well as Bluetooth for RF remote control compatibility. 

Content

Apple TV users are tied to Apple’s closed iTunes platform for access to new movies and television shows. Standard definition movie rentals for new releases are $3.99 while high definition rentals are priced at $4.99. After Apple discontinued 99-cent rentals of television shows during August 2011, the only options left available are to purchase the entire season of the program or specific episodes. For instance, the ten episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones season one can be purchased for $3.99 each or the entire season can be purchased for $38.99. Additional Apple TV subscriptions include:

  • Netflix at $7.99 a month
  • MLB.TV / Premium service at $124.99 yearly or $24.99 monthly / Standard service at $109.99 yearly or $19.99 monthly
  • NBA League Pass at $65 yearly for seven teams or $100 yearly for all teams
  • NHL Gamecenter at $169 yearly
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In order to access recent releases, Roku users will have to rely on Amazon Instant Video to rent movies at $3.99 for SD and $4.99 for HD. Additional subscriptions on the Roku 2 include:

  • Netflix at $7.99 a month
  • Hulu Plus at $7.99 a month
  • Amazon Prime at $79.99 yearly (provides access to many streaming titles in addition to free two-day shipping on all items)
  • HBO GO (requires compatible cable or satellite subscription) 
  • NHL Gamecenter at $169 yearly
  • UFC Vault at $59.99 for six months
  • MLS MatchDay Live at $59.95 per season
  • NBA League Pass at $65 yearly for seven teams or $100 yearly for all teams
  • MLB.TV / Premium service at $124.99 yearly or $24.99 monthly / Standard service at $109.99 yearly or $19.99 monthly
  • EPIX HD (dependent on cable provider)

While Apple only offers access to YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and the Wall Street Journal on the Apple TV, more applications can be displayed on the television through mirroring. For instance, the free version of Angry Birds can be played on the iPhone while it’s being mirrored on a HDTV through the Apple TV. However, the sheer amount of free applications built specifically for the Roku is overwhelming. The more popular applications include Crackle, Pandora, Mog, Rdio, Revision3, Facebook and a variety of news networks including NBC News, CNBC and Fox News.  

Which one?

Deciding between the two set-top boxes is very dependent on which content ecosystem that a user has already invested within. If a user already owns a mobile Apple device and has a ton of content stored within iTunes, the Apple TV would be a useful tool in accessing that content within the home theater. If a user has plenty of content encoded in a variety of formats, stores that content on a standard PC and is looking for more Internet video options, the Roku hardware would likely be a better fit for the home theater.