Look, folks, the facts are these. You can get all worked up over that big, looming election, with its Democrats and Republicans and Tea Partiers and obsessively-tracked statistics and infuriating debates about the site of a former Burlington Coat Factory in downtown Manhattan. Or you could pay attention to the election that really matters, the one that will really affect your day to day life: The fall 2010 Internet-TV Election.
This fall, the living room will change forever, and it's up to you to make an educated decision about which choice to make. The candidates:
Moderate to conservative, the tiny Apple TV doesn't do much that's new, but it does everything efficiently and with a minimal monetary investment. At only $99, it's probably the cheapest option—we're not sure about the varying price of Google TV hardware, but they'll probably cost more—but it's also the least capable. Apple TV streams movies, TV shows, and music from iTunes in 720p, and can also stream content from an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or computer—as long as that content is in one of the few formats Apple TV supports.
Apple TV can also stream Netflix and YouTube, but that's about it.
Google TV is a true moderate in the vein of Arlen Specter or Ben Nelson: Not a centrist, but rather a candidate that does both conservative and progressive things. Google TV doesn't bring too many new features to the table: Like Apple TV, it offers some streaming content, like Netflix and YouTube. Interestingly, Google TV is the only candidate that is willing to reach across the aisle and work with your existing setup. You don't have to choose between cable or Google TV—Google TV supports your cable, and wants to make it better.
At its core, Google TV will come in varying types of hardware (a separate set-top box, built in to TVs, Blu-ray players, etc), and offers a somewhat unified experience. This is a very new idea—some earlier connected-TV devices, like Windows Media Center, also worked with cable TV, but replaced the entire setup (channel listing, remote, cable box) with a brand-new one. Google TV stays in the background until you want to search, at which point it'll look through your TV listings, Netflix, and the web to find what you want to watch.
Google TV runs on Android and supports Flash, which means pretty much the entire world of web video is available—provided content providers don't block it. We're not sure if Hulu, ABC, NBC, Viacom, and all the rest will let Google TV do its thing. As a big-budget, major party candidate, Google TV has a responsibility to play by the content providers' rules. If Viacom wants to block Google TV from airing episodes of The Colbert Report, that'll just be how it goes.
According to some leaked documents, Google TV might be launching on October 17th.
Boxee Box is the major third-party candidate, a fringe option with some crazy ideas. A lot of people might agree with Boxee Box's philosophy, but find it too out-there to give it control of the entire living room. Boxee Box might best be considered a radical libertarian: Committed to complete freedom, even if that means fighting with entities bigger than itself (notably Hulu, which has broken off access and then been repaired—hacked, really—several times).
Boxee announced today that the Boxee Box is officially available for pre-order on Amazon, at the price of $199—about what we had expected, and a fair price. Interestingly, Boxee swapped out the previously announced Nvidia Tegra 2 processor for a high-end Intel Atom, apparently because the Atom is more capable of running back heavy-duty, 1080p high-def video.
Boxee is all about freedom. Though it's most similar to the Apple TV on the surface (it too is a separate set-top box that streams both from the Internet and from computers on your home network), it actually has a few things in common with Google TV as well, most notably choice. Want to watch 30 Rock? Browse through the list of TV shows, or simply search for it, and you'll see all the possible ways to watch it—you can stream your roommate's downloaded copy from his computer, you can watch the complete season on Netflix, or you can stream it from Hulu or NBC.com.
Though Google TV is also open-source (based as it is on Android), Boxee is completely constructed by a talented volunteer community, which means anything you can think of, Boxee can do. It'll stream absolutely any video format (illegal or not), it's got a massive app store (including individual apps from providers like The Onion, Pandora, and Funny or Die), it's got two USB ports so you can plug in a hard drive or flash drive, and it also offers a wide array of non-media web content (like web browsing, Twitter, and Facebook).
This fall, you'll have to make your own decision. (I hope you'll all participate in the election—it's the American thing to do!) Each candidate offers something different—stability and comfort from Apple, a combination of progressive and laissez-faire attitude from Google, and a commitment to media freedom from Boxee—and not every option is right for every person. Choose wisely, and God Bless Television.