Apple‘s newly redesigned, strikingly simple and unnervingly cheap Apple TV is going to be trouble for a lot of other companies in the media center space. Some, like Roku, may have trouble competing at all anymore, and some analysts have put the upcoming Boxee Box in the same category. Boxee, unsurprisingly, disagrees.
Boxee is an open-source media center, currently available as a free software download on a score of other products (including Mac, Windows, Linux, Xbox, and, coincidentally, the last-gen Apple TV). It’s a connected media streamer, albeit with more of an emphasis on local content than the Apple TV, but it’s also emblematic of an older conception of this kind of product. It’s highly sophisticated and fairly simple to use, but the “more plus more equals more” attitude is something gleaned from predecessors like Windows Media Center and XBMC.
Boxee streams just about any kind of video you can imagine, from Netflix and Hulu to the individual sites of content providers like Comedy Central and ABC–basically, anywhere there’s legal video on the web, Boxee will find it, and present it in one nice interface. That’s all in addition to four hundred other “apps,” including Vimeo, MLB, and Pandora. Even better, Boxee can stream video in a startling array of formats (including pirate favorites like Xvid and MKV) from computers on the network. (In comparison, Apple TV is highly limited in the formats it can play back.)
Long in development, Boxee’s first hardware, the Boxee Box, is due out in November for $199–twice as expensive as the Apple TV. But it’s certainly more capable, with wide software and format support in addition to more powerful hardware (it can run 1080p video, compared to Apple TV’s 720p max) and expandability (the Boxee Box has two USB ports and one SD card slot for viewing photos–the Apple TV has, well, nothing). So it makes sense that Boxee feels comfortable saying the two products can coexist.
In a blog post today, Boxee employee Avner Ronen writes:
We all watched the Apple announcement. 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. We are taking different paths to get there. The Boxee Box is going to be $100 more expensive than the Apple TV, but will give you the freedom to watch what you want. We think it’s worth it.
And I agree, for the most part. For real media junkies, the ones who know and care about things like MKV playback and automatic BitTorrent support and hundreds upon hundreds of available plugins, the Boxee Box is the better choice. I think the Boxee Box, provided it works as promised, will sell pretty well to that sector of the market. Of course, the $99 Apple TV will almost certainly sell far more, to everyone and their grandparents, but I agree that the two products do address different segments of the market.
That’s the key takeaway point from all this. Just like the smartphone market was a year ago, the connected TV market is barely getting started, and there’s plenty of room for all kinds of competitors. Just because Apple TV will likely be successful doesn’t mean the Boxee Box won’t also do well, in its own way.