The Battle for the OTT Box

Apple_TV_2nd_Generation_backAmazon this week finally announced the fireTV, an OTT settop box. It’s been rumored for years that they would launch one, and considering how popular AmazonPrime is it’s surprising how long it took for them to do this. But this announcement highlights the giant battle going on in households for control of the OTT market.

And of course, boxes aren’t the only way for homes to get OTT content. In my house we don’t have a television and we watch our content on PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. This works for us. And then there are smart TVs. There are decent smart TVs from LG, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Philips and Panasonic. Each of these comes with a different system for giving access to web channels. The best of them offer a lot of customization to make your line-up what you want to watch. All come with some modest amount of web gaming.

But the big battle today is with the boxes, primarily between the new Amazon fireTV, Apple, Roku and the dongle from Google Chromecast. This wide array of options must have the average household scratching their head. Every box is different in look and feel, price and features. They vary widely in what you can watch and in the ease of using their interface. And they all are all hoping to control a large chunk of the market

The Amazon fireTV is an interesting platform. They have built in 2 GB of RAM and a dedicated graphics processor. With an add-on $40 game controller this is going to give them the ability for higher quality gaming than the other boxes, although not near the capability of the dedicated game platforms. For non-hardcore gamers who just want to play games on their big screen it should be a good alternative to buying an expensive gaming box

Many of the boxes now have voice activation. With smart TVs you normally have to shout across the room to the TV and this is widely reported to be clunky. The fireTV puts the voice control in the remote. Roku 3 has taken the path of making their remote motion controlled.

The real competition between boxes comes with the programming choices they have built in to the channel line-up. For example, the ROKU 3 line-up has grown to over 1,000 channels and apps. The Amazon fireTV is launching with only 165 and has some clear major omissions such as HBO Go. But one has to suspect those deals will all be made and that they will quickly catch up.

And perhaps the real winner will be the box and company that finally makes a deal for some regular programming to go along with the OTT content. The first one that can bring in the network channels, HBO without a landline subscription and popular programming like ESPN and Disney could be a major competitor to cable companies. Recently an email from Steve Jobs right before he died showed that Apple was hoping to add this kind of content when they release the next generation of Apple TV, and it might be the lack of such deals that has held off that release.

The Amazon fireTV is announced at a price of $99, the same as the Roku and the Apple TV, although both are widely available today for around $95. The Google Chromecast is available today for only $35. I have to be honest and say that if I buy a TV, which I am considering, that I will have a hard time making a choice between these options. I read a lot more about this stuff than the average household and it makes me wonder how people make such a choice. They probably just go with the brand that they feel the most comfortable with rather than making the hard side-by-side comparisons.

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