The Latest Boxes and Gear

roku-3-2I’ve been seeing a lot of interesting product announcements recently.

4K Settop Boxes. Both DirecTV and Comcast have announced new 4K settop boxes. AT&T subsequently said that DirectTV and U-Verse would be using the same settop box going forward. DirecTV was the first major company to release a 4K box, but their first version required a customer to have a Samsung smart TV. The new box is being called the 4K Genie Mini and is the size of a paperback book. DirectTV does not yet have any channels dedicated to 4K although they probably will later this year.

Comcast also launched 4K TV last year and their first box also only worked with Samsung TVs, but the new box should work with any 4K capable television. Both of these announcements continue the trend of large ISPs developing their own proprietary boxes rather than buying off the shelf from the normal industry vendors.

Around 15% of new televisions sold now have 4K capabilities and smaller cable providers are going to have to decide if they want to support 4K programming. The new settop boxes represent a new capital outlay, but the real issue with 4K is that the channels eat up a lot bandwidth in a network and will require upgrades at the headend.

Over-the-air Tuner. Microsoft recently launched an Xbox One Digital TV tuner that will work with its game console. This means that an Xbox owner can use their game console along with an HDTV antenna to receive local programming directly through their game platform. The platform allows for multiple options such as watching TV and gaming at the same time. There is also a built-in channel guide, giving this the feeling of being a basic cable offering. I look at this as just one more tool making it easier for people to cut the cord.

Google’s Wireless Router. Google has released its WiFi router they call the OnHub to the general public for $199. This is a high quality WiFi router as well as a platform for integrating IoT devices within the home. The box supports WiFi as well as Bluetooth, Smart Ready, Weave, and 802.15.4, making it ready to talk to most Internet of Things devices.

Early reviews say it’s a great WiFi router that gives a user easier accessibility than many other routers, particular those from cable companies that are black boxes to the consumer. But the real promise is that the device also will provide a base for talking to a wide variety of off-the-shelf IoT devices that you might want to integrate into your house. This is obviously a play for Google to become the standard for home networking of devices.

Very Thin TV. LG this year released a TV screen that is only four hundredths of an inch thick. A 55 inch TV at this thickness only weighs about 4 pounds. It’s so thin and light that it can be hung on the wall with magnetic fasteners and peeled off like a sticker. The TV uses organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) which can produce sufficient bright light only one layer thick. This is the first use for OLEDs I’ve seen outside of cellphone screens.

This is the first look at a whole new generation of TVs that can go anywhere and be of almost any size. Want a TV in the bathroom? No problem. Put one in the garage? Not an issue.

And, finally, some statistics for you.

OTT Streaming Devices. At the end of 2014 Roku was still the most popular OTT streaming box with 37% of the market. Chromecast came in second with 19% of the market. Amazon Fire had climbed to 17% of the market while Apple TV fell to fourth at about 14% of the market. These four products represented 86% of the total market.

A little over 20% of US homes now have a streaming device. Another large chunk of the market is relying on smart TVs.

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