Set-top TV device-makers Roku and Boxee are expanding television viewers' options with improved features and hardware.
Recent generation Roku boxes (starting at $49.99) just became way more valuable thanks to a new search engine feature. Just enter the name of a movie or TV show, favorite actor or director and Roku looks for the applicable goods across multiple platforms -- Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Crackle, HBO Go and Vudu HD movies.
After typing "Bill Murray" into the Internet-connected Roku box, it only took a couple of letters for his name to pop up as an option, then one more click to reveal a stockpile of 38 Murray movies and one TV show ("Saturday Night Live") available on instant demand. Tapping on a movie, such as "Lost in Translation" or "Groundhog Day," revealed various sites where the flick was available. Both were free with a Netflix subscription, $2.99 (for "Lost") and $9.99 (for "Groundhog") from both Amazon and Vudu. So this one-stop comparison shopping feature could definitely save you money.
Navigating through the masses of content was mostly a snap. But backing out of a chosen Netflix or Amazon selection in order to return to the Roku search engine took more steps than expected.
While Boxee has come up far short of Roku and Apple TV in Internet TV receiver sales, the new $99 Boxee TV has some intriguing features that set it apart. Question is, will Wal-Mart -- which is getting an exclusive on the device this holiday season -- be able to explain the fine points? And will viewers looking for a way around monthly cable/satellite TV bills think the Boxee deal is all that?
Like Roku, Boxee TV brings in several "top tier" Internet-streamed services -- but skips on all the fringe content (like a Yoga exercise channel) and that expansive search feature which Roku delivers. Boxee TV boasts the paid subscription offerings of Netflix, Vudu, MLB.TV premium and Spotify, as well as free content from YouTube, Vimeo and Pandora.
Where Boxee TV jumps out of the pack is with twin, built-in broadcast and cable TV tuners and a brand-new recording system that lets users capture two shows at once. Better still, this DVR places no limits on storage capacity and has the ability to play back the saved content on other devices besides your Boxee-linked TV -- such as a tablet or smartphone.
All that becomes possible because your recordings aren't stored on the Boxee TV, but uploaded in some fashion to Boxee servers -- i.e. "the cloud." Boxee demands a monthly fee for using the "no limits" DVR ($9.99 a month to start).
Out of the gate, Boxee TV is supporting broadcast antenna users in eight markets. Minnesota isn't one of them, but the rollout is expected to continue in 2013.