Thursday, April 3, 2014

Picking Your Next Streaming OTT TV Box

With the release of Amazon's new OTT box, Amazon Fire TV, it joins a competitive group that includes Apple TV, Google's Chromecast, Roku 3, Smart TVs, and TiVo's Roamio.  So which one to choose or should we still wait for the next release.  Some are speculating that Apple is getting ready to announce and release its next Apple TV box.  But if you are in the market now, Mashable has a nice list of the differences among the major brands. 

For me, the differentiation that most matters is the content that can be streamed from the device.  If your world revolves around your iTunes library, than Apple TV offers that exclusively.  If it is about access to Netflix, then all the devices offer that app.  Amazon's new product tries to differentiate through other technical approaches including more memory, a unique search and recommendation engine, and a remote with voice search. 

For all these devices, the fact is that consumers want to not only stream to their mobile devices but to their big screen TVs too.  Competition and innovation will continue to follow these streaming devices but at the end of the day, the one with the best, exclusive, and most valuable content will ultimately win. 

Broadband Has A "Need For Speed"

We expect that when we pick up the telephone that it is immediately ready to make a call.  We expect that when we turn on the TV, that a TV show appears.  We expect when we flick on the light switch, that electricity immediately comes on and our lamp turns on.  Yet when we sit in front of our computer or tablet, we must wait for our web page to refresh.  Sure it comes on and the wait may be a few seconds (or longer), but we continue to wait.  Add more devices to the stream, and delay time mounts. 

If this is you, then you are not alone.  The speed is only as fast as the internet connection that you have and coaxial cable to the home has its limitations.  As Tom Cruise said in the movie Top Gun, we have a need for speed.  Today's best wired choice is optical fiber but that is not how most of the US is wired for broadband.  "The United States ranks in 14th place behind countries like Sweden, Japan, South Korea, Romania and Macau in fiber connectivity."  In fact, " only 7.7 percent of broadband subscribers have optical fiber connections, the fastest and highest quality available." 

The capital costs to update our infrastructure must be enormous and the cable companies may have little motivation to invest unless they can gain a bigger return.  Google is investing in a few markets and Verizon FIOS as well.  Our only other hope is wireless broadband although the speed may not match as well to a wired fiber connection. 

Unfortunately for all that the US has accomplished, broadband speed does not rank us high in the world.  How then can we ramp up our connectivity speed without costing consumers an arm and a leg?  It may just take a quantum leap in building new processes for refresh and load that can handle packets of data that are only getting more and more heavy.  Till then, we can only watch and wait as the little wheel tells us our content is loading and will be ready shortly.