Devices such as the Vudu and the Roku boxes fall under this category. They aim to do one thing and do it well by restricting themselves to some VOD services and presenting their users with an environment similar to DVD renting, only online. Local media can't be played through them. Some of the SOC platforms which have found traction in this market include NXP STB 236 and Broadcom BCM7401. These SOCs were primarily designed for the IP set top boxes (Vudu and Roku may also be termed IP set top boxes, but at a more basic level compared to what these were originally designed for). These platforms do not support DTS audio, which is pretty much a pre-requisite nowadays for products geared towards the media streaming audience.

The Roku HD streamer introduced recently utilizes the NXP platform with a 320 MHz MIPS32 host processor. The STB 236 platform uses the PNX8336 at its core. H264 and VC1 seem to be supported codecs for hardware acceleration, while MPEG-2 seems to be only partially supported. The SOC has suitable connectivity options including USB, SATA and Ethernet. However, HDMI is not integrated in the SOC. The PNX8336 was released in April 2008. Since then, NXP has released video decoder chips targeted towards the TV and the DVR markets in December 2008 and March 2009. However, they seem to miss the mark as far as the features required for a media streamer device go. It will be interesting to see what Roku has in its roadmap, and whether they would shift suppliers for future products. The Roku HD-XR has a USB port, but it serves no discernible usefulness at present. The unit has an operational power consumption of 6W.
 


Vudu & Roku
Media Streamers Based on IP Set Top Box Platforms


Vudu, on the other hand, has realized that selling a restrictive IP set top box in this market is not an easy task. It is now striving to remodel itself as a service provider of sorts by integrating their software into the next generation Blu Ray players and TVs. Still, it is interesting to take a look at the platform behind their original device. It is based on Broadcom's BCM7401 (which also happens to have a 300 MHz MIPS32 host processor), which provides support for H264, VC-1 and MPEG-2 decode. Connectivity options include the standard set of USB, SATA and Ethernet. Now classified by Broadcom as a legacy product, this SOC has probably been superseded by the BCM7400 / BCM7400B introduced around the same time. It is also puzzling as to why the BCM7400B which provides support for DivX decoding wasn't used. That would have probably made the box closer to what the media streamer market needs. Vudu, unlike Roku, also provides the ability to purchase and download movies from their collection. This necessiates a hard disk inside their unit, which puts the operational power consumption much higher than Roku's at 18W.

All said and done, the days of these types of media streamers are numbered. They have to evolve themselves to different types of products in the coming years in order to survive in this market.

Blu-Ray Player / Media Streamer Combo Internet & Local Media Streamers
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  • Xajel - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    I think that Input & Output and all connectivity features are very important along with any remote interface ( network interface ) they may have... + if they can be used as a PVR or not... Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    Xajel, Thanks for your suggestions.

    Currently, I believe that no shipping media streamer has PVR capabilities. The upcoming ZaggBox fits your description, but it is nowhere close to shipping :|

    We will consider your concern about connectivity options and remote interfaces in our reviews
    Reply
  • Hubble70 - Wednesday, June 16, 2010 - link

    Actually, The Moxi DVR and its extenders can do PVR duty and coupled with Playon it can do Hulu and with Tversity I think it can playback your local content as well but I'm not sure about that.

    No standalone unit can do PVR duties, but coupled with SageTV Server software running on any computer in the house (widows, Linux, WHS, or OSX) the SageTV HD200 media streamer can be a PVR and playback your local movie content.
    Reply
  • morpheusmc - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Congrats for the media streamer roundup, I believe an Anandtech-class article is very much needed to clear up the this area.

    I would like to see the performance of media streamers over a wifi network. Most of them support 802.11N USB wifi adapters, but do not exceed even 802.11G speeds. I have had a bad experience with an eGREAT M34A and had to return it because of it.

    I am interested in finding out which is the cheapest device to play at least 720p MKVs (4,38GB/movie) over wifi (assuming a Wifi Access point (G or N if needed) is installed).
    My 4 year old (dual core) laptop plays 720p fine over 802.11g by the way, so 25Mbps ought to be enough, IF the device can actually achieve such speeds.

    Keep up the great work!
    Reply
  • morpheusmc - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Forgot to mention that I would like to see speed tested with WPA2 enabled. Not sure it makes a difference, just want to be sure though.

    Bottom line, I would like to see if any of those devices can function as a drop in addition in a house with an encrypted wireless network and a NAS/file server. Assuming of course that all the other components (NAS/File server, access pint etc) can support the required bitrates.

    My experience up to now says no, but I haven't tested any of the more expensive devices. Although spending 300-400$ for a media player seems a lot, considering the prices of cheap, but HD capable laptops/netbooks.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    morpheusMC, Thanks for the pointers.

    Wireless network performance will also be a point for us to consider in the review if it is part of the original specifications of the player. Some versions of Asus O!Play support 802.11n natively, and your suggestions will be handy while reviewing them. For units such as the WDTV Live, it wouldn't make sense, because we would be introducing third party additions to the hardware platform (yet another variable which could go wrong!) to enable this feature. Of course, wired network performance will definitely be tested thoroughly.
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    As I said in an email to Anand,

    I would like to see the Ceton InfiniTV reviewed. I think you can stream up to 4 live HD channels at once. Not too sure if the $399 price is justified, but this might be something to consider as an option in the future, since you only need one CableCARD.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    vol7ron,

    We will be having a separate series of articles in the same section which will cover the TV tuners / recorders / PVRs and DVRs. CableCARD products like Ceton's will be dealt with in that series.

    Best Regards
    Reply
  • glugglug - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    I have a Jasper XBOX being used as a media center extender. Your power consumption estimate of 140W only applies to the original XBOX, not the Jaspers currently being sold. The Kill-a-Watt tells me it is using just over 90W no matter what it is doing (unless its off). Sitting idle uses the same ~ 90W as playing HD video, and it doesn't go up past 100W during gaming.

    Also, I have yet to encounter a video that was too high a bitrate for it. U.S. HDTV is MPEG2 @ around 15-16Mbps (max 19Mbps). This bitrate of MPEG-2 yields the same quality as roughly 3Mbps H.264. So 10 is actually overkill. Blu-ray rips may have this overkill, but they play just fine. I played an Avatar x264 rip at 20Mbps on the XBOX with no issues. The official maximum bitrate may be 10Mbps, but generally higher bitrate stuff still works. Otherwise you would see a lot more people who use it as an extender complaining in Europe, where their broadcast TV is H.264.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    glugglug, Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

    We quoted the official lines on the Xbox capabilities. Still, 90W is very high for a media streamer. There are much more capable media streamers which perform the same task for less than 1/10th the power consumption :) (Agreed, HD playback isn't XBox's main agenda).

    We may touch upon HD playback capability when covering any new Xbox versions that MS decides to put out in the future.
    Reply

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