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 Now classified by Broadcom as a legacy product, this SOC has probably been superseded by the BCM7400 / BCM7400B introduced around the same time.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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  • StormyParis - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    I'm disappointed by your excluding AMD. I seem to remember a test in which Dell's Zino HD played Bluray perfectly, and HD Flash almost perfectly with a beta flash player. That makes it "good enough" in my book, and I'm contemplating either a Zino or an AMD Zbox for my next Office PC. Reply
  • ganeshts - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    I did mention the Zino HD in the final paragraph on Page 2 (HTPC based platforms). In our opinion, the Ion / Atom based nettops are somewhat better than the AMD based nettops. If the ZinoHD or the Zbox had a HD 4xxx series based motherboard, things could have been a little different. As is, the Ion series gives same video decode capabilities as the GeForce 9400.. while the Zbox / ZinoHD tend to not have the same capabilities ; All said, it depends on the usage scenario, and if Blu Ray and flash playback is all that you need, then the Zino / Zbox might be well suited. Reply
  • Hubble70 - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    The Zino HD has an available 4330 graphics card if you want HD audio and better video performance. Also, the Zino's deinterlacing performance is subpar not because of the onboard graphics, but because it uses an Athlon based CPU that uses hypertransport 2.0 instead of an Athlon II CPU that has hypertransport 3.0. The onboard graphics is memory bandwidth starved, and the 3200 graphics in the Zino is perfectly capable of good deinterlacing if you drop in a CPU with hypertransport 3. Either way, its still able to do full acceleration of BD and other formats. Reply
  • ganeshts - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    Thanks, fixed :) Reply
  • ganeshts - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    Sorry, my bad! Fixed :) Reply
  • JPVann - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    Although they are hacked using existing APIs, there are two different projects that now stream both Music and Video to your TV via the ROKU. Both install extremely easily and require no hacking or programming skills.

    Coupled with all the current 'Channels', Netflix, MLB Baseball, Facebook etc the ROKU is one capable box. Upgrades have been constant and full of content since I bought mine last Nov.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    JPVann, Thanks for the info. Since local media playback is not officially supported, we classified Roku as a Internet only media streamer. Hopefully, the new Roku box will officially support streaming media through its USB port.

    The problem with the original Roku is that there is no USB port. So, the user is at the mercy of his network connection speeds for high definition Blu Ray videos. Local content 'streamers' usually have USB or eSATA ports, and that is our criterion to classify a player as a local media streamer.

    Another issue with both Roku and Vudu is that they utilize chipsets originally intended for set top boxes and not dedicated media streamers. As such, the experience delivered from the WDTVs and the OPlays are quite different from the restricted environment of the IP set top box platforms.
    Reply
  • CorrND - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    I agree, Roku is quite capable, very affordable and already has the Channel Store (aka App Store) model that is a leading contender model for future content delivery. They have an installed base of 500k (as of January '10), expected to increase to nearly 1M this year, and a non-exclusive (but preferential) partner in Netflix. For a relative newcomer, they're sitting on pretty good ground for now.

    The thing that is going to kill Roku is the rumors that Apple is going to re-release Apple TV with the iPhone/iPad OS. That will place Apple TV in direct competition with the Channel/App Store model that Roku already uses. The difference will be the additional Apple clout and industry connections that Roku can't possibly compete with.
    Reply
  • flamethrower - Sunday, June 13, 2010 - link

    Is support for Asian characters. Basically does the thing support unicode in subtitles and filenames.
    That is probably not something many people in the Anandtech audience would like to see tested though. It might be included in "multiple subtitle formats" but I think you had something else in mind for testing this.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    flamethrower, Thanks for the pointer. We will keep this in mind. In fact, we already have a sample file with subtitles in more than 20 different languages (though this particular file is not related to the 'multiple subtitle formats' we mentioned). We will report languages which don't display correctly in the review. Reply

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