2010 will be the year that web TV set-top-boxes start to make it into the mainstream. The recently announced Popbox priced just shy of $130 has received a lot of promising buzz, but does it deliver?
The PopBox has partnered with a number of companies to bring a variety of video. It’ not got everything, but it’s got decent selection to keep you busy.
- Netflix – rent and buy movies instantly.
- Crunchyroll (Asain entertainment site)
- BlipTV – video clips and independent episodes
- NextNewNetworks – independent web TV shows
- Revision3 – independent web TV shows with a tech focus
- Livestation – live TV from various worldwide sources
- Internet Video Archive – archive of public domain video and old movies.
- MalaysiaKini – Malaysian videos
App Innovation Myth?
Apps were certainly big in 2010 on cell phone devices, and Popbox is trying to cash in on the app craze for the set-top-box.
It boasts over 20 apps at launch, but from what I can see some of these are simply content partners like NetFlix and Blip.tv. So I think Popbox is using the definition of apps very loosely.
That said it does give access to:
- Clicker – An Internet TV guide
- FunSpot – Gaming
- SHOUTcast – Web radio
- Eyecon – Media extender to stream media to other devices in the home
- Mediafly – Manage vodcasts and podcasts
- MetaChannels – A video aggregation and distribution service that enables device manufacturers and application developers to integrate the best shows on the Web into their product offerings
- Photobucket – Photo and video sharing
- PicoChannel – Share photos and videos on friends TVs.
- Swarmcast – Broadcast internet video
- Twonky – Media extender to stream media to other devices in the home
- Waterfront Entertainment: – Gaming
- WeatherBug – Control the weather outside your house. No just kidding, just get a weather report.
Apps All That?
It’s a pretty similar idea to Yahoo’s widgets for the TV. There’s certainly a good amount of options in there, but many are probably more than what the average TV watcher needs.
Sure the average viewer might like to check out a bit of web radio, play some games and check on the weather, but they won’t get into the media extenders, video broadcasting or photo sharing.
I can see tweeting from the couch being popular but most hardcore tweeters would have an iPhone or smartphone in hand, which is probably easier to write on than a remote.
I’m guessing the average techie would probably prefer to switch on their Mac, PC or iPhone to share photos, upload video, broadcast live video, tweet and manage vodcasts and podcasts, at least that’s what I’d do.
So I think a few apps may be redundant for both techies and geeks here, but at least the option is there. The shoutcast app for internet radio is certainly a gem, but I’d like to see Last.fm and Spotify in there too, hopefully they are in the works.
The apps and content that I really want to see are lacking though…
No Facebook App – coming Soon?
So with all those apps that most people won’t use, where’s the app that almost everyone would use? Facebook!
Killing hours from the comfort of your front room to browse Facebook would certainly be a hugely popular feature of PopBox, but it is not there.
PopBox told me that a Facebook app is in the works though, which will certainly make this device a lot more appealing. It will likely be available at launch.
No YouTube, No Hulu, No iTunes
When Google realized it could cash in from set-top-boxes it changed the terms and conditions for its API; set-top-boxes could no get access to the YouTube API without prior permission. As a result the Popbox predecessor, like many other internet enabled set-top-boxes, lost access to YouTube.
YouTube is apparently absent from the PopBox so it misses out on the biggest central hub for video. I’m also surprised to see that PopBox hasn’t even gone with some of the secondary video sites like Metacafe, DailyMotion, CollegeHumor and Liveleak.
PopBox confirmed to me they do not intend to add YouTube functionality in the future due to the high licensing costs demanded by Google.
Of course Hulu is also missing, but that’s pretty common in the set-top-box world. You can’t expect NewsCorp to be so open to providing content to a new source of viewers without a monthly charge, on top of the advertising.
iTunes has also failed to make the list so this probably is not the device for Apple fans. But anything non-Apple is going to have trouble playing iTunes DRM music as Apple doesn’t like to share.
Hands-On with the PopBox
Jim Louderback, the CEO of Revision3 takes a hands-on look of the PopBox:
Gui & Home Network Streaming
The device itself does earn some style points, a silent black box that’s so cool it doesn’t need a fan. The video processor can handle full HD decoding at 100 megabits per second and a HDMI connection is there as expected.
With USB and SD ports you can hook up external devices for additional media, and many formats are supported.
Media Extender Functionality
Like the Apple TV the device will also allow you to watch anything stored on your home network. Like the Apple TV it has a sweet interface, if not sweeter, and better than the Apple TV its supports a wide host of video formats.
A pleasant and useful feature is when it finds a video to play it can show the DVD cover and information from the Internet Movie Database.
A downside is the interface does have some display ads which is probably why this box comes pretty cheap.
Full Spec List:
HDMI (1080p/720p/480p), Component video (Y/Pb/Pr)
Stereo analog audio, S/PDIF optical
Video file containers
PEG1/2/4 elementary (M1V, M2V, M4V), MPEG1/2 PS (M2P, MPG, DAT, VOB), MPEG2 Transport Stream (TS, TP, TRP, M2T, M2TS, MTS), AVI, ASF, WMV,
Matroska (MKV), MOV (H.264), MP4, RMP4
XVID SD/HD, MPEG-1, MPEG-2 MP@HL, MPEG-4.2 ASP@L5, 720p, 1-point GMC, MPEG-4.10 (H.264), BP@L3, MP@L4.0, HP@L4.0, HP@L4.1, WMV9, MP@HL, SMPTE 421M (VC-1), MP@HL, AP@L3
Audio file containers
AAC, M4A, MPEG audio (MP1, MP2, MP3, MPA), WAV, WMA, FLAC, OGG
Dolby Digital, DTS, WMA, WMA Pro, MPEG-1 Layer 1, 2, 3, MPEG-4 AAC-LC,
MPEG-4 HE-AAC, MPEG-4 BSAC, LPCM, FLAC, OGG Vorbis
JPEG, BMP, PNG, GIF
If you look at this device simply as a media extender to get videos from your PC onto your living room TV, then it’s a good choice given the extra apps and variety of content partners to bring you some online TV content.
However, if you are looking for a full on internet TV set-top-box that gives you access to the most web TV content you can find then then PopBox is falling short until it can bring on some more content partners.
The Popbox will be available in March in the US only, for a recommended price of $129. Given the overall functionality for the price the PopBox is definitely a good deal. eBay deals will appear below once it becomes available:
US $20.00 1 Bid
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