I've been thinking about buying some kind of Internet-connected TV set-top box, for movies and TV shows, for quite a while now, but I recently took the plunge and pre-ordered the new Apple TV. I've avoided buying a Blu-ray player, because I don't want to buy a whole new set of (more expensive) discs when it seems like a fully disc-less future is right around the corner. Both Apple TV, shipping in the next 2-4 weeks, and the Boxee Box, which entered pre-orders today, seem to fit into the new no-disc world I'm looking for. Conceptually, the two share a basic idea: stream content from the Internet or, in the case of Apple TV, other devices, to your TV. They're both pretty small boxes that sit unobtrusively on a shelf. Originally, I thought I might go for the Boxee Box, which just entered pre-orders, but in the end, I thought Apple TV was a better fit. Here's why:
Content I Want Apple TV gets most of its content from iTunes. You can rent and stream movies and TV shows from the iTunes store, and they've got a decent selection to choose from. My guess (and Apple's) is that the catalog of TV shows available to rent at $0.99 per episode will expand over time. That's certainly been the case with the library of music and movies. You can also stream movies and TV shows from other Macs and iOS devices in your home. (More on that in a minute.) Finally, Apple TV can play movies available for instant watching from Netflix. I can already do that with my TiVo, but it's a nice perk to have it integrated with the Apple TV as well.
Boxee, on the other hand, streams content from online video sources. It sports and impressive library of TV shows available to stream instantly. However, most of those shows come directly from ad-supported sites run by the networks that produced the show – NBC, TBS, etc. I don't mind ads all the time, but I want the option of paying for content without them. Moreover, Boxee doesn't seem to offer a movie library at all, although like Apple TV, it does integrate with Netflix and allows you to play videos from your computer.
Sadly though, those movies and TV shows from iTunes won't play on the Boxee Box – they're protected by Apple's copyright protection. Nobody loves DRM, but it seems it's a necessary evil for now, and if I have to buy copyright protected-content from somewhere, it'll probably be from iTunes. I also keep my music and movies in iTunes, and I want a box that connects seamlessly to iTunes running on my computer. That means Apple TV.
Other Devices Both Apple TV and Boxee Box can play music and videos stored on your computer. However, Apple as taken things one step further. Starting with the release of iOS 4.2 for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, you'll be able to stream video from your mobile devices to your Apple TV. That means I can download or rent a movie on my phone and play it on the big screen with my Apple TV. More enticingly, anecdotal reports suggest that streaming from iOS to Apple TV isn't limited to iTunes content, suggesting the possibility of streaming all sorts of video content, from YouTube to live MLB games from the MLB app.
Price The new Apple TV is $99, while the Boxee Box is $199. I could buy or rent a lot of movies and TV shows on iTunes with the $100 difference -- and none of them would have ads.