State of Streaming 2015

The Roku 4 was announced yesterday, so we know everything we need to know about streaming for the 2015 season. I thought the recent launches were incremental – no new products, nothing unexpected. 4k came faster than I expected. Prices jumped unexpectedly. What do you think about what is going on with the television ‘set top box’ arena?

Amazon Fire TV
FTV added 4k, Alexa support, and a hardware upgrade. Amazon abandoned optical out but added an sd card slot. In its first year, FTV’s app count has surpassed Rokus. At $99.99, FTV is the least expensive streamer – and game console. Kind of unrelated, but not really, Amazon put Prime on sale for $67 last month.

Apple TV
Apple added Siri, an interesting remote, and an app store. Their new streamer sells for $149 and $199 – ideal for price insensitive Apple enthusiasts, but more expensive than any other streamer.

Channel Master DVR+
Channel Master launched their Linear TV this summer and added an enhanced remote. The DVR+ is now two years old.

Google Chromecast
AC wireless, better buffering, and some kind of audio feature which requires one Chromecast per speaker.

Mohu Channels
What ever happened to…

Roku added 4k, optical out, a remote finder, beefed up hardware, captive portal support, and AC wireless. And jacked the price 30%. This summer Roku added voice search.

Simple TV DVR
Simple TV DVR, we knew you well. After a difficult two tuner product launch, and a database crash, our friends at Real Simple Software have gone into hiding. The hardware is rarely seen in the wild.

Tablo DVR
Tablo picked up the ball that Simple dropped, releasing two and four tuner DVRs to much fanfare. Their community and support are solid, but the product suffers a lot of the problems that doomed the Simple TV DVR. Regardless, Tablo updated their Roku app.

TiVo announced their Bolt product. The Bolt supposedly targets new TiVo customers. It supports 4k and curated commercial skip. The price with ‘All In’ (aka Lifetime) will approach $1k! As far as I am concerned, the bigger news has been the $300 TiVo with Lifetime (still available on TiVo added a Plex client this summer.

Did I miss anything? Are there any other players out there?

Assuming 4k is the theme this Christmas, people will be choosing among FTV, Roku, and Bolt. I don’t think the Bolt is competitive, so most will be choosing between FTV and Roku. Objectively, Roku is going to have to work hard to overcome Amazon’s advantages. Both products are available as part of Sling TV bundles (though I do not think Sling is a big deal right now), but Amazon will likely offer a Prime bundle and still offers more and better gaming options than any other under $100 device. FTV is significantly less expensive. Of course, all of the 4k sets will have 4k apps, right? And the Xbox and PS4 already support 4k streaming.

Who is going to buy a streaming product this fall, is it an upgrade or an addition, and what is the driver behind the sale?


You forgot Android TV. The Shield TV is the most powerful streaming box (it was the first 4k box, and the only one capable of 4k 60fps). The Nexus Player performs better than Roku and only costs $50. Other than that omission, nice summary.

Edit: The Roku 4 can also do 4K 60fps apparently.

Educate me, please. I’m collecting information for a BF/Christmas buyers’ guide. If I missed something, please make me want one!

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@wizwor Android TV is a relatively new platform which is in all new Sony TV’s,some Sharp TV’s (it is either in them already, or coming soon), the Nexus Player ($50), the Forge Player, and the NVIDIA Shield TV ($200). I have a Nexus Player, and I just bought a used Shield TV. It doesn’t have as large of a native app selection as Roku, but it does have all the major players other than Amazon Instant Video. However, every Android TV has Google Cast built in, so anything that supports Chromecast can be “casted” to Android TV, so the amount of apps which indirectly support Android TV is actually quite massive. The only app I can think of which doesn’t support Chromecast is Amazon Instant Video.

The user interface of Android TV is the most beautiful in my opinion, but perhaps matched by the upcoming Apple TV. Performance is incredible - you never feel like you are waiting for the device to catch up to your actions. I also appreciate beautiful app design - compared to Roku traditional app design these apps look much more refined, beautiful, and intuitive. The remote has built in voice search which finds content from major services similar to Roku, but it is slightly smarter because you can say phrases such as “find me Tom Cruise movies from 1991” or “what’s the weather like?”, or “show me the cast of Interstellar” and it brings up all the info on screen. similar to Google Now.

Android TV has a great Tablo TV app, the best I have used by far. It seems to have fewer bugs compared to every other Tablo app based on comments here by others and my experiences.

Android TV also has a focus on gaming, and has a pretty good selection of impressive games on the Play Store. The NVIDIA Shield takes this to the next level and offers cloud gaming of somewhat recent PC and console titles (much more impressive and detailed than the more casual games on the Play Store).

I also think Android TV has some room to improve - it could use a VUDU app (it has CinemaNow for UV Collections which works great, but I prefer VUDU personally) and the recommendations at the top of the user interface could be more tailored to actual user viewing history, instead of just based on general popularity (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch a video hands on of Android TV). However, it’s still my favorite streaming platform overall.

TL;DR: Android TV isn’t perfect, but it’s my favorite streaming platform overall after having owned Chromecasts, Fire TV, and Roku 3. All of them have been sold recently in favor of my Nexus Player and Shield TV. Let me know if I can answer any other questions.

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While nice to see Tablo DVR in the mix, it has more in common with Plex Media Server than with something like a Roku. Maybe you need two lists? Things that are front ends and things that are back ends?

How can you tell? Nowadays it’s pretty easy… does it have a HDMI port? If so, it is likely a front end.

The reason I say this is because with a Tablo DVR, you really need frontends… at least for the TV. Even if it’s a convoluted path.

Let’s just say that you’d have to include Plex Media Server on the list if the list stands as is (and open it up to other back end devices/systems).

Things that are frontends from your list:
Amazon FireTV
Channel Master DVR+ (I think)
Google Chromecast (a limited frontend really, sort of a frontend that requires another frontend)
TiVo (I think)
Android TV (assuming we’re not talking about the Android TV debacle)

Other frontends:
Kodi (though has a lot of backend features too)

Backend examples:
Tablo DVR
Plex Media Server

And yes… I’m sure there is a TON missing…

4K is still pretty painful. IMHO, everybody should wait a bit. But YMMV.

One thing that might be worth mentioning is Simple.TV’s upcoming “Showdrive” Cloud-DVR service. No words on a US-launch date, but it might be an interesting option for some.

None of the new crop of streamers really entices me to upgrade from my Roku 3’s (2013 version). Perhaps if the Roku 4 is able to support 720p/60, I might upgrade…but then I’d have to upgrade all three of them simultaneously.

I keep yearning to make a move to the Fire TV…but their continuing problems with 5.1 content via PLEX is a deal-killer for me.

The Nexus Player is getting awfully cheap…maybe I’ll take one of them for a test-drive.

I’m just thinking about things mainstream consumers may see and/or purchase this holiday season. I’m not pitting one against the others. I posted this to all of the ‘enthusiast’ forums just to see what insiders thought about this year’s offerings.

You might want to post something about antennas. After dumping the Mohu Leaf 50 for the Winegard I was able to get more channels because it was made for BOTH VHF and UHF. The majority of the indoor HDTV antennas are UHF and work for some VHF (such as 7.1, 7.2, 7.3 but didn’t work for 13.1, 13.2) I wrongly assumed broadcast 62 would be UHF but it is broadcast on VHF 13 and after the change in antennas I gained GetTV and ESCAPE (English stations of a Spanish station)

I don’t plan on buying a new device.

But, if the Roku Feed could tell Tablo to record things, then I’d buy a 4.

My issue is amazon video – else I would jump in a second from firetv to shield

@John_Mielko do you own a lot of videos on Amazon or have a certain show you love on Prime video? In my experience the selection is very similar to Netflix.

Wizwor, I am a STV user (have 3 devices), and my STV2 just recently failed for some reason. Due to the unknown status of STV and support, I am looking at options. I personally have been very happy with the STV, so if it weren’t for a failed device, I would not need to change. The Tablo seems to be a similar product, and unlike STV, I see a lot of company activity here on the forum and web site.

Can you elaborate on the comment "product suffers a lot of the problems that doomed the Simple TV DVR "


@DG1, if you were very happy with the STV, you should be very happy with the Tablo. Except for price, I think it tops STV all around.

Generally, I think a set top DVR is a better solution in most cases. You have to start with price. With Amazon selling the TiVo Roamio/OTA for $300, it’s not really close. Assuming a home with three televisions, the TiVo will cost $900. That is for 12 tuners and 1.5t of storage. A four tuner Tablo with a 1t disk and Lifetime will set you back $550 and three Rokus will bring cost to $850. So, whole house is not saving you money.A thrifty person might go with one TiVo and two Minis which would make a three tv setup $600. I recommend at least two TiVos, though to minimize the impact of a failure.

Then there’s performance. It simply takes longer for you to press a button on a remote, have the streamer receive and interpret the signal, sent it to the remote dvr, have the remote dvr receive and interpret the remote, act on the signal, buffer the new video, and stream it to the device which will also need to buffer than it does to send the same signal to a set top box. If you have network issues, things get worse.

Anyone who streams video knows that video over the lan can be a tough problem for a lay person to resolve. It just gets worse as streamers rely on WiFi remotes.

The big difference is in front of the set. While Tablo’s apps are pretty and very functional, but performance is poor. You need separate remotes for streamer and television. You need to switch between inputs as you watch programming. Compare to TiVo which integrates live tv, internet apps, and recordings with one remote, one box, and one AC outlet.

Both Simple and Tablo have had disk problems including compatibility and reliability. I suspect this comes from using data disks in AV applications, but this tends not to be a problem with the TiVo.

Nothing that should stop a STV refugee from getting a TTV DVR.

Everyone shouldn’t forget the upcoming revamped HDHomeRun, likely will be a solid Tablo competitor.