New Roku boxes make the simple complex
Today Roku launched two new players to complement the original $99 Roku player. Perhaps somewhat obviously, the two new players come in at $79 and $129, allowing Roku to test whether there's price elasticity in this market.
I'm not sure this was a necessary move. The cheaper box (called Roku SD), simply removes HD playback from the original Roku Player (now called Roku HD). The $129 version offers wireless-n wi-fi streaming to deliver dramatically better video quality. I don't personally need that since I hook up my Roku player — which is in constant demand in my home — via ethernet. (Yes, being a nerd has its advantages including a fully self-wired home that has over 24 ethernet ports in it.) So while I can see the value of the more expensive box for wi-fi users who have wireless-n routers (do you know if you do? betcha don't know), I think muddying the waters with 3 boxes instead of a maximum of 2 just feels like unnecessary complexity. A bit like Amazon announcing it would sell two versions of the Kindle in the US, one that's domestic only and one that can roam abroad, a decision doesn't appear likely to last very long.
What I'm really interested in seeing is what Roku's communication team promised when it assured me that all three boxes "will be compatible with our new upcoming Roku Channel Store" which is promised to launch very soon. I'm very eager to see this store and have been pushing on Roku for any information about its contents because that's where this gets interesting. You see, even though I'm big on connected TVs, from what I'm seeing, most are not going to deliver much in the way of content other than Netflix (as Roku does) and some VOD from Blockbuster or Amazon (also as Roku does). Roku can keep the connected TV threat at bay simply by providing some rocking content. I have my heart set on a Pandora experience, one that's visually-enhanced, please, to provide some cool screen action during playback — take some cues from the Zune desktop experience, simply fabulous. But there are other good content options available, including a Hulu subscription I would gladly pay for. By the way, in case you were wondering why Hulu was thinking about charging, this is why. Once they charge you, they can put their shows on all these devices. I expect Roku to be first in line to sign the partnership agreement.