Battle Royale: The Participants & Rules

I’ve been talking about this for quite awhile, and it’s finally time to get going. The Battle Royale will be a comparison of various set-top boxes (pictured above), with an emphasis on the movie rental experience. Each (weekly?) Battle Royale blog entry will focus on one specific topic (remotes, content selection, etc) and the devices will ranked from best to worst – there’ll be NO ties. Participants include:

  • TiVo HD
  • Xbox 360
  • Vudu
  • Apple TV
  • Roku Netflix

Let’s get ready to rumble…

14 thoughts on “Battle Royale: The Participants & Rules”

  1. Oh heck yeah! Finally! I love [ objective ] hardware shoot outs.

    But wait, what are the criteria? Will cost be a factor? What about ease of use and “watchability” ( Pay money up front only to have the movie not play, or expire too soon )?

    And what happened to that popcorn STB thing?

  2. Yes, there’s going to be a “value” category. I’ll explain my rational for the rankings in each topic. And all of the individual topics will be incorporated/factored into the grand finale comparison.

    I’m leaving out extenders like Popcorn Hour, the D-Link DivX one, etc and focusing on boxes that offer movie rentals. Maybe we’ll do a second Battle Royale of just extenders or extender functionality. Let me make it through this one first, though.

  3. Dave,

    I’ve been really happy with the ease of renting to my TiVo via Unbox but the quality has been an issue. We sat down to watch 2 rental on 6/13 and both were unwatchable. Lots of artifact and audio drop-outs. Amazon gleefully let me download again but their reply was a little too late to be of use. I have downloaded one of the movies again and the playback was acceptable (not TiVo HD or Comcast On-demand quality).
    Has anyone else had this experience?

  4. Bob, yeah I agree – the video quality hasn’t been great. (Haven’t noticed any audio issues.) It’s standard def and if you play it with the native resolution on a 16:9 screen, it’s both letterboxed and pillarboxed. I haven’t watched much lately, but early on I downloaded several movies and noticed stuttering during pans and what not. Supposedly, some films have been reencoded and who knows maybe the process is better. But, Amazon Unbox on TiVo is not at the top of my list for downloads right now.

  5. I rented a movie via Unbox on Saturday the 21st and I have to say, the quality was almost dvd like(I would say just as good as anything ive seen on comcast on-demand) and I had no audio problems. I’m not saying Unbox is perfect but I have never seen artifacts/audio drop-outs on a download. Seems like an isolated issue.

  6. Thanks Dave, looking forward to this. Any plan to do an HD update once all participants have caught up to HD download?

    For now I think it’s a tough call between SD vs HD download. If it’s buy to own, for me it’s a no-brainer, I haven’t bought a SD DVD for ages. But if just renting once, I almost prefer the lower cost SD download. If I really like it and would want to own, then I’ll splurge on HD disks instead.

  7. This will be intersting, the biggest issue i still see is real estate in the Ent. Center. There’s only so many spots and by the time you add cable/sat box, maybe a TiVo, 360/PS3, DVD, Stereo, spearker(s) and maybe a power conditioner the space is about gone. That’s where I see TiVo and Xbox (add in Netflix and it wouldn’t be close)being the real winners if they can make the service work

  8. HD has to be part of the comparison. I have ONLY rented HD movies on my Apple TV so far, waiting until the movie was available in HD or not renting it. For $1 on my Living Room HDTV, the quality improvement is easily worth it. Now if the SD quality were really DVD like this might not be such a big deal, but it isn’t….

  9. @Ben I’ve seen it more than once, though I haven’t rented a movie recently via Unbox. (Did rent two episodes of Psych which looked fine, though stretched.)

    @Yun Yeah, I’ve gone SD on occasion because it’s cheaper and quicker.

    @Glenn I’m going to try and save the head to head video quality for another trip to the west coast. Perhaps a pal at Sling can let me borrow his two side-by-side 1080p Westinghouse HDTVs and help me with a comparison.

    @tivoboy Not too many disclaimers/disclosures on this one. I’ve purchased the TiVo, Xbox, and Roku STBs. The Apple TV is a loaner from Ben Drawbaugh (Engadget HD) and the Vudu is a loaner which will be returned once this is complete (I don’t keep any review gear).

  10. I wish Sony would’ve released their rumored Store, so you could include PS3 in the mix. Not that it matters to me, since I used Live Search’s 35% off eBay promo to pick up Vudu box (second) and MGS4 PS3 bundle (first).

    P.S. You should make it a policy to give away review gear! I’m sure Vudu won’t mind, lol. (unless you completely trash it, which — if you keep your expectations at the right level — is pretty darn hard to do).

    P.P.S. HD should have been a pre-requisite. I’m sorry, but why would I pony up for an SD content for my HDTV? Netflix and Amazon need to get with the program. Although, Amazon is supposedly coming out with HD this year (right?).

  11. @Ivan Whenever the vendors allow it, I give away the gear. For example, Eye-Fi ($99) wanted their card back. Seems kinda crazy for a low-ticket item, but whatever!

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