Return of the Android Set-Top Box


Just a few weeks back we heard noise of Google heading into the set-top box space. With DISH Network. At the time, it wasn’t clear if this was merely a rehashing of the upcoming DISH apps or a more significant Android set-top platform play. As it turns out, it does look like Google aims to conquer the television with a dedicated offering. And why wouldn’t they take their open source platform and ad serving business to a larger screen? Following in the footsteps of Yahoo TV, Google has also partnered with Intel and is going with the generic “Google TV.” Beyond DISH, other likely launch partners include Sony and Logitech. Although no concrete functionality, timing, or pricing has been revealed. From the NY Times:

For Google, the project is a pre-emptive move to get a foothold in the living room as more consumers start exploring ways to bring Web content to their television sets. Based on Google’s Android operating system, the TV technology runs on Intel’s Atom chips. Google has built a prototype set-top box, but the technology may be incorporated directly into TVs or other devices.

While the space is getting crowded, television-based Internet content delivery is still in its infancy compared to the mobile marketplace where we’re starting to see some real polished, mature platforms and consolidation. And as you’d expect, the incumbents are firing back. Roku’s CEO says a Google box requires an expensive chip and could run over $200, compared to their highly regarded $99 unit. However, I could easily see Google’s solution subsidized by carriers or advertising. Maybe both. It’s good to see new players and experimentation, but I’m guessing it’ll be at least 2011 before we more clearly see the path forward. Which is also about when I expect the cable industry to start opening up.

12 thoughts on “Return of the Android Set-Top Box”

  1. I hope Roku’s sole strategy isn’t based around the idea that their boxes are ($80 – $130) are projected to be slightly cheaper than the Google box and other soon to be entrants, Boxee and Popbox. While I suppose some would blindly gravitate toward the least expensive box, I imagine that the availability of content and features (e.g. playback from local storage and local streaming) will be the factors most people consider when making a purchase; particularly if some of the cost of the box is subsidized. I enjoy my Roku DVPs and they have delivered more than advertised when I bought my first box last June. However, I think they are going to have to do more than just have the least expensive box.

  2. Agreed. The need more and better content providers, local storage and/or streaming could be on tap given that new USB jack (on the $120 unit), and given when the hardware was introduced I have to imagine they’re working on a more significant rev at some point. Having said all that, price is a big factor for many consumers and probably why Roku’s moved hundreds of thousands of units.

    If the Popbox really launches with their current specs and Flash UI at $130, I’ll be surprised though… But they’re betting the farm on it. The company email addresses have moved from @sysbas to @popbox.

  3. Google is an advertising company first and foremost, so, Google TV will cost the Consumer $0.00 – obviously.

    Adsense underwrites all end user costs, just like GMail, Google Docs, YouTube, Google Voice, etc.

    It is possible that Google TV will actually make the Consumer money, similar to Amazon’s referral program. Watch something on Google TV, give it a “thumbs up”, let the box Tweet your recommendation to your friends, friends click on like and watch the same thing – you make a few cents.

    The Roku CEO, Apple TV, etc. all seem to have selective memory about Google’s standard practice of leveraging usage data, AdSense and open source to obliterate obsolete business models – just ask Garmin and TomTom

  4. “Google is an advertising company first and foremost, so, Google TV will cost the Consumer $0.00 – obviously.”

    Todd, then why isn’t the Nexus One free? ;)

  5. Nexus One is a telephone, Federal regulations prohibit Google from logging the phone numbers you dial, the calls you receive, so they cannot apply Adsense to your usage.

    Here’s the original Google TV research paper from 2006:

    Besides, who said there won’t be a new Nexus One that runs on wifi and 700 Mhz *only* ( sans any cellular bands at all ) using Google Voice exclusively for telephony, at a cost of $0.00 by 2012?


  6. That is the direction where telephony could be going Todd, Google and Apple in the lead with wireless devices without carrier connectivity. Is this what your are talking about?

    I still don’t understand the need for a box when I can stream all I want from my laptop to my TV. If I could do that from my mobile device…

    Thanks for the article Dave. Could all media be centering around a mobile device in the future?

  7. “For Google, the project is a pre-emptive move to get a foothold in the living room as more consumers start exploring ways to bring Web content to their television sets.”

    Thats totally not enough to hang your hat on. In order to succeed in this space you can’t be just another box in the living room hooked to the TV.

    The holly grail in this space has to be an integrated solution.

    I don’t want to be switching remotes and source inputs and interfaces on my TV to do different things – I want to move seemlessly between cable content, web content, and my personal media library – all within one easy and familiar interface.

    This is why TiVo’s recent announcements are so disappointing (they are closer to this dream than anyone, but still not close enough) and why the cable card argument/barrier that Dave references at the end of the article is so important.

  8. Uhmm… someone still cares about Roku? They seriously need to step-up their game given continuing advances made by other set-top box makers to make their boxes easier to use and cheaper (which are pretty much the only claims to fame Roku has).

    Given how many TVs/Blu-Ray players these days offer similar services as Roku, I don’t know how they can survive long term. Maybe if they get Boxee on their boxes (present or future)…

  9. There appear to be a couple of interesting angles to this story. First of course is the inclusion of Intel’s Atom, clearly the wrong chip for this solution when an Arm Core would do the job cheaper and more efficiently. Presumably Intel put up some money and/or developers.

    Second is the fact that its a platform and not a box. So presumably all of the players (except Sony, who presumably won’t get a say) are fine with the technology being integrated into other boxes. So a DVD player, TV, or even a Motorola/AT&T/Verizon/Cisco STB, not that some of these would ever happen. Most of the other competitors here really want to sell you a box. Which limits their footprint. In the long run all of those solutions will presumably fall to something more integrated (though not necessarily in the short run, especially given the rate of change). Means the consumer might *not* be presented with yet another box. Also means it doesn’t have to do *everything*. No need for cable card or satellite decoding or whatever. Those functions are for the box it is being built into–for example Sony’s TV’s already do those things. This platform just needs to handle internet video, browsing, and widgets/apps.

    Third is the whole app/widget space. Presumably if they do it right an open market for applications ON YOUR TV could be really interesting. widget? Sure. Sort of like Yahoo’s TV widgets, but on steroids. Want games? Want social media? Want a news feed? Want a TV Guide? Want sports scores? Etc. The sort of thing Apple SHOULD be doing with Apple TV right now…

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