Australian streaming video fans have often wondered if or when the popular US set-top box Roku would arrive in this country. Well now the wait is over, though a licensing and rebrand as Telstra TV may surprise and disappoint.
Announced in a blogpost on Telstra Exchange on Tuesday, Telstra will add the Roku 2 device to its stable of set-top box offerings under the Telstra TV label. In announcing the September launch, Telstra flagged Presto (a Foxtel-owned service), Stan (a Fairfax and Channel Nine co-owned service) and Netflix as key streaming services to be available through the box, as well as "a selection of TV catch up services and latest release movies from Bigpond Movies."
The streaming video market has exploded in Australia this year with the arrival of Netflix and the launch of local services Stan and Presto. The fight for subscribers has become hotter than ever, particularly for incumbent Foxtel, which has dropped prices aggressively in the face of new streaming competitors. As a Foxtel stakeholder, this Telstra TV launch could be seen as a move to hedge Telstra's bets should the scales tip out of Foxtel's favour in future.
Roku has become a very popular set-top box in the US, Canada and the UK, competing most directly with Apple TV and Chromecast streaming devices. The Roku 2 is a device similarly sized to an Apple TV, a small package that is easy to find a space for in any home entertainment setup. Inin the US, the product received a score of 9.1 and an Editor's Choice award in April this year.
However, in reviewing the US version of the product, David Katzmaier points to the product's "equal opportunity streaming" as a key strength. As a platform that doesn't sell content itself, "its interface doesn't prioritize any source of content over another." This may not be the case as a Telstra product where Bigpond Movies is a service the company may want to force into the foreground.
The Roku experience is noted for its ability to search for content across all available services, so you can find what you want to watch directly from the main interface rather than having to search within Stan or Presto or Netflix separately to find what you want to watch.
As a Telstra-licensed product, it is expected the device will only be available to Telstra broadband customers, so fans of the Roku platform on other ISPs will be sorely disappointed.
Telstra told Fairfax full pricing and details of included apps will be released on September 10.