Google TV vs. Apple TV vs. Roku: Set-Top Box Smackdown

How does Logitech's Revue set-top box stack up against competitors Apple TV, Roku, and Boxee Box?

The battle for living room dominance by tech companies heated up Wednesday when Logitech unveiled its Google TV set-top box called Revue. The device that weds Internet-based content, Web surfing, and productivity apps with your HDTV goes on sale later this month for $300. Its chief competitors are the freshly revamped Apple TV and Roku's Netflix set-top box.

For couch-saddled consumers confused by a plethora of boob-tube gizmos we offer answers. Here we compared the Revue alongside three other similar products - Apple TV, Roku XDS, and Boxee Box from D-Link. For a summary overview of features, prices, and specs see our comparison chart.

Revue Overview

For $299, the Logitech Revue comes with a keyboard remote control, which is roughly the size of a regular computer keyboard, but adds a touchpad and D-pad used for searching through your media and browsing the Web via Google's own Chrome browser.

The Logitech Revue is just the hardware. The brains behind the box is Google's operating system for set-top boxes, called Google TV. This allows you to use the Revue to browse the Web from your TV (yes, including Flash sites like Farmville, Twitter, and Facebook) and search and watch videos from the Web (Except for Hulu which is banned from Google TV). Google TV also delivers content from a growing list of partners (HBO, CNBC, Twitter, Netflix and Amazon) that each have custom Google TV channels.

The Revue can also be used to place HD video calls, but you will need a separate camera that costs $149. You can also buy a palm-sized mini remote for $129. If bought with all the accessories, the Logitech Revue would set you back around $570.

The Contenders

Apple, has its own alternative, the Apple TV, which is aimed at those with large iTunes libraries and want to stream their videos, music and photos on to their TVs, alongside Internet videos and Netflix streaming.

Roku also makes a small inexpensive box (see chart for price comparisons) designed to stream videos on demand over the Internet to your TV, from a variety of services like Netflix, Amazon and even Hulu (Plus).

Approaching a more Google TV-like strategy, the Boxee Box brings together Internet videos with your personal video collection, that you can hook up to via an external drive or stream to your TV via the box.

Next week Sony releases a line of TVs with built-in Google TV functionality. If you're a Dish Network satellite TV customers Google TV will be available as a software option in satellite DVR boxes later this month for a charge of $179.

A/V Connections

All four boxes sport HDMI and Optical Audio jacks. The Revue and the Apple TV however, do not have ports for Composite Video or Audio. Roku, on the other hand, features both digital and composite audio and video connections.

"Clicker" Control

The Apple TV and Roku XDS come with a basic remote controls (aka "clickers") limited to simple tasks such as navigating menus. Both these stink when it comes to typing on an onscreen via a virtual keyboard. However, if you have an iPhone or an iPad, an Apple Remote app allows you to use the screens of either as a trackpad to browse through the Apple TV library.

Boxee Box solves this problem by putting a full QWERTY keyboard on the back of its remote. The Revue's controller is actually a wireless keyboard with a D-pad and touch-pad, specifically designed to help you navigate and search the Web (at the detriment of size and ease of use). Similar to Apple TV, with Revue you can control Google TV with an app (available for both Android and iPhones).

Content Services Are Key

The Revue and all other boxes are designed to play media from the Internet, and connect either via Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi. Since all these devices are designed to play online media or pull content from your PC, none feature internal storage you can use.

The Revue and the Boxee have two USB 2.0 ports for connecting external hard drives. Roku says a free software update for its devices will enable the USB port on the box (we are still waiting). Apple TV has a microUSB port, but it can only be used only for service and support. The Boxee Box let you view media from SD cards.

Subscription Services

If you have a Netflix subscription (starting from $9 per month), you can watch on-demand streaming on the Revue, Apple TV and the Roku XDS. If you are a Hulu fan, you can use the service on the Boxee Box, or Hulu Plus ($10 per month) on the Roku XDs.

Apple has no deal in place with Hulu. Logitech said Google is in talks with the company over future plans to bring the service to the Google TV. If Amazon Video on Demand is your thing, you can also get the service on the Revue and Roku boxes.

Apple TV has cut deals with major content partners so you can rent TV shows from ABC, Disney, Fox, and the BBC for $0.99 a pop and rent movies for $3.99. Apple also announced AirPlay, a feature that will let you stream video and music from the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad straight to an Apple TV.

Google TV has a similar trick up its sleeve with a feature called 'Fling' that lets you stream content from and Android smartphone to the TV.

Picking the Right Device for You

If you have a sizeable iTunes library and you just want to playback files and iTunes content to your TV, then the Apple TV is a cheap and elegant solution. But if you want to connect external storage devices or browse the Web keep on shopping.

If you have plenty of non-DRM movies stored on external hard drives, and also want content from the Internet, then the Boxee Box should be of interest to you. Boxee offers Internet based video access, but stops short of offering true Web browsing.

Roku is a cheap option to stream videos from a variety of paid-for services and will also let you hook up external hard drives to it soon.

But if you want a full-blown Internet experience on your TV, the Revue with Google TV leverages not only Internet video, locally streamed videos and video stored on an external drive, but also the whole Internet experience on a TV. It's the only box that lets your browse the Web and integrates with your DVR as well. On the downside you're going to pay a lot for the functionality.

Follow Daniel Ionescu and Today @ PCWorld on Twitter.

This story, "Google TV vs. Apple TV vs. Roku: Set-Top Box Smackdown" was originally published by PCWorld.

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