News Column

Blockbuster Unveils Set-top Box for Streamed Movies

Oct. 10, 2012

John Martellaro

As promised, Blockbuster has unveiled its set-top box for streamed movies, according to Home Media Magazine on Tuesday. The device will compete with Apple TV, the Netflix Roku box and Vudu.

For a limited time, the device will be sold for $99 (US) if the customer commits to 25 first run movies, TV shows or foreign/classic films, however the cost of that commitment wasn't disclosed. Subsequent rentals are priced at $1.99.

The box is manufactured by 2Wire and measures 8 x 8 x 1 inch (20 x 20 x 2.5 cm) and includes Wi-Fi, Ethernet and HDMI output.

The size of the available library was not disclosed, nor whether movies would be available in HD. One need not have a Blockbuster subscription to use the 2Wire box. Blockbuster's biggest competitor, Netflix, makes available online about 12,000 movies from its library of over 80,000 titles. Netflix has been shipping a similar dedicated box, made by Roku, since May 2008. So far, Netflix streamed movies are standard definition (SD).

There's no question that many customers will find the price attractive compared to Blu-ray players, especially the two that can receive Netflix movies, the LG BD300 and Samsung BD-P2500. which are priced close to $300. The real questions are: 1) Is this too little too late for Blockbuster? 2) How will customers take to the idea of another box and more wires connected to the TV? 3) Will customers be willing to embrace the Blockbuster product knowing that technology moves fast and the device may not be a long term solution for their viewing needs?

Blockbuster has likely felt compelled to play catch-up with Netflix, but in the grand scheme of things, Netflix appears to be working from a coherent plan while Blockbuster looks to be just throwinging another box at the public's wall, hoping that it will stick.

The one thing the 2Wire and Roku boxes do, both at $99 for now, is put pressure on Apple and its retail stores to explain what the Apple TV customer gets in additional value for the entry price of $229. Moreover, are those additional advantages compelling in an environment in which customers just want to make popcorn and watch a movie -- without additional fussing, syncing, pairing, and software updates?

It will be interesting indeed to see who the last one standing is, a year from now, on Christmas day, 2009.

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