When Google unveiled its $35 Chromecast device to help consumers get web content on their TVs, it was perceived as bad news for competitors selling similar but more expensive products, including one of the market leaders, Roku.
But Roku welcomes the competition, according to director of product management Lloyd Klarke, a Canadian working for the California-based company.
“Our sales have actually gone up since their launch,” claimed Klarke during a visit to Toronto to promote a new line of Roku devices officially announced Wednesday.
“Every time a positive review goes (out on) streaming, our sales go up.”
Roku just launched three different streaming devices that connect to a TV via an HDMI cable and play web content. The most expensive, the Roku 3 which sells for $110, was released earlier this month.
On Wednesday, the company started taking pre-orders for the Roku 1 and Roku 2.
The Roku 1 sells for $70 and can stream content from more than 500 channels at up to 1080p high definition quality.
For $90, the Roku 2 has upgraded dual-band WiFi hardware and its remote has a built-in headphone jack to facilitate late-night viewing.
The Roku 3 has the features of the Roku 2 plus an Ethernet port for wired Internet access and a USB port to load files into the device. The remote is also motion responsive, similar to Nintendo’s Wii Remotes, and consumers can download video games to play with their Roku including “Angry Birds Space.”
If the product line isn’t already a little confusing, consumers might still find some older Roku units in stores — the Roku 2 XS and the Roku 2 XD.
Klarke said he thinks consumers appreciate choosing from a range of devices that offer slightly different feature sets.
“We’ve had three selections for a while now and customers self-select depending on whether they want to save a bit of money, whether they want to go for that one extra feature or the fully loaded product,” he said.
“Sales between each of the three products are almost even but if anything people tend to buy the most expensive one the most.”
One of the main reasons to purchase a Roku is to easily get Netflix streaming on a TV, and that feature alone may be worth the purchase price for some consumers. Roku boasts it also has more than 500 other channels of streaming content available, but in reality, relatively few are worthy of note. Vevo has a channel to stream music videos and concerts, the National Film Board of Canada has free films available to watch, Crackle is like a free Netflix (with lower-value content) and the subscription services NHL Gamecenter and MLB.TV can be loaded through a Roku. Unfortunately, there’s no app for YouTube.
None of the Roku boxes have a web browser, so users can’t visit the websites of TV networks to stream content available there.
“It’s not difficult at all to implement [a web browser] but it comes [down] to simplicity,” explained Klarke about why Roku hasn’t developed a browser.
“We believe that people just want to sit back in their chair and watch a show, if they want to browse the web they have other things to do that with, whether that be the tablet in their hand or the PC in their den.”
Consumers who just want a cheap box to get Netflix on their big screen may be happy enough with the Roku 1. While the Chromecast is half the price, it’s still not available in Canada and Google has given no clues as to when that might change.
Spending an extra $20 for the Roku 2 is a worthwhile investment for users who stay up late streaming content and don’t like turning the volume down. The headphone jack in the remote works great and is one feature that really sets the more expensive Rokus apart from the Apple TV and other streaming devices.
It’s tougher to recommend going all out for the Roku 3, unless buyers really value the USB and Ethernet ports or want to try downloading games. Otherwise, the Roku 2 offers the best value and is a bit cheaper than the Apple TV, although that streaming box can access YouTube, which is a huge plus.