As I’ve chatted with various folks about Google TV over the past week, one question has come up repeatedly: What does this mean for Roku? The inexpensive little box is currently one of the simplest, most effective ways to get Internet video onto an HDTV, and I’ve never met anyone who owned one who wasn’t a fan. Products based on Google TV won’t be carbon copies of Roku boxes by any means, but they’ll surely compete with them.
The good news is that Roku’s player has a solid track record of getting better over time. Earlier this month, the company announced a major makeover of its Netflix channel, and plans to begin to push this update out to Roku owners this Friday.
I got to try the Netflix update a bit early, and it’s nice–really nice. I’ve always thought the fact that Netflix video on demand on the Roku, TiVo, and other gadgets made you find and select videos on a computer rather than the device was a feature, not a bug, since it’s so much easier to navigate a vast selection of titles in a browser. But Roku has done an outstanding job of making it easy to browse, search, and choose movies with its remote. And unlike Netflix’s browser-based service, it doesn’t make you wade through titles available only on DVD to find ones you can Watch Instantly.
Roku is busy on other fronts, too: It’s adding radio channels from RadioTime (with 30,000 stations) and Radio Paradise, and recently branched into pay-per-view sports with Ultimate Fighting Championship coverage. I’m looking forward to experiencing Google’s foray into TV for myself–but whether it’s a boon or a bust, I hope there’s room for Roku for a long time to come.