Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Media Center Experiment: GoogleTV vs. Roku2

Last week I purchased a Logitech Revue GoogleTV. I had recently canceled my cable after AT&T U-Verse jacked up my rate when my promotional window ran out. I'm still using the internet, as it is quite reliable, but rather than pay $35 more a month for a DVR and local stations, I thought I could do better with my money. So I started browsing around at Best Buy. I thought I'd use Best Buy's 30 day return window as my trial to check out the new functionality of these new media centers on the market.

I wanted something small, that could fit in my entertainment center next to my DVD player and internet router. I needed something that could play Pandora, Netflix, and Hulu, as well as could connect to an external hard drive to access other media files. Oh, and if you know me, you've already guessed that I was looking for something cheap. I had been using an old Dell Dimension Desktop for the past 2.5 years, hooked up to my tv with an HDMI port. Although it didn't quite fit in my entertainment center, was loud, and emitted all kinds of heat, the old Dell was an adequate version of a media center. When it crapped out the first time, I bought a 1 TB external hard drive, transferred all my music and pictures to the hard drive, and managed to get it back working for awhile. However, after seeing all the ads and articles about the AppleTV, GoogleTV, Roku, and the WD TV, I thought it was about time to join in. Plus, I was tired of dealing with the typical issues of an old Microsoft operating system, on an old computer. It was time to upgrade.

So getting back to the was very slick, slim and elegant, and it came with a great little keyboard that had a track pad built right in. This was the coolest thing about it, and I attribute all of that to Logitech. If only the interior were as useful as the exterior. The Google component was ultimately disappointing. Some aspects were tolerable. Setting up was simple, and all I needed was my Google username and password to get started. However, once I had it setup, the only things I really found useful were turning on Pandora and Netflix. Plus, each of those had bugs. The Android operating system would skip, the screen would flash, or they would force a close just like my Android phone. I might have been able to overlook those early bugs in a new product as the user interface was actually quite nice. However, as most of you may have heard, Hulu wont work on the GoogleTV, and neither will most of the major network programming.

I thought that, maybe, I could wait for Google to work out a deal with Hulu, but why? In the meantime, I would just have to miss my shows, or watch them on my laptop? In the end, I found that I couldn't wait for Google. Just because they are the envy of the tech world doesn't mean that I need to suffer through their poor execution. If they want to really be successful in this new market, then they need to start making some deals and put out a comprehensive product.

Based on this judgement, I did some research and found that Western Digital just signed a deal with Hulu to play on their new media center, HD TV media Hub. I actually went into Best Buy looking for that specific product. In fact, there was a Western Digital rep, showing off the new products. On my way to his table, I had picked up a Roku2. Despite hearing little about it prior to a few weeks ago, it looked so simple, and received decent reviews online. I started chatting with the WD rep, and the outcome of our conversation was that I was going to buy the Roku2. The WD TV looks like a good product, and I'm sure it would work better than the GoogleTV, but the Roku2 was prettier. I can't believe I'm writing this, but I chose the prettier product.

Again, I'll continue to use the Best Buy 30 day window as a trial for this product, but I already like it better. The Roku, although a little more time consuming to setup (and the remote isn't as cool as the Logitech), has proven to be significantly more engaging. Not only do I get my Hulu, Pandora, and Netflix, but they have a ton of other applications in their app store. Stay tuned for a follow up review, but it's a promising start for the Roku2.