Devices such as the Vudu and the Roku boxes fall under this category. They aim to do one thing and do it well by restricting themselves to some VOD services and presenting their users with an environment similar to DVD renting, only online. Local media can't be played through them. Some of the SOC platforms which have found traction in this market include NXP STB 236 and Broadcom BCM7401. These SOCs were primarily designed for the IP set top boxes (Vudu and Roku may also be termed IP set top boxes, but at a more basic level compared to what these were originally designed for). These platforms do not support DTS audio, which is pretty much a pre-requisite nowadays for products geared towards the media streaming audience.

The Roku HD streamer introduced recently utilizes the NXP platform with a 320 MHz MIPS32 host processor. The STB 236 platform uses the PNX8336 at its core. H264 and VC1 seem to be supported codecs for hardware acceleration, while MPEG-2 seems to be only partially supported. The SOC has suitable connectivity options including USB, SATA and Ethernet. However, HDMI is not integrated in the SOC. The PNX8336 was released in April 2008. Since then, NXP has released video decoder chips targeted towards the TV and the DVR markets in December 2008 and March 2009. However, they seem to miss the mark as far as the features required for a media streamer device go. It will be interesting to see what Roku has in its roadmap, and whether they would shift suppliers for future products. The Roku HD-XR has a USB port, but it serves no discernible usefulness at present. The unit has an operational power consumption of 6W.

Vudu & Roku
Media Streamers Based on IP Set Top Box Platforms

Vudu, on the other hand, has realized that selling a restrictive IP set top box in this market is not an easy task. It is now striving to remodel itself as a service provider of sorts by integrating their software into the next generation Blu Ray players and TVs. Still, it is interesting to take a look at the platform behind their original device. It is based on Broadcom's BCM7401 (which also happens to have a 300 MHz MIPS32 host processor), which provides support for H264, VC-1 and MPEG-2 decode. Connectivity options include the standard set of USB, SATA and Ethernet. Now classified by Broadcom as a legacy product, this SOC has probably been superseded by the BCM7400 / BCM7400B introduced around the same time. It is also puzzling as to why the BCM7400B which provides support for DivX decoding wasn't used. That would have probably made the box closer to what the media streamer market needs. Vudu, unlike Roku, also provides the ability to purchase and download movies from their collection. This necessiates a hard disk inside their unit, which puts the operational power consumption much higher than Roku's at 18W.

All said and done, the days of these types of media streamers are numbered. They have to evolve themselves to different types of products in the coming years in order to survive in this market.

Blu-Ray Player / Media Streamer Combo Internet & Local Media Streamers
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • Handi P - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Can you please add some comments about these new toys that you are going to line-up, about their ability to handle picture scaling modes for use with a projector and an anamorphic lens?
    Also can you keep an eye if there's any feature on it that can manipulate subtitles location in terms of the use of an anamorphic lens ?

    Handi P.
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Handi, Thanks for your feedback. We will note the following points for future reviews:

    (1) Picture scaling modes test
    (2) Subtitle location / size modification ability
  • daskino - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    I would still say that K.I.S.S: Technology was the first company to make media players.

    they launched a player back in 2002 based on the early Sigma processor the 8620
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    daskino, Thanks for the excellent information.

    I would have to say, I didn't pay much attention to KiSS's players since I always had the impression that they were just fancy DVD players :) Also, since their products are long discontinued, I couldn't dig up much information on their specs during market research.

    Thanks again for the eye opener. Just goes to show how much Sigma Designs has been dominating this market in the last 8 years or so!
  • The0ne - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Haven't read it yet but I'm thankful this has finally come out. Much appreciated!
  • The0ne - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    doh, only a small preview :(
  • DieterBSD - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    > 2. Video codecs (H264 / VC-1 / Real Media / VP8 etc.)

    Don't forget mpeg2.

    > 4. Multiple subtitle formats

    And closed captions (e.g. from recorded broadcast TV) support.
    If you can't make out a word when someone mumbles, how easy is
    it to rewind a few seconds, switch closed captions on, read
    the word, then switch closed captions off again? This could be
    a real pain if buried deep in a menu system. Is it possible to
    put the subtitle/captions in the letterbox black band area
    rather than blocking the picture?

    Quality of interlacing and de-interlacing. Since sources
    come in both interlaced and progressive formats, and AFAIK all
    displays are fundamentally one or the other, everyone has to deal
    with this. Poor quality interlacing/de-interlacing is really
    painful to watch. Add in pull-down and some of the bizzare
    things being broadcast and it is a mess.

    Ability to keep audio and video in sync.

    > What is the use of 1080p without HDMI?

    > Any media streamer worth its salt interfaces with the rest of
    > the AV components using HDMI.

    All the world is not HDMI. Ever hear of DVI or Displayport?
    IIRC component can do 1080. Many people have TVs or monitors
    that they are very happy with that don't have HDMI.
    How is the quality of the output on component, s-video, composite?
    I would love a device that can output s-video with more
    than the DV standard 720 pixels horizontally.

    Measured specs such as signal/noise, distortion, etc. would be nice.

    Quality of scaling, both up and down. I've read that many
    HDTVs have poor quality scalers.

    Ability to seek to a specific spot, skip forward/backward,
    freeze frame, step through frame by frame forward/backward,
    playing slow/fast at various speeds. I've read numerous
    complaints about boxes that do poorly at these things and
    are only good at normal playing.

    Ability to zoom in/out easily (mainly to deal 4:3 vs 16:9
    issues). Ability to compensate for source material that is
    squeezed or stretched. (Amazing how much they get wrong...)

    When you say "local media" do you mean "stored on a computer
    (or NAS) on the local network", or "stored on a device
    (e.g. an e-SATA/firewire/USB disk) connected directly to the media streamer"?
    Perhaps scrap the term "local" and using:

    attached (e-SATA, firewire, USB, ...)
    internal (inside the box: hard drive, CD/DVD drive, ...)

    How well do these streamers deal with the variety of
    computers, protocols, filesystems, found on LANs? (FreeBSD,
    OS-X, Plan-9, Linux, ...)

    Network: wired 100 Mbps Ethernet is more than fast enough for
    a single stream of compressed 1080 or less. If you have a
    lot of stuff happening on your network you'll want a gigabit
    switch and probably gigabit ports on the computers. The
    wireless stuff is problematic, I'd advise against it. A cat6
    cable is dirt cheap and far more reliable, As far as I'm
    concerned, wireless built into a video streamer is a *negative*
    feature. Runs up the cost just to pollute the airways.
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    DieterBSD, Thanks for your extensive comment.

    We will keep your points in mind. Ability to keep A/V sync is a really important feature which many streamers fail at.

    While I agree with almost all of your points, I beg to differ with respect to HDMI. DVI and DisplayPort are not aimed at the multimedia market. DVI is unable to carry audio signals, while DisplayPort connectors are not present on TVs / AV receivers which are common parts of a home theater system. Like it or not, home theater enthusiasts seem to be stuck with the HDMI standard rather than the royalty free DisplayPort :|
  • UltimateKitchenUtensil - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    "the main advantage viz a viz the freedom to tinker around"

    "Viz." is an abreviation for the latin videlicet. It means "that is to say". The French expression meaning "relative to" is "vis à vis".
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    Thanks for bringing this to my notice :)

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now