Amazon VoD now rocking Roku set-top video player

Posted on March 4, 2009. Filed under: Music, Tech News | Tags: , , |

By David Chartier, arstechnica.com

Roku on Tuesday announced that Amazon’s Video On Demand service would join Netflix on its cheap streaming video player. The addition of Amazon’s à la carte video service complements Netflix’s subscription model, elevating the Roku player to an even better position for competing with the Xbox 360, Apple TV, and anything else vying for living room attention.

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Roku on Tuesday announced that Amazon’s Video On Demand (VoD) service is coming to its compact, $99 digital video player. Now that the Roku player features both Netflix’s back catalog of streaming titles and Amazon’s more recent catalog, it is a much more viable competitor to the growing mass of hardware offering streaming and downloadable video options for the living room. As we saw in our coverage of VoD’s debut last September, Amazon’s service offers à la carte rental and sales of movies and TV shows.

Roku says that a software upgrade enabling VoD support should appear within the week, though it has already arrived for one Ars staff member (it is officially version 2.0). A key difference from Roku’s Netflix experience, however, is that Video On Demand users can browse, purchase, and rent content directly from the player, thanks to Amazon’s self-control-defeating 1-Click shopping option.

Netflix’s catalog of 12,000 streaming titles still focuses mostly on back-catalog titles, while Amazon’s Video On Demand service brings 40,000 movies and TV series, many of which are available on the same day as the DVD. While Ars found VoD to be compelling (but still flawed) at its debut in September 2008, the service’s arrival on Roku’s affordable player is one of the things we’ve been hoping for. Now Roku offers a balanced choice between a subscription plan for active video consumers and pay-per-play content for more casual audiences. Amazon also provides some offline mobility via its Unbox Video Player, allowing Windows users to download content and take it with them on the go.

There are a few caveats to Amazon VoD on the Roku box, however. Tim Twerdahl, Roku’s Vice President of Consumer Products, told Ars that while Roku has had HD support for Netflix streaming content since last December, Amazon does not yet offer HD (or 5.1 surround sound) streaming for third-party devices like Roku or TiVo Series3 players.

The addition of Amazon’s VoD service to the Roku streaming player is largely a win. While the company does not release specific sales numbers, Twerdahl did share that the Roku player is “well into six-figures” since its release in May 2008.

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