Set-top boxes: the who, what, why of computer, television streaming


For years, the set-top box has been perceived as a controller for cable television. You call your cable provider and when they come to install their services, oftentimes they calibrate a set-top box that you use to change channels, record programs, etc. However, rather quietly, Apple became the catalyst that would change the landscape in that market during 2007, when they introduced Apple TV.

The first generation of Apple TV was rather large and contained a 40 gigabyte internal hard drive to store content purchased from iTunes, but the main draw was its ability to stream media from your Mac via iTunes. Through the years, Apple TV has dropped the hard drive, developed a sleeker profile and thrives off of its multitude of applications including MLB TV, Pandora, iTunes Radio, HBO GO, Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc. In addition, Apple TV can now project media from your iPhone, iPad or iPod onto your television for everyone’s viewing pleasure.

Cameron Kietzman, sophomore in journalism and mass communication, said he recently ordered one online.

“My stepdad has one, and I loved using it over the summer living at home,” Kietzman said. “I’m excited to get one so I can watch all of my HBO GO shows and Netflix. I’m also a video editor so I’m really, really anxious to get my MacBook to wirelessly hookup to my TV so I can stream anything I want, including my video editing to my HDTV.”

Apple TV’s main competitor, Roku, came first. In the “About” section in the footer of its company website, “Roku launched the first product designed to deliver movies from Netflix instantly on TV, using the power of the Internet.”

Reviews from Forbes, Engadget and other highly regarded tech sites state Roku has the largest content library for a “streaming media box,” as these types of set-top boxes have come to be known as. It has more than 1,000 channels that encompass premium streaming services, live sports, podcasts, media projections and more. The newest generation of Roku, the Roku 3, even has a remote with motion sensing technology that allows you to play games Wii-style on the $100 piece of technology.

The latest player to join the game is from Sony Industries.

The PlayStation Vita was introduced as a successor to the technology giant’s handheld gaming device, the PlayStation Portable, last year. With an impressive spec sheet, the PlayStation Vita blew the Nintendo 3DS out of the water. However, the adults who want to play hardcore games on a handheld market segment is a hard one to prospect for. Sony’s recent showing at the Tokyo Game Show 2013 exhibited their intent to breathe new life into the Vita brand. Beside a newer model of the PlayStation Vita sat a small silver box measuring 60mm by 100mm. This is the PlayStation Vita TV.

Cameron Lober, senior in marketing and a PlayStation Vita owner, said he still sees no use for the Vita TV.

“I mean I guess it has some cool ideas,” Lober said. “I could care less about playing my Vita games on a big TV especially when there ain’t a huge library of games available.”

In addition to all of the proprietary ports that come standard on boxes of its kind, including the open-source Ouya, the PlayStation Vita TV has a slot to physically put Vita games. Owners will be given full access to PlayStation services including Music Unlimited, Video Unlimited, PlayStation Plus and its store, as well as a few third party platforms like Twitter. At this point, the PlayStation Vita offers fewer options for consuming content, while on the other end of the spectrum, allowing owners to play their Vita library and hundreds of PlayStation One classics. The Vita TV also operates as an extender for the PlayStation 4, letting owners of both consoles mirror next generation games from the new game system on the TV, which is connected to the Vita TV.

The PlayStation Vita TV will become available on Nov. 14 in southeast Asian markets for roughly $100. Due to a strong response outside of the Asian region, Sony is flirting with the idea of swift U.S. and European launches following soon after.