Media Streaming Market Poised to Flourish

New Devices Signal Fierce Competition

The past few weeks have seen a slew of new TV-related products and features announced from the likes of Amazon, Apple and Roku. These devices have seen a surge in popularity, making it increasingly difficult for customers to compare them.

The pace of change over the past couple of years has been phenomenal. There’s a clear trend toward smaller devices, as shown by TV dongles from Amazon, Google, Roku and others. This echoes the shift in other consumer electronics products, most notably mobile phones, which are becoming lighter, with faster processing and more storage. However, there needs to be a compromise in terms of the amount of technology and features that can be embedded into a device at an attractive price.

Apple has finally caught up with rivals in this space by upgrading its Apple TV with support for 4K video, and went one step further by adding high dynamic range (HDR) technology. The device automatically updates existing content purchases to 4K and HDR, if available. It integrates what appears to be the standard HDR format in the industry, HDR10, and the high-end premium format, Dolby Vision. Apple opted to keep the same design, a puck-shaped set-top box. This makes the product less portable, unlike Google’s Chromecast or Amazon’s new Fire TV, which consumers can take into different rooms or outside the house. Both devices rely on good Wi-Fi connectivity, as neither has an Ethernet port. The new Fire TV stick does not include Dolby Vision, only HDR10.

However, at a starting price of $179, Apple’s updated TV device is quite expensive, particularly in comparison with the Fire TV stick, which costs $70. Google’s Chromecast Ultra has been on the market for some time and retails at about $69, but works differently to other sticks as it lacks an interface — users cast content from a mobile device.

There are of course many other options for consumers. One of my favourites is the Nvidia Shield TV powered by Android TV. It works very well, supports 4K video and offers a controller for playing Android games. Its price has dropped from about $199 to $179 since the release of the new Apple TV. Other products on the market include a slew of new devices from Roku, such as the Express and Express+, Streaming Stick and Streaming Stick+, and the Roku Ultra. The 4K Streaming Stick+ is priced at $70, and the stand-alone Roku Ultra box offers 4K and HDR content at a price of $100.

Voice interfaces are becoming increasingly important and all these devices provide this functionality. With a vast array of content available, it’s hard for consumers to find the videos they want to watch, games they want to play and music to listen to. I firmly believe that content will become a major factor in customers’ decision-making.

Roku recently launched its Roku Channel, offering users free access to movies from Lionsgate, MGM and Sony Pictures, as well as smaller publishers like Popcornflix. Roku’s service is available on an ad-funded basis. Amazon provides a range of content through its Prime subscription service. Apple has decided not to take the subscription route, at least for now, instead making content available on its iTunes store. The company is trying to simplify the fragmented nature of TV with its single sign-on authentication system.

In my opinion, Apple made a bold move by working closely with the media industry to ensure the prices of 4K and HDR movies are on a par with its existing high-definition content. Both Amazon and Google have cut prices of their content since the roll-out of Apple’s latest TV device.

With a huge abundance of options available, users will find it difficult to pick the right streaming solution for their needs. Their decision will be dictated by the devices they own and streaming services they’re subscribed to. If someone already owns an iPhone and iPad, they might consider buying an Apple TV. For users of the Amazon Echo, the new Fire TV would be a logical purchase. Consumers will also need to decide between a portable dongle or a box, casting or downloading apps, and consider the latest TV features like image and audio resolution, subscription services and price. Some of these new video formats need a compatible TV (or other external device), and technology such as Dolby Atmos requires a sound bar in most cases.

I believe consumer expectations need to be set accordingly. For instance, a user may not be aware that the new Apple TV doesn’t support YouTube in 4K HDR, nor does it offer Disney or Marvel movies in this format. It also lacks compatibility with Dolby Atmos, unlike the latest Fire TV stick.

Overall, these announcements point to expanding awareness of this device category. The popularity of TV dongles and set-top boxes will continue to grow, thanks to their attractive prices, vast array of content (both live and on demand) and superior user experience to apps on TV. These devices enable content owners to reach new audiences and generate new revenue streams, and this supports our view that the future of delivering video is over the Internet.