Today, Roku announced its channel selections will now include Google Play Movies & TV. Unlike the Google Play Movies & TV app for iOS, you’ll be able to buy and rent movies and TV shows directly through the Roku channel.
Google just announced its own streaming box, which makes that move seem weird on the surface. The $100 Nexus Player, which will launch in November, is the first set-top box that will run Android TV. Google is hoping that TV manufacturers in the coming year will adopt Android TV as a default smart ecosystem of sorts, providing a single platform for developers to create applications that will run on many different TVs.
While Roku is the best overall option for a standalone set-top box at this point—its strengths being the sheer range of available channels and content, its simplicity, and the fact that it’s a mature platform—the Nexus Player seems a compelling if unproven alternative. Google’s upcoming streamer, developed in collaboration with Asus, distinguishes itself from competing boxes with one feature in particular: It’ll be the first set-top box that duplicates the functionality of Chromecast, allowing users to stream content easily from the Chrome browser on their laptops or via supported apps on their phones.
While the existing Chromecast stick is a cheap way to mirror content on your TV from a mobile device or computer, the Nexus Player adds the traditional onscreen UI and remote control that most streaming users are accustomed to by now. With Chromecast, you had to control everything through your mobile device or laptop, which made it less of a lean-back TV experience. By combining Chromecast with the features of a traditional set-top streamer, the Nexus Player provides a unique hook.
So while Google Play Movies & TV may not be the main reason to buy a Nexus Player—unless you have a ton of content you’ve bought on it through your Android device—it was theoretically another minor hook. Yesterday, if you had a lot of Google Play Movies & TV content and wanted a set-top box, the Nexus Player seemed like a logical choice. Today, unless you want the casting features, you might as well buy a Roku.
Of course, adding that app to Roku’s roster makes sense to Google in terms of streaming revenues. With more than 10 million Roku devices out there, Google immediately gains 10 million potential points of sale for streaming-video sales and rentals. It should be noted that Roku announced that only Google Play Movies & TV will be added to its channel roster, not the popular Google Play Music app.
The move also fits in with some competition with Amazon’s set-top products. Amazon recently launched its own Fire TV set-top box and announced its new Fire TV Stick dongle. Both Google’s and Amazon’s boxes have similar voice-control features and optional gamepad accessories. But if you look at the apps available for each box, you’ll notice a rift: Amazon’s Prime Instant Video isn’t available on Google’s products, and most of Google’s services aren’t available on Amazon’s streamers.
But there’s a workaround for that if you watch Amazon Instant Video offerings in the Chrome browser and change the video settings from Silverlight (which Google Cast doesn’t support) to Adobe Flash, then cast that browser tab to the TV. In adding Google Play Movies & TV library to Roku’s offerings, Google has essentially made sure that Amazon is the only player of the three to lack that service.