Roku, the manufacturer of the trademark $100 set-top box that connects the internet to televisions, has announced a partnership with Amazon's video-on-demand movie service to vastly increase the number of movies and TV episodes consumers can watch through the device.
In a few days, owners of the Roku Netflix Player - which has now been renamed the Digital Video Player - will be able to use the gadget to watch videos rented or bought from Amazon.com. Roku will enable existing users to add the feature to their devices with a free, automatic, Internet-delivered update, and it will be built in to new models of the player.
The deal will allow Roku owners to gain access to 40,000 videos from the online store, in addition to the 12,000 videos from Netflix which it already provides. Moreover, they will be able to access new releases the same day they are released on DVD.
Current Roku customers will receive firmware upgrades allowing them to access Amazon VOD, which offers rentals from $1.99 and downloads from $5.99. "Consumers are looking for inexpensive ways to watch their favourite movies and TV shows, and the Roku player meets that head-on," said Roy Price, director of Amazon VOD.
The partnership also introduces another option for Roku owners. Previously, they could watch videos through the device only if they had a Netflix subscription, which costs $9 a month and up. Now, they will be able to get videos on an a la carte basis from Amazon.
Consumers can also buy digital movies from the company for $6 and up. Amazon stores both rented and purchased movies on its Web site and will stream them to Roku boxes, which don't have a hard drive and rely on streaming videos or 'cloud computing'.
The Saratoga-based Roku says the move is the first of several others that will soon be unveiled. Tim Twerdahl, the company's vice president of consumer products, said Roku plans to soon open up the device so that service providers can add a channel to it on their own.
He said the company is also working with other big content providers to allow consumers to gain access to their services through the video player - "We believe that the future is that everything will be available on demand from the Internet."
However, many analysts feel that Roku has a long way to go before it becomes truly popular. Even after the new deal with Amazon, Roku's video player will not have access to what has become the most popular form of online video: free streaming movies and TV episodes provided by YouTube, Hulu and other sites.
Nor does the device do anything other than play video. Unlike Apple TV or the various TiVo DVRs, Roku's video player doesn't play music or display photographs. And unlike Microsoft's Xbox 360 or Sony's PlayStation 3, both of which offer digital video services, Roku's device won't play games.
Still, analysts say that the deals with Netflix and now Amazon should give consumers an indication of what the device - and potential competitors like it - will be able to do in the future and where the digital living room is heading.