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Update On The Latest Video On Demand Technology

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Update_To_Streaming_VOD.jpgStagnate is certainly not a word that applies to the streaming video-on-demand industry. We could probably do a VOD-related news post every week, as the major players are constantly making moves to gain a competitive advantage and distinguish themselves in a crowded marketplace. It can be difficult to keep up, but here's a quick rundown of recent, noteworthy goings-on from the big names in the business:

Apple
On the hardware side, the biggest VOD announcement in recent days is the release of the third-generation Apple TV, which supports 1080p output, uses a new single-core A5 chip, ups the RAM from 256 to 512MB, and offers a revamped user interface. The new box carries the same $99 price tag as its predecessor. In conjunction with a 1080p-capable player comes the iTunes 10.6 software upgrade that allows you to rent/purchase 1080p content from the iTunes Store. ARS Technica recently did a head-to-head comparison of 1080p content from iTunes and Blu-ray, and the results are definitely worth a read. Older Apple TVs have also received a software update that delivers the new interface (it does not add 1080p capability). I just performed this update last week, and I like the new interface. General navigation and functionality are the same, but the redesigned Home Page provides quicker access to the top VOD titles in iTunes, as well as quicker access to Web-based services like Netflix, Flickr, Vimeo, and YouTube.

Additional Resources
• Read more original content like this in our Feature News Stories section.
• See more streaming, apps, and downloads news from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Learn which streaming media player is right for you.
• Explore reviews of LED HDTVs and Plasma HDTVs.

Roku
In early January, Roku announced its latest streaming media player, the Streaming Stick. About the size of a USB flash drive, the Streaming Stick plugs directly into an HDMI port on your TV, so you don't have to add another component to your equipment rack. It has built-in WiFi and delivers all the Web services offered in the company's standalone boxes. The catch is, your TV's HDMI input must be compatible with Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL), a new standard that delivers power and other elements to the streaming device. Samsung, Toshiba, and LG offer MHL-enabled TVs, and more are sure to follow. The Streaming Stick will be available later this year, both as a standalone device (likely priced between $50 and $100) and as part of a TV bundle (Best Buy has announced that some Insignia TVs will include a Streaming Stick).

Netflix
After a rocky 2011, Netflix seems to be back on track. The company announced back in January that it added 610,000 new subscribers in Q4 2011, and its stock is rebounding. Following the path of HBO, Netflix has begun to develop its own original programming, with plans to add five original shows by 2013 (starting with the now-airing "Lilyhammer"). On the downside, Starz's contract with Netflix recently expired, causing over 1,000 titles to be removed from the catalog. Netflix reportedly has been meeting with major cable companies to discuss bundling the streaming service with cable packages. At least one major provider, Comcast, has said no to that option, probably because ...

Comcast
Comcast has launched its own online video service, called Xfinity Streampix. At least for now, the service is only available to Comcast customers, as a free perk for subscribers to Comcast's top packages or as a $4.99/month add-on for lower-tier subscribers. Content partners include Disney/ABC Television Group, Warner Bros, Sony Pictures, NBC Universal, and Cookie Jar Entertainment. You can view the press release here.

Verizon/Redbox
Not to be outdone, Verizon has partnered with Coinstar (operator of the Redbox rental kiosks) to develop its own streaming service. Details are currently limited; but, according to The Wall Street Journal, the subscription service will combine online streaming with the ability to rent disks from Redbox kiosks, and it's expected to arrive in the second half of 2012.

Hulu
Hulu is also developing original programming. Morgan Spurlock's "A Day in the Life" is entering its second season, and Hulu debuted the new series "Battleground" in mid-February. Filmmaker Richard Linklater's docu-series "Up to Speed" will arrive this summer. All three shows are available on the free Hulu site, as well as through the Hulu Plus subscription service. Hulu Plus is now available on the Nintendo Wii platform and is coming to Nintendo 3DS later this year.

Amazon
Amazon has struck deals with Viacom and Discovery Communications to add shows from Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, BET, Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet, Investigation Discovery, Science, and Military Channel to the Amazon Prime streaming service. Amazon Prime already includes content from Fox, Disney, Warner Brothers, and CBS; the new deals should take the total number of titles to over 17,000.

Wal-Mart/VUDU
Wal-Mart has announced the launch of an in-store disc-to-digital service, using the UltraViolet system. Consumers can purchase a cloud-based version of their DVD titles to access through Web-connected devices via the VUDU platform. Bring your DVD to a Wal-Mart store and, for a $2 fee, Wal-Mart will register the disc through the UltraViolet proof-of-purchase system so that you can access a streamed SD version of the film (for $5, you can upgrade to a streamed HD version)--provided the title is available through the disc-to-digital program (they are not ripping your physical discs but instead are accessing a digital library). Universal, Paramount, Warner Brothers, Sony Pictures, and Fox are all onboard at launch, which is expected to occur on April 16th. The service will not support Blu-ray at launch, but that is expected in the future.

Additional Resources
• Read more original content like this in our Feature News Stories section.
• See more streaming, apps, and downloads news from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Learn which streaming media player is right for you.
• Explore reviews of LED HDTVs and Plasma HDTVs.
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