Roku’s ‘Universal Search’ Makes Battle With Boxee Into an Internet TV Street Fight

The war for internet television just got more interesting.Following on the heels of such previous technology battles as Samsung versus Apple, Blu-Ray versus HD DVD, and VHS versus Betamax, Boxee and Roku are now enmeshed in a war to be the premiere supplier of internet to your television screen.

Boxee, previously known for the inconveniently-proportioned Boxee Box, just pulled their newest rabbit out of the hat with their introduction of Boxee TV, a flatter, more rectangular take on their old model. Roku, meanwhile, has countered with adding a “universal search” feature — a function that allows Roku users to better access and expedite their searches across many websites.

Here’s the skinny on both: Roku’s “universal search” function focuses your attention in one place and does for you the work you used to have to do yourself. In the “old days” (a couple of weeks ago), you used to have some idea in your head of what you wanted to watch. Let’s say that film was “Naughty Night Nurses in Jersey.” Previously you would have had to go to Netflix and scour that, then go to Hulu Plus and look there, and on down the line till you’re scraping the bottom of the media barrel to find some sweet, sweet nurse-on-nurse action. Now with Roku, you just go to their “universal search” menu, dial in your query, and let Roku do the searching for you.

Boxee TV is a bit different in that they are more focused on giving you a TV DVR experience with the net content as a secondary bonus. They are designed to pull in over-the-air broadcasting as well as net television, a feature that Roku does not share. Boxee’s shortcoming is that they do not currently offer Hulu Plus (programming difficulties) or Amazon Instant Video (a result of an exclusivity contract with Walmart). Additionally, their major selling point for the new release appears to be that flatter, more rectangular design. The original Boxee Box had trouble fitting in entertainment centers, an issue that Boxee attributes to its poor sales. This kind of sucks because their entire company is named around the image of their now-worthless cube.

There’s an old joke that says NASA spent $50,000 to develop a pen that could write in zero gravity, while Russian astronauts just used pencils. I think that applies here. Advantage: Roku.

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