2010 Year in Review: Devices focus on OTT delivery

When Apple re-introduced its Apple TV content hub, it was lambasted; not because of a lack of content, an unrealistic price (it was $99), or a problem with its user interface. No, Apple's newest baby delivered content at "only" 720p. It's an HD world online, baby, and 1080p has become table stakes.

Still, Apple this week said it sold more than 1 million units so far this year, not bad for a product delivered just two months ago, and on pace with JMP Research analyst Alex Gauna's projections. Gauna said the $99 price point has been a hit with consumers and, in October, forecast Apple TV to sell at a 1-million-per-quarter pace, about one-third that of the iPad.

While getting content online from programmers remains the bottleneck, getting it to your TV has become easier this year, a major step forward for the industry that has made it mainstream.

Apple TV made a huge splash, but it was beat to the punch by a device from a start up that's also managed to move one million boxes this year: Roku. Roku saw Apple TV coming and dropped its price below $99, a move that has paid off. And, even older Roku boxes deliver content at up to 1080p; the company this month delivered on a promise to update firmware for free, extending the life and usefulness of its earlier box.

This year saw a surge in devices designed to get content from the web to the living room. Not all have been as successful as Roku and Apple. Boxee Box and Google TV have struggled with content issues; neither has been able to get access to content from NBC, CBS, ABC or Fox, again, cable stakes in today's market. Boxee says it's in talks with Hulu and Netflix to get their services to the Boxee Box, but it's quietly been pushed to the background for the moment, despite a slew of other solid features, including 1080p playback.

The Google TV software platform, meanwhile, has been the biggest bust of the holiday season, and this week quietly told its partners it was headed back to the lab to refine its platform, all but conceding the space to its competitors--for the time being.

It wasn't only devices that were specifically designed to bring online video to the living room that have made headlines, game systems like Xbox 360, which has sold nearly 22 million units and PlayStation3 with nearly 17 million units--both in North America alone--have gained access to a variety of streaming content, and have become significant players in the over-the-top delivery space.