Apple launched its revamped Apple TV in September after dismissing earlier models as a “hobby.” In addition to playing content from iTunes, the new Apple TV streams movies from Netflix and videos from YouTube, but the limited streaming video options give Apple a disadvantage against Roku and Boxee, whose set-top boxes offer a variety of online video channels.
MLB.TV and NBA League Pass are the first new streaming services Apple has added to the $99 set-top box, possibly foreshadowing more streaming options to come. A prime candidate would be Hulu Plus, an $8 per month service that’s focused on TV shows, and is already available on Apple’s iPhone and iPad. Streaming music services, such as Pandora and Rdio, would also make nice additions to Apple TV. As for sports, Apple TV is still missing NHL GameCenter. (There aren’t any set-top boxes that stream live games from the NFL, which has been skittish about putting its games online.)
If Apple TV continues to expand its streaming video options, it could become a nightmare for competing set-top boxes. Although Roku currently undercuts Apple TV on price at $60 for its basic model, and the $199 Boxee Box has the slickest interface for finding shows and movies on the web, a bigger selection is their biggest advantage. And they already have a tough time competing with Apple’s marketing and retail stores.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, Apple’s only adding a couple of live sports channels, and you’ll have to pay extra for each of them. NBA League Pass costs $65 for the rest of the season, and MLB.TV’s basic package costs $20 per month or $99 per year, although you can watch some spring training games for free.