DivX’s Apple TV, but smarter

We were lucky to be invited to DivX technology demo driven by DivX co-founder Jérôme Rota. The prototype presented was an efficient, low-cost, networked media player running at 720p resolution. The box itself was just an example of what manufacturers could do with the DivX platform. The interface is sleek and all and a few things caught my attention:

The media player needs to be networked to a computer and software need to be installed on that PC to communicate with the player… some of you might complain because the device should be able to talk to a DLNA network drive, but: most consumers do have a PC but they don’t have a network drive. Secondly, the device in question could eventually be sold for less than $99 within a year of production – in my opinion. That’s a lot less than the $299 Apple TV.

The user interface was quite nice. Much better than what we usually get in this type of device (think Apex, Linksys…), but the crunchy part is that all the user-interface (UI) rendering is done on the PC and sent to the player as very small DivX files! That’s a good idea that enables good graphics and UI on cheap hardware.

Finally, DivX has an API that will let users create their own plug-ins/applications to handle multimedia content or to create casual games. I don’t think that any other media player does this.

Beyond the device itself, you should keep an eye on the platform that DivX is building because it will allow smaller manufacturer to compete with established brands like Sony or Samsung who might try to develop their own software.

DivX made a technology choice that is completely opposite to Apple’s. The Apple TV is basically an entry-level computer without an OS. It has a CPU, a GPU, and a hard drive, these are generic components found in all recent computers. However, AppleTV still need to be connected to a bigger computer (to talk to iTunes).

By leveraging the fact that their device is connected to a computer, DivX shows that the same basic functionality can be built at a much cheaper price, because instead of using general-purpose hardware, it uses only stream-decoding hardware that is a lot cheaper to make.

The main issue with DivX is the lack of commercial content -which is readily available for the AppleTV. Once again, iTunes proves to be a formidable weapon for Apple. To really become mainstream, DivX needs content andI mean legal content.

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