It's not too late for Apple TV

Time hasn’t been kind to the fourth-generation Apple TV. In recent months, Apple’s streaming platform has lost market share to rivals like Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Google Chromecast, and Apple itself has admitted that sales last holiday season decreased from 2015.

But perhaps a turnaround is in the making. Last week, as part of a lengthy rundown of what went wrong with Apple TV, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reported that a new Apple TV could arrive this year with 4K video and “more vivid colors” (likely a reference to HDR). Gurman also suggested that Apple might try again at negotiating a streaming channel bundle akin to Dish’s Sling TV, Sony’s PlayStation Vue, and AT&T’s DirecTV Now.

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5 ways TV networks are responding to the growing cord-cutting movement

As more people decide they don’t need cable, the TV networks are waking up to the fact that they can’t bet the farm on the same old business models, even as they depend on cable for most of their revenue.

The latest earnings reports from companies like Time Warner, Viacom, and Disney provide a useful snapshot of how networks are responding to cord-cutting. Spoiler alert: The responses aren’t always consumer friendly.

1. Bet on streaming bundles

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Roku upgrade guide: Should you buy a new box?

Out of all the companies making streaming TV devices today, Roku is the most prolific, having released more than two dozen streaming players and sticks over the last eight years.

With so many Roku players in the wild, the decision on when to upgrade can be daunting. I’m generally in favor of keeping what you have for as long as you can tolerate it; but if you’re curious what you’re missing by holding out on upgrading to a new Roku, here’s a rundown.

Do you want the latest apps?

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The hated cable box won't disappear any time soon

Last year, the cable industry seemed to be making meaningful progress toward eliminating the hated cable box. Comcast announced plans for a Roku app and a way for any device maker to create their own Xfinity apps; Time Warner Cable, Charter, and Comcast were testing streaming versions of cable bundles; and the FCC was pushing an “unlock the box” proposal that would put TV operators’ services onto major streaming platforms.

Today, those efforts have slowed down or stalled. While Comcast did just release a beta version of its Roku app, it won’t save cable subscribers much money. Meanwhile, the FCC’s proposal and those new streaming services are in stasis. In other words, don’t expect cable TV to decouple itself from the cable box anytime soon.

Xfinity on Roku: The fine print

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Interview: How Amazon Channels is building a la carte TV

Cord-cutters who’ve been pining for a la carte TV subscriptions might want to start paying attention to Amazon Channels.

The service, which launched in late 2015, allows Amazon Prime members to add on-demand video subscriptions from premium networks like Showtime and Starz, international services like Acorn TV and DramaFever, and streaming-only offerings like AMC’s Shudder and NBC’s Seeso. Amazon Channels isn’t exactly a la carte nirvana—there are no live channel feeds, and no basic cable offerings like FX and Comedy Central—but it does help make streaming video less chaotic. Each channel integrates with Amazon’s existing video apps and Fire TV devices, and ties into a single billing mechanism that, unlike cable, lets users add and drop channels at will.

The initiative seems to be gaining traction. Amazon now offers more than 100 channels, up from 75 in November, including HBO and Cinemax, which signed on last month. And while Amazon doesn’t share specific subscriber numbers, the company says it has “millions” of Channel subscriptions.

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Nvidia Shield and the surprising resurgence of Android TV

The situation for Android TV looked grim 15 months ago. Google had just released a new version of its Chromecast streaming dongle, which relies on a phone, tablet, or laptop to control what’s playing on the TV. At the time, Mario Queiroz, Google’s vice president of product management, suggested that this mode of viewing was key to the future of television.

Meanwhile, Android TV, Google’s other operating system for televisions and set-top boxes, seemed lost. Google apps and features that had shipped on other platforms were no-shows on Android TV, and the company didn’t even bother announcing the retail launch of Xiaomi’s Mi Box, last year’s only new Android TV streaming box. While Android TV did make its way onto some smart TVs and non-U.S. cable boxes in 2016, the platform felt like an afterthought.

But at the start of 2017, Android TV is on the brink of revitalization. New streaming boxes such as the Nvidia Shield TV and AirTV are innovating on the hardware side, while the upcoming arrival of Google Assistant will add powerful new voice controls to the entire platform, making Android TV a key piece of Google’s overall strategy.

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For cord cutters, 2017 will be the year of the antenna

The timing seemed appropriate last Sunday when NBC blocked all online streaming services from showing the Golden Globe Awards. The broadcaster failed to secure those rights from the producer, so unless you had cable, the only way to watch the broadcast was through an antenna.

Just a few days earlier, the over-the-air antenna had become the unsung hero of CES, the tech industry’s annual mega trade show in Las Vegas. Tech companies large and small are now integrating antenna support into their products in fascinating new ways, having realized that even in the age of streaming video, this free source of broadcast TV should not be ignored.

Antenna on your own terms

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