What sets the Chromebox apart from the other media streaming devices is the operating system. Chrome OS is essentially a streamlined version of a unix based operating system that is specialized for web browsing. This is different from the current media streaming boxes that are more like a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone. Each service that is accessible through the media streamer is an application run on top of their operating system. This isn’t necessarily that different than Chrome OS that also treats these services as extensions to the browser, but there is a greater level of flexibility and range of applications available.
More Than Just Streaming
Since the operating system is essentially one large browser environment, it is possible to do more than just stream media. This really sets it apart from the current batch of media streaming devices. Want to read the news on your TV from your favorite web site. No problem. How about checking in on Facebook, reading your email or even editing a document. All these tasks are things that can be done with the Chromebox that you can’t do with the media streamers. Thus, you can use the free portion of the Hulu service with a Chromebox that media streamers cannot.
In addition to just web site in the browser though, the applications and extensions available for Chrome give it a much more computer like experience. This includes document editing, photo applications and even games. While not as extensive as a traditional computer operating system and programs, there is still a far greater range of capabilities than existing media boxes.
MultitaskingAnother huge benefit that the Chrome OS provides is the ability to multitask. This means that if you are streaming something in a window on the Chromebox, you can also be browsing the web for information. For instance, you could call up IMDB to look up information about actors involved in the movie or show that you are watching. You could even stream two different programs at the same time if you wanted but that would probably be a bit distracting.
One Major Downside
One of the big problems with the Chromebox as a media streaming device is the lack of a simplified interface. While the Roku 3 and Apple TV both come with remotes and an interface that can be navigated by the remote, the Chromebox still relies on the old mouse and keyboard which are not included with that $179 price tag. This makes it a bit more difficult to quickly and easy bring up a streaming service like Netflix but at least you can use a keyboard for entering in the name of a search unlike having to use the onscreen keyboards of the streaming boxes.
4K Supported and Not-Supported
The next big thing in televisions and streaming is 4K video support. While even the base Chromebox can be connected to a 4K display, it won’t have the performance required with its Celeron processor to actually properly display a 4K image. For this to be done, consumers would need to purchase the more powerful models with the Core i3 or Core i7 processor. This comes with a pretty steep jump in price from $179 to $369 or more. While this does give the more powerful Chromebox units an edge over media streamers, the cost jump is significant that buyer’s will need to take a closer look to see if it is wroth the cost. In addition, it would not be surprising if Roku and Apple release new units later this year that also support 4K streaming.
I don’t necessarily think that the Chromebox is going to be a really successful replacement for desktop computers. After all, people are much more interested in using a mobile device like a Chromebook than having to hook up a Chromebox to a display. On the other hand, it is a very affordable option to setup with a home theater to add media streaming and basic desktop capabilities. This is the market that will see the most sales. The base unit as it stands is a solid value as it has no problem with 1080p video streaming. The only real drawback is the 4K video support and the big jump in cost. In remains to be seen how important this will be to consumers as 4K TVs are still quite uncommon with the market.
Even though the ASUS Chromebox will not be released for a few more days, you can check out a review of a pre-release unit at .