OK. This is an unfair comparison as some of these products involve hardware, some are just software, but really if all I want to do is watch video do I as a consumer care?

The answer is of course yes! The reason is that aside from the price there are other considerations that will make a big difference in how they are used. Especially if you use them with traditional broadcast television, but more on that in a moment.

Lets start with the ‘oldest’ solution Media Center PC. As we all know, it needs a PC (and one with a fairly robust video card) in order to do the processing and display of the TV signal as well as the DVR functionality. There are some distinct advantages to having a PC based DVR, as the interface tends to be better than the hardware DVR that gets slapped on by the provider and the ability to modify hardware as you see fit. But in practice, how many of us really swap out the video card or upgrade the RAM on a regular basis? Especially on this type of device which will be located right beside the television (and likely compared to) other home entertainment devices.

In fact, about 3 weeks after getting this MCPC, it died in the middle of a show (like that really sucked) and I had to take it back to the Best Buy to find out what the heck was wrong with it. So then I had to rewire the Set-top box back into the TV/Stereo while we waited for the verdict. And how long did it take to go back to HP to get fixed? Three weeks! Three weeks to get it fixed and they had to put in a whole new mother board. These are some of my concerns when PCs get pushed out of the office into the rest of the house: the reliability of the hardware/software potentially becomes a concern because if something dies in the middle of and episode of Lost, you bet people are going to be pissed.

So now that I got the unit back, I have had a chance to do a comparison with Apple TV for the setup. The AppleTV unit was easier to set up, but didn’t have to deal with integrating a STB and a program guide and changing channels with the remote. However as I said before, the Apple TV remote reminds me most of a stick of gum (spearmint I think) and it will probably get lost.

But which of these solutions is more disruptive to the current Television model? Well, like everything else it depends on what part of the experience you’re talking about… but narrowly my vote is for Joost as it really changes how content is distributed out to the viewers. It is still at this point pretty much the same user experience for watching TV; there are a bunch of numerically denoted channels and you can go up and down the dial just like your regular surfing habits. Also, you don’t at this point have to decide to purchase individual content items (like at this time the iTunes videos) so it suits the established broadcaster behaviour.

I believe that in the short term there will have to be some subscription/aggregation in place that aligns to the current model in order to attract a mainstream audience who doesn’t want to spend the time picking and choosing media objects, but whether that looks like the traditional broadcast model or more like the recommendations on Tivo is still up for grabs.

Now if you could somehow align your preferences online over to the set top box that would be pretty attractive…