Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) is said to be moments away from releasing its own device to compete against a growing field of competitors including Apple TV (AAPL), Netgear NeoTV (NTGR), Google (GOOG) Chromecast, Roku, Sony (SNE), and others.
Apple seems skittish about the rumor. As reported Friday, Apple is offering a rare discount promotion on Apple TVs bought by March 5. U.S. consumers who buy an Apple TV box between February 28 and March 5 can receive a $25 iTunes gift card. An Apple discount this time of year is so unusual that expectations of a forthcoming next generation Apple TV box increased dramatically.
If Amazon is truly days away from product release, an Apple TV discount is a preemptive strike against Amazon's entry. And if Apple is nearing its own update, it's motivated to clear the shelves.
But for now, the set-top box king is Roku. The small, privately held company is the market leader. It's also beloved by tech critics like TheStreet's own Rocco Pendola, who said that the Roku 3 "nails this one across the board" and crushes the Apple TV.
According to Parks Associates, Roku enjoys the pole position in video streamers with about a 37% market share, followed by No. 2 Apple TV at 24%. Parks also predicts the number of devices will almost double to around 330 million by 2017.
I have my doubts.
Although I don't believe the tiny black box sales has peaked, it appears more likely to me that the separate Web TV boxes will merge into the TVs themselves, creating TVs with internal Internet streaming capabilities. Then consumers wouldn't need an external box at all. Those network-capable TVs are available and are becoming more popular.
While shopping for a TV recently, I've noticed how the price difference between non-networked TVs and Internet-capable TVs is shrinking rapidly.