Has Hulu met its match in Orb Networks?
Oakland, Calif.-based Orb is announcing a $99 puck-sized Internet set-top box that delivers video from Hulu, Netflix, YouTube and other services. Founder and CEO Joe Costello said it will be impossible for Hulu to prevent users of the Orb TV device from accessing the TV site's free-to-consumer content without shutting down the whole site.
That's because the Orb TV device relays Internet content via a PC or Mac on a user's home network, instead of directly accessing video as other broadband-connected set-top boxes do.
"As long as you have a legitimate computer you can receive Hulu," Costello said. "They can't block us."
Hulu has actively prevented devices and software designed to deliver Web video to TV sets -- including Google TV and Boxee -- from accessing its video content that is freely available to computer users on the Internet.
Instead, Hulu has been trying to negotiate deals with those companies to offer the subscription-based Hulu Plus service through TV-connected devices. On Wednesday, Hulu officially launched the premium service with a monthly subscription price of $7.99. Currently Hulu Plus is available through devices from Roku, Sony and Samsung, and Apple's iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
Costello said his company is in discussions with content providers about providing better integration with the Orb TV software, but he added, "the beauty of what we're doing is we don't have to have an agreement."
However, Orb Networks is "not trying to rip anything off," Costello said. "We will show all the ads -- it's not a game to pirate their stuff and take advantage of it. We want them to monetize it."
Orb TV is a circular disc, about 1/4-inch high and 3 inches in diameter, and runs the Linux-based operating system. It provides component or composite video interfaces but lacks an HDMI port, and includes built-in Wi-Fi networking.
"We tried to get the cheapest thing to reduce our component costs but that would give you decent video quality," Costello said.
Orb TV uses apps downloaded to a customer's smartphone as a remote control. The Orb controller app features an index of TV shows, letting users type in the name of the show they want without needing to specify the source.
The Orb TV is available only at the company's website at orb.com. The company is privately held and funded primarily by Costello.
In addition to Orb TV, Orb Networks sells the $69 Orb Music Player, which streams iTunes and Pandora to home stereos.