Last year I came up with a reasonable solution for my local entertainment environment using a Roku and a Synology NAS for my files. Since then the world has moved to the cloud, which is something I continue to resist. There are now tons of devices, apps and services for my TV, but few handle local content well. Here is my rundown of what works and not, and I’ll skip my tirade about cloud storage for the moment.

Putting apps into smart TVs seemed like such a good idea. You could use a single remote, you don’t have to turn on another box, and you don’t need to swap inputs. The reality was quite different from the promise. All smart TV apps I’ve used are feature-poor, often buggy, and not tolerant to network issues. They are extremely slow to update the apps treating them more like carrier firmware rather than nimble apps. Even that analogy doesn’t really work, carriers update their OS’s faster these days than smart TV manufactures update their most basic apps. It was a great idea but didn’t pan out.

XBMC has always been a favorite, and it has really matured. The best part is the low hardware requirements. I’m currently running it at 1080p on an Ouya without any issues. The XMBC Ouya version isn’t official yet but I’ve not seen any problems. As a $100 set top box it rocks, plus is plays awesome games. It is a sweet solution. The downsides are the two level access (switch inputs, turn on Ouya, navigate to XBMC to launch, then look for what to watch) and it won’t be great for other new content (e.g., YouTube integration).

For those buying into the XBox One ecosystem, Microsoft’s Media Center is a good choice. I’m not investing in XBox (although I love the Kinect technology for other uses). The problem is the hardware requirement, the cost of the software, it isn’t as slick as XBMC, you get lots more ads, and they are moving away from being offline content centric in favor of promoting cloud content.

I love MythTV but it is dead for me. With the successful closing of the “analog hole” the only content it is good for is over-the-air local channels, and users often find themselves needing a command line even with this seemingly basic configuration.

TiVo plays nice with cable providers (mostly), and they have been trying to move into the future with their streaming box. The problem with TiVo is they thrive on a subscription cash cow, providing a guide for broadcast/cable TV . They are not nimble enough for the non-broadcast based future, they handle third-party apps poorly, and they bury local content. For a cash-flush individual that is sticking with traditional cable for all their content, TiVo is the best. TiVo is destined to become an intellectual property shell with their key patents on video playback interface technology.

Roku has been a great and stable app portal. I mostly use it for Netflix, but I have another half dozen apps I use on occasion. The interface is consistent, and it is rock solid. Unlike TiVo which demands being at the top, Roku is comfortable at the top of its core competency, and expects you to change inputs for live TV. It supports multiple local content apps, and has no financial investment in cloud content versus local content. Roku isn’t as slick as XBMC, but it has a great framework for providing any content via third party apps. The big problem for Roku is everyone wants to own that space, and most others have deeper pockets.

I tried Plex on the Synology NAS to my Roku and it was awful. It bogged down the NAS, and when it played it stuttered badly. This was true with both the Roku and the local client. I’m sure it will improve over time, but compared to XBMC it will never be worth it. The more traditional method is to install it on a PC, but then it is just a poor man’s Windows Media Center.

I still want to have my Synology NAS content available to my Roku. The most recent Synology firmware breaks my technical solution, but Synology now provides an app for both Roku and Android. Sure it isn’t as slick as XMBC, but it is better than Plex (if Plex worked) and it is multi-platform. It is a great solution for my local content where I don’t have XBMC.

Traditional cable has chosen to demand the same king-of-the-hill position as TiVo. They think future revenue growth comes from up-sells and pay-per-view sales – which is true – but doing so risks their existing revenue stream. By degrading the basic guide-based experience in favor of embedded up-sells and interstitials they make themselves vulnerable to a game changer.

Chomecast will change everything. In addition to natively playing local and online content, it allows restrictive apps like Hulu to be replicated from a PC onto the TV. This is a great equalizer of the fiefdoms being carved out by content owners. It provides a single transport layer while leveraging rapid app switching on your PC/phone, where as app switching and input switching on a TV has always been painful. App developers compete as they do on any tablet or phone device so updates will come fast. I’m also very impressed with the idea of transcoding while maintaining the “analog hole” plug since it is an HDMI only device. Future hardware versions will undoubtedly be more powerful allowing replicated content at higher resolutions, and from more commodity devices as phones and tablets become more powerful. This is the tech to watch. If they can resist the temptation to bury local content in favor of higher profit Google Play content then this could be the all-around future solution for me.