Streaming boxes had so much potential. They were going to reinvent the cable box for the internet age and make it easier for users to find and organize and watch everything available in this era of infinite content. They were going to turn our TVs, the hub of our homes, into smart gadgets through which we could do almost anything. They were going to be game consoles. Streaming boxes were the next big thing. Instead, well, streaming boxes suck. From a report: You can't find a single product on the market that comes even remotely close to satisfying this vision. Instead of a thriving hardware and software category, streaming boxes have turned into ever-cheaper commodity items. At the Walgreens down the street from my house, crammed in between AA batteries and bizarrely unbranded wired headphones, sits a Roku Express HD for $30. And it's as good a buy as anything else. Streaming boxes are bad, and they're getting worse instead of better. You could almost argue that in their current form, streaming boxes don't need to exist at all. By most measures, a majority of consumers in the US already own a smart TV -- and if you're in the market for a new set, you can barely find one that doesn't have some operating system built in. Of course, most of those smart TVs are slow, riddled with ads, and try to track your every move. That's why a good streaming box is such a good idea, at least in theory. The rest of tech's evolution has made good TV hardware and software even more important -- cloud gaming is improving all the time, our homes are getting smarter, we're even using our TVs to video chat. Streaming boxes let you upgrade without throwing out your big screen and add new features that might not come baked into the set itself. Plus, a good box could mitigate some of the worst ills of the smart TV world. To borrow an old-TV analogy: the built-in smart TV stuff is like the rabbit ears of old, and we need the cable box.
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