When is The Netflix Player by Roku not a Netflix Player? When it's playing one of the 40,000 titles available through Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN).

Roku and Amazon announced that Amazon's Video On Demand service -- the digitally delivered streaming service -- will be available through Roku boxes early this year. Sure, they're not calling it The Netflix Player by Roku now. It's called the Roku Digital Video Player. It's the same $99 box, though.

It's a great move by Roku. In a single Wi-Fi streaming box, the 8.7 million Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) subscribers can enjoy the mostly older catalog of 12,000 Web-streamed movies and television shows available at no additional charge or pay up for fresher fare through Amazon's service.

The convergence of online streaming and home theater entertainment has come a long way over the past year. Amazon and Netflix have been leaders here. What started as simple PC-based streaming video is now a living-room staple. Both companies have struck deals to make their streaming content available through TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO). Netflix has expanded its home-theater reach through partnerships with television makers, Blu-ray player manufacturers, and even Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox 360.

So where you at, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)? The Cupertino sultan of style is the undisputed champ of digital music, but it seems to be falling behind when it comes to digital video. Barring a Hail Mary lob from Macworld this week, Apple TV is a commercial dud. Apple's closed ecosystem may have been the perfect game plan for audio, but it seems to be missing the boat on video.

Companies like Netflix and Amazon realize that you can't reach video ubiquity on your own. You need partners to lay down the rest of the tracks between your product and the consumer's living room. Blockbuster (NYSE:BBI) is going alone with its set-top box solution, but at least the DVD rental giant is aggressively pricing its offering.

Maybe Apple is just way ahead of everybody else. Maybe it realizes that without the walled-in infrastructure, that digital video will ultimately become commoditized and controlled directly by the actual content creators. Just as it has refused to throw its hat into the netbook ring, it may be right in sitting this one out.

If that's the case, though, why even bother with Apple TV? Just send it off to sit at the Apple relics table, along with the Newton, the QuickTake, and the G4 Cube.

If you're not going to play to win, why even play at all?

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