It took awhile, but streaming media is finally here and is close to being ready for Prime Time. The major competitors at the moment are Apple TV, Roku and Google TV. But there are a fair number of “trying harder” competitors worth your attention. In fact, according to blog.streamingMedia.com, there’s more than a dozen streaming media boxes on the market today. This site offers a very useful visual chart comparing all of the technical specs. These streaming media boxes and their respective environments include:
- Apple TV
- ASUS Qube with Google TV (coming March 2013)
- Boxee TV
- D-Link MovieNite Plus
- Hisense Pulse with Google TV
- Microsoft Xbox 360
- Netgear NeoTV (3 models)
- Netgear NeoTV PRIME with Google TV (coming Feb 2013)
- Nintendo Wii U
- RCA Streaming Media Player DSB772E
- Roku (4 models + Roku Streaming Stick)
- Sony PlayStation 3
- Sony SMP-N200
- Sony NSZ-GS7 Internet Player with Google TV
- Vizio Co-Star with Google TV
- Western Digital WD TV (3 models)
We strongly recommend you check out this chart before making the streaming media plunge. Personally, we’ve used Samsung (built into a DVD player) Nintendo Wii, Apple and Roku. Roku LT is an attractive because of its breadth of channels (it includes Amazon Prime, but not Spotify) and its cost (we recently purchased it for $49 via Amazon Prime) but which lacks the instant replay feature on the remote available on other more expensive Roku boxes. The Roku box doesn’t require any monthly fees, but some channels do require a subscription. The fact that it doesn’t carry Spotify is a deficiency given my opinion that Spotify is the best music channel available currently. Roku also doesn’t include YouTube. C’mon guys, this isn’t rocket science! Spotify and YouTube are available to Western Digital TV and LG media streaming devices who have a Spotify premium subscription. However, Roku does offer access to Pandora as well as including free movies and TV from Crackle, CNBC, CNET video, Disney, Fox News, and a few dozen other niche focused channels.
D-Link MovieNite Plus is another reasonably priced contender but only if you pick up the newer Model 312 which offers a decent array of channels including YouTube but noticeably not Amazon Instant Videos. It is sold on-line for about $10 more than Roku LT. Western Digital (WD) TV has been getting good word of mouth and is priced competitively but doesn’t have Roku’s multitude of channels. Vizio and Asus CUBE apparently designed specifically to be used with Google TV and, to my knowledge, is one of the few boxes with Google TV built in (joining Logitech, NetGear and Hisense). One of the notable advantages of Google TV is that it offers a ‘unified search’ which will find what you want to watch with one search, whether it’s on TV, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Google Play or other video sources. Some big disadvantages include lack of HuluPlus and a wonky interface. Google TV will likely become a serious competitor in the coming years but it isn’t in the Apple TV/Roku leagues yet.
And, of course, there is Apple TV. It performs well and is tied into the iTunes environment so it is probably the best choice for Apple enthusiasts and TV watchers who enjoy seamless, well-designed but a limited-selection media player. Big plus: it includes Airplay mirroring that sends video, games or other apps from an iPhone or iPad. Unfortunately, for about half the price, Roku offers some pretty decent competition to the Apple TV player and Twonky Beam offers mirroring functionality.
One current deal to consider is the Western Digital TV Play Media Player. It is currently being offered on Amazon at close to half its listed price and users seem to like it quite a bit. It gives you access to Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and others….but not Amazon, apparently. Still, it may be one of the current bargains out there. Oh, and the Samsung DVD/media integrated player….I could never get it to work. The fix even eluded Samsung’s technical support people. So beware integrated DVD/streaming media players.