Make your HDTV Smarter: The Best Internet Media Streamers

December 2nd, 2011 · 7 Comments · Connected TVs, Digital Media Receivers, LCD Flat Panel, LED LCD Flat Panels, Plasma

Make your HDTV SmarterOne of the hot items this holiday season is media streamers, tiny boxes that get you Internet content straight to your TV.

The likes of Apple TV, Roku, LG, Western Digital, and more compete for your attention.

We help you decide.

Apple TV

Apple TVThe Apple TV is probably the best known of the bunch. Gary’s not a fan because it’s only 720p, but that’s not a deal breaker in my book. Nearly all streaming content is 720p, so this “shortcoming” is less of a deal than it first appears.

Like all the streamers, you get Netflix. More importantly, you get the iTunes Store to buy or rent TV shows and movies. You can also stream content from iTunes on your computer, which I use all the time with mine.

It’s easy to use, too. Other streamers offer more, but for an all-around package the Apple TV is great.

The Apple TV is $94.99 on Amazon.

 

Roku

Roku LTRoku is sort of the anti-Apple TV. It has a similar diminutive form factor, and comes in multiple flavors depending on your needs. The Roku LT is only $49.99, but offers the same 720p output as the Apple TV. You get Netflix, of course, but also Hulu Plus, HBO Go, and most importantly, Amazon Instant Video. With the latter, you can rent and buy movies and TV shows. There’s certainly a lot more content possible with the Roku compared to the Apple TV, and it’s half the price, a fantastic bargain.

What it doesn’t do, though, is stream music and movies from your computer. Yes, you can get a 3rd party app that does this, but I’m standing by my opinion that if it doesn’t do it out of the box, it’s not officially part of the product. Disagree if you want, but it was already covered in our review of the Roku XD.

Stepping up to the Roku 2 XD ($79.99) and 2 XS ($99.99), you get 1080p video and in the case of the latter, a USB port. Neither of these things are a huge deal in my book (for reasons discussed above), but the increase in money is negligible, so why not.

The Roku LT is $49.99 on Amazon.

The Roku 2 XS is $94.99 on Amazon.

 

Logitech Revue

Logitech RevueAt the original price of $299, the Revue was overpriced… by about $200. Now, at $100 it’s just right. In our recent review we found the Revue a competent streamer, with an above average scaler, and a web browser with keyboard.

It doesn’t have Amazon Instant Video, though, which limits its desirability as a media streamer. If you can’t buy TV shows you missed, how useful is it?

(Edit 12/2: Duh, I’m an idiot. As a reader points out, you can use the built-in browser to watch Amazon Instant Video directly from their website. Next sentence is changed from original to reflect this.)

If the idea of a web browser on your TV to surf the Internet and check email interests you, then check out the Revue. The interface is a little clunky, but it also works as a decent all-around web streamer, with a better scaler than most.

The Logitech Revue is $99.99 on Amazon.

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LG Smart TV UpgraderLG Smart TV Upgrader

This is another one we reviewed this year. Like the Revue, its biggest claim to fame is a web browser. VUDU and Hulu Plus are cool, but don’t have the selection of iTunes or Amazon Instant Video.

Certainly not bad, but the Logitech is easier to surf the web with thanks to its real keyboard, and the other streamers offer access to more content.

The LG Smart TV Upgrader is $116.94 on Amazon.

 

 

Western Digital WD TV Live Hub

WD Live HubThe Live Hub is a little more than a standard streamer, as it has a built-in 1 TB hard drive. It has a surprisingly good scaler, outputting all content at a decently sharp 1080p. The hard drive can store or be a backup for all your content, important in this day and age of minimal physical media.

You get Netflix and Hulu Plus, but sadly no Amazon Instant Video. If you enjoy ripping off musicians, there’s also Spotify.

If you don’t currently have a network hard drive backup, and don’t imagine you’d buy/rent a TV show or movie, check out the Live Hub.

The Western Digital WD TV Live Hub is $183.57 on Amazon.

 

Sony SMP-N100Sony SMP-N100 Streaming Player

I haven’t reviewed the Sony, but it seems interesting. It’s got Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, and Hulu Plus, and though it lists for $129.99 (too much), it’s currently less than half that. Worth a look.

The Sony SMP-N100 Streaming Player is $49.99 on Amazon.

 

 

Geoff Morrison  @TechWriterGeoff
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7 Comments so far ↓

  • Kit

    I have fios and two digital television sets. I do not have high definition service. If I purchase a streamer will it still work or do I have to have high definition ? Also, I am a subscriber to Amazon Prime and presumably have access to Amazon Prime Instant Video though I have never tried it. Can I assume that a device that delivers Amazon Instant Video also delivers Amazon Prime Instant Video ?

  • Derek

    I have the first version of the Roku XD|S and I think its the best investment in electronics I’ve made in many years. The wife and I really enjoy it and the video quality is exceptional. I would personally recommend it.

  • Brian

    I have an average internet speed (3-5Mbps) and streaming You Tube at 720 on my laptop gets hung up with regularity. I can’t imagine what kind of speed one would need to stream 1080. That’s the reason I hold out on dumping cable and going with all streaming: the connection isn’t reliable. I also think the picture quality isn’t as good as cable. I used to stream Netflix and even their HD movies weren’t as clear as Comcast.

  • John Gettler

    The Logitech Revue appears to be a dying deadend product. At least Logitech CEO says they will never release a new version of the Revue. Not a promising future.

    informationweek.com/news

    Geoff: Not sure why that matters. The current version works, and by the time anyone would want a “new version” there’d probably be some better cheaper doodad to buy.

  • John Gettler

    You definitely missed a big one to consider as well. Boxee.

    Boxee.tv

    Geoff: Consider? Maybe. I’ve reviewed it but didn’t include it. It’s cool, but expensive for what it offers. For most people the Revue does nearly everything the Boxee does at half the price (and with a better keyboard).

  • Jeremy

    You left out the best part of the Apple TV – AirPlay.

    Also, why did you review the WD TV Live Hub instead of the non-hub? That would have been staying in the same class as the others.

    Geoff: I mention the Live Hub as I’d reviewed it before and was familiar with it. The regular Live is likely very similar, I just like the added usefulness of the hard drive.

  • Michael

    Over the summer I purchased a Sony BDP-S380 Blu-Ray Player as a gateway to cutting the cable tv cord. The Sony Offered Hulu Plus, Netflix, Vudu and access to Amazon’s Prime Instant Video library. The”Amazon Prime Instant Video” is a streaming service that offers unlimted access. The Prime Library is a perk included with the second day shipping on “Prime” merchandise at Amazon. I then purchased a TiVo Premiere with the same streaming options except for Vudu. That is when I discovered that Amazon Instant Video does not inculude the “Amazon Prime Instant Video”. The Amazon streaming service buily in to my TiVo is only for pay per view videos from Amzon. I am still very confused and disappointed that I have to use my Tivo to stream Hulu Plus and Netflix and switch to the Blu-Ray player to stream Amazon Prime Instant Video.

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