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Best Internet TV Streaming Devices

Roku

(5 Reviews)

  • Most Channels
  • Unique Perks
  • Best All-Around
  • Local File Support
  • No YouTube
  • Partial Mirroring
Avg: $49.99 - $99.99
The Roku is the all-around best for movie/TV fans who don't have a huge personal library of locally stored files, nor are heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem. Full Review...

Chromecast

(3 Reviews)

  • Simplest Device
  • More Compatible
  • Cool Technology
  • Fewer Channels
  • No Remote
  • HDMI Required
Avg: $29.99
Best for people who want to quickly and easily stream Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Pandora (and already own smartphones or tablets). Great for travelers and bringing to friends' houses! Full Review...

Apple TV

(5 Reviews)

  • Airplay
  • Easiest Interface
  • Bluetooth Support
  • Apple Only
  • Playing Local Files
  • Storing Local Files
Avg: $99.99
Apple's set-top box is best if you already have other Apple devices or have an iTunes collection. It works perfectly within the Apple ecosystem, but Android and Windows users may have to think twice. Full Review...

Western Digital's TV

(3 Reviews)

  • Local Media
  • Customer Support
  • Best Technology
  • Channels and Apps
  • Performance Issues

Local Media: The WD TVs completely outpace competitors when it comes to playing your digital media collection, working with a home network, and playing various file types. The best choice for file-junkies and home networkers.

Customer Support: Western Digital listens to its customers. They often respond to reviews on Amazon, and have a great track record of releasing firmware updates that fix commonly reported problems. Unlike most devices, the WD TV gets better as time goes.

Best Tech: All models of WD TV have USB, ethernet, composite output, optical audio output, and HDMI. WD TV Live has two USB ports. This opens up possibilities for USB keyboards, plugging in speakers, older TV support, and playing from external hard drives.

Channels and Apps: While Western Digital supports the most popular apps (Netflix, Hulu, Pandora), some notable apps are missing (Amazon Instant, HBOGo, some sports channels). Check out the channel comparison chart for more information.

Performance Issues: The WD TVs seem to have more performance issues compared to simpler, popular devices like Roku or AppleTV. Some users complain of lag, locking up, and slow boot time. It helps to have someone around, though, who is technically experienced enough to troubleshoot these problems.

Avg: $49.99 - $89.99
The WD TV line is best for home networkers, people with large digital media collections, and the tech-savvy, yet is still easy to use if you're just starting out. Full Review...

Xbox 360

(2 Reviews)

  • All-in-One
  • Hard Drive
  • Channels and Apps
  • Extra Payments
  • Consumes Power
  • Bulky
  • All-in-One: Doubling as a complete gaming console, DVD & CD player, and media hub, the Xbox is packed with functions.
  • Internal storage space: The Xbox 360 comes in 4gb and 250gb models. In addition to that, files can be kept on a maximum of 32gb of flash drive space.

    Channels and Apps: The Xbox actually has a very good selection of channels and apps. Take a look at the channel comparison chart!

    Extra Payments: Accessing the internet with the Xbox requires an Xbox Live subscription, which is an extra $60 per year.

    Power Consumption: The Xbox uses power and expends heat much more than a smaller set-top box and some users complain of the the fan's humming noise.

    Bulky: The Xbox is large compared to devices like Roku and Chromecast and isn't meant to be moved around.

    Avg: $149.99+
    The Xbox 360 is a gaming console, but is surprisingly useful as a set-top box as well. It can natively stream apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Youtube. Full Review...

    Playstation 3

    (0 Reviews)

    • All-in-One
    • Free to Use
    • Playing Local Files
    • Power Consumption
    • Bulky
    • Expensive

    All-in-One: Doubles as a complete gaming console, DVD, CD, and BluRay player, and media hub. The PS3 is packed with functions.

    Free to Use: Unlike the Xbox 360, the PS3 has no subscription cost to access the internet.

    Playing Local Files: The PS3 supports many file types, and with a media server on your computer, is second only to the WD TV Live for playing your local digital media.

    Power Consumption: The PS3 uses power and expends more heat than a smaller set-top box.

    Bulky: The PS3 is large compared to set-top boxes and isn't meant to be moved around.

    Expensive: The hefty price of the PS3 is a barrier. For second rooms and TVs, a set-top box is a cheaper solution.

    Avg: $149.99+
    Playstation 3, the major competitor to Microsoft's Xbox 360, is capable and flexible when it comes to streaming internet TV Full Review...

    Beginner's Guide

    What Does Roku, AppleTV, Chromecast , and other devices actually do?

    Roku Interface

    Roku On Your TV. Credit: blog.streamingmedia

    Internet TV Streaming Devices, or Set-Top Boxes, allow you to watch movies, shows, play games, and listen to music on your TV. In other words, they turn any regular TV into a ‘Smart TV.’ You might have heard of Smart TVs. In a nutshell, smart TVs are just regular TVs with the ability to access the internet.

    Set-top boxes do the same thing for your TV (and sometimes more), but for less money and more flexibility. You can move these devices around, return it easily if you don’t like it, take it to a friend’s house, get a cheap one for a second bedroom/TV, and more.

    These devices work by letting you use apps, akin to 'channels'. These apps include big names like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, and Youtube. Some of them are free, while some aren’t. This means you will need to pay a subscription if you want to use some of them (for example, Netflix costs $8 a month).

    Think of it like this: when you use cable, you pay in bulk for a lot of channels. Some you like, but most you don't need. It's like buying a big bag full of different kinds of candy bars when you only really like Hershey’s and Butterfingers. The Three Musketeers and Milky Ways go to waste even though you paid for them.

    Using a streaming device is like buying the Hershey’s and Butterfingers individually. No extra costs; you pay only for the shows and movies that you want.

    If you feel like watching a movie, you can use these devices to search for it. If it’s older, it might be found for free. Otherwise, it’s an easy process to rent it for less than $5 and watch it on the spot. If you have a subscription to Netflix or Hulu (both of which cost less than $10/month), you’ll have thousands of free movies and shows to watch in an unlimited way.

    What are the alternatives to set-top boxes?

    There are two other ways to get online content onto your TV: Smart TVs and using an HDMI cable.

    1. HDMI Male Connector

      HDMI Male

      HDMI Cable: You can always get an HDMI cable, hook one end up to a laptop and the other end to your TV, and you can get your TV to show whatever’s on the laptop. There are a few drawbacks though.

      • You always have to have a computer with you when you watch TV, which can be really inconvenient
      • You’re putting wear and tear on your laptop.
      • The set-up process can be a big pain. Look at this WikiHow article that shows you how to set this up. It’s not great if you’re not the tech-savvy type.
    2. Smart TV: A smart TV does what streaming devices do. The only difference is it’s built-in. And therein lies its weakness. What if you don’t like the content your TV brand offers? What if you have a favorite show, but you find out your TV doesn’t offer the app that features it? You’re stuck with the TV. Not only that, but smart TV’s are more expensive compared to regular ones, even though they add the same functionality as a cheaper set-top box.

      Check out this article by Eric Escobar of Quick and Dirty Tips: Should I Get a Set-Top Box or a Smart TV?

    What Do I Need?

    Internet Connection

    In order to be able to stream shows and TV, you need a high-speed internet connection. What does “high-speed” mean?

    Here’s an answer from Roku Support:

    “In general, the faster your Internet connection, the better the video quality. For the best viewing results, we recommend a minimum of 1.5 Mbps for standard definition and 3.0 Mbps for HD content. To test your network speed, visit either one of the following (free) websites:

    speakeasy.net/speedtest/

    www.speedtest.net

    Please note that your Internet speed may vary throughout the day.”

    You can get 1.5 Mbps speeds for pretty cheap nowadays. Almost all basic DSL plans go at least this fast (At&T’s lowest plan, for example, goes 3.0 Mbps).

    A Television

    Do you have the right television to support this technology? Different brands have slight differences in requirements. If you have a “dumb” TV, don’t fear! You can still “smart” it up.

    Here’s what your TV might need:

    HDMI Female Port Component Video Ports Composite (RCA) Video Ports

    HDMI Port, Component Video Ports, and Composite Ports

    1. An HDMI port. If you have an HDMI port, all streaming devices being sold today are compatible with your TV. An HDMI port is the best way to connect a set-top box to your TV.

    2. Component video (Y, Pb, and Pr). These are the connections with 5 ‘plugs:’ red, blue, green, red, and white colored ports on the TV. Most likely, your older TV won’t have component video, but if your HDMI port is already being used, component video is a good alternative to HDMI. It’s better than composite video. The 1st Generation Apple TV (there are three), Roku XDS (which is an older model), WD TV boxes, and game consoles support Component Video.

    3. Composite video: These are the familiar ones on all the older TVs (red, white, yellow). The WD TV boxes, Roku XDS, Roku LT, Roku 1, Roku 2, 1st generation Apple TV , and the game consoles support composite video.

    Other Supplies

    1. Cables: Whichever connection you decide to use, make sure you have the right cable. None of the devices come with HDMI cables, while some of them come with composite cables. Take a look at the specs on the merchant's site to make sure what you need is included.

    2. Computer: For setting up the Roku, Apple TV , and Chromecast , you will need a PC or Mac to set up your channels and content. You could also use a smartphone or tablet.

    3. Subscriptions: If you want to get the full potential out of your set-top box, you will want to subscribe to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, or any of a combination of those (those are the most popular ones). Once you have a subscription, you can watch an unlimited amount of movies or shows that they offer. They each cost less than $10 a month. If you are into sports or specialty channels, you will need to pay a separate subscription for those too.

    I have all of these, now which one should I get?

    You’re ready to start comparing! Let’s start by explaining through all the features you’ll consider when choosing the right one for you.

    Content

    WD TV Play Channels

    This probably is the most important feature. What channels and shows will you be able to watch? There’s no point in buying streaming TV if you can’t watch your favorite movies or shows. Since this is such a new technology, each brand’s available number of channels and apps are constantly evolving. New deals are made with channels and content producers every day. Check out this channel comparison chart.

    Compatibility

    There are a few major brands out there. Google has its own streaming box (Chromecast ), and Apple has its own (AppleTV). As you could imagine, these two competing companies are not always very compatible with one another. Specifically, Apple TV is not very compatible with non-apple phones, computers, or tablets. If you like Apple or already own other Apple products, the AppleTV is a natural choice.

    On the other hand, if you have an Android phone, a Nook, Kindle, Samsung, or anything else that runs on the android operating system, you'll have a good amount of compatibility with everything but the Apple TV .

    Playing Local Files

    If you’re one of those people who’ve built up a big collection of ripped video files, audio files, or would like to start doing that, you’ll want to find a device that can support a lot of files and inputs. Western Digital makes some of the best devices for doing that. The gaming consoles, Xbox 360 and PS3, also do very well with file compatibility. Do you have a home network? Do you know what DLNA is? Then the devices I mentioned are probably for you.

    Price

    Here’s a big one. Prices vary from as little as $35 (Chromecast ), to as much as $249 for a gaming console like Xbox 360. However, you do get what you pay for. The Xbox, for example, has many more uses than a Chromecast .

    Mirroring

    What is mirroring? Mirroring is being able to play a video or song from your phone, tablet, or other “smart” device onto your TV. It’s as simple as that. For example, Chromecast can “mirror” anything on your desktop or Chrome browser onto your TV. Roku has an app where you can mirror images, videos, or music from you tablet or phone onto the TV. Check out the chart for a complete guide on what each product is capable of when it comes to mirroring.

    Control

    Each device needs some way for you to choose what to watch, and they do this in different ways. Chromecast , for example, doesn’t even come with a remote. You use an Android or Apple device to control your TV. The Vizio Co-star Streamer, on the other hand, has a full QWERTY keyboard and a touchpad (because the Vizio lets you browse the internet on your TV). The Roku 3 remote is motion sensitive, which lets you play games like Angry Birds. Many devices support virtual remotes that you can download as apps. When choosing which set-top box to buy, pay attention to how you would like to control it.

    Only Roku 3 has a USB input (not LT, Roku 1, or Roku 2). Competitors like WD TV Live, Xbox, and PS3 offer more local file support.

    Video Support: MP4 (H.264), MKV (H.264)

    Audio Support: MP3, AAC, Dolby Digital (MP4, MOV and MKV pass through only), DTS (MKV pass through only)

    Image Support: JPG, PNG

    There is a workaround using the free Plex app and installing the Plex Media server on a computer. Doing that allows you to stream files from your personal digital media collection.

    No YouTube: Roku does not support YouTube, and won't in the foreseeable future, either.

    The Roku is well-rounded, easy for anyone to use, and is a best-seller. It really may be the best all-around streaming device.

    With the Roku App, you can play videos, images, and music stored on any device, but Roku can't truly mirror your device's screen or a computer screen like AppleTV or Chromecast.

    Remote: Roku 3's remote has a headphone jack and is motion sensitive (like a Wii controller). It comes with free noise-canceling earbuds, too!

    Private Channels: Roku lets you subscribe to private channels, opening up even more possibilities for content.

    Roku supports the most channels and apps by far. With private channels, even more content is available.

    Simple: Plug it in and set it up. No HDMI cable required. It's also extremely portable.

    More Compatible: The Chromecast works with both Android and iOS devices.

    Unique Technology: Frees up your device when streaming. Multiple devices can control Chromecast.

    Fewer Channels: Chromecast supports a smaller number of apps and channels compared to Roku or Apple TV.

    No Remote: Since the Chromecast is controlled using devices that have iOS or Android, it might not be the best fit if you don't already own smartphones or tablets.

    Requires HDMI Chromecast can only use HDMI ports. Older TVs are out of luck.

    AppleTV, while it works perfectly with other Apple devices, has little to no support for non-iTunes or non-Apple device owners.

    Airplay: Airplay can mirror your Apple device's screen to your TV - apps, videos, images, and all. No competitors do this as well.

    Ease of Use: Reviewers all mention the fluid and easy-to-use interface.

    Bluetooth Compatibility: AppleTV connects with bluetooth speakers and keyboards.

    Local Files: No USB or SD slot means you can't play your anything not already in iTunes.

    Local Storage: No local storage, like the and Playstation hard drives, or Roku 3's microSD slot.