Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Gifts Fit for a Geek – Online Content Media Streamers

Hulu, Netflix, Amazon and other online sites have continued to improve their catalogue of movies and TV shows available online.  And every day I hear of more people using those sites as an alternative means to watch video content.  So which set top box should you get if you’re looking for something to push that content to your TV set and not just your computer?

I’ve read so many “cutting the cord” articles over the past twelve months it’s not even funny.  And I mostly think those articles are hyperbole as the vast majority of consumers won’t really be cutting to cord from their cable or satellite providers just yet.  Still, there has definitely been some movement towards good video content being pushed to the web with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and others making strides in this category. 

Below are my choices for getting online video content to your TV in order of preference – although each buyers situation might be a little different (might want bundled with game machine or other device) so read all the way through:

The WDTV Live Plus HD is a great option and supports Netflix, YouTube, Pandora and more.  It doesn’t include Hulu Plus however so keep that in mind.

WDTV Live Plus HD


  • Roku XD is selling for $69.99 ($10 off through today, 12/8)

This is the mid-level device that includes nearly everything you need and streams Netflix, Amazon VOD, Hulu Plus, Pandora and Flickr.  Roku was the first Netflix “box” and continues to be one of the best options.

Roku XD Streaming Player

  • The Boxee Box  is selling for $199 with free shipping at Amazon at the moment.  For I count this one as an early adopter purchase.  It had some issues at launch which the Boxee team has mostly addressed.  But it’s really a non-DVR HTPC setup that gives you some added flexibility over the simpler WDTV and Roku boxes above.

 Boxee Box

  • AppleTV – I’m not sold on this one really but those that LOVE Apple might consider it.
  • GoogleTV – I’ve played around with the GoogleTV a bit and was underwhelmed at their first many boxes that came to market.  Add to that the fact many content providers are blocking online streaming to GoogleTV and I’m going to stick with my “stay away for now” mantra.


  • Game Machines:
    • XBox 360 – Support for Netflix, ZuneHD video rentals, and ESPN3 are there as long as you pay the extra fee, annual fee (Netflix).  Oh and it acts as a Media Center extender and game machine also ;)
    • Sony PS3 – Hulu Plus, Netflix and Vudu VOD are included.  And like the XBox 360 it is a solid game machine as well.
  • Blu-ray Players & TVs – there are many TVs and Blu-ray players that include some form of online streaming.  My Panasonic VT25 3D Plasma has added Pandora and Netflix content for instance and my Panasonic Blu-ray player does as well.  So this is another alternative you might want to consider.

If you’re still not decided I recommend you check out Dave Zatz take on the Boxes of the Year (we’re mostly in agreement) and a great roundup of media players at MissingRemote

I’m leaving off other devices like the SageTV HD300.  The HD300 makes a great HTPC extender and even includes some media streaming for video podcasts and youtube.  But to get Netflix support you currently have to couple it with PlayOn which is lesser quality and more cost.