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The Best Streaming Media Player 217

Posted by samzenpus
from the line-em-up dept.
DeviceGuru writes "It's looking like 2012 will be a watershed year for cord-cutters wanting to replace expensive cable TV services with low-cost gadgets that stream movies and TV shows from the Internet via free, subscription, and pay-per-view services. Accordingly, this DeviceGuru smackdown pits five popular streaming media player devices against each other. The smackdown compares Roku, Google TV, Apple TV, the Boxee Box, and Netgear's NeoTV, tabulating their key features, functions, specs, supported multimedia formats, and other characteristics, and listing the main advantages and disadvantages of each device. Then, it provides a summary chart that attempts to quantify the whole thing, so you (theoretically) can pick the best one based on what characteristics are most important to you. Of course, the market's evolving so quickly that the entire process will need to be redone in 6 months, but what else is new."
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The Best Streaming Media Player

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  • What about openness? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sethstorm (512897) on Friday February 24, 2012 @08:16AM (#39146215) Homepage

    All fine and well if you don't want updates that the manufacturer won't give you. There's a lot of cases where this comparison review lists software deficiencies, but firmware lockdowns make things worse.

    Never mind the content issues that come along with these devices.

    • by RDW (41497) on Friday February 24, 2012 @08:54AM (#39146515)

      They should probably have a 'hackability' score - e.g., the tiny current version of the Apple TV is a very nice piece of hardware that's capable of much more than Apple's lockdown allows out of the box. Hack it and most of the limitations (lack of a web browser, limited media compatibility, access to non-iTunes network shares) go away:

      http://www.appletvhacks.net/ [appletvhacks.net]

    • The news is mostly bad on that score.

      Unless I'm much mistaken, every device on that list is locked down by design. The success of that lockdown varies slightly; but they all derive their intentions from the unpleasant history of 'Conditional Access' set top box devices. There are hacks of varying completeness and difficulty for some of them; but they are all hostile by design from the bootloader up, so that's a cat-and-mouse thing at best.

      On the plus side, the cost and power budget of implementing a c
    • I've been reasonably happy with the WDTV, even though my generation didn't get Netflix, it feels adequately maintained and even upgraded on the feature front.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Indeed. What set top box to buy? I'm a nerd, I build my own. I already don't have cable; almost everything on cable I'd want to watch is on HULU or the networks' own web sites. I have a perfectly good computer plugged into my TV, why would I want something I couldn't fiddle with? I don't see what any of these boxes do that any nerd couldn't put together himself.

      I was disappointed, I thought by "players" it was going to be Winamp vs XMMS vs WiMP vs Aramok vs whatever other software media players there are.

      • I already don't have cable; almost everything on cable I'd want to watch is on HULU or the networks' own web sites.

        All I get is (rephrased) "This network's streaming video is available to subscribers to this network through one of these participating cable television providers: [...] We could not verify your subscription to this network."

        I have a perfectly good computer plugged into my TV

        Then you are in the minority. I've been told by other Slashdot users that most people who aren't geeks appear to see a "computer" as something for a desk, or at least something not to be moved back and forth between the desk and the TV a couple times a day.

    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      I agree. For my media player uses, I just have a soft-modded Wii. You could have got one for $100 last Christmas, now the only option seems to be $150 with a game I was thinking of picking up a second one just for watching streaming TV in the bedroom. You can either play videos off your network shares, or hook up a USB hard drive to it. Small, uses little power, starts up quickly, and can also play games if you want it to. Throw some emulators on there and play some classic stuff if you don't want to
      • by jank1887 (815982)

        but won't output HD. Sure, DVD's aren't HD either, but that will be a dealbreaker for some people.

      • by msauve (701917)
        "Compared to the price of buying a dedicated media streaming device, there's not really much of a comparison."

        A Wii costs 3x what a Roku does, has fewer media choices, draws 10x the power, doesn't support HD, has a worse UI for media, and requires technical knowledge and effort to allow use of non-Nintendo approved content. As a network media player, it does less and costs more.

        You're right. They really don't compare.
      • For my media player uses, I just have a soft-modded Wii. You could have got one for $100 last Christmas, now the only option seems to be $150 with a game

        Has Nintendo made the Wii consoles immune to the LetterBomb soft-mod yet? Does it still work on the new Wii consoles with no GameCube controller support?

        Throw some emulators on there

        Do you mean Virtual Console, or do you mean somehow dumping your NES cartridges to a computer and then putting the ROMs on the Wii's SD card?

  • I like my Boxee (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hey (83763) on Friday February 24, 2012 @08:18AM (#39146235) Journal

    Apps are written in Python. There are currently about 250 now.
    I was shocked when I saw a friend's AppleTV... there was no web browser - stay in the garden children.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by wooferhound (546132)
      I have a Sony BDP-380 Streaming Blu-Ray player that appears to play anything from Disc or USB or Ethernet or computer. Lots of audio and video and photo formats. So far it has played everything that I've thrown at it. Never a problem with NetFlix or RedBox rental discs. After using this player for almost a year, I wouldn't have anything else.
      • So far it has played everything that I've thrown at it.

        I read this about most every streaming media player, probably because they all use FFmpeg at their core.

    • by rikkards (98006)

      Two guys I work with have Boxee and looked at this. It appears that it doesn't take into account the latest update which addresses a lot. I personally have two homebuilt XBMC boxes but if I want another I may just do Boxee.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I've been smoken in my Mystical Garden for many years.

      www.mythtv.org/

    • by alen (225700)

      good thing they have an ipad app because there is no way i can figure out what i can actually watch on this thing via the website. at least Roku has a list of apps that i can easily find on the site

    • by microcars (708223) on Friday February 24, 2012 @08:47AM (#39146451) Homepage

      Apps are written in Python. There are currently about 250 now. I was shocked when I saw a friend's AppleTV... there was no web browser - stay in the garden children.

      True, if you use the simple -out-of-the-box- minimal remote that comes with the device.
      But if you use your iPhone/iPad/iPad Touch as a WiFi remote (with the free Remote app from Apple), you have a really sweet remote that also does mirroring via Airplay [apple.com]. Anything visible on the screen of the i-Device shows up on the TV.

      I'm always surprised at how many I-Device owners had no idea that they could use their device as a remote control and display content on their TVs.
      At family gatherings we just turn on the TV, fire up the AppleTV and then everyone pulls out their iPhones and shares photos.

      • Actually we considered getting the AppleTV solely to interface our iPad and iPods to the TV via AirPlay. Also streaming from my computer is a bonus. The price isn't too high for just those functions. As for Netflix and other services, those things are already provided by my HDTV, Blue-Ray, and game consoles.
    • Boxee can go to hell after throwing out their PC/Mac/Linux userbase virtually overnight. Dropping support is their rightful choice, but they did it in just about the worst possible manner.

    • I also love my BoxeeBox.

      I'm not sure why the review had gripes about the stability of the device - I never have any issues with mine at all. It plays damn near anything, the built-in SMB client for attached storage is wonderful, the web browser works well enough (albeit slowly).

      It did have a pretty rocky start, but things are good now.

  • Frame rate sync (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 24, 2012 @08:24AM (#39146295)

    I'm yet to see a review that takes under account the ability of the media player to re-negotiate HDMI mode to match the frame rate of the source material.

    Most players are guilty of either a single frame rate (atv2, I'm looking at you) or having to manually change modes (great user experience, right?).

    Of all players I know, only the Popcorn Hour ones have the ability to configure which modes you want it to auto-select. This results in silky-smooth playback.

    Otherwise, try playing 24000/1001 fps on 25fps display or 25fps material on 30000/1001 fps display. It's always jerky and fugly.

    But I guess it's more important that the thing plays protected content or that you can watch cats on youtube.

    Pfft, get off my lawn.

    (captcha: bashing)

    • by rikkards (98006)

      XBMC has a check box that lets you change the source framerate. With that checked, the main menu is running at 60hz but TV shows flips to 24hz,

    • I agree that this is a very important feature, and very rare outside of full-on PC based media centers.

      My current box (SageTV HD300 media extender) does this. It is very sad that SageTV was purchased by Google, and you can no longer purchase this hardware. This is the exact same Sigma tango3 hardware as the WDTV Live Plus (and probably a few others), so we know that low-end STB hardware is capable of it.

    • by PopeRatzo (965947)

      Of all players I know, only the Popcorn Hour ones have the ability to configure which modes you want it to auto-select. This results in silky-smooth playback.

      Otherwise, try playing 24000/1001 fps on 25fps display or 25fps material on 30000/1001 fps display. It's always jerky and fugly.

      But I guess it's more important that the thing plays protected content or that you can watch cats on youtube.

      I'm having trouble following. So the Popcorn Hour boxes won't play protected content?

      I'm tired of treating DVDs like

  • by StoutFiles (2471680) on Friday February 24, 2012 @08:32AM (#39146381)
    In most areas, the cable and internet come from the same provider who has a monopoly. If enough people cut cable, they will just raise internet prices to keep the same profits. Hell, they're going to raise internet prices for everyone regardless because we all use too much bandwidth in their opinion.
    • Cable companies have to pay for the right to broadcast the channels, some channels are much more expensive than others. (I have heard from friends that ESPN charges cable companies about $12/month per subscriber!!!) So yes, cable is expensive, and there is a fair amount of profit, but the companies could probably raise internet costs by only a few dollars a month, and still maintain the same margins. Not to mention, they can use the fact people are leaving in droves to force lower licensing costs from the

    • Or the cable/internet provider will come out with their own streaming service. Such as Comcast Streampix announced a couple days ago, for only $5 per month.

      Of course it's not available if you just have the internet plan...so add $15-20 to that...

      Though if you're like me, you figured out that it's cheaper to have both TV and internet than just internet if you need useable speeds. Because their base internet plan with no TV is something stupid like 5Mbps(on a good day). To upgrade the 5Mbps plan to 20Mbps

  • Different people and different scenarios lead to different requirements and to different "best" solutions. Do not start that stupidity of identifying a global "best" here as well!

  • US centric ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2@NOspam.gdargaud.net> on Friday February 24, 2012 @08:35AM (#39146403) Homepage
    I want the same question asked worldwide, otherwise the Pirate Bay stays the only option for many.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, it is very US centric.
      While the US is asking the question France (of all countries) has had the answer for some time now.
      In France the operator Free has been pushing price down and the technical advances up...
      My Freebox is not only cheap AND pretty and designed by Monsior Stark,
      it is an ADSL modem AND a Blueray/DVD player, Wifi hotspot, TV reception, both via Free and TNT(digital tv) , VOD, Videorecorder, DECT Telephone base, NAS, Multimedia streaming, Bittorrent client, Clock(!), internetradio, webbro

    • by Yvan256 (722131)

      If you go with worldwide, then the iTunes Store [wikipedia.org] is probably your only option. I don't know of anyone else offering legal downloadable media in so many countries.

      Even Canada, which is so close to the USA in so many ways, doesn't have access to things like Hulu, etc. They're all USA-only services.

      • by jrumney (197329)

        I don't know of anyone else offering legal downloadable media in so many countries.

        All 6 of them? And the record and movie companies wonder why piracy is so rampant in the rest of the world.

    • I want the same question asked worldwide, otherwise the Pirate Bay stays the only option for many.

      Oblig The Oatmeal [theoatmeal.com] comic on this topic.

  • WD Live (Score:5, Informative)

    by zeronitro (937642) on Friday February 24, 2012 @08:37AM (#39146417)

    I got my WD Live for $80 about a year or so ago. Plays 1080p mkv flawlessly off of a samba share from a linux server. It just works.

    Looks different and a little more expensive then mine, but probably still worth getting: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136997 [newegg.com]

    • by marcop (205587)

      Yeah, not sure why they didn't include this. The 2011 version is much better over the previous models and it plays anything you throw at it. The 2011 versions has a MUCH better UI, remote control, and has WiFi. Here is one review:

      http://youtu.be/gjteOdHkAHQ [youtu.be]

      Note on how the looks are different from previous models. Don't bother with the older models since the UI is that much better.

      I plug this into my car's DVD player, put a dozen or so kids movies on a flash drive, and let the kids watch what they want o

    • I've got an older one, but I still like it fine. I don't need anything too fancy. Used to have it hardwired, now I have a wifi adapter. Works great for what I want to do with it.
      • I've got an older one, but I still like it fine. I don't need anything too fancy. Used to have it hardwired, now I have a wifi adapter. Works great for what I want to do with it.

        x2

    • by berashith (222128)

      thanks... i had been looking into this device, and was happy to see a comparison article, until I noticed that this wasnt in it. It just seems "good".

    • Another WD TV owner (Score:4, Informative)

      by mu51c10rd (187182) on Friday February 24, 2012 @10:03AM (#39147453)

      Glad to see I wasn't the only one wondering why they left out the WD line. WD has the best hybrid of local playback and online apps. I have yet to have a file format thrown at it that it can't handles. It also can play from SMB shares, uPnP media servers, and lots of online apps. How did the reviewer fail to add that to their queue? The newest model even has the builtin wifi. I tend to recommend the WD line to people over the Roku, Boxee, Apple TV, or Google TV.

    • by s7uar7 (746699)
      I have the newer version. It's great for streaming from a NAS, and BBC iPlayer is great, but the Netflix app forces a re-auth every couple of days. 'Typing' an email address and password using the remote is not fun.
    • Same here. I'm more of a passive TV show watcher, so not ready to give up the satellite quite yet. But for movies, torrents on an NFS share with WDTV Live can't be beat. It just works. And that's the main reason I chose the WDTV Live. Yes, I did say NFS. Check it out:

      http://b-rad.cc/wdlxtv/ [b-rad.cc]

      http://wiki.wdlxtv.com/Main_Page [wdlxtv.com]

  • by Daas (620469)

    An Apple TV by itself is almost useless. It's a good Netflix box but other then that : meh. Where is shines is AirPlay, you can stream your stuff from pretty much any website or App on the iPad (or iPhone) and most of the time the quality is pretty great.

    If you want to transform it into an amazing machine : jailbreak it and put XBMC on it, you'll have the best of both Apple and the Open Source world. The only remaining issue is that it doesn't do 1080p, but then what kind of streaming content can you get in

    • Re:Apple TV (Score:4, Informative)

      by jo_ham (604554) <joham999@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday February 24, 2012 @08:52AM (#39146505)

      The older Apple TV does if you put an expansion card into its PCI slot (you have to remove the wireless card to do this though), then it will support 1080p quite happily in XBMC with the exception of some of the more silly encode settings.

      It's been a while since I looked at it. Crystal HD or something?

      • Yep, a Crystal HD decoder should work. I put one into the mini-PCI slot of my 5 year old laptop recently. The decoder is about $20 on ebay.
    • An Apple TV by itself is almost useless. It's a good Netflix box but other then that : meh.

      Funny, I feel the same way about our PS3.

  • by MMC Monster (602931) on Friday February 24, 2012 @08:48AM (#39146465)

    Here's what I want:

    Someone to bundle an Acer Aspire Revo 3700 with an appropriate IR receiver and remote (ie: Noah Company MediaGate GP-IR02BK Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate MCE Remote Control).

    Load it up with OpenElec and a couple of the standard repositories (bluecop, etc.).

    And just sell that as a media center.

    I did it myself, but it took some trial and error to get the right stuff together. But now that I have it's it's easy to duplicate for the family.

  • They missed one. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    By far the best player I have come across is Seagate's GoFlex TV http://www.seagate.com/www/en-us/products/home_entertainment/hd-media-player

    It does everything. It has played everything that I tried. It does windows networking very well. It does YouTube, Netflix, MediaFly, Pandora and a number of others. It does 1080p has outputs for composite, RGB, and HDMI. It also has an optical output and will send out a raw optical stream that my audio receiver can process.

    I have a DirecTv HD DVR with the whole house o

  • by netsavior (627338) on Friday February 24, 2012 @08:53AM (#39146511)
    One thing the reviews leave out is scriptability/hackability.

    Roku actually has a pretty easy and open-ish api.
    Roku channels can be written in a scripting language called Brightscript (feels mostly like VBScript). The SDK also comes with C header files if you'd rather write something low level. I wrote a basic channel that takes reads an XML manifest file from my webserver and lets you pick from any of my home videos (or backups of my DVDs or infringed video) and streams it on the TV. I did this in about 15 minutes of coding on the roku side, including a "cover flow" style menu. (Of course, you aren't going to escape the need to transcode your video files, unless you are doing it hot on the webserver)

    later when they upgraded the OS (without breaking any compatibility) I was able to write a page to run on my webserver that allows me to go to a browser from any of the computers on my network and select any movie (accessible by http) and directly launch it on the roku from the browser (which is very helpful for when I want to watch a horror/pr0n movie with the wife after the kids go to bed, but I don't want the kids to have access to it during the day)
    I wrote an HTML/AJAX remote control app to run on our tablets/iphone/laptops to control the roku if we misplace the remote, which was also really simple, due to the easy/open API
    I have tried many set top solutions, and THIS is the one my 3 year-old and my grandmother can use, but that I can still force it to do what I want.
    • by tkrotchko (124118)

      Does this let you stream video from a DLNA server on the Roku?

    • by gbooker (60148)

      The Roku rates pretty low in terms of scriptability/hackabilty IMHO. Yes, it has an API, but through numerous poor choices on Roku's part, this is not as useful as other platforms. Their Brightscript is not well designed, and the VM is buggy. I can cause the device to hard reset with one line of code (an accidental discovery trying to make the thing work). The library availability for the language is poor. Heaven help you if you want to do something that's provided in libraries on the net in nearly eve

  • by gatzke (2977)

    My PS3 does ok for movies and pictures. Plus it plays games and DVD / BluRay. And Netflix.

    Why do I need one of these additional boxes? What am I missing out on?

    • by netsavior (627338)
      The PS3 makes a lousy appliance. It overheats if it is always on, the controllers run down the battery while they idle, it has very frequent software patches. Idle to movie is about 3 seconds on a Roku, from "off" to movie is about 5 minutes-30 minutes on a PS3, (boot, login, - possibly patch - netflix, play). I have both and the PS3 really can't compare to a "cable box" like a roku ca, even though it's video capabilities are similar or better.
  • Bittorrent client? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jaymzter (452402) on Friday February 24, 2012 @09:00AM (#39146565) Homepage

    They seemed to have missed a bittorrent client in the list of features. How about letting me load up what *I* want to watch from the device, instead of what *you* want me to watch. Plus, if they can't mount shares, how can you connect the one upstairs with the one downstairs? These things can't stream to each other?

    On another note, it seems odd my old PCH A110 can still "out feature" some of these newer players on the market. It plays from samba, nfs, or upnp shares, includes a bittorrent client, and of course handles almost any format you can throw at it. Of course, it's also very long in the tooth by now.

  • by doronbc (1434117)
    will ALWAYS outperform any other player. people can continue to ignore it, but xbmc running on any device is better than anything else out there imo.
    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      will ALWAYS outperform any other player. people can continue to ignore it, but xbmc running on any device is better than anything else out there imo.

      xbmc on a device boxed up and sold at Best Buy is the Boxee Box. Boxee is a fork of xbmc from way back when (and you could use the Boxee software when they had it).

      Of course, assuming you want to go after the "I want to go to Best Buy, and buy a box that connects to the TV" market, rahter than the "I want to go after anyone who's willing to put up with a fugly

  • I love this little box, have a couple of them and there's not much it won't do. Plays just about any video format including mkv, vob and iso images. Connects to Netflix and 10 or so other services (the glaring omission here being Amazon). Can connect via DLNA, directly to a linux or windows share or you can plug a USB drive into it play media from that as well. It's a very capable device and @ $99 it's a relative bargain. Did i mention the interface is easy and intuitive with lots of options, you can cu
    • by rikkards (98006)

      One word: Bookmarks.
      That was enough to turn me off. Also I found video support was a bit less forgiving than my XBMC box. Granted the price is good and for my dad who isn't using networking it works well but too many clicks for my taste

      • by yodleboy (982200)
        What are the bookmarks? Haven't run into those. Does he have the current WDTV Live or the old one that just called WDTV? I bought the original a couple of years ago and was less than impressed. I actually returned it within a week and put my media library on hold. Video support was horrible and I could encode 2 movies identically and one would play and the other would fail. The new player is night and day better than that old piece of crap. It's vastly improved.
  • I already have a box dedicated to MythTV, and am willing to invest the time to add stuff to it, but I'm not likely to buy another box and have another ^&#$%%@! remote for something that insists it's the only game in town (;-))

    --dave

  • I was thinking this was a good review until I saw they didn't even know that Roku has a Plex client app. The plex client lets you play media stored on your computer, which is the functionality the review said was lacking...

    • Hope it works better than it did mid-2011, since the client turned out to be DOA with the box I bought. I gave up after a month and sold it. I use a JB appleTV now, though since we all have iDevices, we could have just used the plex client and streamed. (Oh, why doesn't apple open up the TV to apps?)

  • For the price and size, the Roku IMO is the best streaming box you can get. It has probably the most content providers and it's easy to use. It may like UPnP or DLNA but you can use channles like RoksBox and stream movies from a simple Web Server or NAS drive. I also think XBOX 360 is a great for streaming because it's simple to use, and provides some advanced capabilities like Voice commands (with kinect).
  • by Kagato (116051) on Friday February 24, 2012 @10:07AM (#39147501)

    Boxee and the Current crop of Google TVs have the same problem. They threw their lot in with Intel for the the System on Chip family (CE4X00 series). A ton of things are provided by Intel from Video, Flash, The problem is Intel has dropped this business line. It's basically has a skeleton crew of developers for upkeep, but it's pretty obvious from the bugs that have stuck around that Intel is phoning it in until their contractual obligations end.

    Google has already announced a new hardware platform, it's not clear what boxee is going to do.

  • Good enough for me.

  • Interesting article for its limitations but it misses what I think is the real trend - multi purpose devices.

    On Black Friday I was all set to purchase some sort of consumer streaming machine when I stumbled across a Sony display at Walmart featuring a Blu-Ray player that also connected to the web via LAN and streamed video content for what I thought was a reasonable 99 dollars. After a little research back home I found a really good deal: a Sony 3D Blu-Ray player (BDP-S580) from Best Buy that also streams

  • by kirkb (158552) on Friday February 24, 2012 @11:32AM (#39148617) Homepage

    step 1: buy an apple tv
    step 2: jailbreak
    step 3: install plex
    step 4: win!

  • I noted in the referenced article that it says the Roku 2 doesn't play Youtube.

    I have a Roku 1 and I have a youtube channel, dunno if I added it as one of the roku 'secret' channels one time (I don't think so - I think it's just an available channel), or if they've removed the functionality in Roku 2 but I know I can play it.

    I was an early adopter of Roku, buying one the first Xmas they were out and have absolutely loved it. Rock solid stability is no joke. I think I've had one problem in multiple years o

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