Monday, January 06, 2014

Review of Streaming Media Players: Roku vs Boxee vs Apple TV vs Chromecast

Reviewed here are streaming media players; the Boxee Box vs Roku 3 vs Apple TV vs Chromecast allow users to play media from internet web services, like HBO Go, Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, etc. on HDTVs. These are some of the best media boxes around, and each device has its own advantages and disadvantages that are reviewed and depending on what services you're most interested in these devices may help you get rid of your cable bill for good.

D-Link Boxee Box

The first review is of D-Link Boxee Box streaming player that allows you to stream from a variety of internet sources with an easy to use interface that plays many different services, including Youtube, Pandora, Netflix, Vudu, Flickr, etc. The Boxee Box is a great buy and comes with a remote control with a full QWERTY keyboard (unlike the other two set-top boxes reviewed here) and directional controls. Boxee specs are impressive, it comes with many ports, including: HDMI output, RCA and optical audio output, ethernet and wireless support, two USB ports, and SD card slot. The device supports full HD 1080p and plays video files in many formats, including: MP4 (H.264), XVID, DIVX, MKV, AVI, and Flash videos (FLV). Boxee also allows watching live TV using a USB TV tuner, like the Hauppauge WinTV-HVR 950Q; instructions for setting up live TV on the Boxee are here. The newer Boxee TV supports live TV right of the box. Some of the cons with the Boxee is that users may not always be able to tell the difference between free and paid content. Also, it is unfortunate that the Boxee does not have the ability to stream Hulu Plus. The Boxee Box browser does support Flash to watch videos on websites, but the browser can be underpowered and buggy and the mouse can move slowly around webpages. For advanced users, the Boxee Plus is open-source software that delivers additional features to the Boxee Box along with a faster interface.

Roku 3

The first Boxee alternative reviewed here is the Roku 3. The Roku 3 is one of the best known streaming devices and has a faster processor that previous Roku versions. The Roku 3 accesses many of the same internet services that the Boxee can, like Netflix and Vudu movies and Pandora music. There are a few streaming services for the Roku 3 than don't exist for the Boxee for instance users can stream Hulu Plus, HBO2GO, and Amazon Prime Instant Video. One great feature of the Roku 3 is its "universal search" feature that allows you to search all the the channels for a particular movie, show, or even actor. Unfortunately, the Roku 3 does not feature a QWERTY remote, so users have to use the Roku's onscreen keyboard to search for content.

Versus to the Apple TV, the Roku 3 allows you to customize the interface much more than you can with the Apple TV. The Roku 3 specs are comparable to the Boxee, it also supports 1080p video, has built-in wifi, and it plays videos in the formats MKV (H.264) and MP4 (H.264). The Roku 3 has fewer ports versus the Boxee with HDMI, ethernet, micro SD card slot. The Roku 3 comes with one USB port. Buying a mounting kit for the Roku 3, allows the small Roku box to be mounted on the back of a TV. One unique feature of the Roku 3 remote control is that it has a headphone jack and acts as a video game controller for games, like Angry Birds. There are free apps for iOS and Android that let you stream some content to the Roku from smartphones. Overall, the Roku 3 features over 100 channels of content (more than the Boxee Box or Apple TV), including dedicated Roku channels for baseball (MLB) and basketball (NBA); all this content is what makes the Roku one of the best media boxes available. Roku 3 also gives you access to channels such as Livestream that allow you to stream live events in many categories, including: music, news, entertainment, sports, education, celebrities, and spirituality.

Additional private channels can also be added to the Roku using channel codes allowing the Roku to get even Indian channels via DishWorld and channels such as Comedy Central, Spike, and ESPN3 via the PlayOn service. Roku-Channels is an unofficial Roku database that contains over 1,000 additional channels, as well as lists of some of the best Roku channels. Free movie streaming is available on the Roku 3, for instance by searching for free movies on Amazon Instant Video. By using the SkitterTV service, it is possible for the Roku to receive live TV. One drawback of the Roku 3 is that it lacks access to Youtube. Users can watch Youtube on the Roku 3 using Twonky.

Apple TV

The next streaming device is this review is the Apple TV. The Apple TV is another streaming media player with a lot of features. The Apple TV is the only Boxee alternative reviewed here that supports optical audio. The Apple TV specs include the same basic ports of the Roku 3 with an HDMI, ethernet, and one USB ports; though there are limitations on what can be connected to the USB port of the Apple TV. The Apple TV remote is very simple; it doesn't include a QWERTY keyboard compared to the Boxee Box alternative.

In terms of content, the Apple TV has less content features than the Roku 3 alternative, but it does support the ability to stream MLB and NBA channels, Netflix movies, HBO Go, WatchESPN, and Hulu Plus and compared to the Roku 3, the Apple TV does support Youtube. One service that really makes Apple TV worth it, is Apple Airplay. With Apple Airplay you can stream to Apple TV and mirror music, movies, TV shows, and photos from other devices to an HDTV. This means that with Apple TV Airplay users can connect their iPhone to a TV, if fact this also works from other iOS devices, like the iPad. While Apple TV Airplay is similar to DLNA, Apple TV does not support DLNA; Roku also does not support DLNA. With the iTunes Match, users can also access iTunes collections straight from the Apple TV.

More advanced users of the Apple TV may decide to jailbreak their devices. This is a hack for the Apple TV that allows users to load XBMC, an alternative interface, and the CouchSurfer web browser; this jailbreak hack only works with the Apple TV 2 using SeasonPass.

Google Chromecast

Google Chromecast streaming media player is a new entry into the market by Google. At just under $40, it is the cheapest media player reviewed here, and it has been in high demand. Chromecast has a HDMI output that connects to your TV. Currently, it has a limited set of features compared to the Roku or Apple TV, but they might be all you need. Chromecast versus the Roku can handle Netflix and Youtube just like the Roku, but in addition can handle Play Movies (movies through the Android Play store) and recently, Chromecast added several apps, including: HBO Go, VEVO, Red Bull.TV, Songza, PostTV, Viki, Revision 3 and BeyondPod and personal media streaming from Plex, Avia, or RealPlayer Cloud apps. It should be noted that Vimeo and Redbox Instant have also stated they will support the device. The goal of the device is to allow you to stream content to your TV rather than connecting your Android device to your TV first. For instance in the Play Movies player, there is an icon that let's you select a Chromecast to beam your content to rather than playing it on the Android device; the Android device then becomes a remote control. With Youtube, you can queue content for later; you can even stream content directly from Youtube from your desktop computer. Another nice feature of the device is that you can mirror particular tabs from Chrome browser on your computer. Even though Chromecast streams from another device, Chromecast can stream 1080p video.


@samthedagger said...

Very useful review and comparison. Thank you!

@samthedagger said...

Very useful review and comparison. Thank you!