Best Media Streaming Device: Apple TV vs Google TV vs Boxee vs Roku vs Chromecast vs Amazon Fire vs WD TV vs PlayOn vs TVersity

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Tired of watching Netflix and Hulu on your tiny computer screen or tablet? Streaming media players connect to your television so you don’t have to squint your eyes at a small screen.

We take a look at the top streaming media players and pick our winners for best receiver including our top 3 picks for best streaming media player. For each, we share the pros and cons, so that you can decide which one might fit your budget and entertainment needs best.

Article Overview

What Is A Media Streaming Player?

If you’re new to the whole digital media player thing — you might be wondering what is a streaming media device? A streaming media player (or digital media player/adaptor) is basically a set-top box that you can use to stream television shows and movies (some free with ads, some paid) to your television set or projector. They typically include an interface that is easier to use and more reliable than if you were to simply hookup your PC or laptop to your television set.

There are 58.49 million U.S. subscriptions to Netflix alone. That means more than 58 million people in the U.S. (80.77 million more outside the U.S.) would benefit from using a media player to binge watch their favorite shows or movies without straining their eyes. More and more people are moving away from cable/satellite and switching over to Netflix and Hulu accounts.

Does A Media Streaming Device Offer Everything My Cable Service Does?

A streaming media player offers access to pre-recorded TV shows and movies. Only a small number offer the ability to view or record live TV (although with access to pre-recorded shows, this might not be a feature you’d miss terribly).

Are There Streaming Media Discounts And Promotions?

Every now and then, a given media player will go on sale. To keep the discount codes from cluttering up the article, we’re posting them in the comments section below.

Because the streaming media player space is so competitive, there are frequent price drops. We’ll try to post the new prices below in our comparison table as they happen, but bear with us and please leave comments to help us out. Also, please note that all pricing is from at time of writing.

What Is The Best Streaming Media Player?

Now that we’ve gotten some of the definitions and fun stuff out of the way, let’s dive into which is best streaming player.

Roku Review

Roku Premier#1

View on Amazon

Hands down this company offers the widest range of media access. How does Roku work? Roku can stream from virtually any media service you can imagine as well as casting directly from your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet. The Roku Ultra is their top of the line streaming media device, which offers 4K streaming and HDR picture quality.

The biggest downside is that their high end products only work on 4K TVs, which are still fairly new. So you may have to go with a lower end product for your TV. But, do not worry — I personally own the Roku Streaming Stick HDMI and love it. It plugs directly into the HDMI port and is very discreet. I do a lot of traveling and it’s easy to connect every time, plus the quality seems great to me.



  • Built-in headphone jack on remote
  • 3,500+ channels including all the most popular ones
  • Intuitive interface
  • Easy setup
  • Full Amazon and Netflix support — you can search, browse, and add movies to your queue (including your instant watching queue)
  • Remote Finder
  • Roku Express+ works great for older TVs (HDMI and composite outputs)
  • Stream content from iOS or Android device
  • No access to iTunes content
  • No internal storage


Roku Comparison Video

Struggling to pick a Roku device? This one minute video shows the key features of each streaming media player offered from Roku.

Apple TV Review


View at Best Buy

Apple is known for its secure, streamlined and user-friendly interface and this is no exception. It took a few versions to get it just right, but the latest version allows almost as much access to media as the Roku.

What does Apple TV do? It allows you to access your iTunes account for convenient access to your existing music and videos as well as easy downloads of new movies and other entertainment. But the coolest part might be that you can show your Mac or MacBook screen on your TV, wirelessly (requires OS X 10.9+ Mavericks). If you are an Apple addict, this is the box for you.



  • Fourth Generation has Siri, App Store and Third Party Controllers
  • Fourth Generation remote has a charging connector (no batteries needed)
  • Multiple connection ports (HDMI, ethernet, etc.)
  • Has internal storage
  • Solid, clean, easy to use and familiar (to Apple users) user interface
  • Can be controlled via your Apple device (iPhone, iPad, etc.)
  • iTunes has a limited selection of TV shows compared to Amazon VOD (only supported networks are ABC, Fox, Disney, PBS, and BBC)
  • Doesn’t support as many apps (i.e. Pandora) as the competition


  • 32GB $149
  • 64GB $199

Amazon Fire TV Stick Review

Amazon Fire#3

View on Amazon

Amazon Fire TV Stick takes our #3 spot this year away from Chromecast. The Amazon Fire TV family includes three different streaming media devices: Fire TV, Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Gaming Edition. These come at various price points and specialize in different things. The Fire TV is great for 4K TVs, the Fire TV Stick is great for the basic TV viewing or the Gaming Edition is great for the gamers (obviously).

The portability and ease of startup for these devices is a definite plus, and their ‘ASAP’ (Advance Streaming and Prediction) will personalize the experience for you with recommendations based on your screening habits, which helps with quicker media turnaround. Overall, we felt that Amazon Fire TV Stick outperformed Chromecast. It has more apps and options, which are among the reasons we ranked it higher in our rankings.



  • Various price points
  • Fire TV and Fire TV Gaming Edition have 2 GB of memory and Amazon Fire TV Stick with and without Voice Remote have 1 GB of memory
  • Portable
  • Over 300,000 TV shows and movies
  • Alexa works well with Amazon Fire Stick
  • Easy to travel with
  • No web browser capabilities
  • Customers complain that Parental Controls don’t work


Streaming Media Player Comparison Chart

Below is a massive comparison chart to help you learn more about each device. Find out what you can watch on it, what accessories are included and the technical specs of the device.

What Can I Watch On A Streaming Media Player?

The chart outlines the media streaming services (that stream television shows and movies to your box) that are supported by each media player – i.e. does the receiver support Hulu Plus, Amazon, YouTube, HBO Go?

What Accessories Come With Streaming Media Devices?

The chart also shows the accessories and goodies you get with each media player. Some come fully loaded with remote control (Via App = you use your Internet-enabled device as the remote control via a free app), keyboard, and wireless-N connections, while others come stripped down to save costs. As a note, because Google TV comes in so many varieties, you should be sure to double-check your particular smart TV or Buddy Box. For this review we’re using the Hisense Pulse.

There’s a row for VPN Support – this is primarily for accessing streams from countries outside the United States. While the media players don’t have VPN support built-in, you can find ways of configuring your network so the media box will be able to access content over your VPN.

Where Can I Plug It In (Inputs And Outputs)?

The last things this chart outlines are the technical specs of each media player. What kinds of inputs and outputs does each box have? Will you be able to play videos you’ve stored on your USB drive or SD card? Will you be able to use component cables to connect it to your projector?

It’s important to point out that few of the streaming media players have on board storage. (The PS3/4 is an exception which has a MicroSD expansion capability.) That means, unlike your DVR or hard drive on your PC, you’re not going to be able to record shows locally. Then again, in most cases, that’s not necessary because the services that you’ll be getting, from Hulu Plus to Netflix, do that for you.

That’s the beauty of a media player – no need to stress over having remembered to record a particular show or not, and no need to worry about the day (and it will come) your DVR hard drive will crash and you’ll lose all your recorded shows and movies.

CompanyWinner: RokuRunner Up: Apple TVThird Place: Amazon Fire TV StickChromecastCloud TV BoxPlayOn (PC Based Service)PS4TVersityWD TV LiveXBox One
Winner: RokuRunner Up: Apple TVThird Place: Amazon Fire TV StickChromecastCloud TV BoxPlayOn (PC Based Service)PS4TVersityWD TV LiveXBox One
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*DLNA stands for (Digital Living Network Alliance) – basically allows entertainment devices within your home to communicate with one another. So DLNA enabled media players are able to stream content to and from each other. This is a huge advantage if you want to share photo slideshows, home videos, etc. from various PCs and gadgets in your household on your television set or projector.

It’s important to point out that even though a particular media player might support a service, it might not be supported as fully as with another box. That’s because some network providers are blocking access to certain shows (for example, if you sign in to Hulu Plus with Roku, you’ll see some shows, such as Top Chef, marked with “web only,” which means they didn’t obtain the rights to stream full episodes over the media player, and you’ll need to use your PC to view these). Read our detailed reviews below for details on what you’ll get with each media player.

Best Smart TVs

If you need to replace your old TV anyways, you might as well look into getting a smart TV instead of a media streaming device so you don’t have to purchase two devices. A smart TV can allow you to stream Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Youtube TV and more depending on the TV you get.

TVs used to be a lot more expensive (and they still can be depending on the tech specs you want), but now you can get a large, flat screen TV for only a few hundred dollars. This is considerable less expensive than what a big screen TV used to cost 15 years ago. Plus, they weigh less, so they’re easier to move and mount.

Samsung Review

Samsung 4K UHDView on Amazon

Samsung has some great TVs available. We’ve linked to the ultra HD series, but you can also get QLED and 8K QLED. Kimberly, a writer for Safe Smart Living, has two Samsung smart TVs and has been very pleased with their performance. She streams all of her content and likes how easy the interface is to use.


(Also available in 43, 40, 58, 65 and 75 inch versions.)

Toshiba Review

Toshiba Smart LEDView on Amazon

Toshiba is another popular smart TV option. It’s a pretty affordable TV that would be great for a bedroom or living room. You can stream Netflix, HBO, Prime Video, Hulu and more with this TV.


(Also available in a 50-inch version.)

Streaming Media Player Reviews

To learn more about one specific media streaming player, click a link below, or scroll through each individual player to learn about them all.

ChromecastCloud TV BoxPlayOn | Playstation | TVersity | WD TV Live | XBox

This article used to contain reviews of the following products but they have been discontinued or bought by another company.

  • Boxee Box
  • Google Nexus Player
  • Google TV

Chromecast Review


View at Best Buy

Chromecast is popular due to its price of only $35 and the fact that it is compatible with many devices. The Chromecast dongle plugs right into the HDMI port on your television set. Users like being able to use their smartphone, tablet, or computer as a remote for their Chromecast dongle and they can stream video from any of them and still use other apps on that device.

Chromecast can stream movies, TV shows, music, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, HBO Go, Google Play, Pandora, and other web content via Chrome from the Cloud. All you need is a television with an HDMI port. The Chromecast Ultra is also available for $69, it is designed for 4K TVs.



  • Inexpensive
  • Works on Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, and Android
  • Chrome browser mirroring is simple and effective
  • Available in 3 different colors
  • Only supports a limited number of apps
  • Few options for sports streaming


  • Chromecast – $35
  • Chromecast Ultra – $69.99

Cloud TV Box Review

Cloud TV BoxVisit Website

Cloud TV Box, previously Smart TV Box, has just about everything you could want. So why didn’t it rank in our top 3? We had never heard of this product until one of our readers pointed it out to us. After so many years, it worries us that Cloud TV Box hasn’t made a name for itself in this category yet. So we question whether all the features work or not.



  • Most features you want are available
  • Not a lot of information from customers online about them
  • An outdated looking site so they don’t seem up to date on things
  • Website lacks some information about the product

PlayOn Review

PlayOn InterfaceVisit Website

The PlayOn service is unique to this review. PlayOn doesn’t actually offer a physical media player; in other words, you’ll need to download, install and run the software on a PC with a Windows operating system. The advantage of PlayOn is that you can stream content from network channels, including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, TBS, The CW, CNN, MTV, HGTV, the Food Network, ESPN3 (which includes live sports and replays of just about everything ESPN covers) and more.

There are “plug-ins” for television stations available (made by third-party developers) that give you access to the Internet feeds various networks provide on your PC. These feeds are accessible through PlayOn, and typically not the media players listed above (i.e. content is blocked).



  • PlayOn is very well supported – there are constant updates
  • Network channel access (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, TBS, The CW, CNN, MTV, HGTV, ESPN3, the Food Network, and more)
  • Supports Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, Wii, Chromecast, Moxi HD DVR, NETGEAR Digital Entertainer Live, and Roku
  • support (for Time Warner customers, this is a huge plus, since the Xbox 360 functionality is not yet working)
  • The software is somewhat buggy, some channels work, others do not
  • Getting your firewall configured to let PlayOn through can be a daunting task


  • $2.50/month
  • $59.99 one time

Playstation 4 Review

PS4View on Amazon

Like TVersity and PlayOn, the Playstation 4 is not a traditional streaming media player, but it serves many of the same functions. The most popular streaming video services are fully integrated with this console gaming system. They also include fully functional Blu-ray players.

The PS4 lack support for most audio services (no Pandora or Spotify) but it does stream audio directly from your PC. It comes at a much higher price point than the other devices on this list, but if you have an interest in gaming, the PS4 could certainly fill your streaming media needs and help consolidate boxes.


TVersity Review

Visit Website

The TVersity service is similar to PlayOn, without much of the “plug-n-play” functionality. From what we can tell, TVersity is not quite as mature as PlayOn at this time. It offers similar capabilities to stream video and audio locally and from the Internet, with the notable absence of a streamlined user interface, plug-ins, apps, and Netflix support.

WD TV Live Review

WD TV Live streaming media player and remoteView on Amazon

We should point out the differences between the WD TV Live (which replaced the Live Plus) and the WD TV Play. The main difference at this time appears to be that the WD TV Live supports a broader range of multimedia formats (including MPEG). WD TV is produced by Western Digital.



  • Small set-top box that supports more audio and video formats than just about any other streaming device at this time
  • Large number of inputs and outputs
  • Netflix – you can now search and modify your queue
  • Doesn’t have as many widgets (apps) or “plug-in” functionality as other media players
  • We’ve received reports that the unit loads somewhat slowly and the menu isn’t as efficient or easy to use as other players


Xbox One Review

Xbox One in box View on Amazon

You can stream music, pictures and video with your XBox One connected to your home network. Xbox One has Hulu Plus, Netflix, Crackle, HBO Go and many other apps. However, to take advantage of these things you must have the Xbox Live Gold membership, which adds on to the costs.


Which Do You Think Is The Best Streaming Device?

We should point out that we are more or less at the beginning of the streaming media devices revolution. That means they’ll likely be more supported (i.e. a solid sports offering) and offer more features (more shows, more movies, etc.) in the years to come.

That being said, we’re miles from where we were last year, and there are some solid offerings on the market that had enough features to make it a no-brainer for us to cut the cord on our cable subscription and save $80/month in the process.

With all the developments happening in the “streaming content” world (that has cable TV companies scared silly), it will be interesting to see what contracts/relationships/developments come out of the streaming media player revolution over the next few years.

You can also read all about media streaming players, how they work, pros and cons, and how to get up and running with an antenna and digital tuner (to view and record live TV), in our media player FAQ.

What’s your favorite digital media player?

About The Author:

Alex holds BS degrees in Management Science from the University of California at San Diego, and Computer Science from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is honored to share his nearly two decades of experience in home security and automation, cybersecurity and identity theft protection with our readers.

He realized it was time for a home security system when his neighbor’s house got broken into. He has tried to stay ahead of the curve by proactively applying security technologies and software that protect not only his home and family but his personal identity, sensitive information and finances.

In his spare time, Alex enjoys playing tennis, going on hikes with his wife and dogs and surfing.

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

Disclaimer: This website contains reviews, opinions and information regarding products and services manufactured or provided by third parties. We are not responsible in any way for such products and services, and nothing contained here should be construed as a guarantee of the functionality, utility, safety or reliability of any product or services reviewed or discussed. Please follow the directions provided by the manufacturer or service provider when using any product or service reviewed or discussed on this website.

Leave a Reply

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Eve Hunt
The streaming service itself is garbage; way way too many ads, some repeated twice in a row (yes!). The app is terrible; Chromecast support is flaky, the progress indicator doesn’t work, etc
Victoria Tegg
Netflix to me is one of the most interesting innovations in the last few years, particularly their online streaming capabilities. It developed a whole new market which allowed movies and television to be seen through the same thing. Also content is readily available as soon as you log in. It has definitely changed the television and movie industry and other companies have responded like Amazon for example.
Mary B
This comparTive review has come out before the new app Firestruck containing the TMC plus the Criterion Collection of film. As of early 2017, it is only available on Apple. Being a film afficianado, for this reason alone, I prefer Apple TV version 4 over Roku version 3. I have both and have found more sophisticated apps for major news stations with less advertising on Apple TV generation 4. I am also finding less spooling on Apple TV than on Roku. As mentioned in the article, Apple TV zapper is easy to charge and really works well mirroring from an ipad. I cannot compare it with the later versions of Roku but do like that my local classical station, KDFC and the USC music station KUSC have their own apps for classical music. The Roku 3 shows advertising on the app home page. Overall, the latest version of Apple TV wins hands down over ROKU v.3 with so many commercials. Perhaps, the later ROKU versions are better and ROKU will definitely be better when it gets the Filmstruck app.
Both of the cons for Fire TV are incorrect.

“Voice search is additional cost to include – remote only works on Amazon content”
The voice search does work with other content. It had been planned from the beginning and while it took a while, that’s really the fault of the app developers and not Amazon. I do get that it still is a factor, regardless of who is at fault but I really don’t think it’s fair to qualify it as a con to say that it can only play Amazon content (even if that were the case, which it isn’t) when there is only one other out of the 9 reviews that even has that capability at all and you don’t list it as a con for any of them. Also the voice search isn’t really an extra cost. It’s not like you are paying for voice search, you just have to buy a version with the voice remote. If you don’t think you are going to use it, which I almost never do you can save some money and get the cheaper version. I suppose that point is a matter of perspective.

“No web browser capabilities”
There is a web browser, you just have to download it. And for those saying that it isn’t natively installed so it doesn’t count, well, neither are many of the apps in that feature matrix.

The real con for most is that if you aren’t invested in the Amazon ecosystem, it’s less useful without the built in access to Prime video, photo and video sharing. The same goes for Apple.

Kimberly Alt (Admin)
Thank you so much for this information! We are actually in the middle of updating this article, so we will be sure to fact check all of this information. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.
Great article Alex. For those who live outside US like me, you can access Netflix, Hulu and similar media stations on your Apple TV by using UnoTelly or similar tools.
Kimberly Alt (Admin)
Thanks for the tip Kendra!
Alan Wade
I used PurevPN on my Google TV.
Still new, all I have to say is Midnight Box plus XBMC. Everything is free, just pay internet. If you’re still going to pay monthly fees for anything other than Internet it defeats the purpose of the box.
Kimberly Alt (Admin)
I’ve never heard of this device. What types of media does it stream? Does it stream current episodes of shows and newer movies? Thanks for brining this to our attention!
Isn’t it amazing to look at the number of entertainment options we have in today’s world? I can’t even imagine a time when there were only 3 or 4 channels to choose from. I even hate to think back to when I only had basic cable. Lately, I have highly considered dropping our satellite connection and opting for a service that still allows me to watch my favorite shows. In my opinion, I feel like I’m overpaying for satellite service because there are less than 10 channels that I watch on a daily basis. It would certainly be nice to cut the cost because our satellite bill is over $110 a month.

Still, I’m very reluctant to give up our TV service. There are so many companies that don’t offer the latest episodes for a few days, or even weeks, after they air. If there is something you really want to see, this can be frustrating. It would nice to access all my favorite shows whenever I wanted, but I also love having the TV on in the background while I work and don’t want to fool with having to find something else to watch any time a program ended.

There are so many great options when it comes to home entertainment. In our home we used to use Netflix, Blockbuster@Home, and Amazon to watch movies and TV shows any time we wanted. We are also considered adding Roku to our entertainment center, but haven’t quite decided if we are going to or not yet. It’s amazing how many services you can use through the Roku. It is just hard to decide between all of the options that are available. It is just difficult to make a choice because you really need to know that you want and what is available. The great thing is that if a services does not have something you want right now, the competition is to stiff that chances are it will eventually be available or there is something similar. With that said, this is an excellent resource for someone to use who needs this type of device. Everything they need to know is right here, which eliminates hours of research.

So, raise your hand if you never thought you would see the day that you were looking for a digital receiver that included an app to make it easier to find what you were looking for on television. I know I am showing my age, but I can’t possibly be the only person who grew up without a remote, or even knowing what a remote was for a significant amount of years. My, how times have changed in my own lifetime!

I admit this is a better way to go. We get more options now than we ever did and we can do more with our televisions than I ever thought I was going to be able to do. For me, it’s a perk for sure. Now I am just having a hard time narrowing down my options so I can get the digital receiver that works best for me.

We have a television that has some apps on it and I just love it. But, I do not want to buy a new television for every room. I would prefer to get one of these programs to hook up to the other televisions so I can go in any room and have what I want as entertainment within easy reach. I love the way they are compared here because I can just kind of check off the ones I don’t want and narrow my list down in a hurry.

I am really thinking hard about getting Google TV. I like to streamline things as much as I can and since I use Google for just about everything else, I may as well use it for TV too. I think this would be an advantage for me in the future as well since Google seems to want a piece of every market and are likely to be about as streamlined as they can possibly get. I think we already witness that through things like Google play.

Right now, I don’t pay for any kind of television service or have anything hooked up. I have been waiting to do that after I do my research and find exactly the right system for me and my family. Articles like this make my job so much easier because I get to compare different companies and options. For instance, I want Google TV, but I have a blu-ray player so I don’t need to add the extra expense of that onto my budget.

It seems like this would be a fairly reasonable move for me to make, at least before winter so I can have something to watch during the winter months. Thanks for the details!

Before I read this article I did not even know there was a Google TV. I went and checked it out and found that you could buy a tv through them. I didn’t know that either. We have enough tvs in this house that you kind of have to be strategic about how you hook things up. For instance, I made sure my son had a tv in his room because I don’t want to be looking at videos games every other time I walk into my living room. Because of the gaming system he has, he can do just about anything he needs to on his tv, so he doesn’t need any additional hookups in there. I don’t watch a lot of tv and if I did, it would be in the living room. But sometimes in the course of doing my work I actually need to be able to watch tv. Since I don’t like to work in the living room, what we have in there is of very little help to me.

The Google tv setup is pretty much what I need. It offer the aps that I would use for work and it seems like it’s pretty close to having another computer, except you don’t have the hard drive. There are many times when I could get my work done faster if I had something like that.

I’m afraid I don’t really understand what this is about. I currently have an XBox 360 that allows my son to watch Netflix in his room. My Vizio television is connected to my wireless system and comes with its own Netflix and Pandora apps. I don’t know that this would be any more beneficial than either of those devices. The Vizio TV has the capability to use Hulu as well. I’m pretty sure that the XBox 360 also allows access to Hulu. We just don’t use it because I don’t want to pay for multiple services.

I’m not certain I’m understanding the whole concept here. Is this media box supposed to help you get local channels as well or something? If it does help with local channels, that would be great because I can’t get one single channel with my antenna. Otherwise, is there anything this device provides that I can’t get by using the XBox 360 or the Vizio TV…or even on my computer?

And if you can get all these things on your computer or other device you already own why would you not jut hook that up to your television and have it done with? Admittedly, having your laptop hooked to your television might not be ideal, but buying a whole new device..especially at these prices, seems kind of an extreme step for entertainment. Then again there are those who pay hundreds for cable tv.

a web rocker
The huge error in your review is that Apple TV will not play 1080p. It will only play 720p (30fps). Otherwise I would have purchased one. You can checkout the Apple Specs for details.

If you have been on the market looking for one of the new digital media receivers, then this article will be of great benefit to you. The author of this piece has taken a lot of time to compile a number of useful facts about each of the major players in this space. So whether or not you have already had some experience with one of these models or are just interested in looking at them more generally, this will definitely be worth your time.

The first thing to notice is the sheer volume of information. There are at least three different comparison charts, including supported services, accessories and technical specs. Where you start is totally up to you. My recommendation is to start with the charts. This way you will have a good overview of what each service offers and what they can and cannot do. Actually, I would suggest making a list of all the common features and services and then focus on the individual differences.

From this point, dive right into the in-depth reviews written about each company. Here you will find a list of pros and cons as well.

A digital media receiver is basically a way for you to take much more control over your TV and media viewing experience. These contraptions are basically little boxes that fit on top of your TV and allow you to stream TV shows and movies directly to your set or other type of receiver. Depending on which service you have chosen, you may be able to find quite a wide variety of programming to view according to your schedule.

Most of the time, these receivers will not allow access to live television programming. The items you will be able to view and stream have all been prerecorded. This will allow you to really decide what you want to watch, and when.

Why does all of this matter? As the article points out, we are just at the beginning of the digital media revolution. As time goes on, these services are only going to get better and offer more and more programming and possibly even greater ability to control you viewing options. The author also includes some very helpful comparison tables and charts.

Do you guys have any reviews/ opinions on Aereo Internet television? They support the major network channels in 22 states and work on your PC, tablets, iPhone, Apple TV and Roku.

I liked the fact that this article is more than simply a review and certainly much more than the typical internet thinly disguised sales pitches for a certain company or product. Instead, the author took a look at many of the top digital media receivers and actually broke down their features, pros and cons. In fact, for people who might be new to this subject (or just starting out in their own research) there is even a lot of helpful introductory information.

For me, it was also very helpful to take a look at each of the included charts. The supported media services chart really gives a good overview of what types of things each service will support and allow you to watch or to do. This is more of an overall view, which should be consulted before getting more in depth. The accessories chart was also very helpful. After seeing what each company and service offers, it was also nice to understand what additional functions or abilities could be added on. Finally, jumping into the reviews really shows the pluses and minuses about each service.

Hi! Thank you so much for this article I feel so much more informed now. I don’t know much about this media but I’m poor and looking for a way to save some cash and this sounds like a winner. I have a couple questions that I hope you can answer…

In order to have streaming tv on each tv set would I have to have one of these boxes for each one? If I don’t does that mean that a person would have to watch the same channel that someone in another room was watching?

Would I have to buy hulu plus for each box if I had to have boxes for each tv? It could get pretty expensive if you had to buy hulu plus for each box and then playon for each box too…in the end I would think you would be spending more money in the long run.

Also, is it best to have broadband/cable internet or would it work just as well with like at&t’s dsl service.

I think that’s all my questions for now…it’s late or early depending on how you look at it and my brain is fuzzier than normal…lol Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my questions.


a web rocker
Yes, you would have to have a different box for each TV, but when you’re cutting back or cutting out cable, the upfront cost outweighs the long term, bloated cable bills. At the very least, it should help you cut out premium channels and packages that you aren’t using. At the best, you’ll be amazed at how much you can watch without cable at all, making the move away from cable easy.

You will need high speed internet to have any streaming work well. Look for an online speed test to see how fast your internet service is if you want exact numbers. Generally speaking though, you should be able to get a feel for how well streaming boxes will work if you’re already able to use Netflix and similar services without any issues. I personally favor DSL over cable for internet service, since cable connections are sometimes slowed down if you live in an area or building that uses the same service to connect.

The limits you’ll run into with multiple users on streaming devices can be complicated by a couple of things. Some services (Netflix, etc) limit the number of devices that can access their content at once. So even if your internet is lightning fast, you might not be able to play it on unlimited TVs, phones, and tablets at the same time. It varies by company though, so look up each service’s limits. Depending on how speedy your internet service is, you may or may not be able to do several heavy duty things at once. For example if I’m playing graphics-heavy game that connects to an online server to play with other people, I may not be able to play a movie at the same time. This can vary by what you’re doing (gaming, multiple movie/TV streams, etc) and where (one person on a PC and another on a stream box etc), but don’t let that scare you off.

If you’re looking to cut back on cable these streaming boxes can make a really huge difference. If you’re a cable junkie that likes to constantly surf, maybe not so much, since none of them fully replace live-streaming TV. I’m in the habit of being choosy about what I watch and I don’t mind waiting a day or more to see shows, so this kind of thing already fits my lifestyle perfectly. Since you said you’re new to this stuff, I’m going to suggest that you try out a Roku 2. Of all of the devices, it is the easiest to set up by far, the user interface (how you get to content) is clean and simple, and the remote is as straight forward as it gets. I’ve gifted them (the XD) twice now to non-geeks and they jumped right into using the Roku 2 without a hitch.

To help you sort this out more, look for an eBook called Cut the Cord: All You Need to Know to Cut Cable. It’s written in fairly plain language and will help you understand how this all works and make the choices to suit your lifestyle. Even though I knew a lot of what’s in the book, it’s great having all the info in one easy-to-read place.

I have been wondering about these things. I mean I could not figure out if they could replace my cable service. I mean I know that everyone has cable for different reasons, so whether or not the can replace someone else’s cable might not be a good indicator of whether they can replace mine.

After reading through your article a bit, I do find that I don’t watch a whole lot of live TV. But without cable commercials, how would you know which new shows you want to watch? I guess a site like Hulu might keep you up to date on what’s popular. I’m actually not that familiar with Hulu so I think I need to check that site out before I make my final decisions.

I don’t think I can make it without my sitcoms though I love movies and stuff, I can’t just be entertained my movies only. I need comedy and even (I hate to admit it) reality TV. There, I said it. It’s a guilty pleasure and I’m not ashamed anymore. I know it’s fake, but gosh darn some of it is just so funny. Some of it is a bit low brow, I get that, but I like to laugh and be mindlessly entertained.

I think there are more options out there beside Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Google Chromecast, when it comes to home entertainment. For instance, I know one brand that makes awesome Smart TV Box that offers what all 4 being compared here can do and going beyond. It has the same price point of $99 or can go even less. It has the capability to browse web, streaming video, music, and video chat with distance family or friends in the comfort of your living room. It has the capability to let you expand the storage space by connecting to an external hard drive or via Micro SD card or hooking up any wireless remote, keyboard, mouse, or web cam via USB ports.

Kimberly Alt (Admin)
Hi Benny, thanks for reading and commenting with this information. We know this is a very large, expanding category and it’s helpful when readers like you bring new products to our attention. We are continuously updating this list, however, none of the products we have reviewed have beaten out our top 3 winners. We will review Smart TV Box in our next update and if it beats out one of our top 3 we will be happy to move them to the top. Thank you again for being knowledgeable in this category so we can update it for our audience.


Greg Granville
The chart that shows which “channels” each media streamer can get doesn’t quite tell the whole story. The set top boxes all have limitations with respect to what content they can access relative to what you can get for free with a real PC web browser.

PlayOn breaks down this barrier. The best example is Hulu (free) vs. Hulu Plus (subscription). To my knowledge, no set top box can stream Hulu natively. Hulu has an enormous library of content – all free. With PlayOn and almost any DLNA device, you can access it and a lot of other FREE content that is normally off-limits to set top boxes.

With the exception of iTunes, I believe that you can view just about any content via PlayOn that you can view with the other boxes. The chart should have a check-mark next to Pandora, Crackle, etc

But it’s not a player – you still need a set top box.

I use an older Zinwell based media player which has no native support for any “channels”, but it does support PnP/DLNA. It is based on a Mediatek chipset, which handles 1080p beautifully. That can’t be said of some of these newer devices.

PlayOn and any almost any cheap DLNA/PnP compatible unit will get you a ton of FREE programming. That’s what I was after when looking to “cut the cable”.

I just got an OUYA for watching media on. It’s based on Android so lots of stuff that works on a phone/tablet will work on it…but then you also get to play games. It’s only $99 too.

Michelle Schenker (Admin)
Thanks Bogdan – we will consider adding OUYA in our next update!

Scott R
After much deliberation, I decided that the Roku 3 was the best fit for me. Once it arrived, I spend way too much time trying to get it connected to my network. Technical support told me that it was probably too far away from my router, but that seemed unrealistic because I am actively online with my laptop in the same room. So I took the Roku and tried to get it to connect right next to my router, still no luck. I bought via Amazon, so it was free to exchange. The new Roku arrive and I had the same exact problems! I’m thinking that Roku just doesn’t play well with my router (Ubee).

So I decided that AppleTV was the next best setup for me and I’m very happy with it. The controls will be very familiar to Apple users and its ability to sync up with the movies on my iTunes account is very cool. Netflix and Hulu work great, but my only complaint is the lack of support for Amazon Instant Video (although I hear they are working on it).

So I want out of cable. I have narrowed my choice to a boxee or a google tv because of the web browser and the keyboard, but my question is are any of these units upgrade-able as far as the flash player and new formats that the videos will be streamed on? Or every other year when web sites have a new better way of streaming their content, do we have to buy the latest new device to accomplish this? Anyone have any thoughts? Thanks!

Mario Preciado
I asked Roku about it and they said they haven’t had it for at least a year and no it is not available. I admire, the info in your blog and have it as a favorite post.

The comments are a “don’t miss info also”. Thank you, for all.

If you ask me, my number One: Is Google TV because it has youtube, and ability to the computer on the same hook-up or so I think. Roku 3, you have to have a wired path besides WI-FI.

I’m looking into “Plex” and Roku what’s that about, something that I would not have had any idea before your article, thanks…

The cable companies, (Comcast) will up the internet connection “$77 if you don’t have TV cable, so better check ATT first and see if it works well for you before buying into the sell pitch of “300 mbps wide band”. Now I have to go back to ATT and check and see their DSL and see if I get any freeze ups, because I didn’t know that comcast wanted $77 for internet alone, look out “cable guys” know what’s going on better than us who work, care for families, etc…Besides they are monopolies or in partnerships…after your family dollars for sure, be careful…

Doug in Georgia
Youtube must have sued Roku to stop the Youtube channel on Roku. I have had Roku for about 4 years now and I must be grandfathered in because I have the Youtube Channel on Roku but my friend that are newer Roku users are not allowed to load the channel. As for your “so better check ATT first and see if it works well for you before buying into the sell pitch of “300 mbps wide band” comment…….. you are correct. Depending on where you live….. I am getting AT&T 12 mbps service for $30/month (as of June 2013) and it is just fine for three Roku boxes and about 8 other wireless devices in the house and all being used at the same time. I picked Roku over Apple mainly because there is more available, and also I am not blinded by the Apple hype. Apple seems to be more concerned with blocking competitors that service their customers… ie blocking Amazon and Pandora….. why?

The claim that Netflix can’t be searched or the queue modified on the WD TV is dead wrong. In fact, a “Search” button is the first thing you see at the top of the screen when you enter Netflix. You can search for titles, actors, even directors. Makes me think the reviewer relied on second hand information, rather than actually using the device.

WD TV has the best file support in the industry, and can play virtually any video and audio file available, from Flash to FLAC. It can also view photos in high-res TIFF, for those who shot photos in professional RAW format.

The review also claims the WD TV can’t do DLNA. Wrong yet again.

Truthfully now… you reviewers, you didn’t even try the WD TV, did you?

Michelle Schenker (Admin)
Thank you for your input and assistance. You are correct. We had the facts right in one place but screwed it up in the other… We had Netflix checked as WD TV Live Plus supported programming in our chart and mentioned it as a pro in the paragraph write up but had it incorrectly classified in the pros and cons list. This has been updated. Also, the check was missing for the DLNA support but has been added today.

Thank you again for your help, Michelle @ Safe Smart Living

We have been on the market for this for some time now as I am done and tired with Time Warner Cable. We are also trying to save money on cable bills and like the fact that there are so many options now for digital TV and watching on demand what you want versus paying for a bunch of garbage you don’t need or care for. I have only heard of Apple TV and Google TV and had no clue there were so many other options out there, so this helps us do a lot of the leg work in researching options as far as which route to go. Would love other people’s feedback/opinion on what they have and what has worked well (or not well) for them. Thanks!

I personally have the Apple TV in one room and a Roku box in another. I love the interface of Apple TV, but I’m probably biased because I pretty much only use Mac products. For media that I have on iTunes, the Apple TV is flawless. It also does a great job with Netflix and Hulu Plus. I don’t have any complaints about the Roku, it streams really well, but just without the local content.

Download the Plex app for Roku and run the Plex Media Server on a PC on the same network. Voila! Local content (flawlessly) on the Roku.

Need PC up all the time. network drive is not enough.

Comparison Chart is quite different from what I know.

For example, Boxee Box supports PANDORA and Apple TV Support NETFLIX

Digital media receivers are one of the coolest new trends in entertainment. Basically, these are relatively small boxes that sit on top of your TV and allow a user to stream all sorts of movies, TV shows, sports and other types of programming right to your TV. Different service providers allow for different options, like being able to pull programming off the internet or your computer.

This article provides a number of different reviews about the top providers. Each of these reviews is pretty in depth and highlights both the good and bad features of particular services. This also includes how they work, prices and even how to get them connected and working. I also found the comparison charts to be very helpful and are a good place to start, especially for someone who already has a basic idea and understanding of the types of features and services they are looking for.

There is also a very important caution given. User should consider the fact that some providers are blocking certain (or all) digital media receivers from accessing their programs.

a tablet user
Would be much easier to read this page without the “share” buttons floating over the page.

a web rocker
I’ve managed to connect my Apple-TV through my DD-WRT router using the VPN service. Now I am able to stream content through Hulu in the USA as well as content in the UK.

a web rocker
The fact that the Roku has as many inputs as it does, coupled with 1080p support and official Hulu Plus support (although some shows are marked “web only” – bummer!) makes purchasing the Roku XDS a no brainer for me!!

a web rocker
Great! I know this is a huge advantage if you want to share photo slide shows, home videos, etc. from various PC’s and gadgets in your household on your television set or projector.

It’s not that I’m a huge Apple fan, but I feel like the Apple TV interface simply can’t be beat. Have I tried the competing products? No. Do I need to? No. Is Apple still #1? You betcha!

Couldn’t agree more! Apple is still and will continue to be the best damn product around!

Woah – I totally didn’t realize this, but you can get college hoops, at least March Madness, on demand from! That means it’s not only legit, but should reliably work. At this time I think there’s only live games. Here’s the link: March Madness on Demand.

OMG !!! Your article and comparison chart LEFT OUT the most important thing about these boxes, and that would be an included MEDIA BROWSER to surf the WHOLE web!!! And I see the only one that has it is the Google TV, to surf the Internet on an HDTV big screen TV sold me as to which one to choose.

Both are having heavy competition through the technology development. Your chart explains everything clearly. I thought that this is getting some wonderful market.

As much as I hear that people won’t buy it just because it won’t support Hulu, I can’t help but think that all the features you get with the Logitech Revue outweigh the cons of the device. I can surf the web while I am watching TV, program my 722k DVR with it as well. On another note, because I have an account with DISH Network (who also happens to be my employer), I didn’t have to pay the full $299 for the Logitech Revue, I only had to pay $179. With the money I saved, I bought the Logitech Webcam so that I can talk to my family who lives in Missouri, all while I am sitting on my couch. As much as I would want Hulu support on my Logitech, I really don’t mind that it isn’t on there because I have so many other great features that it doesn’t hinder the experience!

It would be nice if you could add which of these work with a VPN – lots of us use our media boxes outside the US and it can be a pain to setup… Wild Media server is the best I have found for streaming US shows/Hulu/Netflix to my WD HDTV Live…

You missed a big player in this new market, Orb Networks with their Orb TV. They support Hulu, all of it, not just Hulu Plus!

a web rocker
I believe the Boxee Box does support Netflix now. (At least it said so on their web site.)

a web rocker
I enjoyed your post on Roku. I use it to save money on cable TV. My only beef in the past was when I would forget my remote control.

A tip for all Roku owners: if you have a smartphone (iPhone for example), download the Roku remote app right away. You’ll need to sync it up one time with your Roku, and then it will always work as a remote. Perfect backup in case you go on a trip with your Roku (like I just did) and forget your remote. Also, if you ever lose your remote, you’ll have a free replacement (Roku remote’s are expensive!), and will be able to use your Roku right away (it won’t work without the Roku remote).

Some good friends of mine recently experienced an accident that erased all the shows on their DVR without any potential for getting them back. This made me think about what I would do if ever faced with such a problem.

As this article pointed out, many of the media receivers today actually use cloud and other secure storage options. This way you are sure that all of your data and stored programming is completely safe.

Another very important consideration when choosing a media receiver is the picture quality. The gold standard for the industry is currently 1080p, which is simply a measure of quality and clarity. I was actually surprised to discover that Apple TV does not support this option in their latest generation of receivers. Google TV did offer the option of 1080p upscaling which is not quite top of the line picture quality, but it may be a good compromise.

The final factor that I would personally consider when choosing between all of these TV options is what programming was available. Understandably, this is a very personal decision, but I want to make sure I can see at least some of my favorite shows.

a web rocker
AppleTV 3rd generation does allow 1080p.

I really like how this article points out that you can spot different deals and discounts for various TV services. Of course, you still need to pay attention and make sure that you understand exactly what you are getting.

Articles like this can really help out when you want a new media receiver. By pointing out both the pros and cons between services such as Apple TV, Google TV, Boxee (and others), it gives the potential customer a lot of helpful information upon which to base an informed decision. I also appreciate the chance of finding articles and predictions about the future of these individual companies and the industry as a whole.

The author also mentions another great source of information to help with your decision making process. These are press releases. The company may even reveal new upcoming services, technologies or changes to existing plans (so you may even be one of the first to hear about a great deal!). Of course, you can then take all of this information and use it to help in your own personal decision making process.

I find this development in technology very intriguing. It is, of course, all based around the advancements in widely-available internet speeds and the functionality of streaming video that has been embraced by the open market. I have never worked with any of these media devices listed in the article, but I think my Xbox 360 is very similar in its offering as a media device. It is constantly connected to the internet and although it is primarily known as a video gaming device, it has far more functionality that that and aims to be the central entertainment portal for everyone’s home.

When people think of Xbox, they of course think of video games and they would be absolutely right. It is still on the leading edge of gaming technology along with the Sony Playstation 3. However, momentum is gaining on the multimedia offering that the console has as well.

Initially, I was able to download a Netflix application that allowed me to stream movies from the internet to my Xbox and ultimately to my high definition television set. This was amazing to me and the thrill of having thousands of movies at my fingertips for far less than I had to spend for normal television was significant.

I still have the Netflix service and I do enjoy it, but the offering of multimedia content that I can obtain through my Xbox 360 has grown exponentially. I now have access to the television service Hulu, several pay-per-view movie services, and the even cable television on-demand offerings. It is all streaming to my Microsoft Xbox device and costs me mostly just the price of an internet connection. The content variety really is impressive but there is some overlap of the services in terms of what content they offer. I find some of the same things on Netflix that I do Hulu and vice versa. This lessens the value I find in the services, but I am sure that these things will find some kind of balance in the future.

That is kind of how I feel about the Xbox 360 in general. It, and the Sony Playstation 3 that offers many similar services, are on the brink of being replaced by the next generation of gaming consoles. It may be a year or two away, but the two of them have been the most current for going on six years now and that is a lifetime in technology terms. The next generation will likely take all the lessons Microsoft and Sony (some real heavy hitters) learned from these generations of consoles, and make them even better.

It is an exciting time in entertainment technology and one thing is certain; Americans will spend their dollars on entertainment no matter what the state of the economy. They may make their decisions on how to entertain themselves differently, but overall they will still fork over the cash to take a break from life for a while. It may be the last industrial frontier.

Roku rocks and so does Hulu! I quit cable three years ago and have not looked back even once. I am saving money and able to watch what I want when I want without being harrassed by DirectTV, Time Warner and the other overchargers of media in today’s world!

a web rocker
Huh? Digital media receivers, huh? Good grief! I never heard of these things. Though you explained everything really well in this article, and I completely understand your explanations, I still feel lost. There is so much random, new technology out there; I do not really know what to look at anymore. I am dizzy after this article. I mean I heard of iPhones, iPads, smartphones, Androids and so many other things, tablets, eReaders and the list goes on and on, but to actually stumble on an article about something I have never, ever, ever heard of? It just makes me feel sleepy. I mean these things make sense, and under normal circumstances, I would actually be excited to see one and use one, but I think this article was the end for me. There are just too many devices now. I cannot keep up. There are a few things I want to get to enhance my life still like an eReader, Smartphone and maybe a tablet, I am not sure yet, and actually, I am going to look further into these things you introduced me to in your article as alternatives to my expensive cable service, but I just cannot get excited anymore about technology. I am grateful for it, but I have reached excitement overload. I am done. New things are great and I look forward to them, but right now, I feel like I am in a fog. In addition, to add insult to injury, this article is almost a year old. Lol, that is unbelievable that I have never even heard of these things. Oh, well, at least they might be useful to me, and I am grateful for your article and blog for exposing me to that.

The chart that you have on this article is great, thank you. It really helps me compare for best pricing. I think that these things can give me what I get from cable, so that is great, but I wish there was some way to replace the cable company when it comes to my web or internet service. It is like the cable or satellite companies are your only options when it comes to web, or maybe that whole 3G, 4G thing is an alternative. I really have not had time to look all of that up either. I understand that these are the networks that your digital devices use to get you online when you are in transit, so it only makes sense that you can use them at home. I know if anybody is reading this, they are probably really laughing at how behind I am technologically, but it does take a lot to keep up with all of the new things that come out, and this is a virtually impossible thing to do if you have other responsibilities like family, work and trying to grow a small business. You only have just enough time to research the things that you need.

Ben Linus
This one of the best comparison of media streamers I have looked at. I liked it so much I placed a link to it on our news page @

Excellent work!!

a web rocker
Thank you for the super thorough review! I especially enjoyed the “Media Streaming Services” comparison chart as we are avid Hulu Plus subscribers, it’s imperative we have Hulu on our device. I had no idea that the GoogleTV and even the Boxee Box did NOT have Hulu Plus! So we went with the Roku and love it. Even grandma loves it we bought it for xmas for her. Thanks so much for the valuable info and research/work. Merry Xmas!

Guys, before you cancel your cable bill – Time Warner only allows access to for cable subscribers. I realize it’s an Internet service, but we cancelled our cable and are now unable to get access to Huge bummer!!

I’m looking into either signing up for TWC again at the lowest level, or possibly switching to AT&T DSL (which includes I believe).

Follow-up: is working now with only Time Warner Internet and Phone (No cable subscription necessary). So it looks like Time Warner will be keeping my business for now.

How did I get it to work? Simply browse to and sign in with your ESPN account. At one point I had to select Time Warner as my provider, and tried to login to My Services, but it didn’t work. I also got a message saying my package wasn’t subscribed to this service, which is what initially led me to believe I needed cable to get

Then, however, I re-opened in another browser window, and I was able to sign in and watch without selecting my ISP (in the top right corner it has a “powered by Time Warner Cable” logo). I’m literally watching a sport replay right now, and the video quality is great 🙂