What you can watch: None of the Roku systems provides a Web browser or integrates cable or local TV stations. But Roku's real strength is its vast array of online entertainment options, ranging from well-known sources like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Disney, HBO Go and MLB.tv to offbeat channels dedicated to independent films, comics, yoga, cooking videos, fishing, astrology and much, much more. While several of the big-name services are subscription- or fee-based, much of this decidedly mixed bag of content is available for free.
There are also numerous free and paid games to play, and the 2 XS model includes a copy of Angry Birds. The 2 XD and 2 XS also have two USB ports and a microSD card slot for accessing stored content.
Who they're best for: If you're looking for a basic set-top streamer that works with older TVs and offers few bells and whistles but a huge assortment of online entertainment possibilities, one of Roku's four set-top systems can deliver. To get full 1080p HD support and access stored content from a microSD card or USB drive, you'll want the 2 XD or 2 XS model, and for Ethernet connectivity you'll need the 2 XS.
Sony Internet Player with Google TV
Although its asking price has dropped from $200 to $150, Sony's Internet Player with Google TV (model NSZ-GS7) is still one of the most expensive streamers here, but it opens up a world of online content to your television.
Sony's second-generation online TV set-top box is based on the Google TV platform, which aims to roll up the entire universe of TV and online experiences into one ecosystem. Instead of connecting only to your TV, as most of the other set-top streamers do, the Sony Internet Player sits between your TV and one other device: your cable/satellite box, DVR or DVD player.
From a single interface you can watch live TV (network and pay channels), DVDs, shows stored on your DVR and online streaming content. You can also access Android apps and games from the Google Play Store, surf the Web with the Chrome browser and use Google search. As you'd expect from a device that sits at the center rather than the periphery of your entertainment system, Google TV boxes tend to be more complicated to set up than other streamers.
Able to deliver 1920 x 1080 HD programming, the Sony set-top box is an unwieldy 8.0 x 5.1 x 1.3 in., making it harder to hide than the other devices in the roundup.