Cut the cord: 13 set-top media streamers

By , Computerworld |  Personal Tech, media streaming

How it connects: TV Live can get you online via Wi-Fi or wired Ethernet, and it works with TVs old (with composite video connectors) and new (with HDMI; cable not included). A bonus is its audio-out connection that can drive a set of digital speakers using the SPDIF optical standard.

What you can watch: Although TV Live doesn't have a Web browser, it can tap into online programming sources like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, and YouTube, some free, some fee- or subscription-based. It can also deliver traditional broadcast TV or unencrypted cable TV with Hauppauge's add-on 950Q USB TV tuner. The tuner, which costs $75, lets you record shows to a USB drive attached to the TV Live box.

Speaking of which, the TV Live device has two USB slots for connecting a memory key, a hard drive or a video camcorder to show your home movies, family photos or digital music archive. You can also stream videos, music and photos from a Windows 8 PC to the box, but note that it doesn't support protected formats such as iTunes music and movies.

Who it's best for: Western Digital's TV Live is for those who want a small, unobtrusive device that offers online programs, live TV (with add-on tuner) and the ability to access content from external storage -- but not Web browsing.

Making a decision

No two people like the same exact mix of TV shows, music and movies -- or desire extras like Web browsing or live TV integration. To decide among set-top streamers, start by asking these questions:

Are there specific sources of online programming -- say, Pandora or Hulu Plus -- that you consider must-haves? Check out our features chart for listings of each streamer's content sources, and do your initial filtering based on that.

Do you have an older TV that requires a composite connector? You'll need to choose from the NeoTV Pro and Max, the four Roku boxes and the WD TV Live.

Do you like having a vast multitude of online entertainment choices, including a variety of offbeat content? One of the four Roku systems should be next to your TV.

Own a lot of iTunes content and/or have an iDevice? Prefer simple controls and streamlined options to a lot of bells and whistles? Apple TV is an excellent fit.

Want to watch local TV channels in the same interface as Internet TV? If you don't care about nosing around the Web, then Boxee TV or WD TV Live (with add-on TV tuner) will do the trick. If you want to use your TV as a Web browser without sacrificing local TV integration, Boxee Box with its add-on tuner fits your profile -- though it'll cost you.

Originally published on Computerworld |  Click here to read the original story.
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