STREAMING MEDIA PLAYER REVIEWS

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Barb Gonzalez Posted: Aug 29, 2014 Published: Aug 28, 2014 5 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
PRICE $50

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Direct HDMI connection to most TVs
Extensive content options
Suggested videos and apps on home screen
Remote with direct access to Netflix, M-Go, Amazon Instant Video, and Blockbuster

Minus
Music stops when navigating away from channel
Long start-up time
No option to group channels by category

THE VERDICT
The great features of a Roku box in a stick for half the price.

The second Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI version) is a fit-in-your-pocket HDMI dongle that is basically a Roku box on a stick. Where the previous Roku Streaming stick worked only with TVs that have an MHL (Mobile High Definition Link) HDMI port, the new Roku is compatible with most TVs’ standard HDMI connections. As with its predecessors, the Roku HDMI is easy to use and offers more than 1,700 channels (that is, apps). Notably, these now include apps that stream from pretty much any video source you can think of—the usual online streaming services, plus your home network media libraries, or live TV and recorded DVR recorded content using Simple.tv or a Slingplayer channel.

Geoffrey Morrison Posted: Jul 01, 2014 32 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $5,635

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Quietest PC I’ve ever used
Impeccable build quality
High-end A/V gear gorgeous looks
Minus
Incredibly expensive
Still a PC, which scares some people

THE VERDICT
A stunningly silent, built-like-a-tank, ultimate HTPC.

I am a vocal supporter of the home theater PC, a computer that lives in your home theater or media room. While not for everyone, HTPCs offer an incredible access to content for your enjoyment. This includes games, of course, but also media streaming, Web pages, and personal video/audio libraries. Sure, you can get most of that through other devices, but often not as easily or well.

Barb Gonzalez Posted: Jun 13, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $150

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Adds Google TV apps to a Sony Bravia TV
Compact dongle form factor
Integrates cable/satellite programming with streaming apps
Integrates some apps typically not available on Google TV

Minus
Google TV remote was sometimes unresponsive
Only works with specific 2013 (or newer) Bravia TVs

THE VERDICT
A solid Google TV add-on for owners of compatible Bravia TVs.

When the Sony Bravia Smart Stick was first announced, it was thought to be competition for Google’s Chromecast. But this complete Google TV-on-a-dongle is not for everyone. It is an add-on option for recent Bravia TV owners who want more than the streaming apps available on the Bravia TV platform. The Bravia stick integrates seamlessly with the TV, combining the app menu from the Bravia TV with the Google TV home screen for quick access.
Barb Gonzalez Posted: May 23, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $400

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Offers most major apps
Excellent picture and sound quality
No additional subscriptions required to access streaming services
Netflix Max helps find recommendations geared to your taste
Minus
No remote or QWERTY keyboard outside of game controller
Limited number of apps—no social networks or photo apps
No DLNA or other streaming from home network media libraries

THE VERDICT
Excellent for gaming and on the whole, but not the best choice for streaming alone.

With PlayStation 4, Sony has upped the video game ante with incredible graphics and the ability to share gameplay with the touch of a “share” button on its redesigned game controller. But how is it as a media streamer? I took a look at Sony's latest to check out its entertainment offerings and its ergonomics as an entertainment (non-gaming) device.

Barb Gonzalez Posted: Apr 08, 2014 1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $99

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Effective voice search function
Powerful quad-core processor
ASAP feature loads movies for instant playback
HDMI CEC functionality
Minus
Voice search and watchlists not functional for all services
Limited on-demand video apps

THE VERDICT
Fire TV is a solid performer, but it needs more content and services, and a global search option, to make it a hit.

Amazon surprised the world last week by announcing the details of its new standalone media player, the Amazon Fire TV, on the very same day it was released for sale. Priced at $99, Fire TV is positioned to compete with the top-selling Apple TV and Roku 3 box.

Al Griffin Posted: Mar 21, 2014 2 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $599

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Slick, speedy interface
3-TB hard disk for seemingly limitless recording
TiVo iOS app streams content in or away from home
Minus
Primitive Amazon Instant Video app

THE VERDICT
TiVo’s next-generation DVR makes TV watching a truly connected experience.

Last summer, after a nearly nine-year relationship, I showed my cable company–supplied DVR the door. Our life together had become increasingly untenable. My main gripe was that its limited-capacity hard drive put me in the constant position of having to delete old recordings to make room for new ones. It also had no connection options to link to a wired or wireless home network. These days, any component that can’t link to the Internet and communicate with computers, phones, and tablets is as good as junk. (We’ll give turntables a pass—for now.) Furthermore, my old DVR whirred and wheezed like the geezer it was, often emitting its loudest groans during music-listening sessions where I had no choice but to pull the plug.

Rob Sabin Posted: Jan 14, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $70

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Small, concealable form factor
Easy installation with good documentation
Excellent performance

Minus
May cost as much as a new router

THE VERDICT
There may be other options for improving your Wi-Fi, but the REC10 represents an exceptionally simple and effective path to robust video streaming on SmartTVs and tablets.

With Internet-connected smart TVs flying off the shelves during the holiday season and into Super Bowl Sunday, many consumers may find themselves trying to stream music and video to their new sets from Pandora, Netflix, Amazon VOD, et. al. But relatively few will have a wired ethernet connection near their televisions, and nothing can dumb down a smart TV faster than a weak Wi-Fi signal. Weak Wi-Fi can have immediate and noticeable effects on your audio and video quality. To compound the problem, you may not even know what’s causing them. An inability to connect promptly to your desired services may indicate that your router is too far away. But a laptop in the same room might have no trouble at all loading web pages, and a reasonable person might think the stuttering, buffering, or lack of resolution on your TV screen is a function of heavy Web traffic during peak periods, bad infrastructure at your Internet provider, or a technical failing of the playback device.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Dec 23, 2013 1 comments
Hitting the market this late in the game, Amped Wireless better have something special with their BTSA1 Bluetooth speaker adapter. Yes, like so many other adapters, it lets you to turn any audio playback system into a Bluetooth-enabled system. But the adapter also delivers a few unexpected, and welcome, surprises.

Barb Gonzalez Posted: Oct 03, 2013 1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $70

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Excellent sound and picture quality
Unit powers on whole home theater and switches inputs
Easy direct-access buttons on remote for Netflix, Hulu, Vudu
Minus
No Amazon VOD app
Poorly executed Facebook app

THE VERDICT
As long as it supports all the services you use, you’ll find the WD TV Play will deliver consistently high video and audio quality and a nice user experience at a very good price.

With all the media players available to me, a Western Digital player has always been my go-to streamer. I know the quality will be good and that I can connect it and be ready to go in minutes. The newest model, the WD TV Play, offers the quality and usability of its predecessors at a lower price. Although Western Digital chose the WD TV Play name to distinguish it from earlier models, little else has changed besides the home screen, and perhaps an increase in audio and video performance.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 12, 2013 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price $699

At A Glance
Plus: USB DAC built in • AirPlay, optional Bluetooth
Minus: Small font on display • No headphone output

The Verdict
This is a great-sounding way to add network audio features, especially the crucial USB DAC, to an existing system.

Have you watched in dismay as new features have left your old surround receiver or stereo preamp in the dust? Would you like to hang on to your old buddy but give it a new coat of paint? The Pioneer Elite N-50 bids to do just that, bringing a USB DAC, optional wireless connectivity, and other computer audio-related features into a rack-size component. It brings your existing equipment up to date for the second decade of the 21st century.

Barb Gonzalez Posted: Jul 31, 2013 1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $70 At a Glance: Mirrors or extends PC desktop using WiDi • USB connection and micro SD card slot • DLNA certified for streaming of home media libraries • Flingo App adds dozens of niche video channels

“What’s the best way to connect my PC to my TV?” is a question I am frequently asked. While many TVs have PC connections and many laptops have HDMI outputs, there’s still the issue of controlling the computer while sitting on the couch. The NTV-300SL (aka the NeoTV 300 Max) is a great, relatively inexpensive solution that lets you keep your laptop in your lap.

Barb Gonzalez Posted: Jul 15, 2013 Published: Jan 31, 2014 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $100

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Remote control with headphone jack
Global movie title search
Zippy processor for quick navigation and search
Minus
Can only be connected via HDMI

THE VERDICT
Performance improvements and a new interface make streaming easy and keep Roku ahead of the competition.

Where other companies that make media players seem stuck in endless delays in the release of new models, it seems that Roku rolls out a new option every few months. I’m not complaining. Its newest release, the Roku 3, is my favorite so far. I use a Roku box with my bedroom TV because my tech-challenged partner can easily understand how to navigate its menus. Roku 3 has now added a headphone jack in the remote that mutes the TV when you plug into it. No longer do I have to endure listening to explosions, gunshots, and car-chase scenes while I’m trying to fall asleep. Performance improvements plus a new interface and box design continue to keep Roku ahead of its competition.

Barb Gonzalez Posted: May 02, 2013 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Price: $40 (wireless pocket keyboard additional $40) At a Glance: Android operating system • HDMI Stick connects directly to TV • Potentially unlimited content • Best keyboard/mouse remote available for any media player

Favi’s SmartStick is not, as many call it, a Google TV. Instead, it is a dongle (stick) that connects to an HDMI input on your TV and runs the Android operating system. Typically, smartphones and tablets have Android, but this is the first streaming Android dongle for your TV. And herein lies the problem. While most Android apps made for tablets can be downloaded to the SmartStick, they are not designed for a TV streaming device, and they don’t work when you try to use them.

Barb Gonzalez Posted: Mar 22, 2013 0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Price: $100 At a Glance: Small stick connects directly to HDMI input on TV • Same menus and channels as full-sized Roku Box • No additional power connection; requires MHL-enabled TV

That Roku box is shrinking…again. The Roku Stick looks like a thumb drive and is only about 3 inches long. For the most part, it provides the same experience as the standard Roku boxes—same menus, same performance. But to use one, you’ll need an MHL-enabled TV or other device.

Barb Gonzalez Posted: Mar 08, 2013 1 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $300 At a Glance: Stream 1080p live TV and recordings from your DVR • Complete control of your set-top box from any device • Displays photos and videos from smartphone on TV

While cable and satellite companies often tout their ability to let you start watching a recording in one room and finish it in another, you can forgo the cost of these multiroom systems with a Slingbox. The original TV place-shifter, Slingbox allows you to access your cable or satellite set-top box and all of its content from mobile devices, media players, and computers— from across the house or across the country—by using the SlingPlayer app. Hoping to save some money in box rentals, I was happy to test Sling Media’s first new consumer model in four years, the Slingbox 500 HD. There are a number of ways to watch TV on computers and mobile devices, but Slingbox is unique in providing remote access and control of your set-top box.

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