At A Glance: Rent iTunes movies and TV shows • Stream Netflix content • View pictures galleries on Flickr and MobileMe • Extends Apple ecosystem with AirPlay
Getting content from our computers to the home’s main entertainment hub is like the Holy Grail. Some manufacturers have achieved it for a high price; others have achieved it poorly for a reasonable price. In the Apple ecosystem, Apple TV has allowed simple, inexpensive iTunes integration for years. The original model required you to sync with your computer but, the latest Apple TV (ATV2)—which is less than half the size of its predecessor—only streams content. You can easily stream whatever you have on your computer in the way of movies (created or ripped), photos and music to your A/V system over a wired or wireless network.
At A Glance: Instant streaming • Easy installation and operation • Simple, user-friendly interface • Access to multiple services, paid and free • 1080p/24 compatible
Roku’s players have come a long way since I reviewed the first Roku device in our November 2008 issue. All that player did was stream Netflix movies. You had to go to Netflix.com to queue up your movies before you could stream them from your Roku box to your TV via your wireless network. Since every major Blu-ray player now offers Netflix streaming, Roku had to make its box more competitive, and it did. There are three Roku products; for this review, I’ll focus on the XDS, Roku’s high-end unit at a whopping $100.
Does Google TV’s Android-based media hub deliver as promised?
Both the computer and consumer electronics industries have spent years trying to find the perfect solution for the connected home. Late in 2010, Google jumped into the fray with Google TV. Its purpose is to let you search and watch your pay TV services, schedule TV shows for your DVR, surf the Internet, and play media from a USB hard/flash drive or from networked computers. At the core of both the Logitech Revue and the Sony Internet TV Blu-ray player is Google’s proprietary Android OS running on an Intel Atom processor. Like the Android-based smart phones, Google TV will have its own app store, although it wasn’t open at the time I was reviewing these two early models.
At A Glance: Single-box solution • Easy setup and operation • Perfect for smaller rooms, garage, and outdoors • Integrates with existing Sonos systems • Product now called Play:5
Sonos, a leader in low-cost, wholehouse audio, has made it possible to inexpensively stream audio from a computer to multiple A/V systems using one or more of its ZonePlayers. The $399 Sonos S5, the newest ZonePlayer, is completely self-contained. It incorporates its own power supply, amplification, and internal speakers, which allows audio streaming from a wide variety of sources without a dedicated sound system. It can serve as your main (or only) ZonePlayer or as an extension of an existing Sonos system.
At A Glance: Robust wireless communication between devices • Supports most audio codecs except Apple FairPlay DRM-protected and WMA lossless • Access to numerous online audio-subscription services • ZonePlayers can stream local analog sources to other zonesI’ve often thought it would be nice to have music in multiple rooms of the house; but, as I’ve alluded, my home is not custom install friendly. I decided that a wireless multiroom system would definitely be the best bet. Sonos, a company that focuses exclusively on wireless multiroom audio, has a system that’s designed to do just thatŃand moreŃin up to 32 independent zones without breaking the bank or tearing down any walls. After I read the endearing tag line, “Wireless that works like magic,” I thought, what better time or place could there be to check out Sonos’ latest system incarnation? So I asked Sonos to send out its Bundle 150 two-zone package ($999 ) plus a ZoneBridge and let the fun begin.
Online video delivery is supposed to be the Next Big Thing, leaving physical media in the dust. Among the early content providers in this brave new world is Vudu, which offers one of the best options for renting movies on-demand that I have experienced. The Vudu BX100 plays Internet-delivered movies and TV shows at resolutions up to 1080p. Most similar to Apple TV with respect to features and price, the Vudu has some clear advantages.
Price: $100 At A Glance: Instant streaming • Ultra-simple interface • No additional service charge for Netflix subscribers • Limited choice of available titles • Requires very fast Internet connection for good image quality • No multichannel surround or HD content yet
Netflix on Demand
What could be better than waiting for your next Netflix movie to arrive by snail mail? What if you could receive it on demand, via streaming technology?
Regular readers of Home Theater might know that I also write the “Top 100 DVDs of All Time” article each year, which means that I have at least 8.3-dozen discs at home. And those discs tend to pile up. But how else is a cinephile supposed to build an impressive video library? Kaleidescape is too rich for my blood, DVD jukeboxes are too difficult to manage, and downloading movies to my computer isn’t really a living-room experience. So there’s the Apple TV, which recently began high-def movie rentals, not purchases, from major studios directly to the box. The Xbox 360 also allows paid download-to-own TV shows, some in high def, although all movies are rental only. And then there’s VUDU. The VUDU box is essentially a movie machine, a library on a hard disk drive inside a box. It’s an entertainment portal that sits quietly next to the TV until called into action.
Let's recap: Al Gore created the Internet, and, on the seventh day, he rested. Immediately, entrepreneurs began selling pornography, and the World Wide Web had a purpose. Before long, people started posting videos of their dogs belching the national anthem, and, yet, an entertainment-hungry globe craved more. A bunch of other stuff happened, and now Apple has been selling songs, music videos, TV episodes, and feature-length movies via the iTunes Store,embedded in the free iTunes application for Mac and PC. While digital-rights management protects purchased video and audio (although this may be changing), you can enjoy it at the computer and upload it to various iPod portable devices. Still, a growing contingent yearns to relocate its premium content to the comfort of the living room with due ease and elegance.
Convergence shows many faces to music lovers. If you've got the bucks, you can add a hard-drive-based music server to your system. Or you can pay a custom installer to bring IP-based networking to every room in the house. But if you just want to move music from one PC to one rack, all you need is a simple device and it doesn't have to cost much. One of many possible options is the Roku SoundBridge.
With Omnifi, your MP3s are everywhere you want to be.
Liberating gear such as that manufactured by Omnifi, a division of Rockford Fosgate, compels me to look at where I spend the bulk of my waking hours: at the office, in the home theater, or in the car. As with all great action heroes, my daily adventures are set to music—not a problem when I'm chained to my desk with my entire music library at my disposal on my hard drive. A portable player is one way to transcend the confines of the workspace, and some even arrive bundled with cables to plug into a hi-fi system for all to enjoy, but this is hardly an elegant approach.