STREAMING MEDIA PLAYER REVIEWS

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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: 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.

Kim Wilson Posted: Mar 15, 2011 1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $100

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.

Barb Gonzalez Posted: Dec 31, 2012 1 comments
Barb Gonzalez uses and abuses the Smart Hub streaming platform Samsung builds into many of its TVs and Blu-ray players. Just how smart is this hub and is it all that it's cracked up to be?
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.

Kim Wilson Posted: Jan 19, 2011 1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $399

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.

Barb Gonzalez Posted: Oct 26, 2012 1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: $200 At A Glance: Bluetooth and IR universal remote control • Lighted extended keyboard • Access live TV and streaming sources in one place • Global search includes live TV

When I decided to review two Google TV media streamers back to back, I thought there would be little difference between them. After all, Google TVs run on an Android platform, and both the Sony Internet Player with Google TV and Vizio’s Co-Star would have most of the same apps— pre-loaded apps or those available through the Google Play Android Market. I was surprised to find that there was more difference than I had expected. Sony knows home theater, and as with its other media streaming devices, low-quality video appears nicely cleaned up for viewing on a big screen. I’ve been unable to get a straight answer from Sony on what’s under the hood that improves the picture. Still, picture quality of identical content is noticeably better with the NSZ-GS7 than its competition.

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.
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.

John Sciacca Posted: Nov 20, 2012 0 comments

Casa means “home” or “house” in Spanish and Italian. So a casa full of tunes — or housewide audio — is a pretty sweet thing. Of course, housewide audio is nothing new, but accomplishing it in the past has meant a rack full of sources, amplifiers, and control gear, with wiring spider-webbed out to various rooms, control pads, and speakers.

John Sciacca Posted: Jun 05, 2012 0 comments

Elite is Pioneer’s premier home audio line, much like Lexus is to Toyota. That means you can expect better build quality, a longer warranty, step-up features, and premium performance. New to Elite this year are two network audio players, the N-30 and N-50, that stream audio (including high-rez files up to 192-kHz/24-bit) from a computer, play Internet radio, and use Apple’s AirPlay for easy wireless networking with iOS devices. When it comes to basic features, the two are essentially the same. But there are several key performance differences between the players that make it easy to argue the case for the N-50’s $200 price premium.

Michael Berk Posted: Jul 20, 2011 0 comments

Always looking for new ways to make good on their promise to let users stream all the music on earth in any room, Sonos today announces a new player - the Play:3 - and a new naming scheme for their product line.

Leslie Shapiro Posted: Dec 29, 2011 0 comments

As entertainment options become more and more plentiful, so do the variety of ways to access and enjoy them. Even without cable, the possibilities seem practically endless. Could there be one box that takes all these options and makes it simple, easy and fun to access it all?

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.

Barb Gonzalez Posted: Feb 13, 2013 0 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
Price: Included with Toshiba HDTVs At a Glance: Netflix, Vudu, Cinema Now apps stream most available TV shows and movies • Complete Web browser

At first, it seemed like the Toshiba 47L7200U smart TV I sampled to check out its streaming options offered only the bare bones. When I opened the ePortal app home page, there were only the basic media streaming apps like Netflix and Vudu. Unlike Samsung or LG, Toshiba doesn’t have an app store. Also, it can only play a few basic digital file formats. But its Web browser goes beyond the basics.

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