Guide To Internet TV Boxes
Last updated on 01/18/2013
If you want to bring Internet video to your TV, an Internet TV box is the simplest way to do it. Apple TV, Google TV, Boxee Box and Roku each bring something different to the table. None offer a flawless experience, but depending on your needs and interest, you'll find something here to help streamline the Internet for your living room.
By Liam McCabe
Logitech Revue is the box that accesses the Google TV platform. It’s the first device to try to pull together downloaded content, streaming Web content, and cable or satellite listings into one interface. So if you search for “The Simpsons,” the idea is that it will turn up all the upcoming TV showtimes, anywhere that it’s streaming on the Internet, and any episodes on your hard drive. It sounds great, but it a few hurdles to leap before it becomes a must-buy. The biggest disappointment is that the major TV networks block access to their content -- this is a huge shortcoming. There are also the expected software kinks that come along with any first generation product. In time, Google TV could be great, but it’s probably best to hold off on a purchase at this point, especially considering the bloated $299 price tag.
Pros: Open platform, with Web browser; Unifies Web, cable/satellite, and downloaded content
Cons: Expensive; Some content blocked; First-generation kinks need to be worked out
The second generation of Apple TV arrived in early Fall 2010. Like the iPhone and iPad, it’s basically a portal to an Apple-controlled marketplace. Unlike those mobile gadgets, Apple TV has no storage, no Web browser, and few apps. Basically, this is a $99 box that allows you the privilege of renting -- not buying -- current ABC and Fox shows for $.99 and movies from $2.99 and up, in 720p resolution. It earns a few points for supprting YouTube and Netflix streaming, but it’s one of a few dozen devices that do that. Unless you already have a vast library of content downloaded from iTunes, Apple TV is a tough sell.
Pros: Great interface; Fair price
Cons: Closed system; No storage; Expensive content
The Roku XDS is the best video-streaming box out there. It works with dozens and dozens of streaming services, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, MLB.TV, and Pandora to name a few, though YouTube is strangely absent. The interface is simple, it can pump out a 1080p signal, and at $99, it’s tied with the Apple TV as the cheapest box on the market. Like the Apple TV, there are added costs -- subscriptions to the streaming services, in this case -- but the Roku is a better value than its big-name competitor. While it bests its peers in streaming video, it’s not as eloquent at playing downloading content -- you’ll need to transfer it from a computer using a flash drive.
Pros: Great price; Dozens of streaming options; Very good interface; Physically small
Cons: Not so great at playing downloaded content; Streaming services cost extra
The Boxee Box has been a long time coming, but it’s not the game-changer that Boxee software fanatics had hoped it would be. It still gets a lot right. The user interface is excellent. It plays just about any video codec that you throw at it. It does a reasonably good job of unifying downloaded content and streaming video from the Internet. It doesn’t do such a great job of pulling content from the Internet, as many providers block access from the Boxee Box. There are also a few issues with its physical design: The three-cornered box looks cool, but isn’t ideal for shelving units. The two-sided remote could use a redesign as well -- it’s very easy to accidentally mash buttons on the opposite side of the remote. In short, if you have a large library of downloaded TV shows and movies, the Boxee Box could be great, but you might be better off just downloading Boxee’s free software for your PC and hooking that up to the TV.
Pros: Open platform; Unifies Web and downloaded content; Excellent UI; Plays every video codec
Cons: Cool but impractical design; Lots of content blocked