Device Comparison: Apple TV vs. Roku vs. WD TV Live Plus vs. Sony SMP-N100

Devices

[Updated Sept. 4th 20102:Check out my new review at: “Roku 2 vs. Apple TV: How To Chose The Right $99 Streamer“]

There’s a lot of streaming devices in the market today and even though there are big differences between them, lots of folks are quick to compare them to one another or use Apple TV in the same sentence as Google TV. But the truth is, you can’t compare an Apple TV to a Sony Google TV or a Boxee to a Roku. Just because a device is broadband enabled and supports the streaming of videos, does not mean it’s going after the same type of customer or has the same functionality. Many of these boxes are trying to fill very different voids in the industry and targeting different types of consumers.

For all the devices currently in the market today, there are four that should be compared to one another based on their functionality and cost. These would be Apple TV, Roku XDS, Western Digital’s WD TV Live Plus and Sony’s SMP-N100. There are other groups of devices that can be compared to one another, like Boxee and Western Digital’s WD TV Live Hub, but they should not be compared to the $99 boxes mentioned above. Last month I held a special device demo event in NYC where I showed off more than a dozen boxes in action and went through the pros and cons of each. Here are some highlights from that presentation and my take on which of these four boxes has the best chance at surviving in the long run.

Apple TV
– Retail price: $99
– Number sold as of December 2010: 1M (source: Apple)
– Released September 2010 (2nd generation)

Hardware Specs:
– HDMI, optical audio, ethernet, WiFi (802.11a/b/g/n)
– supports video playback up to 720p only
– no hard drive, no support for 1080p, no support for older TVs, no support via USB
– supports .m4v, .mp4, and .mov
– not DLNA compliant

Software and Content:
– setup is very simple, interface is smooth, clean and polished
– Netflix, YouTube and $0.99 rentals for TV shows from ABC, Disney, Fox, and the BBC
– $2.99 rentals for SD movies, $3.99 rentals for HD movies
– 24 hours to watch movie rentals, 48 hours to watch TV shows once you begin viewing
– no open SDK, no app store, closed iTunes system
– Airplay allows wireless streaming from computer to TV
– does not support video shot with the iPhone

Of the four devices, Apple clearly has the biggest advantage and opportunity in the market thanks to the sheer size of their brand and the volume of other Apple devices they sell each quarter. Apple has a huge ecosystem across iPad and iPhones that they can tie into their Apple TV, but that by itself won’t make them successful. While many are quick to point out how well designed the Apple TV is, the fact remains that today, the content available on the device is limited. Apple TV doesn’t support Hulu Plus, MLB, NHL, Amazon Video On Demand and other content supported by some of their competitors.

Of the four devices, Apple TV is the only one that doesn’t support 1080p and while some will argue that no one can tell the quality difference between video at 720p and 1080p, or that no one is streaming in 1080p anyway, those are poor arguments. 1080p is the future and consumers should not have to buy another device two years from now when 1080p streaming is more mainstream.

One of the big features of the Apple TV that many think could be a game-changer is Airplay. The technology allows a user to start watching a video on their Mac, iPhone, iPod or iPad and then continue watching it on their TV. While Airplay looks promising, it not a game changer and only works within the Apple ecosystem. Airplay is also limited in that you can move content from iOS devices to Apple TV, but you can’t move content from Apple TV back to iOS devices. Airplay looks like interesting technology, especially for streaming music, but for video, it’s not going to be the reason most folks buy the device even if it lets you stream your content wirelessly from your computer to your TV. For some, Airplay may be the one feature they want, but it’s not something most users even know about.

With Apple TV, I suspect that many of their sales of the device are impulse buys and tied to someone being in an Apple store purchasing another product and throwing down an extra hundred bucks to give it a try. There’s nothing wrong with that, the device looks nice and is cheap, but those kinds of purchases are not as a result of someone trying to change the way they currently consume content.

I like Apple devices, in fact I’ve never even used a PC before and I currently own two MacBooks, three iPods, an iPad, an Apple TV, and two of Apple’s wireless routers. But that said, there is no way I would recommend buying an Apple TV to anyone until Apple makes some major improvements to the functionality of the device, adds more in the way of content choices and offers an app store for the TV.

Roku
– Retail price: $59 (HD model), $69 (XD model), $99 (XDS model)
– Netgear OEM Model: $89 (XD model)
– Number sold to date: Expect to reach 1M by end of 2010 (source: Roku)
– Released May 2008 (1st generation), Netgear model Oct. 2010

Hardware Specs:
– HDMI, optical audio, ethernet, component, composite, USB, WiFi (802.11b/g/n)
– supports video playback up to 1080p
– no hard drive, supports playback of local media via USB port
– supports .mp4, and .mov (more format support on the way)
– DLNA compliant

Software and Content:
– setup is very simple, but user interface not as polished as others
– Netflix, MLB, NHL, UFC, Hulu Plus, Amazon Video On Demand
– open SDK, more than 100 content channels
– company moving to OEM and platform licensing model
– no easy way to stream content from PC to TV

Roku has the best lineup of content available today and is typically the first box on the market to get new content choices, like Hulu Plus. The company continues to be very quick and nimble in the market and continues to roll out upgraded versions of their player, with more functionality, at a lower price. Roku’s support for content played back locally via USB is not as robust as the WD TV Live Plus or more expensive devices on the market which are trying to act as a local network storage device. That said, Roku will announce more format support shortly and improve on the local playback experience from both USB devices and the PC.

Roku does not currently allow you to stream content from your computer to your TV the way Apple does with Airplay and that’s the only disadvantage I see to the Roku device today. That said, Roku is moving beyond the business of selling boxes and is moving to more of a platform licensing model. Roku’s goal is to get their platform embedded into third party boxes and TV sets and they recently did a deal with NETGEAR for a OEM version of their Roku player. This now enables Roku’s boxes to show up on store shelves, where in the past they were only available to purchase online. Competing in the consumer electronics market requires a lot of capital and that’s one big advantage Apple has over Roku.

Western Digital WD TV Live Plus
– Retail price: $99
– Number sold to date: No data released, I estimate less than 2M
– Released Nov. 2008 (WD TV Live), May 2010 (WD TV Live Plus)

Hardware Specs:
– HDMI, ethernet, optical audio, composite, component, two USB ports
– no built in WiFi, requires adapter
– supports video playback up to 1080p
– no hard drive, supports playback of local media via USB port
– supports .mp4, .mov, .wmv, .asf, .iso, .vob, .m2ts, .avi, .mpg, .mpeg, .mkv
– DLNA compliant

Software and Content:
– setup is very easy, interface is simple
– Netflix, Blockbuster, YouTube
– open SDK, apps built in Adobe Flash Lite
– can stream locally from a PC, but is only Windows 7 compatible

Western Digital has a nice product out on the market with the WD TV Live Plus box, but the fact it does not come with WiFi support built-in will really keep a lot of people from choosing it over competitors. Like the Apple TV, Western Digital needs to get more content on the box and they also need to do a better job of marketing the device. Almost no one I know, outside of the tech community, ever mentions the WD TV Live Plus box and you don’t see it mentioned much when you see people writing about the Apple TV or the Roku. In my opinion, Western Digital could help fix this by re-branding and renaming all of their boxes as the naming convention now of WD TV Live, WD TV Live Plus, WD TV Live Hub and WD TV Mini aren’t very catchy or consumer friendly.

The big thing the WD TV Live Plus has going for it is the support for a broad range of formats and two USB ports, although chances are that one port will be taken up by many users with a WiFi adapter. Aside from the format support, the WD TV Live Plus really has no other advantages over many of the other boxes on the market unless you are a Windows 7 user.

Sony SMP-N100
– Retail price: $119
– Number sold to date: No data available
– Released August 2010

Hardware Specs:
– HDMI, optical audio, ethernet, component, composite, USB, WiFi (802.11n)
– supports video playback up to 1080p
– no hard drive, supports playback of local media via USB port
– supports .avc, .mkv, .DivX, .mpeg, .wmv, .wma
– DLNA compliant

Software and Content:
– setup is clunky and interface needs a lot of work
– uses a stripped down version of the PS3 interface
– Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, Hulu Plus and Sony’s Qriocity movie service

While Sony’s SMP-N100 has some real potential, Sony needs to re-name the device. I have not run across a single person who knows what the SMP-100 is when you tell them the name. Initially I heard the device referred to as the Sony Netbox, but that seems to be a nickname given to it by members of the media as I’ve never actually heard Sony use that name themselves. It’s a good name though and something Sony needs to seriously consider.

Aside from the poor name, the SMP-N100 has some nice features going for it but it needs a lot of work when it comes to the setup and interface. Initial setup skips the networking function completely and while it has built in support for WiFi, that’s not part of the initial setup at all. The Netflix app is not as well developed on the SMP-N100 as it is on other devices and navigating to all of the video services is not smooth. The device does support a lot of video formats and allows you to stream content from a USB drive or your PC which are the devices real strength, but really does not have many advantages over Roku or the WD TV Live Plus. It’s also the largest box of the four, about four times the size of the Apple TV.

Conclusion: So which box comes out on top? For my personal usage, the Roku box is the clear winner of the four as it has the most content choices. But it all depends on exactly what you want to do with your content and how you want to stream it. In the long run, I think Apple and Western Digital have the best shot at selling the most devices in the market, simply due to the fact they are big companies who can spend a lot of money on marketing. It took Roku 3 years to sell 1M boxes, but only took Apple 4 months to sell the same. But that’s not because Apple has the better device.

While many are quick to declare one company the winner, you can’t. The race for control of the connected living room has only just started and no one will be crowned the winner for many years to come. As an industry, I think we also tend to forget that consumers have different viewing habits and preferences and multiple devices can and will be needed in the market. There can be more than one winner in the future and in any industry, there are usually 2-3 companies that share the majority of the market share.

In the long run, the device that should make the most impact is the broadband enabled TV set, but that’s many years away. And that will only be successful if we get past all of the TV platform fragmentation issues that will surely cripple adoption for the next few years. In the mean time, the current crop of stand alone devices in the market are providing a really exciting glimpse at what the future holds for the consumer streaming industry and even more devices are on the way.

If you have any questions on these or other devices in the market, put it in the comments section and I will try and answer it. At last count, I have 24 streaming enabled devices at home, so if you want me to test something for you I can.

I’m giving away a NETGEAR Roku NTV250 player to one lucky reader of my blog so go here if you want to enter the free drawing and go here if you want to enter to win a Boxee Box by D-Link.

  • http://www.marcuswickes.com Marcus Wickes

    Excellent timing on this post. I have been researching these boxes for a couple weeks. Great info here. I had never heard of the Sony. Does it do anything my PS3 cant do?

  • Matt Larson

    I’m really looking forward to Apple including third-party Air Play streaming in the next version iOS 4.3 (if they actually do include it, that is.)
    PBS came out with a new app for iPhone this week that provides access to a ton of full-episode streaming video from their website. It would be fantastic to be able to push that to the TV using airplay. Having an iPhone/iPod/iPad in your hand removes the headache of trying to navigate menus on the Apple TV with the stand alone remote. Maybe we don’t need apps on the Apple TV afterall, they can just live on your other Apple device!
    As you said, it’s the way the Apple ecosystem works together that has always–and will continue–to make their products tough to beat.
    If AirPlay does become a back door to your big screen, it’ll be interesting to see how this technology impacts the rest of the streaming industry. For example, if I can access Frontline via AirPlay for free from PBS, that means I don’t have to pay $3 at iTunes Music Store. Or if NBC.com is serving up “The Office” via an App, maybe I make less trips to hulu?
    Dan, what do you think the chances are of AirPlay being licensed out to TV manufacturers like they are starting to do with audio receivers? It would be interesting to see an iTunes Music store app alongside a Netflix app on a Samsung TV!

  • http://www.businessofvideo.com Dan Rayburn

    Hi Matt, licensing AirPlay is exactly what I think Apple needs to do, but I don’t think they will. I wrote a whole post on that recently:
    If Apple Licensed iTunes For Non-Apple Devices, They Could Own The Living Room
    http://blog.streamingmedia.com/the_business_of_online_vi/2010/09/if-apple-licensed-itunes-for-non-apple-devices-they-could-own-the-living-room.html

  • Steve

    Actually Roku can stream media from you computer with a third party channel, install the software and just type the channel code in on your Roku account page. This device being modifiable and so open is what made my choice in the end.

  • Chris Baunach

    It would be useful if you could also include your thoughts on the included remote controls.
    I just bought the Roku XD over the HD mainly because the remote looked like it had more options.
    I am super please; we’re tired of watching TV on the laptop!

  • Doug Hilmes

    Dan,
    Great article. Thanks. One of the key things I like about the Roku is their App Store and the growing number of applications that are appearing. By providing an open SDK, they are pushing the frontier of TV.
    Apple’s lack of an App Store and SDK for Apple TV is interesting. They are certainly the 800 lb gorilla in the App Store arena and an Apple TV SDK supported by their App Store would be a game changer.

  • Dan

    WD TV Live plus doesn’t seem to install well for a large percentage of consumers (as best as I can tell). I can use Netflix, Youtube without issue. However, the “Play To” capability seems to not work. If music is currently within the Itunes library, does this create issues sharing it with media player and WD TV live? Also, the WD TV box goes mute atleast once a day and needs to be rebooted.
    Any sense of quality differences between WD and Apple?
    Thanks

  • http://profile.typepad.com/kwillis11 Kevin Willis

    This article is exactly the kind of review I was looking for. I’m still leaning towards the WD unit since it will continue to be value added once I’m forced into buying a non-tube TV and my new set has the Roku functionality built in.

  • doug roseberger

    hi Dan. Not a techie but have admiration for those able to “demystify” with clear unadulterated information some of the media steaming devices that are available to those of us who who are trying to move away from coaxial cables and the companies they are attached to. I have been leaning heavily toward Roku since starting my investigation of internet streaming but I’m wondering if waiting 3 or perhaps 6 months would be of any benefit as advances in technology seem relentless? Thanks.

  • http://MatthewWorley.com Matt Worley

    Nice comparison, thanks for all the info. I am partial to the Roku, for the price and what you can do with it, it’s awesome. I wrote some posts on my experience with the Roku on my blog. Also, for the low end Roku you can stream content off your PC with Roksbox, it’s pretty easy to set up if you follow the instructions. It’s a great device for those of you looking to cut the cable and save some money.

  • Fred

    We want to get streaming realtime NBC, CBS, ABC, Foodnetwork programs, BBC, and all the other content that you have mentioned.
    The issue is, we want what we want, when we want it and DO NOT WANT TO PAY CABLE MONTHLY PRICES.
    Is this what we are talking about here?
    Fred

  • R Johnson

    Good Day! Of all the boxes you have worked with, are there any that stream digital images from folders on the PC? I have an old Apple TV and the techs at Apple have been unable to make it work correctly, even the paid techs! So, I am looking for a new box that will wirelessly stream any file folder I want to the TV in another room, away from PC. ( Not line of sight)
    Ideas?

  • Scott

    Dan, enjoyed your article and found it very useful. The biggest thing I want to do is stream 1080i video from my MacPro’s iTunes library to my TV. I took a gamble and bought both an AppleTV and a WDTV Live Plus, and neither has given me any real satisfaction, just as your article warns. Is there anything out there that you think I can use today, or should I just connect by DVI for now and wait for next generation boxes? You have a couple commenters that suggest that the Roku might do the job. But I’m through throwing money at hunches. I need to know that someone has really made it work. Thanks, Scott

  • Ian

    Good day. I’m just getting into this area of streaming and wonder if I need an ‘N’ router with High Speed ‘Lite cable and if I need to go one speed up.
    I’m thinking of the Roku over the Apple TV, my consideration was that I wanted the ability or choice to buy and rent current movies. I’ve had it with cable!!
    Which contect is largest and best? Amazon TV or itunes?
    Thanks.
    Ian

  • Heather

    Thanks for the great review of these products. The one thing I’m finding lacking in all reviews however, is how Roku vs. AppleTV, et.al, compare when it comes to customer service and technical support. The functions, features, prices, and content (not to mention endless discourse about design) of the various devices/boxes seems crystal clear to me, but I’ve read absolutely HORRIBLE reviews elsewhere about Roku’s customer service and technical support, even tales of people not being refunded by Roku for faulty products. This is a dealbreaker if you ask me…but I wonder what you have to say about it.
    In any case, i haven’t seen this particular area covered in any reviews and would love to read an evaluation.
    thanks!

  • http://www.BusinessOfVideo.com Dan Rayburn

    Hi Heather, actually, Roku has some of the best warranty service around from what other customers have told me.

  • jay

    I have used all of them, just buy a Roku it is an Android of live TV boxes, lot of channel options and also video rental options. I have a Google TV on my Sony LED TV but still nothing close to what Roku offers.

  • Angela

    Thanks for the great info. Are any of these devices compatible with the 5Ghz WiFi channels? I am unable to do much on the 2.4Ghz channels as there are over 50 wireless networks in my area that all share the 11 2.4Ghz channels making streaming impossible.

  • Streaming Noob

    Found a couple diffeciancies with the SMP-N100
    1) In order to connect to a WiFi network, the WAP must broadcast it’s SSID. Mine if off as part of my security, and the SMP-N100 would not connect, not even when I configured it manually.
    2) Netflix Streaming does not support Dolby Digital Plus on this device. Contacted both Sony and Netflix, and each blames the other for lack of support. Netflix mentioned Apple TV, WD Live TV Live Plus, and Sony PS3, as devices that support DD+. ROKU doesn’t either. (ROKU also blamed Netflix for lack of support)

  • Michael

    Nice comparisons,
    Now Ive got an idea as to what I want.
    Thanks

  • Judith

    My son coaches an independent baseball team and I watch the games through ustream.com on my computer. Would one of these devices allow me to watch the games on my TV?

  • Roy Guenther

    The Roku sounds like what I want…..BUT I can’t find it in Canada…Does it work here?
    Ican buy it on line.

  • http://www.thinking-expedition.com Durwin Sharp

    I’m a late arrival for streaming video and appreciate the thoughtful and comprehensive assessments in this review. I have a fairly narrow set of requirements (that’s both good and bad) since I have an older TV and am not willing to put up with Wii, PsP, XBox, BluRay player converters, or wait for streaming enabled TVs. So that basically leaves me with Roku or WD. I can’t suffer the Apple straitjacket and certainly need to deal with video that Apple rejects.
    I’ve had an interesting history with Netflix, which is the primary impetus for my investigation in this area. As a long-term BlockBuster customer, I’ve become somewhat disappointed [understatement] with their service delivery and their “new and improved” business models. But this has an interesting twist considering Netflix’s response to my queries.
    With some dissatisfaction with Blockbuster last year, I signed up for a 1-month free “DVD by mail” trial with Netflix to compare to my existing Blockbuster account. I actually received one of the DVDs that I requested, but the others were “out of inventory”. So I “rented” one DVD from Netflix and discovered that their archives were as weak as Blockbusters. So I cancelled the “trial”.
    Fast forward to today where Blockbuster is announcing really crazy new plans and seems to be in denial about their bankruptcy.
    So I call Netflix to inquire about their streaming video option.
    I have a delightful conversation with a lady that already has Roku installed and is delighted with the performance/interface. (OK, she installed it before Roku began insisting on credit card information to sign up.)
    I thanked her for her information, indicated that I might want to apply for a new trial, and went to their exit survey. ONE QUESTION!!! The exit survey was “are you satisfied or not” – how impressive is that considering that some folks presume to consume you for many questions on a scale from 1-5 on all sorts of “interactive” dimensions.
    I was so impressed with their exit survey that I called back, intending to sign up for a trial just because their business model seemed really great. OOPS… Now I got referred to the anal police and was informed that since I had actually used one DVD in my “trial” membership 8 months ago, i was no longer eligible for a trial of their streaming video service (for which I was going to have to spend $100 for a Roku or equivalent device just to test).
    Holey Guano Batman – I can’t believe how badly I was whipsawed by Netflix. I am willing to consider that it may have been just an exceptionally anal supervisor/manager that declined my renewal request, but someone ought to be policing the customer service attitude of these front line folks.
    At least for now, Netflix has dropped off my radar. Good business model, not so great customer service model – at least in my experience.
    Having said that, everything I have read about Roku suggests one needs to beware about counting on their customer service. I may try it to see for myself, but the reviews are not good in the extreme.

  • http://www.thinking-expedition.com Durwin Sharp

    UPDATE:
    Called Netflix customer service again and explained the situation (as noted above) and this contact representative said that the last rep was misinformed – my trial was restarted and I’m now a happy “trial” Netflix user. It just demonstrates how critical the front-line folks are in dealing with customers. “Supervisors” are sometimes so controlling that they destroy business.

  • Sergey Chooh

    It is mentioned that WD Live has open SDK. I can’t find it. Google says nothing useful.

  • Brent

    If you are looking for a device just for streaming movies over wireless network from your movie collection saved on a hard drive to your TV would any of these units be better then any of the Popcorn Hour units?

  • Nick A

    Just finished building a new house. Have all new (spring ’11) Sony Bravia TV’s. they come with access to Hulu, Pandora, Netflix, they can store photos. I’m no techy but I had originally spec’d. Apple TV into the media system (we have 2 MacBook Pro’s, 2 i touch’s and an iPhone) on the recommendation of one of the techs who didn’t win the installation job. With all the features that the Sony TV offers, so I need an Apple TV/similar type device? Can new versions of the Apple TV accommodate 1080p now? Thanks
    Nick

  • http://profile.typepad.com/kevinnolan Kevin Nolan

    I’m looking for a media player to play my movies on my network drive. As far as the above media players, the WD TV Live Plus seems to have the greatest number of formats. I may eventually subscribe to pay services such as Netflix or get more into the other online streaming features. I have ethernet wiring so the lack of built-in wifi is not a concern. Plus, I can easily find a WD TV Live Plus online for $70. What are your experiences with the WD TV Live Plus (setup, customer service, etc)?

  • Yassin

    hey there,
    very helpful review
    I’ve been confused for a while trying to choose the best device. and now I’m either gonna go with the Sony or the WD
    but I have a couple of questions:
    1. which one do u think I should get considering that the main or almost the only thing that I will be using it for is streaming movies and episodes from my PC wirelessly?
    2. if I went with the WD live plus with a usb wireless adapter would it be able to stream like 720p or 1080p from my pc wirelessly with no lag? and if so how fast should I get the usb adapter?
    thank u

  • Jenn

    great article. thanks for this. I’m thinking of getting a Roku, but I have a friend who has a BluRay player that has Netflix, Amazon, etc streaming. He loves it. Do you know how BluRay device content capabilities compare to Roku?
    Thanks!

  • Terry

    Has anyone found an external HDD to work with the Sony box other than USB sticks? Other than that, I like it.

  • Phil Landry

    too bad you weren’t giving away a Roku

  • Tom

    What a great read, and a pretty rich discussion in the comments. I would like to offer something, and hopefully get the manufacturers interested in including storage on their devices. I think that my current setup is perfect – but not on your list. And to be fair, I’m not sure that modifying a box is a solution to compare with the others. As background, however, consider that I have broadband and use an iMac as the main family PC. So, we’re deep into the iStuff for photos, music, video, etc. Given that, I think that the best solution I’ve seen so far is the first generation Apple TV – with Boxee software added on top (mostly for Netflix). The hard drive on the ATVv1 allows us to view slideshows, and play music from our iTunes library without having the PC turned on. I have to say that we really enjoy that mode of operation as a sort of all-day standby for the TV and stereo. Moreover, you can fairly easily take the ATV with you when you visit family or take a vacation and have the photos and music available on the go. The iStuff allows you to develop playlists and slideshows with customized soundtracks that easily and seamlessly play on the ATV. A software app called Handbrake allows you to sync DVDs you might have with the ATV so you watch them them on the go. Other features include wireless+wireline networking, multiple outputs for various TVs and stereos, and an ability to “learn” various remotes other than the little white one from Apple. With all this, I have trouble wanting something new. Now, I wish that these devices had a DVR capability for the things they stream, but that would probably make Hollywood a bit too nervous. 8-) In summary, I think that storage on these class of boxes should be available as an option, and that operating your TV as a huge iPod has some real advantages if you do iPod things anyway.

  • Tom

    Me again. I just wanted to point out that the WD TV Live Hub looks like an example of an offer that’s pretty close to what I was promoting in the last post – except that it’s probably not quite as integrated with iStuff.
    Dan! I’d recommend you review this item, and then let me give it a try! 8-)
    http://www.wdc.com/en/products/products.aspx?id=570

  • maria roquim

    I am also looking for a cheap way to hook up my pc wirelessly to my hd lcd Samsung tv. My tv does not have wifi capability. I was thinking of converting my hdmi to either a usb or whatever would work to be able to attach a wireless adapter.
    But I am not so sure. Do you think that would work.
    If not what could you suggest the best way to do it without costing more than $50.
    Thank you very much.

  • Roaky

    Good roundup, this is a market many people do not know about yet as they are still stuck on dvd/blueray for all of their content. I have a WD TV Live Plus and its format support is great, its subtitle support is subpar and its interface is very buggy (I have to wait several minutes after it starts to connect to the network or load netflix, and always have to click the network icon a few times before it will load). Also I think having no audio adjustment on the device is unacceptable, especially with content on netflix ranging vastly in volume.
    I keep going back to my XBOX original soft-modded with XBMC. It’s user interface, digital audio adjustment, format and subtitle support, and site streaming scripts have spoiled me to such an extent that I want to scream with frustration every time I have to use my WD, and deal with the 1 second delay on every button I press.

  • Lewtwo

    A very interesting read. Howerver I see not clear winners. I can understand Apple 1st generation device not supporting 1080i/p but for the 2nd generation to missing it is just plain missing the mark.
    Ruko would be a winner except that it lacks AirPlay/Video Mirroring or anything similar. So until someone builds a box that incorporate both none of them will be getting a contribution from me.

  • bfedwards

    I have the WD live plus and one it’s advantages is the delayed obsolescence of the unit.
    The quality of the wifi is readily upgraded as it is an add-on. Dual N transmission? DD-WRT software? Not a problem.
    I also wonder how warm the other units become with the wifi enclosed in the unit?
    The unit’s software has been automatically upgraded twice in 9 months with new channels added and patches occurring on each version.
    I would love to see a cordless key board capability thereby allowing me to easily enter my choices. The “Pepper” keyboard may be the solution….

  • jamie

    Hi – Is there any such streaming device which does not require credit card info to use? I only want to use free programming and with the epidemic of identity theft I would prefer to not give any financial info to any of these companies. Thank you.

  • jamie

    aaa

  • 5xwhy

    what about the google tv? how does it compare… i’m leaning toward the wd product because it utilizes so many formats that I need for home movies mpg, avi and most recently hd format from sony camcorder m2ts. plus watching movies from other sources. My internet modem is close to my tv and dish box so I have a cable running from the wireless box to the dish box right now. Dish is pushing google tv, but I’m thinking that the WD product is best for me…

  • TDU

    A few things that I think should be added to the WD Live review. The new one has WiFi now. I have the ATV2 and the WD Live and am deciding which to keep. 2 things that are annoying about the WD Live is it’s built like a toy and has no HDMI cable included. The ATV2 is very well built, and comes with a cable. So when you are comparing the price of the 2 units, the fact that you have to also buy a separate HDMI cable should be considered.

  • Bill

    Hi, Thanks for your comments,today I went to Costco,they sell a blue tooth Sony DVD,featuring streaming to net flix,hulu etc,if I buy this why would I need a Sony,Apple,or ruku??

  • Stephanie

    Thanks for your efforts of research. I didn’t know there were other things out there besides Roku until we came across the Sony option today at a store. It was on sale for $20 cheaper than the $99 Roku model. We LOVE Sony products. However, I’m very confused as to the difference between all these models. After extensive research I did between the Sony and Roku, your comparisons confirmed for me that Roku will still be the better option, even though Sony is a stellar company.

  • Stephanie

    As to the comment above, yes, we were at Costco as well and were lured by the $69 Sony Blu Ray with the streaming ability, but that would put us in the position to have an unwanted player in the house. Also, presuming you can free wi-fi at hotels, could something like the ROKU plug into the hotel TV? It is so tiny, it can be easily portable.

  • C

    Thanks for this extensive review! I think I’m sold on the Roku player for now.

  • MarkL

    Thanks for the reviews. Very informative.
    My son is getting ready to buy a media server and this was useful.
    I have a WD Live Plus and was surprised to realize that I could start up a Pandora audio session, and then start up a Fickr slideshow of the most interesting images of the last seven days. The streams play concurrently very well.
    This has become our primary use case.
    I also understand there is some open source code that runs on the WD that can give it remote control via an Android’s wifi. I see the Roku offers this type of app too.

  • Alex

    This review needs some updating since Apple released the 3rd gen AppleTV with 1080p support and revamped UI. I understand why you wouldn’t put much emphasis on the ATV’s ability to be “jailbroken”, considering its something that only the most tech savvy could do, but I think it’s worth mentioning – especially considering a huge number, if not the majority, of ATV users bought the device specifically for that capability. I just bought a 2nd gen ATV over the 3rd gen solely because it’s easier to jailbreak, and I’m blown away every time I use it by what it’s capable of. I have to keep on reminding myself I only paid $60 (I found an unopened unit for sale on a local online classified) for the ability to have access to every TV show and movie ever made, play every video format under the sun, connect to UpNp servers, etc… A jailbroken AppleTV takes the capabilities of all the competitors, and multiplies that by 1000. It doesn’t simply offer a compliment to cable/satellite programming, it offers a replacement.
    I think it’s kind of ironic that Apple’s offering has such a robust underground community, while GoogleTV has yet to garner enough attention to justify the time and resources required to “open” up the device. It’s typically Google’s Android based devices that lead the way in “modification”, but apparently it’s the exact opposite in the TV world.
    Like I said, there’s a vast online community offering support, guides, tips, and tricks on how to jailbreak an AppleTV and use it once it’s jailbroken, so if you can follow a few simple steps, I can’t recommend the AppleTV highly enough. You’ll wonder how you managed with that archaic cable/satellite service for so long once you get set up and running.

  • mike

    check out Apple Tv vs Roku great deals.

  • Bob

    I live in Canada. I am sick and tired of paying Cable bill every month. I made up my mind to go with either Roku or Boxie Box. I usually watch YOUTUBE, Netflix and Facebook. Which is better? Roku or Boxie Box

  • Brian

    Check out Apple Tv vs Roku 2 lots of information! cheap streaming players.

  • Glen101

    I have a Roku and a WD Live plus with a Windows 7 PC. The Roku is the king of online content. The WD live plus can play anything I download on the PC via the network and shared folders. It also plays on-air shows I record on the PC with Windows media center. Both are priceless in their own way.

  • tomandnaomi

    Dan…what is the skivy on the new Apple TV 1080p?

  • Louis

    This article should be brought up to date….

    I don;t know about the others but we NOW have WD TV SMP….