Roku and Friends: Can You Cut the Cable?
The Roku family of streaming media players has become the go-to product for those who want to drop cable TV and rely on Internet video sources like Netflix, Hulu and Youtube for their entertainment needs. But it's not the ONLY choice... check out these seven Roku alternatives that can bring movies, TV shows and Internet content to your HDTV...
Alternatives to Roku
With over 750 channels available, third-party apps that enable access to more, and innovative features like the headphone jack built into the Roku 3’s remote control, this product dominates the field. If you're not familiar with Roku or streaming media players, see my article Can Roku Replace Cable TV Service? for some background info.
But there are alternatives to the Roku box, and some of them offer features that Roku lacks. Here are some of the “other” streaming media players available on the market:
Apple TV is the $99 box most often compared to Roku. Classic Apple design includes a minimalist footprint sometimes described as “hockey puck-like,” a single HDMI port, and no legacy analog ports. An internal power supply eliminates wall-wart hassles and gives the device some weight so the power cord won’t pull it off the shelf. It streams audio or video content directly from an iPhone, iPad, Wi-Fi-connected computer, or your iTunes library. In addition, it supports Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Pandora, Spotify, and Rdio.
Netgear’s NeoTV family of “boxes that hook up with your TV” includes the original NeoTV Streaming Player (with Pro and Max variations, up to $70); NeoTV Prime with Google TV capabilities (up to $10 for voice search and Web browsing on the big screen); and the Push2TV Wireless Display Adapter (up to $80) that puts on the big screen what was designed for little screens, like a Commodore 64 used to do.
Of course, you could have all three boxes’ capabilities in one box for one competitive price but consumers like the illusion of frugality. Why buy features if you don’t yet know how to use them or what they’re good for, right? What product differentiation really does is allow a seller to charge significantly more for “premium” features that cost virtually nothing to add to a deliberately crippled product arbitrarily defined as the baseline.
The Asus CUBE seems to get the highest marks for implementing Google TV in a streaming media box. Santa brought me one, and I heard through the grapevine that it cost only $60, after the $40 rebate. The promise of Google TV is unified search, meaning that it'll find what you want to watch with one search, whether it's on TV, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Google Play or other video sources. You can use the full keyboard on the back of the remote, or use the voice search feature. (See my related article What is Google TV?)
I've been trying it out, and so far I'm not sold on keeping it. The setup instructions were a bit spotty, and I'm not sure if a non-techie would have slogged through it all. The voice search didn't work at all until I did a software update, and it keeps dropping the wifi connection for some reason. Netflix sometimes fails to load. By contrast, my Roku never fails to connect to Wifi, and I've never had a problem watching Netflix or other content.
But the Roku doesn't implement any of the coolness of Google TV, and I really like the CUBE concept. Choices, choices...
Sony’s NSZ-GA8 Internet Player with Google TV makes YouTube easier to watch on TV; seriously, that’s one of its principle selling points. The price was recently lowered from $200 to $130, coincidentally.
Panasonic offers two DMP model Digital Media Players only $10 apart in price. You may as well buy the fully equipped DMP-MST60 with built-in WiFi, Web browsing on TV, and streaming from Android devices. (The DMP-MS10 model garners only a one-star rating on Panasonic's own website!) Note, however, both products say “only a few left in stock,” suggesting that the DMP line is a failure or Panasonic is trying to con you into a hasty purchasing decision.
The D-Link Movie Night Player (DSM-310) is a simple $35 box that delivers 1080p HD-quality video from Netflix, VUDU, Hulu, and other streaming video sources, plus Pandora Internet radio and all of YouTube. There's also a Movie-Nite Plus (DSM-312) model which retails for $99, but can be found online for half that price. Aside from the "Plus" added to the name, D-Link's website makes no effort to differentiate the two products.
Even drive maker Western Digital jumped on the streaming appliance bandwagon. Now its WD TV Play Media Player is in Best Buy’s clearance sale and Amazon is offering it for $40 instead of the MSRP of $80. The device has 4.5 stars but it doesn’t seem to have caught the public’s imagination.
So there are alternatives to Roku; they’re just not Roku so most of them aren’t selling well. Have you tried any of these streaming media players? Does the variety of content make it possible for you to drop your cable TV subscription?
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 8 Jan 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Roku and Friends: Can You Cut the Cable? (Posted: 8 Jan 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved