Friday, April 5, 2013

Big Power in Small Packages, 3 Set Top Boxes Under $100

One of the newest technologies to hit home theaters is also one of the smallest. Tiny set-top boxes from manufacturers such as Apple, Roku and WD are not much larger than a can of SPAM™, yet they pack powerful technologies like 1080HD resolution, 7.1 surround sound, wifi support and other great features that help you enjoy the best in streaming TV. In this post we are going to look at three popular set-top boxes and compare their strengths and weaknesses.

All of these boxes share similar features like 1080HD resolution, wifi connectivity, support for major streaming services like Netflix, and smartphone control in lieu of an included remote.

Image from apple.com
Apple TVApple’s set-top box has all of the user friendliness that you get from your iPhone or iPad. It comes with a user interface and remote control that are easy to learn for everyone from small kids to their grandparents. You can also control the Apple TV box with your smartphone or tablet with a handy app. The other handy feature of the Apple TV is Airplay. This wireless system lets you share music, video and image files  from other Apple devices. For example, you can shoot a video with your iPhone and immediately send it to the Apple TV.  One of the major downsides to the Apple TV is the lack of streaming services such as Hulu Plus and Pandora.

Price - $99.99

Image from wdc.com
WD TV Play – Made by Western Digital, the company that has manufactured computer hard drives for years, the WD TV Play is a fully functional set-top box at a smaller price tag than the other two entries on this list. Its remote also offers direct access to some of the more popular streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Vudu. Another great feature of the WD TV Play is its ability to play music, video and image files from your home network. You can easily watch movies or listen to music stored on your PC or an external hard drive, (one product in this line is the WD TV Live Hub, which has a built-in hard drive for content). The WD TV also reads more video, music and image formats than the competitors, so it eliminates the need to reformat files. The major downside of the WD TV Play box is its video resolution. While it does support 1080HD, the picture tends to look a bit washed out compared to other devices.

Price - $69.99

Image from roku.com
Roku 3 – Roku has been making high quality set-top boxes since 2010, and the Roku 3 is their latest product. This little set-top box has more channels than the other two entries combined. You can find movie and music channels to fit just about any genre and the motion control game remote lets you play popular online games like Angry Birds. The remote also has a convenient headphone jack which allows you to enjoy music or movies privately without wireless headphones. While the Roku does not support as many file formats as the WD TV, it does work directly with Plex, which is an app for your computer that streams any stored content. A built-in USB port also lets you watch .mp4 movies from a flash or external drive. While this is a downside to those who have a home server full of ripped movies, it does offer a workaround, and Roku has been good about providing regular updates to their equipment.

Price - $99.99

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