Which Streaming Video TV Do You Want from Santa?

December 2010/January 2011

This Christmas season one of the hot items will be gadgets that let you use your TV to take advantage of the bounty of the Internet: on-demand streaming movies and TV shows, music, Flickr photo sharing, YouTube videos, Twitter, podcasts, and much more.

Last month I gave you a general overview, and this month I thought I’d give a summary of some of the set-top boxes and Internet TVs that are available this Christmas season. Keep in mind is that your basic choice is between a Google TV device, which gives you the whole Internet, or the other offerings, which limit you to specific services.

We’ll start with some of the limited devices and then cover Google TV offerings.

Roku set-top box— $59, $79, and $99 — This may be one of the more popular devices, offering Netflix streaming movies and TV, Hulu Plus streaming movies and TV, Amazon movies on demand, Pandora streaming music, Roku Newscaster TV news, major league baseball, Flickr photo sharing, and a number of others. (Note, though, that you have to pay for the individual services such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and MLB.com.)

All three models offer HD quality, and both Ethernet and wireless connections. The two higher priced models have 1080p HD, though currently there’s little 1080p content available. The $79 model has extended range wireless, and the $99 model has dual-band wireless for best quality.

Apple TV set-top box — $99 — Like every other device, you can get Netflix, but Apple TV’s main source of content is the iTunes Store, which offers recent movies for $4.99, older movies for as low as $2.99, and popular TV episodes for $0.99. The iTunes Store also has a ton of free podcasts and vidcasts, including interesting videos from iTunes University. Also available are Internet sites such as YouTube and Flickr. And you can set it up so that it streams content that resides on your computer. In addition to the included remote, software is imminent that will let you use your iPhone or Android phone as a remote.

Boxee Box set-top box — $199 — This is, as far as I know, the only one that offers full 1080p streaming video and surround sound, thanks to a deal Boxee signed with Vudu, which has over 3,400 streaming HD movie rentals available. This may be the best option for high-quality video streaming — nearly matching Blu-ray. Rentals are $4–6 for new releases and $3–5 for older movies. In addition, the Boxee Box lets you access thousands of movies and TV episodes for free. And it lets you stream media from your computer to your TV, as well as media via its USB ports. The remote includes a QWERTY keyboard.

When the first Google TV devices began to appear in October, ABC, CBS, and NBC began blocking them from accessing content on their websites. They want to get paid, even though you can watch the same shows for free on their computer. I think this will change; there’s no way the networks can pass up this audience. And other networks, such as CNN, TBS, TNT, HBO Go, Bravo, Fox, and SyFy, are embracing Internet TV and are creating versions of their website tailored for a large, HD screen.

The software is quite impressive, and puts a web browser on your TV. The devices ship with a remote that has a QWERTY keyboard to facilitate searching. An app marketplace with come online in early 2011, and will eventually bring the same rich variety of content seen on the Android and iPhone platforms.

Logitech Revue — $299 — The Revue connects between your TV and DVR, and has features such as picture-in-picture (for viewing the web and watching TV at the same time). It will also play shared media on networked computers, as well as media from thumb drives via its two USB ports. The QWERTY remote includes a trackpad. It fully integrates the Internet and regular TV, and you control everything via the Google TV main screen.

Sony NSZ-GT1 (Blu-ray player with Google TV) — $399 — This is similar to the Logitech but is also a Blu-ray player. And it gives you access to Sony’s on-demand movie service, as well as customized channels such as of Slacker streaming music, NPR, Wired, and eHow.

Sony Google TVs — prices range from $599 for 24-inch model to $1,399 for 46-inch model — The Google TV software is built right into the TV, so that you don’t need a separate box. It includes dual view so you can surf the Internet and watch TV at the same time.

Santa, I’ll take one of each, please.

This month’s hot tips:

IBM offers a free office suite for Windows users. See what websites know about you at privacycheck.komando.com.

© 2011 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen