Streaming Device Reviews

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Barb Gonzalez  |  Feb 13, 2013  |  0 comments
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Price: Included with Toshiba HDTVs At a Glance: Netflix, Vudu, Cinema Now apps stream most available TV shows and movies • Complete Web browser

At first, it seemed like the Toshiba 47L7200U smart TV I sampled to check out its streaming options offered only the bare bones. When I opened the ePortal app home page, there were only the basic media streaming apps like Netflix and Vudu. Unlike Samsung or LG, Toshiba doesn’t have an app store. Also, it can only play a few basic digital file formats. But its Web browser goes beyond the basics.

Barb Gonzalez  |  Dec 31, 2012  |  1 comments
Barb Gonzalez uses and abuses the Smart Hub streaming platform Samsung builds into many of its TVs and Blu-ray players. Just how smart is this hub and is it all that it's cracked up to be?
Barb Gonzalez  |  Oct 26, 2012  |  1 comments

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Price: $200 At A Glance: Bluetooth and IR universal remote control • Lighted extended keyboard • Access live TV and streaming sources in one place • Global search includes live TV

When I decided to review two Google TV media streamers back to back, I thought there would be little difference between them. After all, Google TVs run on an Android platform, and both the Sony Internet Player with Google TV and Vizio’s Co-Star would have most of the same apps— pre-loaded apps or those available through the Google Play Android Market. I was surprised to find that there was more difference than I had expected. Sony knows home theater, and as with its other media streaming devices, low-quality video appears nicely cleaned up for viewing on a big screen. I’ve been unable to get a straight answer from Sony on what’s under the hood that improves the picture. Still, picture quality of identical content is noticeably better with the NSZ-GS7 than its competition.

Thomas J. Norton  |  Oct 25, 2012  |  3 comments

802 Diamond Speakers
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W DB1 Subwoofer
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Price: $32,000 At A Glance: Clear, sparkling highs • Tight, extended bass • Broad, deep soundstage • Stunning fit and finish

If you’re unfamiliar with the British speaker company Bowers & Wilkins, perhaps that’s because it’s more commonly known simply as B&W. Founded in the mid-1960s by John Bowers and Roy Wilkins, it’s now one of the most respected loudspeaker manufacturers in the world, with products ranging from budget-priced to Olympic.

The 800 Diamond series is the third generation of Bowers & Wilkins’s most sophisticated range, with iconic looks that date back to the late 1990s. The 802 Diamond is one step down in price from the company’s current flagship, the $24,000/pair 800 Diamond. And while B&W’s lower-priced speakers, like most, are manufactured in China, the 800 is built in the company’s facilities in England.

Barb Gonzalez  |  Oct 19, 2012  |  0 comments
Performance
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Price: $100 At A Glance: Bluetooth-enabled for pairing with remote control and headphones • Access live TV and streaming sources in one place • Global search includes live TV • Universal remote with touchpad mouse and QWERTY keyboard

Two years ago, the initial launch of Google TV on the Sony TV and Logitech Revue media streamers was a real disappointment. I was excited to try out the first of the new generation of Google TV devices, but found them plagued by a preponderance of blocked content and haphazard navigation. Vizio's Co-Star media streamer is among a couple of products (along with Sony’s NSG-GS7) now taking the lead as the Google TV platform inches closer to Google's goal of pulling together content from online, home media libraries, and live TV in a single device.

Barb Gonzalez  |  Aug 30, 2012  |  3 comments

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Price: $180 At A Glance: Includes Web browser • Connect to Slingbox via the Slingbox app • Direct access to movies from the Web, Vudu, or your own digital collection

The Boxee Box is unlike any other media streamer or media player. From its cockeyed box shape that’s missing a corner and its froglike logo, to its menu organization and social video-sharing features, it’s easy to see that Boxee stands out.

Barb Gonzalez  |  Jul 30, 2012  |  3 comments

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Price: $300-$400 At a Glance: Streams from online providers and networked home computers • Kinect voice and gesture command work well • Excellent video and audio quality

Unless you've been living in an isolated compound in Abadabad, Pakistan—and perhaps even if you have—you know that the Microsoft Xbox 360 is a top-ranked video-game console. However, you might not know that it's also a media streamer with access to oodles of online content. In fact, with all the streaming devices, TVs, and connected Blu-ray players I have in my house at any given time, my first go-to player is the Xbox 360. Not only does it have all my favorite streaming services, its Kinect voice and gesture control appeals to my tendency to be lazy.

Barb Gonzalez  |  Jul 12, 2012  |  2 comments
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Price: $99 At A Glance: Great picture and sound quality • Wi-Fi-enabled • Clean, easy-to-use menus • Variety of streaming content services • Quirky difficulties with file indexing

The WD TV Live streaming media player has much in common with its predecessor, the WD TV Live Hub. When the WD TV Live Hub came out, I thought it was the best network media player and streamer on the market. It has a clean menu system; can play movies, music, and photos on my home network, and simply works.

Kim Wilson  |  May 09, 2012  |  3 comments

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Price: $50 At a Glance: Streams a wide variety of content from various paid and free services • Easy setup • Built-in Wi-Fi • Small, compact form factor • Control device with free iPhone or Android app

With so many TVs and BD players offering streaming services these days, I didn’t think there would be a lot of demand for standalone units; yet, they keep coming, presumably for those still watching older equipment without this feature. When evaluating these units, the most important aspects are the services and channels provided, along with the user interface. The actual streaming quality is dependent on your Internet connection (which Netgear suggests should be no less than 3-4 Mbps for 720p, though I’d say 6 Mbps is safe for 1080p).

Barb Gonzalez  |  Dec 16, 2011  |  9 comments

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Price: $99 At A Glance: Vastly improved picture quality • More responsive, motion-sensitive, Bluetooth remote • Tiny footprint • Wide variety of content providers

Roku has released its newest generation of media streamers, including the top-of-the-line Roku 2 XS player. Perhaps you haven't given Roku much thought as a serious addition to your home theater. Its earlier models gave more attention to the quantity of media-streaming partners than to the quality of the pictures they were streaming. The Roku 2 XS may change your mind as it changed mine.

John Sciacca  |  Oct 19, 2011  |  0 comments

Peanut butter and chocolate. Wine and cheese. Lennon and McCartney. Some things are great on their own, but when they meet their perfect counterpart, the result can be pure magic.

Kim Wilson  |  Apr 14, 2011  |  0 comments

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Price: $99

At A Glance: Rent iTunes movies and TV shows • Stream Netflix content • View pictures galleries on Flickr and MobileMe • Extends Apple ecosystem with AirPlay

Getting content from our computers to the home’s main entertainment hub is like the Holy Grail. Some manufacturers have achieved it for a high price; others have achieved it poorly for a reasonable price. In the Apple ecosystem, Apple TV has allowed simple, inexpensive iTunes integration for years. The original model required you to sync with your computer but, the latest Apple TV (ATV2)—which is less than half the size of its predecessor—only streams content. You can easily stream whatever you have on your computer in the way of movies (created or ripped), photos and music to your A/V system over a wired or wireless network.

Kim Wilson  |  Mar 15, 2011  |  1 comments

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Price: $100

At A Glance: Instant streaming • Easy installation and operation • Simple, user-friendly interface • Access to multiple services, paid and free • 1080p/24 compatible

Roku’s players have come a long way since I reviewed the first Roku device in our November 2008 issue. All that player did was stream Netflix movies. You had to go to Netflix.com to queue up your movies before you could stream them from your Roku box to your TV via your wireless network. Since every major Blu-ray player now offers Netflix streaming, Roku had to make its box more competitive, and it did. There are three Roku products; for this review, I’ll focus on the XDS, Roku’s high-end unit at a whopping $100.

Kim Wilson  |  Jan 31, 2011  |  0 comments
Does Google TV’s Android-based media hub deliver as promised?

Both the computer and consumer electronics industries have spent years trying to find the perfect solution for the connected home. Late in 2010, Google jumped into the fray with Google TV. Its purpose is to let you search and watch your pay TV services, schedule TV shows for your DVR, surf the Internet, and play media from a USB hard/flash drive or from networked computers. At the core of both the Logitech Revue and the Sony Internet TV Blu-ray player is Google’s proprietary Android OS running on an Intel Atom processor. Like the Android-based smart phones, Google TV will have its own app store, although it wasn’t open at the time I was reviewing these two early models.

Kim Wilson  |  Jan 19, 2011  |  1 comments

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Price: $399

At A Glance: Single-box solution • Easy setup and operation • Perfect for smaller rooms, garage, and outdoors • Integrates with existing Sonos systems • Product now called Play:5

Sonos, a leader in low-cost, wholehouse audio, has made it possible to inexpensively stream audio from a computer to multiple A/V systems using one or more of its ZonePlayers. The $399 Sonos S5, the newest ZonePlayer, is completely self-contained. It incorporates its own power supply, amplification, and internal speakers, which allows audio streaming from a wide variety of sources without a dedicated sound system. It can serve as your main (or only) ZonePlayer or as an extension of an existing Sonos system.

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