En español | Streaming devices — those Internet-connected gadgets that play online content on your TV screen — are a booming market: Annual sales of streaming devices are expected to double to about 330 million by 2017. Consumers already have many options, and with tech titans like Amazon and Google reportedly prepping new products for 2014, you'll soon have even more.
While most TV manufacturers now offer smart TVs, which integrate online streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus right into your flat screen, they charge a hefty premium for it. In many cases, connecting a streaming device to your TV set may be a more sensible option, offering a broader range of choices — and often for under $100. Before you start shopping, make sure you have a speedy Internet connection and an open HDMI port. Got those? Then read on.
If you're looking for quantity from your streaming device, meet the most robust offering on the market. More than 1,000 choices are listed on Roku's channel store, from popular services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant and Watch ESPN to more obscure services. With a little digging and research, Roku users can download channels that play nothing but B-movies or classic cartoons. Other channels offer local newscasts and weather from across the country, which can be nice for travelers or transplants who miss home.
Until recently, Roku was the only major streaming device that didn't have a YouTube app, but a new update added that feature. The Roku also lets you stream your own pictures and video from your mobile devices to your TV. The top-of-the-line Roku 3 features a motion sensor remote that turns the Roku into a rudimentary gaming device. There are a few fun trivia apps, and it is pretty cool to toss Angry Birds across your screen with a simple flick of the wrist, but the game selection is limited.
The Roku 3 (and the newly updated Roku 2) offer what's perhaps my favorite feature on any streamer: a jack on its remote that mutes your TV set and sends audio directly to your headphones. It's a perfect solution for anyone who wants to watch TV without disturbing others, such as a sleeping partner.
Price: $49.99 (Roku LT) to $99.99 (Roku 3)
The first incarnation of the Apple TV streaming box, released at the start of 2007, predates the iPhone. The jump Apple got on its competition has paid off as the tech giant still owns more than half of the streaming device market.
More apps and channels have been added over the years, and many of the biggies are here: Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go and YouTube. Recently added apps include Watch ESPN and the Smithsonian Channel.
Apple curates its offerings more stringently than some others — at least for now, you won't find Amazon Instant video. IPhone, iPad or Mac users already in the Apple ecosystem will benefit the most from Apple TV, as it seamlessly integrates iTunes and App Store purchases across all devices. Its AirPlay function, which allows content from iDevices to be streamed to your TV screen, is the most intuitive and smoothest mirroring option available.