Video Streaming Devices
You don't have to buy a new TV or Blu-ray player to add Internet viewing to your entertainment options. There are several add-on boxes designed to stream Internet video to your existing television.
One popular brand is Roku, which recently introduced an updated line of players priced from $59.99 to $99.99. The Roku players have both economy and simplicity on their side. Basically, you choose from a variety of "channels" to watch all sorts of programs, from movies to cooking shows to sports (free and paid) — you'll find a complete list on the Roku website. While all three Roku models dish up the same channels, the least expensive Roku 2 HD model tops out at 720p video resolution (a notch below the top 1080p, which the $79.99 Roku 2 XD supports). And the $99.99 version adds a slick remote control that lets you play games (the ever-popular Angry Birds is included) plus a USB port for enjoying your own video, audio and photo files stored on a USB stick.
If the Roku video selection isn't wide-ranging enough for you, the $199 Boxee Box from D-Link will expand your options in two ways. It has a greater selection of mainstream and niche video sources — you'll find the list under apps, movies and TV shows on the Boxee site. The Boxee box also has the built-in Web browser that the Roku system lacks. The company took the dual-sided remote approach, so it takes some manual dexterity to hit those small buttons. And while there's lots of video available, getting around in the Boxee menu system can be confusing.
Apple has a dog in this fight as well with its $99 Apple TV system. This strikingly compact box with its elegant brushed-metal controller and sleek on-screen display give you access to movies and TV shows available through the iTunes store, plus your own iTunes music collection and a few additional streaming video channels, including Netflix, YouTube and the paid MLB.TV and NBA services. Your choice of online video sources with Apple TV is more limited than other systems. There are no niche-interest channels, and no Web browser. On the plus side, Apple TV is very easy to use and, while the slim and sexy remote makes tapping out individual letters to search for videos a pain in the neck, downloadable remote control software for iPhone, iPod and iPad lets you use an on-screen keyboard.