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Streaming Video in Your Living Room

The Web opens up new possibilities for prime time entertainment

Roku XD|S
While there are three different Roku devices to choose from (from $59.99), the top-of-the-line Roku XD|S model ($99.99) features 1080p high-definition streaming, dual-band Wireless N (802.11n) speeds and other benefits, such as multiple connectivity options and other features (more on this in a moment).

More so than Apple TV, Roku media players are a conduit to a huge collection of streaming entertainment — including more than 100,000 movies and TV shows from Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand and Hulu Plus (the latter of which features many ABC, FOX and NBC series); live and on-demand major league baseball, NHL hockey and Ultimate Fighting Championship matches; music from Pandora and other services; photo and video sharing from Flickr and Facebook; and much more.

Another advantage over Apple TV is multiple output options, including HDMI, component, composite and digital (optical) audio. But setup wasn't quite as simple as the plug-and-play Apple TV.

Oh, and a few other observations: YouTube isn't available, and you can't access your own PC media. But if you have a USB thumb drive packed with video, photos and music, it can be played on this box via a free downloadable upgrade (due out by the time you read this).

An "Instant Replay" button, represented by a small arrow, skips back the video seven seconds — in case you missed some soft-spoken dialogue or a subtle joke — not unlike what's available on your digital video recorder (DVR).

The similarly priced Apple TV and Roku XD|S products each have their own merits.

If you're already comfortable with iTunes and have used your computer to buy movies, TV shows and music over the years, then Apple TV is a good pick. It lets you enjoy it all in your home theater — plus, it gives you access to rentable TV shows and movies and other online services. Setup is a breeze and the interface is, in a word, elegant.

Roku, however, offers a lot more online content — a lot more (oddly, except for YouTube) — plus, it offers additional connectivity options and other bells and whistles, such as the handy "Instant Replay" button and USB playback. But it doesn't let you access content on your computer, a very convenient feature found on Apple TV.

There isn't a clear winner in this battle of the boxes. Rather, you need to decide which one best meets your needs and preferences.

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