The Best Streaming Gadgets

TV is no longer about passively sitting and waiting for the TV networks to send programs over the airwaves. We've shown you the best social TV apps and legal streaming services, but which devices should you pop underneath your telly to make it all happen?

Most streaming services will send to a PC, but that can be an uncomfortable and rather anti-social way to watch TV and movies. A simple set top box can solve that issue, turning your TV into a fully fledged entertainment portal.

Apple TV

It's the product that Apple spends the least amount marketing, but it's also an elegant way to access iTunes for movie rentals and purchases, as well as Airplay streaming from iOS and Mac OS devices. Pick up anything but the third generation Apple TV and a world of jailbreaking options including XMBC open up as well.

Sony Internet Player with Google TV

Google TV took a very long time indeed to reach Australian shores, with Sony the first off the rank with the not-always-brilliant Internet Player device. That's mostly to do with content agreements that don't exist in Australia, and certainly if you got the Internet Player bundled in with a Sony TV, it's a decent product.

Belkin TVPlus

Belkin's $199.95 TVPlus reverses the usual streaming arrangement, offering remote streaming of whatever media you connect to it (with the obvious idea being that you'd use it for watching TV while you're away from home. There's support for Android or iOS, with the tablet app yours for nothing, but the smartphone app carries a somewhat annoying $14.99 price tag.

WDTV Live

Western Digital's WDTV Live looks rather like a low budget Apple TV in external design terms, but looks can be deceiving. The WDTV doesn't look as slick, but it makes up for it with excellent format support for your own streaming files, as well as the easy ability to add storage capacity.

Boxee Box

Boxee's streaming box offers up a unique design — that probably won't fit into your home AV cabinet, but does make a nice talking point if abstract design is your thing.

Xbox 360

Your streaming solution doesn't have to just be a video player; Microsoft's Xbox 360 will attach to DLNA sources for video streaming with a limited range of supported formats, as well as Microsoft's own rental TV and movie services.

Playstation 3

Sony's Playstation 3 offers similar DLNA streaming services to the Xbox 360 — and again, a rather mixed range of supported formats — as well as inbuilt movie rental services and, naturally enough, plenty of games action. The same XMB layout is also used on Sony's Blu-Ray players, some (but not all) of which offer limited streaming over a local network.

Raspberry Pi

After a low-budget streaming solution? It's hard to go past the excellent Raspberry Pi; while it's not the most powerful streaming solution, but matched with XBMC it'll handle most formats and files.

Smart TVs

What if you don't want yet another box underneath your TV? Most Smart TVs offer at the very least access to streaming media services such as the ABC's excellent iView and SBS On Demand, with many also capable of DLNA direct access or remote screen streaming, especially if you match up tablet or smartphone brands with TV brands.

Telstra T-Box

Telstra's T-Box is about as simple as a home streaming box can get, and that's both its best feature and its defining limitation. If you're an existing Telstra customer there are some good deals to add a T-Box to your home. It's also capable of working as an IPTV Foxtel box as well, but as a standalone player if you're not subscribing it's rather hard to recommend.

Fetch TV

Fetch's services are offered via IPTV, and make the most sense if you're a customer of Internode, iiNet or Optus, as they'll offer the box itself relatively cheaply on monthly contract, and mostly quota free to boot.


What's your favourite streaming device? Tell us in the comments.


Comments

    Boxee Box is amazing! But it has also been discontinued.

    Why no Roku?

      i cant believe this wasnt mentioned but how about MK808 android usb/hdmi stick

      turns your tv into a smart tv
      wireless
      no cables
      runs android so you can do DLNA plus more for only $50

    WDTV Live is the best I've used and it plays everything.

      I had high hopes for WD. They have an optical output [a godsend for anyone with S/PDIF instead of HDMI on their amp].
      Unfortunately, it would play for 6 minutes - then freeze. With no reset button, the only option was to yank out the power cord.
      Reset & restart video: 1 minute. Play: 5 minutes - then lockup again.
      Cause? Unknown [although I suspect the indexing service]. Effect? Return to JB HiFi, for full refund.
      Edit:When first plugged in, it did a firmware update. While I could have spent time fault-finding, She Who Must Be Obeyed applied a simple "Go / NoGo" test to declare it unfit for purpose.

      Last edited 28/03/13 2:23 pm

        I have had 3 WD TV's [1st gen, Live & live Streaming] Without a problem.

          One more vote for WDTV Live, I have two of them (only purchased 4 months ago) and they work excellent, never once had any sort of issue with them, It streams 1080p mkv's perfectly, if I have one complaint sometimes the menu's can feel a bit laggy to navigate.
          I looked at the new Apple TV as well but it was too restrictive (surprise, surprise). Just be wary of the new TV's etc that support streaming that they don't have Cinivania checks (like the PS3 does).

          Last edited 31/03/13 8:06 am

        Should of googled a solution, could have been it just needed a firmware update or your media file was encoded badly, WDTV is the tits for 5.1 full HD content.

    I have a jailbroken AppleTV. But if you want the ease of doing what you want out of the box you can't beat the WDTV Live, I got my folks one and they love it.

    Let's not forget the endless stream of Android-based "smart dongle" devices which plug into any HDMI socket. E.g. from Kogan:
    http://www.kogan.com/au/buy/agora-smart-tv-hdmi-dongle/

    My TV streams from my DLNA server just fine, and has an iView app, but I find that my PS3 is also really good for streaming and catchup TV.

    AppleTV ($109) + Unblock-US ($US4.99/month ) + Netflix Subscription ($US7.99/month) = AWESOME TV ANYTIME with NO ADs!

      + Hulu (same short ads)

      This is very interesting, thanks for posting this setup. I have both an ATV3 and ATV2, but I only ever use the ATV2 because the ATV3 cannot be jailbroken (the ATV2 runs XBMC + Icefilms). It would be great to be able to use my 1080p ATV3 with a service like Netflix here in Oz.

      I see that Unblock-US offers a free 1 week trial, and you can get a free 1 month trial of Netflix. So I think I might give this system a trial over the easter break.

      How did you go about creating your Netflix account? I assume Netflix wouldn't accept my Australian credit card etc.

        It infact accepts most credit cards - juyst give it a shot and see...

        Netflix will accept Australian credit cards, but from memory you'll need to provide a US billing address when signing up. Word of warning though; I had my card cancelled by my bank because of the US transaction with Netflix less than a few hours after using the card in a local ATM.

    Has anyone ever explained why the PS3 native version of Plus7 has so little content? The available shows seem to be only a (lousy) fraction of what the service actually offers.

    By contrast, I love using iView through the PS3 (don't think I've ever used SBS On Demand).

      Yep, the PS3 version of 7 Plus is same as the android app for mobile phones...crippled and only shows half their stuff. You'll need a HTPC to get the full version of 7 Plus. As for XBMC on Apple TV or HTPC, I don't know, anybody got experience?

    none of the above.
    I like my mini-pc with XBMC.. could not live with out it..

      I was thinking the same thing. Where is the PC with XBMC, Windows Media Center and the like? A PC beats all of these gadgets because with the right codecs, RAM and CPU, it wins on performance and compatibility every time.

    It will be great when a hardware platform is released that easily enables the installation of XBMC, whilst also supporting all the features XBMC has to offer.

    XBMC on ATV2 is great, but requires jailbreaking. The Raspberry Pi is a simple setup via RaspBMC or Openelec+XBMC, but is somewhat under-powered and it's not an elegant self-contained unit that supports wireless and IR remote out of the box. It also lacks optical audio output.

    I expect this will eventually come in the form of some sort of Android device, as XBMC can now be installed on Android and we're seeing the emergence of Android based media devices.

      The Ouya console, which is coming in June, may be what your looking for.

    I have a Boxee Box at home and it's great, plays every file I have thrown at it (although wtv files dont play properly, technically they still play around half of it before crapping out though)

    Thanks for this Alex. Nice summary and nicely complements the recent FTA and piracy articles too. I'm collecting the set.

    Not a bad summary, but lacking in depth Alex. There are many other devices including AC Ryan et al that are not limited by movie formats. Also, should include HD/Full HD support.
    Finally, i use a software streamer called Plex that supports my smart TV and has an Android app - it is very neat and smooth - and free!

    Take PS3 off the list. It's a pain up the ass and it video browsing is woeful for this day and age.

    WDTV FTW. Love its codec support. Would be awesome if it had a dedicated plex app but I don't think WD will do that any time soon

    Really hope the WDTV Play media streamer comes to Australia soon. Has looks that can rival apple tv for sure

    WD TV + unblock us w/ Hulu & Netflix = easily the best. Always found icefilms to be laggy on the atv2.

    Take the woeful Tbox off the list. I got one for free with my last contract, and it still cost far too much. Its useless for streaming anything other than telstra/foxtel stuff, and even for thats its pretty crap!

    I currently have ps3, Xbox, wd TV live, Apple TV 2 and 3. But the best thing I've bought so far is easily the popcorn hour a-400. Doesn't have some of the features of the others, but for picture quality, it's easily the best of the lot.

    Xbox 360 I like it, use ArkMC app for streaming!

    I've got the PI with XBMC & a PS3. While the latest released of RASPBMC have dramatically improved performance, we still use the PS3 to play local media streamed from my desktop PC (currently being replaced by a HP MicroServer for streaming duties). PS3MediaServer is a real help here, although for Myth Recordings I'm just using the inbuilt UPnP server.

    As for the PI's supported formats, I think you've overstated it a little. The onboard hardware decoder does x264 out of the box, and you can install keys for MPEG2 (for DVB-T recordings you haven't transcoded), or VC-1 (I've never met anyone who actually uses this). Anything else is done in CPU, so while it might be okay for low-res content (I've never tried), I wouldn't count on it. Definitely a cheap option if your content is in the right format, but no more so than the new Android machines coming out.

    FreeNAS + Sickbeard + Media PC + XMBC = Perfect

    Alex, can you please do a similar sort of write-up for NAS boxes that have media player functionality built-in? Something like this > http://www.thecus.com/product.php?PROD_ID=86 > I am looking for the usual: good performance, broad feature set, big storage capacity, broad file format support, ease of use, connectivity options etc etc. Anyone help out on this??

    x2 for a similar write-up on NAS units that can do media player functionality as well.

    Gabe_W - have a look at the QNAP units as well (http://www.qnap.com/en/index.php?lang=en&sn=822&c=351&sc=514&t=522&n=3415)

    if you get the right model, it looks like they run XBMC on the QNAP units.. i'm only just starting to look into them at the moment (Along with the Thecus and Synology units)

    I have used the WD digital, the XBox, the Apple TV, Playstation and Smart TV. What I currently use it the Raspberry(raspmc) and it leaves them all for dead. XBMC is the preferred system/OS and its ability to run on a basic/cheap system is perfect. For all its issues, the Raspberry is still so much easier, even my GF can use it.

    Set up my raspberry pi today with xbmc. Works amazingly well for such a cheap solution,
    Controlling it with my ipad and being able to scroll through your library is a nice touch too.

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