Sure, you could watch Netflix, Stan or Presto on your tablet, but don’t you want it on the big shiny TV in your living room? That’s where these hot new streaming gadgets come in. Here’s the latest and greatest in home streaming gadgets.
Gizmodo’s Home Entertainment Guide is presented by the new HP Spectre x360. Any way you bend it, the Spectre x360 delivers. With four modes, lightning-fast performance, and impressive battery life, this convertible PC has the best of all worlds and the shortcomings of none.
Looking for an easy way in to the Apple iTunes Store on your big screen at home? Apple TV is your front-row ticket. It’s a cute little box with a remote that’s even cuter.
Inside the little box is the single-core Apple A5 chip, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi support, as well as an ethernet port, HDMI out and support for Optical Audio. It outputs content at a maximum resolution of 1080p. Sorry pixel peepers: no 4K support yet.
The Apple TV is great if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem. Pretty much every piece of content you’ve ever bought on your iTunes account will drop into the TV interface automatically, allowing you to stream to your heart’s content.
It also allows you to project your iPad, iPhone or Mac onto your big screen using AirPlay Mirroring.
The good thing about having an Apple TV in your house is that it also doubles as a great little box for streaming Netflix and home-grown streaming service, Stan. In fact, the Apple TV is the only dedicated streaming box available in Australia that supports Stan right now. The other methods involve you throwing the image from your phone or tablet onto the TV wirelessly.
Other home-grown streaming services on the Apple TV include TenPlay, Cricket Australia and Fox Sports. That’s in concert with US streaming channels from the likes of YouTube, Major League Baseball, NBA, NFL Now, TED Talks and more.
It costs just $109 in Australia, and you can get it from any Apple Store or other major gadget retailers.
Chromecast, to the uninitiated, looks just like any run-of-the-mill HDMI screen-sharing dongle — and it is, in some small way. This little device wouldn’t be worth a second look if it didn’t have Google’s brand and Google’s software behind it. Chromecast is Google’s way to get YouTube videos directly from your smartphone onto your TV, tabs from any Chrome browser onto your big screen, or music from Google Play Music playing on your TV’s stereo system.
The idea behind Chromecast is simple enough — it’s a Wi-Fi dongle that shows Internet content on your TV. The opportunities that it opens up are much wider and more nuanced, though, so it’s blinkered to just write off Google’s $49 streamer as a dumb Android screen-sharing stick. The fact that it’s so cheap, I think, is actually making people think it’s less powerful than it actually is.
Chromecast only uses your PC or phone or tablet as an intermediary between the dongle itself and the Internet; that’s why you have to connect it to your home Wi-Fi during the setup procedure. With a straight shot to the Internet, ‘casting’ content to the Chromecast dongle basically only provides a pointer — cast a YouTube video from a Chrome tab or from the YouTube Android or iOS app, and the Chromecast talks straight to YouTube’s servers and puts together the video in a tailor-made on-screen interface. Cast some audio from Google Play Music and you can control playback on your device, but you can also switch off the phone and playback will continue.
Because Chromecast works in this way, it’s a lot smarter than any ‘Smart TV’ dongle that you might buy off eBay or from an electronics manufacturer without the might of Google. A screen-sharing dongle like Netgear’s Push2TV may be even better at some tasks, as it directly mirrors your phone’s display, but this approach also hampers it in providing a tailored and more direct-to-‘net experience.
Google Nexus Player
The Nexus Player is a cute little disc you stick under into your home entertainment cabinet that brings Android apps, shows, movies and games to your TV. It’s made by Asus and is powered by a quad-core 1.8GHz Intel Atom processor with PowerVR Series 6 graphics, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage.
The Asus-built box is the first device with Google’s new Android TV operating system on board. Which, if you haven’t been paying attention, is designed to be everything Google TV was not.
Android TV sports a single flat interface you can scroll up, down, left or right to navigate through all your applications with a dead-simple remote control with just four buttons and a d-pad, though you can also just say what you want — just press the voice search button up top and speak into a mic embedded in the remote.
If Google plays its cards right though, you won’t need to do much scrolling or voice searching: Android TV will supposedly automatically suggest things to watch based on the data Google collects from you across all its services, and present those recommendations front and centre as soon as you turn the box on.
This Nexus Player Is The First Official Android TV
Oh, and the Nexus Player also doubles as a Chromecast, meaning you can start or resume content from any PC, smartphone or tablet (no matter the operating system) by pressing a single button to beam instructions to the set-top. Start watching on your phone, pick up on your TV. Go get a snack and take your show with you. Though unlike the Chromecast, this sucker has faster, more reliable dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
With digital content becoming more prevalent, some of us want to directly link our computers to our TVs quickly and easily. But we don’t all have a dedicated HTPC to make life simple. Enter Netgear’s Push2TV wireless display adaptor.
Netgear’s solution involves the use of a box which picks up a signal from your laptop and feeds your desktop to the TV via HDMI, eliminating the need for your lappy to be tethered to your entertainment centre. The only downside is that it requires an Intel-based computer with Wireless Display technology built in.
You can pick up the Push2TV from major gadget retailers for around $70.
Sure, it’s a little extreme to buy a $500 gaming console just to get access to Netflix and other streaming content, but if you’re looking for a media centre that does it all in one device, you can’t go much further than the newest next-gen gaming console from Microsoft: the Xbox One. It’s the crazy ambitious follow-up to the Xbox 360, a wildly successful console and arguably the winner of last generation’s console war. A box for playing games but also bossing around your television. A future machine.
The Xbox One is great for a whole range of new games coming out, but it’s a full-on living room general, one that commandeers your television and gives it superpowers you’d never dreamed of. That’s the idea, anyway. And it works! Mostly. Thanks to a built-in IR blaster, the Xbox One will control your TV, and the setup is a dream. All you have to do is tell the ‘box what make your TV is — with a little bit of trial and error — and BOOM, you’re good to go.
From there, your Xbox can do most of the most basic stuff your remote would; turning your TV on, turning it off, changing the volume, muting, unmuting, etc. And you can do all that from your controller or with your voice. Saying “volume down” is handy but not life-changing, but things like waking your TV with an “Xbox on” command or muting at a moment’s notice with no remote in sight is. You’ll wonder how you ever got along without it.
The Xbox One’s biggest go at being an all-in-one media centre is with its OneGuide app. In the US, you’re meant to run your cable box into the back of the console and OneGuide acts like an electronic program guide and lets you watch telly from the comfort of your console. In Australia it’s a little more complicated, seeing as how we don’t all have dedicated cable boxes. The solution? The Xbox One Digital HD Tuner: a $39.95 device that will allow you to view TV content on the Xbox One and stream that content to other mobile devices using the Smartglass app.
It’s nifty, but keep in mind the extra cost associated with the accessories if you want to turn it into a home media centre that controls your TV as well. Also, because it’s a gaming console, double check that the games you actually want to play come out on the thing. No point spending $500 on it otherwise.
The PS4 is similar to the Xbox One in that it’s primarily a gaming console, but it also has support for a few different media streaming apps including (but not limited to) Crackle, Netflix and Spotify.
If you’re after a console that can double as a home entertainment device, the PlayStation 4 might not be the one to go with. It’s a fantastic gaming device, but it’s not about to replace everything in your living room.
Plex is a free software package for your computer that lets you stream your local movie or music files to other devices free of charge. Here’s how to make your own personal streaming service with it!
Whether you’re watching from a laptop downstairs or from a smartphone in another city, it gives you the ability to create your own personal Netflix (and Spotify) service.
If you’ve never heard of Plex before, it combines a media server application (for scanning and serving up your content) with a series of client apps for actually watching whatever it is you want to watch. If you have a pile of locally stored movies and television shows that you want to set free then Plex is one of the best options out there.
What’s your favourite home streaming gadget? Tell us in the comments!
Bend the Rules with the HP Spectre x360