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Bringing the Internet to Your TV
About six months ago we published an article covering the best set top boxes available, and the time has come already to update that article. The field of internet connected television is growing in competition as companies realize how integral this technology is set to be to users in the not-so-far future. This is great news for consumers because increased competition means better products and better content deals.

Of the connected boxes we looked at in the last article, the Roku is the only one to have any substantial updates, which we’ll look at in this article. The Logitech Revue has had a substantial price drop, from $299 to $99, and there are rumors that it may get Honeycomb.

WD TV Live Plus ($90): Lacking Wi-Fi, but highly compatible with media sources
The WD Live Plus is one of the best streaming networked devices available. An August firmware update brought Hulu Plus to the table, which until then had been the only thing missing. It also offers Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, Flickr, and MediaFly, to name a few. The thing that sets this box apart from the rest is its impressive ability to get along with a multitude of video, audio, and photo file types. If it can fit on a USB drive (it reads many storage devices as well, including thumb drives, card readers, camcorders, digital cameras, portable hard drives) it can probably be played on the WD Live Plus. Not only is the hardware impressive but the user interface is smooth and intuitive, organizing media by category and making it easy to select from where you’d like your media to play.

The only drawback to this device is its lack of Wi-Fi. You can get it if you want, but it requires you to buy and set up a separate accessory.

NeoTV Streaming Player ($80): Great on both content and hardware
Netgear’s NeoTV is one of the newcomers to the game. They have the standard video lineup of Netflix, YouTube, Vudu, etc. It also has cool news and information feeds from the likes of Engadget and The Economist. There’s music from Pandora and Napster, photos on Picasa, as well as access to Twitter feeds and Facebook.

Unlike WD Live Plus, NeoTV has both built-in Wi-Fi and an Ethernet jack; it supports 1080p video. It comes with a remote control of course, but for you gadget nerds there’s also a free app you can download to your iPhone or Android smartphone - it will let you use your phone as the remote control.

Sony SMP-N200 ($99):
Streaming in 3D
Sony’s first set-top box, the Netbox, went largely unnoticed; it looks like the second iteration won’t suffer the same fate. The SMP-N200 has a clunky name but some excellent specs. Like the other networked boxes, the SMP connects with Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, and YouTube. Sony also has a Video and Music Unlimited service with which this will most likely integrate, adding even that much more content. Since it’s a Sony it also comes with DLNA certification, meaning you can stream local content from any of your other DLNA devices and it will work with the Sony networked HomeShare speakers. It too has wired or wireless streaming and a remote control app that you can download to your iPhone or Android.

The thing that sets this apart in the crowd is the HDMI output that offers full HD and 3D video support. I can’t speak to how much 3D content is available for streaming, my instinct would be there isn’t much, but it still makes for a cool option should that change. There’s also a USB port for playing music or photos stored on a flash drive or external hard drive.

The SMP won’t ship until October so we haven’t yet seen any performance reviews, but if the UI and hardware can keep up this is looking like a nice little $99 package.

Roku 2: Winner, and still champion
Roku was our favorite six months ago, and we still love it best today with their new Roku 2 line. The primary reason for this is their price tiers - $50 for the LT, $60 for the HD, $80 for the XD, and $100 for the XS. This allows consumers to pay for only what they really want and what suits their needs best. They all have access to Roku’s 300+ channels and are all wireless, the LT and HD play in 720p, the XD and XS play in 1080p, and the XS comes with a new Bluetooth motion remote that allows you to play games. Of course, you don’t have to pay for the remote if gaming isn’t important to you, since the HD and XD come with a standard IR remote. This new lineup is even smaller and more energy efficient than the last and they’ve added new channels including Angry Birds, MLS, Amazon Video, Hulu Plus, Crackle, Pandora, and upgrading Netflix to support subtitles, surround sound and 1080p. Just this month Roku announced a partnership with Disney, offering content from Disney.com, including movie trailers, music videos and animated shorts. So far they’re the first of the connected devices to have Disney content.
  Set-Top Box Alternatives: While we recommend a set-top box for those looking to stream from the internet, there are other options. At the moment none of them have the same level of content availability as a box, but that might not be a big issue for someone who just wants Netflix and Hulu.

The Xbox 360 can pull in content from Hulu, Netflix, and the Xbox Live Marketplace, with more partners in the works. Sony Playstation 3 also has some streaming – Netflix, Hulu, and MLB – as well as the ability to rent and buy movies. Connected Blu-ray and DVD players like the Panasonic DMP and the LG BD670 come with built-in Wi-Fi and streaming media services like Netflix, Amazon Instant, Vudu, Pandora. LG, Vizio, Samsung, and Panasonic all produce a range of connected TV’s that will stream from the standard services.

 
Set-Top Box Not Required to View Retrevo
You can read all about set-top boxes and the technology they are used with on Retrevo, where you’ll find reviews and manuals for all the latest gear and gadgets including cameras, HDTV, laptops, smartphone and more.


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