Note: there is a newer Best Media Players / Streamers list for 2012 that will be maintained from now on.
A new year, a new top 10 list that tries to offer a comprehensive view of the top 10 best media streamers for 2011.
If 2010 was a year in which the media streamer boxes sales experienced a big grow and many new web clients launched, in my opinion 2011 is a year of consolidation, partnerships and jump from technologically inclined users to wide adoption. Apple TV is one box that helped the transition due to its simplicity and customer friendlies. Although Apple TV was one of the boxes that took streaming to mainstream, I decided not to include ti in my list due to lack of support for local content and low number of web clients supported.
In terms of pure streaming, Roku deserves to be on the first place due to its excellent implementation of web clients and the support for all important premium clients such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Video on Demand, etc.
Local files support continues to be critical and Boxee Box and Western Digital boxes are among the best in this category (even with their inherent bugs), without stepping into the pro-sumer category like the Dune BD Prime 3.0 media player for example which is in my opinion the best in terms of codec support.
As usual, I’ll update the list as new devices come on the market and I would also appreciate your input / votes as well. Considering that some will prefer a stronger codec support for local media and some will only care about web streaming, this top 10 will obviously not make everybody happy. However, I tried to add as many technical specs as I could so you can perform a side by side comparison.
Boxee Box software update Fiona SP3 126.96.36.19996 live, still no VUDU or Netflix. Update: Retracted already!
Boxee Box just unveiled a new update, version Fiona SP3 build 188.8.131.5296. The update fixes a number of important issues including (check here and here for the full list). I just updated my box and indeed, some critical issues for me like the ability to fast forward / pause files stored on the network are fixed now, also issues concerning subtitles, network shares, video stretching and various crashes are fixed as well. The only problem is that I, along with everybody else expected some VUDU love which is still not here. If you try to download the application, it doesn’t say it will come soon, instead it gives an error message. Oh well, at least is good that Boxee does something and fixing so many issues in such a short times tells me two important things: first, they are committed on customer satisfaction and second – they didn’t really test the initial release version but they rushed it to the market to ship the box in time for the holidays…no surprises here, I got about the same experience with Nook.
Note: After the box is updated with the new software, even after restart it might not work right away. In my case I got a message that the Boxee Box cannot connect to the Internet followed by a blank screen. After a manual reboot the box started fine.
Update: There are still files I cannot resume after a pause, like some OGM files I use to test. The Boxee Box hangs and the only way to continue is to power it down then up again…Bummer! The browser however is now in full screen and takes advantage of my 60″ plasma!
Update 2: Boxee pulled the new firmware already due to various issues including defective web streams handling. Acording to their blog, a fix is in works for those of us that updated already.
This must have been one of the shortest lived updates in history.
Update 3: A new release candidate version RC 184.108.40.20628 was released by Boxee on a limited basis. If it is well received it will go gold. It looks that Boxee became more cautions when releasing untested software and this is always a good thing.
Boxee Box is without question one of the most awaited media streamers for this year. The reason? The way things look right now, it might well be the only box that actually can successfully replace a home theater PC in both CODEC support and extensibility. Promising a full range of audio/video codecs, media library with automatic artwork downloading and also web clients for popular services as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pandora, VUDU and even Netflix, combined with an open development platform supporting Adobe Flash 10.1, a Webkit based browser and QWERTY remote control, many feel that boxee Box is currently the media streamer to beat, not Google TV or Apple TV. For a long time, there has been an uncertainty about the capability to stream Netflix but yesterday the people from D-Link confirmed Netflix support to come sometime by the end of the year, so I won’t touch this issue until the next firmware release.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge gadget lover and I actually own and use every piece of equipment that I reviewed on this website, however I don’t like the idea of turning my PS3 to watch Netflix, XBOX 360 for a nice Twitter of Facebook client, my HTPC for some exotic codec that nobody else supports, etc. I think everybody keeps waiting for the mystical “do it all” box (aside from a beefy HTPC that needs its own power plant) and the open nature of Boxee Box might help it become that box.
2. Boxee Box Unpacking Read More…
Boxee Box people were fairly quiet in announcing big content partners with an obvious effect that everybody suspected the worse. Fortunately, things started to move and today Boxee and VUDU announced a partnership so at launch, around 10th of November Boxee Box (and the software version, Boxee) will box start having access to VUDU catalog with both HD up to 1080p and 5.1 surround available.
That being said, Netflix is in infinitely more popular than VUDU and we continue to say that the box will fail without Netflix support. It wasn’t announce yet but there is plenty of time until November 10 when Boxee Box will launch so it is possible the announcement is delayed for maximum effect. We can only wait and will post a full hands on review as soon as possible.
Check the full Press Release after the break.
If you are like me and pre-ordered the funny shaped Boxee Box, I have some good news for you. There is a official shipping day from D-Link now and it is November 10th for the lucky ones that pre-ordered through Amazon / Best Buy and one week later, on Nov 17th will be available for everybody else.
Boxee Box is based on the popular Boxee software (a branch of the famous XBMC), an open platform that will support more than 400 applications and web clients at start including Last.FM, Pandora, Twitter, etc. The box also supports a web browser, includes a QWERTY remote control and Adobe Flash 10.1.
Beside the support for basically every popular web service under the sun and unlike Apple TV or Google TV, Boxee Box comes prepared to play every media format you might have available on your home server / USB drives including FLV/On2 VP6 (FLV/FV4/M4V), H.264 AVC (TS/AVI/MKV/MOV/M2TS/MP4) , MPEG-1 (DAT/MPG/MPEG), MPEG-2 (MPG/MPEG/VOB/TS/TP/ISO/IFO), VC-1 (TS/AVI/MKV/WMV), MPEG-4 (MP4/AVI/MOV), Xvid (AVI/MKV), WMV9 (WMV/ASF/DVR-MS), DivX 3/4/5/6 (AVI/MKV) at resolutions up to 1080p from a DLNA server or Windows shares.
Check the full press release after the break. Read More…
Let me be honest: Boxee Box gets me excited. It should be everything PopBox wanted to be but unfortunately couldn’t: A universal media streamer box that not only play everything under the sun (and under your network shares) but also a box that offers an open development environment, Flash 10.1 support so every conceivable web client can be implemented for every popular Internet streaming service.
I’ll start by describing how I currently watch content. I can’t unplug my Dish Network system yet because there is no replacement yet in terms of HD content available (and there are the local news…). My (legal) DVD collection is ripped neatly and stored on my home server (Windows Server 2008) and I am using a Home Theater PC (Windows 7 + Media Browser + SSD) in the living-room to consume the content. In the bedroom, I have a small WD TV Live Plus media streamer box that does pretty much what the HTPC does but with a way less polished interface, no movie database, metadata display, etc. However it is completely silent, wide CODEC support and uses far less electricity than my quad core HTPC.
The problem is, I am not completely satisfied with either solution – the HTPC using Windows Media Center is eye candy but slightly noisy and a power hog. The Western Digital WD TV Live Plus while in my opinion the best media streamer box currently available for the money, has a horrific interface, it is not very often updated and implements few of the popular web clients with no prospect to add many more in the future.
That being said, Boxee Box uses the already popular Boxee software (a fork from the famous XBMC) and supports pretty much everything popular on the web today including YouTube, Pandora, CNN, Flickr, FaceBook and other 400 clients or applications at launch. It also supports UPNP (DLNA) and virtually every popular codec available and, best of all, it has a QWERTY remote control. It is a system integrator dream and, while not the cheapest box (you can pre-order it now for $200 at Amazon) it promises to replace every OTHER box. And here we open the can of worms – PROMISES. Netflix support is still not yet official although there seem to be negotiations between Intel (Boxee Box technology provider), D-Link (Boxee Box manufacturer) and Netflix (the main culprit). The problem is, Netflix is de facto power in movie streaming and they are hugely popular. I did not see statistics but I am willing to bet a regular family uses Netflix as much as all other methods of streaming video combined. If this is true, Boxee Box will never become mainstream without Netflix support (even Apple TV supports Netflix streaming, and they are not supporting much else of anything).
I pre-ordered Boxee Box from Amazon and I will post a full review when I receive it. However, without Netflix, I just don’t see it as more than a box oriented toward technology lovers and, as many as we are, we are far from being mainstream. And we need to remember the miserable failure of an equally long awaited similar product – PopBox.
Boxee Box Netflix Update (11-10-2010) – It is a great news that Boxee Box will actually support Netflix by the end of the year, it is confirmed! Hulu Plus will also come and VUDU was already announced.
What technology company doesn’t want to be trendy? And currently streaming stuff is all the rage (we are not sure yet how to reconcile the media streaming craziness with some Internet providers’s pitiful decisions to cap the monthly download allotment, but hopefully that will get fixed somehow). We want to stream everything starting with family photos, music, TV Shows, movies and radio shows. And some companies are ahead of others in providing solutions (see Western Digital with their WD TV Live Plus box(review), Google TV, Boxee Box, etc). Not wanting to be left behind, DELL is currently evaluating existing and upcoming technologies to adopt and it looks like one of them is Google TV software. Recently, desktop product manager Chris Camilletti confirmed that DELL is currently evaluating STB prototypes mentioning only one, Android based Google TV.
Right now, DELL doesn’t have any dedicated media streamer box in its product line relying historically on their PC line to provide media features. Apparently this will change sooner rather than later.
Boxee Box is already available for pre-order at Amazon, but good thinks keep on coming. After you got the hardware right, the next important thing is content and the Boxee folks are keeping busy. Their latest deal is to bring live football games in glorious HD via the United Football League (UFL). The streaming will be live, according with Boxee Blog, and at the same time they air on HDNet and Versus. The streaming content will include the games, behind the scenes goodies and access to previous games on-demand.
Beside UFL streaming, Boxee Box will also come with a large number of applications available at launch including popular web clients for CNN, YouTube, Pandora, MTV, Digg, FaceBook, Flickr and over 400 other applications due in part to its 10.1 Flash support. Worth mentioning is also an HTML 5 compliant WebKit browser and a QWERTY remote control keyboard.
Ladies and gentlemen, the long awaited Boxee Box is finally available for pre-order. Like their competitor, PopBox, Boxee will also be initially available for pre-order at Amazon for a slightly higher MSRP that initially announced, $229 instead of $199. The official model number will be D-Link DSM-380 and interestingly enough, the manufacturer dropped the Nvidia Tegra 2 chipset from the deisgn opting instead for the Intel Atom CE-4100 which is also the one from the upcoming Google TV. It seems that Intel scored big this time. According to Engadget, the reason for the hardware switch as that Tegra 2 wasn’t fast enough at decoding high bitrate h264. Interesting and a public blow against NVIDIA which won’t do well for the company and their Tegra 2 success. Among the main Boxee Box features, it worth mentioning the support for Flash 10.1, and a HTML 5 compliant WebKit browser. Boxee Box will also ship with over 400 applications at launch and considering Flash support, we fully expect the number to grow over time. We already pre-ordered it and we’ll let you know when we’ll publish a full review. Check back soon.
Hit after the break for the full press release, product specs and additional pictures.