There are more ways than ever to watch television on your own terms. With the set-top boxes available today, you can save your favorite shows to watch later, stream them from the Internet, and even download video anytime. Here's a look at five of the most popular set-top boxes that cater to your entertainment needs.
On Thursday, we asked you which set-top boxes you preferred to give you the entertainment you want when you want it. You responded, and we tallied the votes. Now we're back to highlight the top five set-top boxes you nominated. Photo by Andrew Currie.
The Boxee Box is a set-top streamer built by D-Link that runs the Boxee media center software. The Boxee Box was a long time coming, but now that it's finally on store shelves, one can be yours for $199 at retail. The box has all of the same features the software does, and lets you stream shows from the web, from Boxee's own massive library of movies and TV shows, and access Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League games. If you're not sure whether you should buy a Boxee Box or build your own, check out our article on how to get the best Boxee Box for your money.
In addition to being an incredible gaming console, the Xbox 360 supports Windows Media Center as a media extender. If you're an Xbox Live subscriber, you can stream Netflix, Last.fm, ESPN, and Zune music. The Xbox 360 also makes a great DVD player, even though it doesn't have a Blu-Ray drive. For most people, the Xbox 360 may as well be a free media center they already have in their living room, or that they get with the purchase of their game console. Depending on the one you want, you can expect to spend $199 to $399 for an Xbox 360.
Roku started out as just a set-top box that brought Netflix streaming off of your computer and to your television. The market's changed since then, but the Roku has grown with it. Roku boxes offer Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora Radio, Crackle, MOG, live sports, and hundreds of other channels and video podcasts on a tiny, easy-to-configure box. Roku's only weakness is that it can't stream video from shares on your home network. Roku boxes start at $59.99 and max out at $99.99.
Apple's approach to the TV experience has been described as "magical" and "a hobby," depending on who's discussing it. The second-generation Apple TV retails for $99. It's the only device in the roundup that supports wireless audio and video streaming from other devices on your home network using Airplay, Apple's own protocol for it. The Apple TV also brings Netflix, Major League Baseball, YouTube videos, Flickr photos, and more to your HDTV. It also gives you access to video rentals and purchases from iTunes. Unfortunately, the Apple TV only supports 720p video, unlike some of the other devices in the roundup. Still, it's ideal if you live in a mostly-Apple household.
You also have the option of rolling your own home theater PC (HTPC) and configuring it to do whatever you choose. Building your own gives you the ability to run whatever set-top box software you choose, and frees you from the limitations of all of them if you build it to do what you need. Some of you suggested building an HTPC to install Boxee, others suggested installing XBMC. Whatever you choose to install, building your own HTPC is likely the most expensive of the options, but the price you pay gives you the most possible control over your media experience. If you want a primer on building your own, check out our guide to building a powerful HTPC for less than $500. Photo by Karen Dalziel.
Now that you've seen your favorites, it's time to vote on the winner.
This week's honorable mentions go to the PlayStation 3 and the Mac Mini. The PS3 gives you many – if not all – of the same media center features that the Xbox 360 has, with the benefit of a Blu-Ray player as well. The Mac Mini gives you a form-factor that fits well in an entertainment center, HDMI output, and all of the same features the Apple TV has with the bonus of being a real computer with a full OS you can tweak and modify.
Which one do you prefer? Did your favorite not get enough nominations? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
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