A relatively inexpensive, simple, and easy-to-install way to add more channels to your TV, set-top boxes vary in size,
shape, and content selection. They rely on your home Internet connection to stream media from Internet sources such
as Hulu, Netfl ix, YouTube, and many other video-on-demand channels. Consider them a supplement to your cable
subscription, rather than a replacement, since they won’t have much in the way of live TV programming.
Right now, Roku’s box leads the pack with a very broad channel selection, but since it doesn’t support DLNa, you can’t use it to access the mu sic, photos, or videos stored on your network’s PCs. Some other contenders in the fi eld, such as Western Digital’s WD TV Live series, do support DLNa.
If you’re already heavily invested in music and movies from the iTunes Store, go for an apple TV box—you’ll be able to
stream your existing iTunes content from your home network’s iTunes libraries. For both the versatility of a full Web
browser in your HDTV and a search feature that could cover your satellite-TV listings, locally stored recordings, and the
Web, grab a google TV set-top box like the Logitech Revue.
Also in this category are game consoles (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii) and Internet-connected Blu-ray players. While not dedicated Internet TV gadgets, they have Hulu Plus, Netflix, DLNa support, and other Internet-connected features. Cost: $60 to $250 plus subscription fees (when applicable).
Advantages: Set-top boxes are very easy to set up and use, and they typically don’t cost very much. also, new services
tend to be added to the selection over time—the longer you own the box, the more content it should be able to deliver.
Disadvantages: Most set-top boxes don’t include a full Web browser, so you can’t always watch the videos you want,
especially if your favorite shows are found only at live streaming sites or from the TV networks. and, as noted, you don’t
have many options for streaming live TV with a set-top box.
Advanced tips: You can hack most set-top boxes, including the apple TV and the Roku, to add new features, channels,
and applications. For example, you can jailbreak your apple TV and install the XBMC media-center app to enable 1080p
video playback, which the stock apple TV doesn’t support.
The set-top boxes place in the future of smart TV is iffy at best. You can’t really do much besides watch the ported Web video. That may be okay for now, but we expect Web video to continue proliferating—and standard set-top boxes will struggle because they lack Web browsers.
While the Web video services that run on set-top boxes often add new channels, you have no guarantee that your settop
box developer will add the ones you want when you want them. But the boxes are relatively cheap, so buying a new one
every few years could be one way around that problem.
Apple TV and google TV have two different approaches to the set-top box. apple’s turns your TV into an extension of your iTunes Library—great if you own a bunch of other iOS devices, or if you prefer to pay the TV/movie rental fees over
a subscription fee. google’s offers many of the benefits of a home theater PC, such as a Web browser and (future) access
to apps via the android Market, without the expense or hassle of a full-blown media PC. also, the search function on google TV could radically change the way you watch television simply by making it far, far easier to fi nd what you want to watch.
However, even these forward-looking set-tops won’t get far unless the various networks and content providers open some doors for them. Hulu, for example, is currently blocking the google TV browser. all the same, the apple TV and google TV platforms are still in their formative period and may both be around long enough to see the day when content owners have come to accept the model these devices use for distributing video. We expect that these two set-tops will be the ones to watch over the next few years.