Apple TV, Google TV and 6 other Internet TV players compared: which should you buy?

28 September 2010 No Comment Mike Evans

There’s a revolution in TV brewing, with Apple, Google, Boxee, Roku, Sony, TiVo and Western Digital all selling new set top boxes that combine the best features of your HDTV (namely, its screen) with the best features of the Web – plus your own pictures and videos thrown in for good measure.

But which system do you choose? All seven do similar – but not identical – things, and each will do things the others won’t.

Should you choose Apple over Google? If so, why?! And just what is on offer in this new world of Web TV?

Luckily for you, we’ve created this handy guide to help you navigate through all the confusion and the find the Web TV box that’s best for you.

Eight Internet TV Players

Before we begin, let’s briefly look at the contenders

Apple TV Internet TV player

You’ll note that the PS3 and XBox 360 are both included. That’s because they’ve both got really good Internet TV software, and now that they ship with built-in Wi-Fi and hard drives, and come with a plethora of A/V connectivity options such as HDMI, they’re actually really good for doing much of the stuff you’d expect from a dedicated Internet TV player such as Apple TV.

How to choose your Web TV box

Each Web TV box is pitched at a slightly different market. The difficulty for you is working out which market you’re part of! So we’ve organized this list according to the things that people most want to do, and then we recommend the boxes that will do them the best.
Google TV

If you want to see a full head-to-head comparison of the specifications of each box, head on over to Gizmodo, where this list was derived.

If you need to stream your own videos

If it’s important to you that you’re able to stream your own videos from your PC, then choose from one of the following:

  • Apple TV
  • Google TV
  • PS3
  • XBox 360
  • Boxee Box
  • WD TV Live Plus

Google TV on Logitech Revue set top box

Neither the Roku XDS nor the TiVo Premiere will stream your videos from your PC, so if this is essential for you, rule these two boxes out.

If you want to stream your own photos

Burying your pics on your PC’s hard drive does them an injurious injustice, as you’ll never actually look at them! Much better to bring them out into the light once in a while, and the best way to do this is to be able to easily stream them from you PC onto your HDTV.

Not only does it let you see the pics more often (and in great clarity too), it’s also great for when your friends and family are around too. Watching pics on your telly is so much more civilised than on your monitor!

So if this feature is important to you, you’ll need to choose from the following:

  • Apple TV
  • Google TV (possibly)
  • PS3
  • XBox 360
  • TiVo Premiere
  • WD TV Live Plus

The Roku XDS and Boxee Box do not offer this facility.

If you want to stream your own music

What if you want to stream the tunes that are stored on your PC, and pump them through your home cinema? Then you’ll need the following boxes:

  • Apple TV
  • Google TV (possibly)
  • PS3
  • XBox 360
  • Boxee Box
  • TiVo Premiere
  • WD TV Live Plus

Boxee Box Internet TV Player

The only box that won’t stream your tunes is the Roku XDS, which seems like a bit of a shortcoming!

If you want to watch live TV

Now this could be a deal breaker. Some of these Web TV boxes will let you watch live TV as well as the Web and PC content you can stream from the ether. Google TV in particular focuses on blurring the lines between live TV and Web videos.
Google TV and live TV

In contrast, with other boxes it’s an either/or approach: either you watch live TV or you watch web content or PC content.

If live TV is important to you, then choose from the following boxes:

  • Google TV
  • Boxee Box
  • Tivo Premiere

Hmmm, that’s not a large selection! Makes your decision easier if live TV is what you’re after though!

If you want to watch YouTube on your HDTV

They all let you watch YouTube videos on your HDTV. Which is just as well, as a Web TV box without YouTube wouldn’t be much a Web TV box!
YouTube on an Internet TV Player

If you want to watch Netflix

If Netflix is your movie renting streaming service of choice, then you’ll be fine for all of these devices, except one: Google TV, which currently doesn’t support Netflix (or more likely, vice versa!)

However, Google TV hasn’t been launched yet, and it’s only a matter of time before Netflix finds its way onto Google TV, particularly since Google hired one of Netflix’s executives two weeks ago to become Google’s new VP of Content Partnerships.
WD TV Live plus with Netflix

If you want to watch Blu-ray discs

…get a Blu-ray player! Only the PS3 supports Blu-ray amongst this lot.

If you need to store your content locally

If you need to store any of the content on the box itself, then you’ll need to use one of the following:

  • Google TV (possibly)
  • PS3 (160GB hard drive)
  • XBox 360 (250GB hard drive)
  • Boxee Box (SD card – don’t expect to be saving entire films!)
  • TiVo Premiere (it’s what it excels in)
  • WD TV Live Plus (via external USB drives)

Local storage isn’t what these boxes are about, though. Leave your PC to store your tunes and pics, and the Web to store your films and videos, then stream them whenever you need them.

If you need to view the content from your phone or iPod

What if you want to see the content from your PC and your phone or your iPod? Fortunately, some of these little wonders will let you do just that:

  • Apple TV (iPhone, iPad, iPod content – who’d have thought it?!)
  • Google TV (content from Android phones and tablets)
  • PS3 (content from the PS3 and PSP)
  • TiVo Premiere (content from iPhone, iPod, PSP and laptop)

For the other devices, you’ll need to upload the content onto your PC first, and stream it from there.

If you want the best quality HD content

Features are one thing, but what about quality? All the boxes here support 1080p full-HD content except one: Apple TV, which only supports 720p.

It should also be noted that Google TV’s quality hasn’t been announced yet, but as there will be several different options, including set top boxes and HDTVs with Google TV built-in, from many different manufacturers, it’s a safe bet that at least one of them will support 1080p!

If you want to extend your Web TV box with downloadable apps

This, for my money, is the killer feature – apps! Web TV is great, but it’s been limited by the functionality provided in the box itself. But not with some of these boxes. Some of them support apps, letting you download whatever app you want to enhance and extend the features of your Web TV box, just like you can with your smartphone.
Google TV with Android
So which boxes let you do this? Just these ones at the moment:

  • Google TV (Android-based so you can install all the hundreds of thousands of Android apps onto your telly)
  • TiVo premiere
  • WD TV Live Pro

With all of the other boxes, you’re stuck with the features that the box came with, and reliant on the manufacturer for any updates.

If you don’t want any wires

Now we’re talking hardware! Web TV requires an Internet connection, but what if you hate wires? Good news: all of the boxes support Wi-Fi, except one: the WD TV Live Plus.

So which box should you buy?!

Well, hopefully this has helped steer you towards a better choice, or at least cut down the number of options for you. If not, here’s a few recommendations:

The box that supports (nearly!) everything

The box that ticks the most boxes (as it were!) and supports the most features is….…the PS3 and Xbox 360!

But note: I haven’t included Google TV in this section, as there are too many unknowns about it. However, as it supports live TV, where the PS3 and Xbox 360 don’t, then it might still win as the most heavily-featured box in this list.

In the meantime, if it’s a dedicated box that you’re after, the next best is the WD TV Live Plus.

What about price?

Another potential deal breaker! At the time of writing, the following prices apply (though as with all tech, the prices are sure to change, but this at least gives you an idea of the relative cost of the boxes):

Should you buy a Web TV box?

In short, yes. Web TV is set to do for your telly what the Web did for mobile phones. And if you’re not sure what that is, just compare the iPhone to an old Motorola RAZR! Think tight social networking integration within your telly, surfing the Web at the flick of a remote, or searching for TV programmes and YouTube clips from the same interface.

And then think of apps and imagine a whole new set of features for you humble telly that we’ve only just begun to imagine!

If that sounds too airy fairy, check out this video of Google TV:

Hopefully you now get some idea of the revolution that’s just around the corner – and it’s not 3D!

[Source: Gizmodo]

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