Right now, I have (at least) six things connected to my TV that stream Netflix. Almost all can stream Amazon Instant Video, too, and most can stream a slew of other services, too. The ability to stream Netflix is a given for these days, but not all boxes are created equal; that’s why it’s helpful to get a sense of which boxes are best. Here are my picks at three arbitrary cut-off points.
The Best Box for Under $100: Roku 3 (MSRP $99)
I don’t own a Roku 3 and can’t vouch for its quality. HOWEVER! If I was looking for an inexpensive device that offered the most bang for its buck, this is the device I’d get. It features more than 1,500 channels (apps), offers media streaming from mobile devices and includes an “amazing remote with headphone jack.” Sure, every device has a remote, but how many include a headphone jack for media playback without bothering those around you?! One. (As far as I know, anyway.)
- Apple TV (great if you make tons of purchases on iTunes)
- WD TV Live (great if you want to play any media file you have on your computer)
The Best Box for Under $400: Xbox One (MSRP $399)
If you only want to play games, the PlayStation 4 is the easy choice. But for a complete media experience in your living room, it’s hard for the PlayStation 4 to stack up to the Xbox One. The Xbox One can act as your set-top box, boasts an ever-growing library of media apps and, oh yeah, offers next-gen gaming. There are options when buying the Xbox One, too – you can add in the Kinect for an extra $149, adding the ability to play new games and use voice commands (“Xbox, pause” is especially helpful), or you can wait a couple weeks to get the Sunset Overdrive bundle for the same price ($399).
- PlayStation 4 (great if you’re more game-focused than media-focused)
- PlayStation 3 (great if you’re on a budget and want to stream HBO Go right now)
The Best Box for More Than $500: Any Mid- to High-End PC
Okay, maybe I’m cheating. But The Verge just made this argument, and I agree completely. Having a computer – especially your main computer – hooked up to your TV opens up a world of possibilities. Internet browsing is better than anywhere else, and you can access any program you need. You also don’t have to worry about whether or not your media box is able to stream a particular service; everything works on PC. Plus, it’s able to play games at resolutions better than the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 (if you spend enough money on the computer, that is). For cosmetic purposes, a Mac Mini does the trick rather nicely. To get the most bang for your buck, building a custom desktop tower will serve you well. For ease and convenience, just about any halfway decent tower you can pick up at any big box store will do.