If you want to access Online TV on you TV you currently need to either shell out for a new TV, or the cheap alternative is to buy a set-top-box that extends the functionality of your existing one. In this article I'll be looking at three popular boxes and giving my initial impressions of them.
Something strange is happening in the world of IT and gadgets - The idea that you always must be online and logged into some service even if you're not doing anything online. The Boxee is another step in that direction. You've purchased the boxee, brought it home and now....you have to register with D-Link before you can use it. Sure you can link it to your Facebook account, and no doubt there are those who relish the idea of sharing their viewing habits with that person you met on whilst trekking in the himalayas, but it's not really for me. Obviously you need to be online to access online services but registered with the manufacturer? Anyhow, I digress.
I liked the remote, a simple idea of having a keyboard on the flip side make all that typing of network names and login details a breeze. Also this kept the "remote" side uncluttered.
Assessing external media was another easy task. You can plug in devices via the USB socket, or the device is capable of using AFP, SMB, or NFS shares. So pretty much however you store your files it'll be able to scan them.
I've never used AirPlay before and was surprised to find an Apple technology supported on an none apple device. The implementation isn't quite a seamless as Apple's but it worked well enough to have music streaming from an iPhone to the Boxee.
The apps section of the device had a multitude of player for a seemingly endless list of content provider, including the main player like YouTube and BBC iPlayer.
It's Apple, it's got that minimalist Apple style.
Again the setup was fairly straightforward with all keyboard functions taken care of using the onscreen virtual keyboard. Once configured you're greeted with the reassuringly familiar standard Apple App's screen layout. Services like Netflix, YouTube and iPlayer work via the built in Apps. Apple have a great eye for detail, little things like the reflections of the Movies cover artwork, just make the device feel more polished than the other two.
You couldn't get a much simpler remote than the AppleTV one, but that's not a criticism, it looks great and does the job.
AirPlay worked flawlessly (as you'd expect). Well except when my iPhone decided to drop off the wireless network and switch to 3G, but I can't blame AirPlay for that.
The problem with the AppleTV is its lack of support for anything other than main content providers and iTunes. No support for windows or Linux shares no usb port means you can't plug a usb hard drive in. The best it will do is connect to a iTunes library running on another machine.
WD TV Live
Setup for the WD TV Live is simple. Plug it into your network, or connect it to your wireless network and it's off. Like the Boxee and AppleTV the WD TV lIve has a large selection of Apps for accessing content.
One word I'd use to describe the WD TV Lives remote is "functional". It's not got the styling of the Apple remote or the ease of use of Boxee's. But it does do what it's mean to i.e. navigate round menus play, stop, rewind and fast forward media.
The WD TV Live supports reading media from locally connected storage, or on a NAS/Server. It supports NFS and SMB. Though you are unable to assign mount points to specific parts of the interface. i.e. mount you videos in the video section in the interface. For me this results in having a music folder in my videos and visa-versa.
The Interface of the WD TV Live is simple and clean, it does feel a little like you're just using a file browser, but it does support the loading of additional themes.
From the first few hours of using these three devices, I'd say that my favourite was the Boxee. It looks good, provides App for the content providers I was interested in and gave connectivity to external storage - be it attached or on the network. Second place goes to the WD TV Live mainly because with the AppleTV I had no way of accessing files off the network. Finally the AppleTV which I must say is still a great device and probably ideal for those without Linux servers lying round the house!
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