The problem is that there seems to be almost too many devices out there that attempt to answer this streaming bit. However, we feel we can help.
Using a very un-scientific scoring formula consisting of 1) number of popular streaming options, 2) streaming performance of native apps, and 3) general user-interface looks and feel, we set out to find out what's the best unit for online streaming out there today.Note: All items reviewed below are updated to their latest firmware as of 11/14/11.
Apple TV 2G: 6/10
Pros: Good lookin' Netflix UI, some live sports such as NBA and MLB
Cons: Only Netflix and pay-per-view content via Apple store, navigating through videos using the included Apple Remote can be a huge pain
Roku XS: 9/10
Pros: Amazon Instant, Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Pandora One... it's all there and then some, quick and easy authorization process using a PC with an onscreen passcode
Cons: 720p navigation interface looks like poo on a big screen, but you get 1080p streaming for online video
Playstation 3/Xbox 360: 8/10
Pros: Both Hulu Plus and Netflix native app options, HD streaming, extremely convenient for gamers, both offer a very smooth UI that feels natural and constantly undergoing small changes that lead to big improvements
Cons: Still a very limited selection of apps compared to competition, gaming controllers feel awkward for daily TV viewing
Nintendo Wii: 4/10
Pros: Netflix available via downloadable app
Cons: Netflix only, controls are finicky, streaming is well-below HD
Samsung Smart TVs (and any other "smart TV" out today): 3/10
Pros: Offers Netflix, Hulu Plus and Pandora One
Cons: Atrocious, slow UI makes it nearly impossible to use
While Apple TV and Boxee both had very attractive UI's for browsing online content, both tend to fall short by offering either a small limited selection or a disorganized collection of stuff we don't really care about. Content is key in a transitioning world of cable and dish-less TV, but even though we understand native apps can be expensive to develop, it goes a long way providing more value to the customer.
Be sure to stay tuned next week where we face off the set-top boxes to see which is best for local streaming content!