Free just announced their gorgeous-looking set-top box for their customers in France. It was designed by Starck and on top of looking good, it's filled with a bunch of features that makes us salivate. Naturally, you can't get this box here in the US, but what can you do to get something similar?
If you've tried Boxee as well as its alternatives but they don't just do it for you, what can you do? Before you decide to get cracking, you should check out Apple TV and a few other options before taking the plunge. If you are paying for cable, you're bound by the hardware choices that your cable provider offers. But just like if you don't have cable or digital TV, you can still get some of the benefits of a set-top box by using an HTPC, a home theater PC. These small computers come in small form factors, and are pretty unobtrusive when placed among your home theater components.
A Mac Mini coupled with iTunes would make an admirable set-top box for many people who no longer pay for cable. The Mini is small enough to be hidden away easily enough. If you don't want a Mac, than you can choose from a couple of different manufacturers who make HTPCs. The Acer AspireRevo series is quite affordable and will work well. The same goes for the Asus EeeBox PC.
These small computers will allow you to connect to various sites, like Netflix, Hulu, and apps like Google TV and iTunes to stream them to your HDTV. Some of the newer HDTVs can do so without needing an HTPC, however they will cost more than usual home entertainment PCs.
While these solutions don't look as good as the Freebox and they don't have the features, hopefully soon American telecom companies will be able to provide such attractive devices to their customers.