Digital Media Players

Roku 3

Digital media players or streaming devices are available from many manufacturers. If you’re not already using one, these are great way to get programming to your media room TV from the Internet or your computer. As mentioned last December, they are also great to stream content right from your smartphone or tablet.

The Apple TV and Roku are the most popular, but they are also available from the likes of Western Digital, Netgear and Asus. Sizes vary, but most are the size a hockey puck or two. These small devices sit near your TV and plug in a HDMI input. Features vary, but most of these devices have:

  • A dedicated remote with different capabilities depending on the system. For example the Apple TV’s is simplified barebones, while the Roku 3 allows headphones to be attached. Of course most players allow control using your smartphone or tablet as well.
  • Streaming apps like Netflix. Most have the top streaming apps, but some offer more choices for more unique tastes. As with apps built into smart TVs, you should research which ones appeal to you.
  • Ability to play content from your computer or NAS (Network Attached Storage – if you use one in your home). While the Apple TV is fixed to only play media from iTunes library, others allow more flexibility. iTunes makes it easier, but as with most things Apple, there are limitations on what they think you should be able to do. This is either a plus or minus depending on the individual.
  • Streaming and mirroring from your smartphone or tablet (as mentioned above).

There looks to be a new category of these media players forming up – the dongle. To catch you up, a ‘dongle‘ is a small device that connects directly to a computer or TV. The new Roku Streaming Stick HDMI version joins the Google Chromecast dongle that’s already available in the US. These are similar to a regular media players but with reduced or streamlined featuresRoku Ready Stick. They are focused on using your smartphone or tablet to play content (only certain Android devices for the Chromecast). We can take a closer look at these when they are available in Canada.

The great things about digital media players are that they are about $100 or less and pack in a lot of features. Not only do they smarten up any TV with an HDMI connection, they will make the idea of having to load Blu-rays or DVDs seem so passé. Happy streaming!