We recently evaluated these set-top boxes in our test labs. You hook up the box to your broadband connection through wired or built-in wireless. The Logitech Revue connects through your cable/satellite/Dish set-top box to your TV; the other three connect directly to your TV.
No one choice is best for every viewer. We indicate the needs that each model best fills; models are listed in alphabetical order. The Apple is simplest, the Roku currently offers the most entertainment choices, and the Logitech could have the most potential. At the time of our tests, the D-Link Boxee Box wasn't a contender for the reasons noted.
What it can doGet YouTube videos, access all the content in your iTunes library, and rent movies and TV shows from iTunes and Netflix.
ProsInexpensive, simple setup, very good Netflix integration, full support for iTunes libraries, super-quiet operation.
ConsNo Web browser, video rental only (no purchases), limited content so far, 720p maximum resolution, no support for older TV connections, no usable USB port.
Best forApple-centric fans who like a slick, easy-to-use interface and easy access to their iTunes libraries, plus the ability to control the box via their iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.
What it can doGet free videos from YouTube and Blip.TV and stream Pandora Internet radio. You'll be able to rent TV shows and movies from Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Vudu if promised support of those materializes.
ProsFull Web browser with Flash support, less expensive than Logitech Revue (which has a similar feature). Plays content stored on a network and 1080p video. Supports older audio and video formats, two-sided RF remote with full (though small) QWERTY keyboard on one side, two USB ports, and an SD card slot. Supports a wide range of media file formats.
ConsUnfinished feel. User can only rent videos (no purchases). ABC, NBC, and Hulu are blocking access. No mouse/trackpad, and the controller is hard to use for moving cursor. There are still a few software bugs to be addressed via firmware updates.
Best forNo one yet. Wait for the bugs to be ironed out and content to be available.
What it can doBrowse the Web, get free videos from YouTube and other websites, buy movies and TV shows from Amazon, rent or buy from Netflix and cable VOD/PPV; can receive Pandora Internet radio and music from other websites.
ProsFull Web browser (Google TV's Chrome) with support for Flash, 1080p video, full QWERTY keyboard with keypad. Searches cable/satellite TV and Web-based content (can schedule recordings with a Dish DVR); universal remote can control TV and set-top boxes in a home-theater setup. Two USB ports.
ConsGoogle TV has had a lukewarm reception, so Google is updating the software. Expensive, more involved setup, larger-than-average set-top box, no support for over-the-air programs, spotty integration with cable/satellite set-top boxes. Search excludes content stored on a personal computer. ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and Hulu are blocking access. Limited apps until Android developer's kit is released this spring.
Best forHome-theater enthusiasts who are looking for a "Google TV" experience that marries Web-based and TV content and are willing to pay for it. Could be a killer device if Android apps are delivered as promised.
What it can doGet free videos from Vimeo and rent or buy movies and TV shows from Hulu Plus ($8/month subscription) and Netflix, buy videos from Amazon, listen to Pandora Internet radio service.
ProsInexpensive, extendable channel store with a good assortment of content, especially free choices; most complete selection of paid video services, 1080p video support, composite-video (via an adapter) connection for older gear, USB port.
ConsNo Web browser, interface a bit more confusing than most, requires a computer for setup, no YouTube, no built-in support for streaming media from a PC.
Best forThose who would like a relatively inexpensive box that offers a wide variety of content and who have the technical knowledge, gumption, and time to find and organize it.