If you don't have an Internet-connected television or Blu-ray player but would still like access to the growing amount of content available online, a separate streaming media player is an easy, inexpensive solution. While Apple TV and Roku are the most popular—and certainly worthy—choices, our first-ever streaming media player Ratings revealed a surprising top-rated model: The WD TV Play, from Western Digital.
Though it ranked lower in our Ratings, Apple TV is still a smart choice for those who have a lot of content in iTunes and enjoy its AirPlay mirroring feature for getting mobile content to their TV. And the Roku 3 did very well thanks to its pleasing interface, speedy operation, and wealth of content. But the WD TV Play earned the highest score in our Ratings thanks to its ease of use, connectivity, and features, including its support of numerous audio and video formats, a plus for those who have or create a lot of personal content, such as videos. And its $65 price tag earned it a CR Best Buy recommendation to boot.
Several streaming players powered by the updated Google TV platform also did well in our Ratings. These boxes, which sit between your cable or satellite box and your TV, are able to include live TV as well as streaming services and the Internet in searches for content. (Plus your cable box and the player share a single HDMI input on your TV.) All Google TV streaming media players include a full Web browser (Chrome), access to the Google Play apps markets, and come with enhanced dual-sided remote controls with a QWERTY keyboard on one side and a touchpad on the other. All the Google TV boxes we tested feature IR blasters for controlling other gear with the player's remote.
For more information and tips, check out our free streaming media players and services buying guide.
But not everyone wants or needs the complexity, features, or higher prices of an advanced player. Even the basic models we tested will work with any TV that has an HDMI input. All the models in our Ratings have built-in Wi-Fi, and can stream Netflix and at least one or two other services, plus a music station such as Pandora or Spotify. Some have an Ethernet jack for a wired connection to your home network, and a few have analog connections so they can work with older TVs. And nearly every model we tested can deliver very good 1080p video that looks better than what you'd get from DVDs, provided you have a decent broadband connection in your home.
If you're in the market for a streaming media player, let us know what models you're considering, and why. And if you recently bought a player, let us know what you like--and don't like--about your purchase.