The Ultimate Guide To Choosing The Best Media-Streaming Player and save BIG on your cable bill
So, you think cable TV sucks? You're not alone.
A growing number of Americans are choosing to cut the cord on cable and instead watch video on demand that is streamed to their screens over the Web.
Now you too can use a media-streaming device to watch what you want, when you want it, whether you watch TV shows and movies occasionally or are an avid viewer.
If saying buh-bye to cable entirely gives you the jitters, keep your subscription and simply supplement it with a media streamer instead to give you a broader range of content to watch in your downtime.
But, now that you know you want a media-streaming player, here comes the next hurdle. With several boxes on the market, how do you decide on one? Many people feel overwhelmed by the number of choices. With that issue in mind, we off this review post to you.
What The Hack?
We don't call ourselves 'Man Cave Masters' for nothing! In order to elevate your personal space to the ultimate Media Center experience, you would want to do it at the lowest cost possible, right? Well, we got you covered!
True, there's no such thing as a free lunch, but you could watch most of your content for free by busting out your hacker chops. You can "hack" some media streamers more easily than others, making them in to mindless slaves of your ever-thirsty remote.
Hacking or "jailbreaking" means you get even more content and services than what the manufacturer offers you! Many hackers are all about Kodi (formerly called XMBC), the cool software you can get on your media player after you jailbreak it.
Kodi is essentially an entertainment hub for playing videos, music, and even podcasts. You can also record and watch TV because it allows PVR functions. When you hack your media streamer (as the ultimate freeloader, who would have thought it?), you can customize the box just for you.
For the ultimate "free lunch", Kodi will allow you to install apps such as 1Channel and Genesis that give you access to an infinite collection of TVShows and movies - FOR FREE!
Nobody hates your freeloading nature as much as the manufacturer of your media device - especially Apple and Amazon. Tampering with your device could "brick" your media box, making it unusable for good. In addition, watching stuff for free might have legal consequences in the future! At time of writing this, "streaming" content is not illegal, as long as it isn't stored or distributed.
To be on the save side, we recommend using a VPN service, such as Cactus VPN. It will hide your IP address and lets you stream your content anonymously. You can sign up for their free trial here. If you are in the US, their $4.99/ month service should have you covered. The service offers easy to follow instructions on how to set it up with your streamer box.
Below, you will find our individual reviews of the five most popular streaming players in the US.
Side note: we have excluded the smaller, "stick" versions of some of the devices. Reason: they can't be jailbroken and are therefore not suited for our review purposes.
Read on to learn the features of each box, pros and cons, and - unlike other media streamer reviews - ease of hack-ability, and which one we ultimately recommend to you.
Top 5 Media Streamers
This post focuses on streaming media devices or set-top boxes, as they are also known. The five streamers, in order of discussion, are Roku 3, Apple TV 3, Amazon Fire TV Box, Google Nexus Player, and the new kid on the market, G-Box Q.
|Name||Matricom G-Box Q Media Streamer||Google Nexus Player||Apple TV 3||Amazon Fire TV||Roku 3 Streaming Media Player|
|Lowest Price||$102.00Amazon See it||$74.99Amazon See it||$89.00Amazon See it||$99.00Amazon See it||$99.00Amazon See it|
|Type||Media Streamer||Media Streamer||Media Streamer||Media Streamer||Media Streamer|
|Model||G-Box Q||Nexus Player||LETV3FT||CL1130||4230R|
|Weight||0.55 pounds||18.7 pounds||1.3 pounds||0.61 pounds||0.31 pounds|
|Dimensions||4 x 4 x 1.5 inches||16.8 x 11.4 x 8.6 inches||6.4 x 6.4 x 4.5 inches||4.5 x 4.5 x 0.7 inches||3.5 x 3.5 x 1 inches|
|Read the Review||Read the Review||Read the Review||Read the Review||Read the Review|
These players are generally within the $60-$100 range (excluding the G-Box Q) and come with built-in Wi-Fi to fetch content that's then displayed on yourTV using an HDMI cable. In other words, setup is a cinch, even if you are not a tech guru.
Here is more detail about the general offerings of each box:
Apple TV 3
While the Apple TV 3 looks small, it has big features. It's not really a "TV" though, despite the name. Its software is similar to the Mac OS, but it's not a Mac; it streams iTunes and other media content to HD televisions. It is powered by an Apple single-core A5 chip.
Pros & Cons
If you're an Apple lover, with an iPhone and iPad already, you'll likely want to add this streamer to your collection. Why? It will be easy to share your content that's already on iTunes, your Mac or iCloud to your Apple TV 3. Now you'll be able to integrate the player with iTunes TV shows, movies, and music.
While Apple added more services lately, including HBO, Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube, it still lacks Vudu, Amazon, and M-Go. Also, some users say they have to restart the box or iTunes frequently.
Setting up AirPlay will let you stream whatever's playing on your iOS device onto your TV screen. The quality of movies, TV shows, and movies is excellent with the 1080p high definition. Plus, it's compact, stylish, and an affordable $89.
On the other hand, if you're not part of the Apple world, it will be more difficult to access these options, and they will, obviously, be more limited. Also, the amount of games and other content on Apple TV 3 is less than on, say, Roku 3.
- Jailbreak your Apple TV 3 to get new apps, services, and systems that take your cool media player even further. It's actually a simple process to hack into it, IF you have an Apple TV 2 or the original model. However, with Apple TV 3, not so much.
- To use Kodi on your Apple TV (3rd generation), what you have to do is mirror your screen. What do we mean by this?
- Here's how mirroring will work: Use the AirPlay Mirroring feature of your iOS mobile device, Android mobile device, Mac, or PC. Peer-to-peer AirPlay is available on iOS 8. AirPlay enables you to connect your iPad or iPhone to your Apple TV 3 to stream a range of content, WITHOUT them both having to connect on the same Wi-Fi network. Your mobile device IS the Wi-Fi hotspot.
- Note: This peer-to-peer AirPlay feature is only available on the 3rd generation Apple TVs.
Our verdict on the hackability of Apple TV 3: Installing Kodi is problematic with the third generation model. Instead, use the AirPlay Mirroring feature. Having your Apple TV (3rd generation) is possible with the workaround we've outlined above. But, if you want all of the perks of Kodi then you're best to stick with the two earlier generations of the Apple TV or choose another player instead.
In theRoku 3, enjoy voice search for finding the movies and TVs you want to watch in no time. Also, get "Roku Feed," so you can follow entertainment that interests you. It's faster than the first generation model and has a new interface, as well as USB ports and a microSD slot.
Pros & Cons
The biggest advantage of Roku 3 is its huge amount of content, surpassing all other media streamers. For movies and TV shows, you get to choose from Netflix, HBO Go, Amazon, Hulu, Vudu, M-Go, and more. You can even cross-search over multiple platforms. Also, use Roku Feed's "Movies Coming Soon" section to check if a movie is available yet to stream or not.
The Roku 3 has a wired Ethernet port to connect to a home network, and it supports both 5GHz and 2.4GHz frequencies; got to love dual-band Wi-Fi. Enjoy 1080p HD resolution, as well as a free iOS and Android app to transform your mobile device into a Roku remote.
However, Roku 3 is more expensive than the Apple TV; current pricing is $100. Another disadvantage is its limited screen mirroring options; it only mirrors your mobile device onto the TV screen if you're on YouTube or Netflix.
Do you want to stream your own digital media? Unfortunately, you'll have a hill to climb to do so. Regarding customer support, some online reviewers discuss the lack of it. Other reviewers say the remote control locks up sometimes.
- Sorry folks, Kodi cannot be installed onto Roku 3. That being said, there is a workaround. You can use Kodi on your Android devices, such as a phone or tablet, and then mirror your screen to Roku.
- Another option is to use Plex Media Server. One advantage of Plex over Kodi is the simplified data management. There aren't many performance issues with Plex either because it's lightweight. However, Kodi is more flexible than Plex, offering custom skins, etc.
- Your best bet? For Roku 3, use a free Plex client and pair that with a free Plex server.
Our verdict on the hackability of the Roku 3: It's not an easy process as the media streamer is made to be secure; it won't let you install Kodi. But, you can make do with Plex instead. Performance is reliable when you pair up a Plex client with a Plex server.
Amazon Fire TV Box
Specific features of the Amazon Fire TV Box include voice commands and a kid-centric environment called "FreeTime," where parents can set controls for their children's viewing habits, such as viewing time limits. Get movies and TV shows from a range of content partners.
Pros & Cons
Choose from several content services, including Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu. If the movie or TV show you want is marked "ASAP," it starts quickly, almost as soon as you select it. Fast is a good word to describe the Amazon Fire TV Box; its fast-forward and rewind features are smoother than other streamers.
It's a quality gaming platform too, offering many titles you'll have difficulty finding elsewhere. The newest version lets you add a USB drive too, giving you additional storage for downloading and saving games. Connect it to "captive portal" Wi-Fi networks too, so you can take it with you to play at your hotel while on vacation or in a dorm or apartment building.
A slight disadvantage is that the streamer shoves Amazon in your face every chance it gets. Yes, we know there are Amazon Instant videos, but do we need to see it on almost every screen? Show promotion is high for shows that are new additions to Amazon Prime Instant. Also, the game controller is not included; we recommend it for a better gaming experience. It costs $99, which is on the high end of the price range for media-streaming players.
If you are a Apple user and want to get your iPhone or Mac content on to the Amazon device, there areplenty of AirPlay apps available for that too.
- So you've got 10 minutes? Then you have time to sideload Kodi onto your Amazon Fire TV Box. You DON"T have to hack the player as Amazon Fire allows sideloading.
- Obviously, first you will need to download the latest Kodi apk available for Android.
- Next, enable ADB Debugging on your player. Go to Settings, select Developer Options, and click ON for ADB Debugging. While in Settings, also go to About and write down your IP address.
- Download either the Amazon Fire TV Utility App (for Windows, Linux, or Mac) or the adbFire app (solely for Windows users). The simplest process is to extract the app of choice to your C Drive.
- IF you chose the adbFire app, install Kodi following these instructions.
- IF you choose the Amazon Fire TV Utility App, follow these instructions:
- In Windows, go to File, and select Connect. Enter your IP address, choose Normal Debug mode, and then click the bottom button that says Save and Close.
- Look for a screen prompt to say that you've connected to the player.
- Go to the Fire TV Utility app to ensure it says it is connected to your IP (look for the line at the bottom of the page). Then browse and select the downloaded Kodi ARM apk, and then click on the top-right button that reads "Side Load 3rd Party Application."
- You will then see a notification that Kodi is successfully installed.
Our verdict: Installing Kodi onto the Amazon Fire TV Box is a simple process that requires little time. You don't even need to root the player. It's a great non-HTPC option for Kodi, booting up faster than a Raw Mini HTPC. The streamer starts up almost as you soon as you power on. As the Fire TV allows sideloading, you don't need to hack it to install Kodi.
Google Nexus Player
The circular design of this black set-top box is certainly unique. It is smart technology that easily connects to the Internet for streaming movies, TV shows, music, and other content. Connect to Netflix, YouTube, Pandora Internet Radio, and more. It works with most HDMI-compatible TVs and has an 8GB hard drive.
Pros & Cons
Voice search using the included remote and you'll find it is highly responsive. Just as we'd expect from its maker, Google Now, a pro with this type of technology. It can handle complex phrases and returns results easily for titles as well as actors.
The Nexus player works well with Google's Cast service, as well as TabCast from the browser Chrome. It can mirror screens too, putting what you see on your phone or tablet onto the TV's screen. The streamer also offers a range of games via the Google Play store; although less than game selection than on Amazon Fire, it is ahead of many of the other set-top boxes.
The cons? It's at the higher end of the price range for media streamers; it is $99. Plus, it has sparse connections, with only one HDMI output, which is for connecting to the TV to use it, and its microUSB port is just to get service.
While it does offer mirror imaging, this option is only compatible with specific Android devices, and you must use a Chromecast app to do so. It shoves its Google services down your throat too, much like Amazon Fire does with its own offerings. In terms of content, there is a smaller selection than on Roku 3.
- As the Nexus Player is essentially an Android device, it can pretty much do anything your smartphone can do, right? Correct. You can install Kodi onto your Nexus Player, and it's pretty stable for Android, especially when you use Kodi 14 Helix or above.
- Our inside research reveals the x86 version of Kodi for Android, which is recommended for it, has a packaging problem that is leading many users to have problems with Kodi crashing and video links not playing. What a hassle, sigh. So, try the ARM version instead; it appears to work well with the Nexus Player, without any of those issues.
- Kodi is easily accessible from the Google Play store and then by following these installation steps.
Our verdict on the hack-ability of the Nexus Player: Google doesn't make it easy to sideload Kodi to it. While you'll likely be recommended the x86 version of Kodi for it, packaging issues are causing crashes that are a pain in the ass. Instead, opt for the ARM version and you should have better luck. There are several steps though for the loading process so allow an afternoon to get this one done.
The G-Box Q from Matricom takes Android TV to its max potential! Enjoy an Octo Core 3D GPU Graphics Processor (see pros section below). It has Ethernet, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot up to 64GB, and 2 USB 2.0 host ports.
Pros & Cons
The amazing 8x 3D graphics of this set-top box deliver outstanding gaming performance. If you're a gamer, you're welcome. Plus, the G-Box Q has smooth playback when you watch movies while streaming live shows is fast and reliable. Its internal storage of 16GB is nothing to scoff at, either.
Perhaps its most important advantage is it has no restrictions; you don't need to jailbreak it, unlike the other four boxes we spotlight here, as it comes with XBMC/Kodi. It has Cloud Updating too, so you never have to worry about manually updating apps or Android versions.
Now for the disadvantages of the G-Box Q. It is more than double the price of some of the other players at $259. However, shop around for discounts and you will find them (who doesn't love saving a few bucks?). Some online reviewers cite issues with audio cutting out and slow wireless connections.
- There's no need to hack the G-Box Q Android TV box to get Kodi, my friends. You read that right, no hacking required. The media streamer basically comes pre-installed with Kodi.
- How so? The heart of the G-Box Q is its Matricom Media Center, which is based on Kodi stable technology. If you set your player to get automatic updates, then you'll always have the latest "Stable Kodi," as it is known on Play's app page. If you didn't get the update, just find the Matricom Media Center at the Google Play Store.
Our verdict: G-Box Q and Kodi are totally compatible. This media streamer is based on Kodi streamer technology, so there's no need to hack it. If you're a general user who's scared by the term "hacker," and has no interest in altering your player, this is likely the one for you.
So, which is the best media-streaming play for you? If you are a general user who has no interest in hacking a device, then the G-Box Q is the perfect solution. It offers you the Kodi features without any hacking required. Simple.
If, however, you plan to jailbreak the streamer, then you need to pay more attention to the "hackability" boxes above and our details on pros and cons of the other four devices.
Overall, we recommend the Amazon Fire TV Box. You get a lot of content, albeit less than Roku 3, but it kicks Roku's ass when it comes to having all-out access to Kodi.
Getting Kodi is a cinch too; just sideload it. Also, if you have children, you can change your settings to be more kid-friendly, and that may well be what ultimately gets you to buy it.
If you're into gaming, Amazon Fire is one you'll love, and you get massive storage for your games too by adding an extra USB drive. It's on the higher end of the price range for media streamers but, in our opinion, it's well worth it with so many great features.
There you have it. This concludes our epic post on how to pick the right media streamer and save money along the way. If you got some value out of it, please share below!
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