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.
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.
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.
Amazon FireTV 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 an Apple user and want to get your iPhone or Mac content on to the Amazon device, there are plenty of AirPlay apps available for that too.
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.
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.
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!