Best value media-streaming devices

Best value media-streaming devices

We name the best media-streaming device.

Photograph by Roberto Caruso

Photograph by Roberto Caruso

Google has set the world of media-streaming devices afire with Chromecast, a USB-sized stick that plugs into a TV and enables online video such as YouTube and Netflix. At only $35, the company is having trouble keeping up with U.S. demand. That likely means a long wait until it officially arrives in Canada.

Fortunately, there are many other options available in the meantime. Video game consoles and Blu-ray players can handle the job, but simpler devices that don’t cost anywhere near as much also abound. We sampled a range of them: here are the best.

Best deal: Roku 2 XS

The $109 Roku is the living-room champ thanks to its big selection of apps, interoperability with most home computers and devices, and tinkerer-friendly hardware. It offers up more than 400 channels of online content, ranging from the standard YouTube and Netflix to MLB and CNBC, as well as music services such as Rdio. It can also be used to check Facebook or look at Flickr photos.

More tech-savvy users can install apps like Plex, which allow for streaming of video and other media files from a nearby computer, tablet or other device. The Roku also has USB and SD ports for the less tech-inclined. Copy a movie onto either, stick them in and play.

And just for kicks, its remote also doubles as a motion-sensitive game controller, so you can play Angry Birds and other downloaded games on your TV just by flicking your wrist.

The Roku 2 XD is pretty much the same, but it doesn’t have a motion controller, USB or ethernet slot. Instead, it connects via wi-fi. It is cheaper, though, at $89.

Best pick for cinephiles: WD TV LIVE

Western Digital’s $99 streaming box does much of what the Roku does, but it has a slicker on-screen interface, compared to the boring blackness of its rival. It also boasts a comprehensive list of supported video file formats: good for people who have big libraries. While the Roku may miss some file formats, the WD TV is likely to play anything thrown at it.

Best pick for Apple fans: Apple TV

The $109 Apple TV is the streaming device leader with more than half the market, and it’s easy to see why. It’s an elegant product that offers many of the expected apps; plus it has Apple’s iTunes music and video library, which has replaced Blockbuster as the de facto rental repository. It’s great for people who own other Apple products, since streaming from an iPad or Mac via AirPlay is a breeze. The downside is Apple TV isn’t tinkerer-friendly, with no USB port.—Peter Nowak