In the last year or so, three major SoC manufacturers vied for market share in the media streamer market. While Intel's CE41xx took the high end path with design wins in the Logitech Revue and Boxee Box, Sigma Designs and Realtek continued to retain design wins with their existing customers. Sigma's customers used SMP 8642/8643/8655 while Realtek customers migrated from RTD 1073 / RTD 1283 to RTD 1185. We have had media streamers based on these SoCs in-house for quite some time now. Almost all of them have been touched upon in one piece or the other. However, a comprehensive comparison piece was never published.

Today, we will summarize the media streaming capabilities of some of the media streamers which vied for consumer attention over the last 1 year. Representing Sigma's platform is the Netgear NeoTV 550 (based on the SMP 8642). From the Realtek side, we have the A.C.Ryan PlayOn!HD2 based on the RTD 1185. In our original Boxee Box review, we had indicated that a second look would be coming soon. We will see whether firmware updates have improved the capabilities of the Boxee Box since we last looked at it.

With Intel exiting the media streamer market, only Sigma Designs and Realtek have introduced SoC updates for their customers. Sigma Designs adopted a three-pronged approach, introducing one set of SoCs for the premium Blu-ray player market (SMP 8646/8647), another for IP set top boxes / OTT media players (SMP 8670/8671) and yet another one for the premium media players sans Blu-ray capabilities (SMP 8656/8657). Realtek delivered just one updated SoC, namely, the RTD 1186 which added Blu-ray 3D capabilities without the BDA certification hassles. Starting last month, devices based on the updated SoCs have also started appearing. In this situation, it is conceivable that the last gen models are going to be available at attractive prices in the coming months. This review should be able to serve as a guide for your purchase of one of those models.

Starting with this review, we are streamlining the presentation of our test suite results. In the first two sections, we will discuss hardware impressions (including build quality) and the user interface / jukebox capabilities. The bulk of our test suite results will be presented in the following five sections. An overview of the streaming services available will also be presented. Miscellaneous issues such as networking capabilities and power consumption profile will be covered in the final section.

Hardware Impressions
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  • kolepard - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Could you mention where you found a Boxee Box for $90? I can't seem to find one for much under $200, and at $90 I'd purchase additional units.

  • gplracer - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Looks like a media pc is still the best choice.
  • Matt355 - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    I replaced my HTPC after I purchased the Boxee Box. It serves my Needs Perfectly and uses far less electricity, its never gone over 15w and is easier for other family members to use.
  • jbm - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    Indeed. No full 10bit-Support=fail for fansubs. What use is a streaming device when you cannot play your current video downloads.
  • ganeshts - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    I am sure we will see more such offers as time goes by.
  • Matt355 - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    I purchased my Boxee Box from Best Buy for $89.99 last week. They price matched Comp USA, who was sold out. No doubt Amazon will be offering it at that price soon also.
    I must say I had not really considered it at $179.99 but if I had Known how good it is I would have Gladly payed full price, It plays everything. even video I had Problems With on the WD Media Player, it applies dvd and album art to music and video files and has channels for streaming live content from the internet and only uses 15W under full load, far better then my HTPC it replaced. I only wish now that I had purchased a second one while it was on sale.
  • mcturkey - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    The biggest issue I have with all of these is the fact that if you truly want to move to a whole-house entertainment system, none of them support streaming CableCard tuners and the DVR functionality that provides. Of the Media Center Extenders that exist with this capability, only the 360 is still supported, and it requires a Windows 7 system with a fair bit of processing power and memory to transcode newer formats on the fly.

    I am about to take the plunge on moving to 360s for streaming from my HTPC for movies/tv shows/cable. If someone would just make a proper media streaming box with the kind of native codec support that these streamers have and make it an MCE, they could really make a killing. But I'm not going to have multiple boxes for this stuff. I'd build HTPCs for all the rooms, but you lose out on proper whole-house DVR capability, and you have to manually assign tuners to each box, making it more of a hassle to use than it should be.
  • Matt355 - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    Boxee Box will be selling a dongle that plugs in and allows recording of over air TV, I tried the X Box 360 Solution and gave up. There is no excuse for the 360 not supporting more codecs. That sad, I can point my Boxee Box to any folder on my Windows Home Server or Macbook, So you could record on 1 PC or server and point all your Boxee's to it and stream to any room. All codecs are built in to Boxee Box. Just like WD Media Player. so no transcoding and no re encoding required.
  • CU - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    Mythtv can do that. You setup a backend somewhere, and then install frontends at each TV.
  • mcturkey - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    MythTV doesn't work with CableCard tuners, though, which is necessary for making whole-home DVR and TV support work. The only software that has been certified by Cable Card Labs or whatever they're called is Windows Media Center :( It's not just playing back recorded stuff (which requires extenders under WMC due to copy-never flags), but also sharing tuners for live TV. I'd much prefer to use HTPCs for this as I'd never need to worry about codecs and transcoding--not to mention having more control over the interface.

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