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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  • Rainman200 - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    I'm not too surprised to see Boxee come out on top, much of the media streamer industry is very behind the times.

    That said I would have liked to have seen a HDI Dune player included given their reputation for stability and image quality to see if they live up to the claims which Boxee comes away with the top spot in this article.
  • Memphist - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    I have used the Xtreamer Products and have found them to be the best for playing all formats. I have yet to find a format it can not play. It appear to be compatible with every format conceivable. I have a Sidewinder an Xtreamer Pro.

    I read these review for a laugh at how much they cost and how many CODECs they can't play.

    My TV is a Panasonic and Blu ray player a Sony, neither can play half the the CODEC mix that the Xtreamer's can play.

    If you're new to Media Streamers do your self a favor and look at the Xtreamer Products first and compare the rest.
  • pseudo7 - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    I've never liked xtreamer products, of which I have only owned the original xtreamer but it was enough to shove me to building my own HTPC and installing XBMC (neither of which I had done before.

    My biggest niggle is that they have a great website with great text, pics and videos put there products seems lacking.

    The xtreamer ultra can ship with openelec which runs XBMC... I can see it heading to XBMC a lot more.
  • Destiny - Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - link

    If you're new to Media Streamers it is best to AVOID Xtreamer brand - there are many alternatives out there from other brands. My experience with them is not good and maybe others may have better experience.

    Comparing prices for Xtreamer Products to what is available here in the USA - the costs are the same after VAT, International Shipping, and Customs fees if ordered from Over Seas Shop... plus the Xtreamers that are available here in the USA is not really lower cost that what is exactly available that is using RealTek chipsets... plus the codec is the same for all RealTek chipsets because they share the same RealTek SDK - no need to review a twin...

    Plus a quick google search for Xtreamer would show customer service is horrible combined with marketing gimmicks... You'll fair better with AC Ryan and even better with Med8er using the same RealTek chipsets...
  • SlyNine - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    How it organizes the library, and how easy someone who never touched it before can get to the movie (on my network) that they want to watch.
  • juhatus - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    How about testing oppo-93, something more of a "top-end" streamer/blu-ray.. pretty please :)
  • plonk420 - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    do these output 24/48 or 16/48?
  • ganeshts - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Please look at the Sampling Frequency entries in the Audio Codec section. The POHD2 and NTV550 are faithful, but Boxee Box is not.
  • MadMan007 - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    The quest doesn't continue - the answer is an HTPC, and software has finally become decent enough that it's not a huge hassle like it was in the past. Although more expensive than these boxes the near-unlimited flexibility of something like a Zacate-based HTPC cannot be beat.
  • Deanodxb - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    ...of the problems users face with these players.

    I have purchased two Boxee Boxes, one for playback of material by USB and one for playback of material through a wider network of NAS boxes.

    Boxee updates firmware automatically, without any user intervention. The last update lost all SMB shares, prevented me from adding the shares again and lost all scrapped media. Multiple users have complained to Boxee about this and their customer service has got worse and worse. They have done nothing to respond to customer tickets raised on this issue and are more concerned with pushing new products such as dongles and live TV.

    Check out this link and read the comments to see what I am referring to:

    I ended up re-flashing to old working firmware and blocking the auto update address in my router. Boxee works great but all manufacturers should know that customers aren't their beta or alpha testers.

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