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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  • slyck - Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - link

    D-LINK.... the only reason I need to never purchase a Boxee Box.
  • Master_Sigma - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    Do any of these devices support playback of 10-bit h.264 encodes? I watch alot of anime fansubs and that community has already started moving over to that standard (most NEW fansubs being released nowadays uses 10-bit encoding). My PC can play them fine but I was wondering if there was an off-the-shelf playback device out now that supports them or if I would buy/build a little HTPC, like the ZOTAC Zbox Nano (hopefully with Llano), to do the job.
  • ganeshts - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    Please look in the Video Codecs Compatibility section under H.264 ; Both Boxee Box and NTV550 play such videos with a blank screen. The POHD2 plays with blocking artifacts. You have to rely on PC for playback of such streams for another year or so (at the least)
  • Master_Sigma - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    Herp, derp. That's what I get for not reading. Thanks!
  • Nogib - Wednesday, November 23, 2011 - link

    Well if those fansubbers weren't complete elitist dicks we wouldn't have this problem. I've loved being able to play 8-bit h.264 encodes on my WDTV Live Plus as well as my netbook (AMD Ontario acceleration is flawless!). But no, can't run this 10-bit garbage on those. Instead of waiting for proper hardware support, fansubbers assumed we all either have HTPCs or love to sit at a computer desk to watch shows. And once one group started doing it the others all followed suit to make sure their e-penis measured up.

    You can tell I'm only slightly bitter about them changing from 8-bit to 10-bit when there is zero benefit....
  • chrnochime - Tuesday, December 6, 2011 - link

    They do it for free. Don't like it? Go learn Japanese and not have to rely on fansubber to feed your anime needs. Why are you whining about something that you get for free anyway?
  • geniekid - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    As others above me have said, it looks like an HTPC is still the most capable media center. That said, for the prices of these three alternatives, I would be hard pressed to recommend building an HTPC unless there's some functionality you just can't live without or you're a hobbyist like me :)
  • cjs150 - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    And a great summary of the state of the market

    Which, for media streamers, sucks.

    These are not consumer grade devices and the rate of progress is such that I doubt they ever will be.

    On the other hand it is now possible to build or buy a PC that doubles as a proper part of an AV system, that works well and gets better and better. Problem is it takes a bit of work to get Windows 7, XBMC or whatever OS you prefer, to work they way you want.

    Zotac nano AD10 is a fantastic bit of kit (please lose the fan though) and close to perfect given its very small size or if you want something larger, AMD Motherboards are a great start and there are some really nice cases out there (for example love look of Wesena, just not convinced by build quality/design)

    Sadly you get what you pay for
  • thudo - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    I own this and its quite fantastic for $99 and getting GREAT reviews. Devs are also the only in the biz to rapidly response to suggestions from the customer. Sure its NOT perfect but it works quite well.

    Maybe it was too new (Oct 03, 2011) to be reviewed by Anandtech.. :|
  • Destiny - Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - link

    This is a roundup of updates to reviews and articles written for these players on AnandTech from almost a year ago. So basically it is an updated review after the Writer gave them ample time for firmware updates to bring them up to par because at launch they were all horrible and not market ready.

    The Pivos Aios uses the same RealTek 1185 chipset as the AC Ryan that is reviewed here. So features and codec support would be the same because the RealTek SDK does not offer any much difference in custom firmware... so basically it would be a same review as the AC Ryan as mentioned here...

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