This may be the holiday shopping season that brings streaming video into the living room. More hardware than ever before is now cheaper than it ever has been, in an effort to turn what many consider "watching movies on your computer" into "watching movies over the Internet on your television." To help people understand the variety of streaming options in stores now, I thought I would run through some of the higher profile toys and how they may or may not fit your personal needs. We'll do this by hypothetical scenario, and feel free to add your own thoughts:
1. "I wanna stream movies on my TV, and I also love to play video games and still care about DVDs."
You probably want to pick up one of the new game consoles, like the Sony Playstation 3 or Microsoft's XBox. Both of these systems will let you play popular video games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, but you can also utilize specific storefronts that each system supports. In other words, both PS3 and XBox have their own movie and TV stores, similar to something like iTunes or Amazon VOD. Nintendo's Wii console has launched a VOD platform in Japan, but that is the only streaming movie/TV service for the Japanese-based platform. For now. Both the PS3 and the XBox allow for Netflix Watch Instantly streaming, enabling Netflix subscribers the ability to log-in to their account and stream around 20,000 different movies and television shows, free-of-charge. If you're not a Netflix subscriber, then you simply rent or buy video content from the Playstation Network or XBox Live. There are slight differences in choice between the Netflix streaming selection and these console networks, so you might as well do it all. Meanwhile, both systems allow for DVD playback, but only the PS3 will get you Blu-ray quality. Which brings us to....
2. "I wanna stream movies on my TV, and I don't play video games and still like to watch DVDs."
So, you don't play video games but still watch DVD? You should get a wireless-enabled Blu-ray DVD player. Samsung recently released a new model of Blu-ray player (the P1600) that I believe is the best option on the market for these needs. You can play Blu-ray discs (I recommend Matteo Garrone's brilliant Gomorrah), your old standard DVDs, DVD-R discs, CDs, and more. But in addition with that, you have the ability to connect with your Netflix account as well as your Pandora account (for music streaming). The $150 player also includes a YouTube function, for browsing user-generated videos to watch on your TV screen or for watching the beefed-up YouTube Movies channel. Similar to the PS3 or XBox storefronts mentioned above, the Samsung BD-1600 comes with a Blockbuster digital video store. The selection on the Blockbuster store is more modest, compared to XBox or PS3, but look for that to change very soon. Of course, there are other options, such as: the LG BD 390 player or the Sony BDP-N460 (which also includes Amazon VOD and Crackle compatibility). But, I truly feel the Samsung BD-1600 is the best bargain.
3. "I wanna stream movies on my TV, and I don't care about video games or DVDs."
You have a few choices, but only the Roku box is going to help you with both Netflix streaming and Amazon VOD. If you're already a Netflix subscriber, and you want the fresher content from a service like Amazon VOD (where you can rent more movies and TV shows, for a fee) then this is the box to get. At a lower price than these other services, Roku is really for you, if you have entirely given up on the DVD format. Many people are in that club, which grows bigger every day. The only reason to skip the Roku, is if you still want to have a solid disc playback device. There are a few Roku options: the $80 standard definition box, the $100 high definition box, and the $130 HD-XR box. The HD-XR box makes sense if your house is wired for wifi "N" connectivity, otherwise you might as well just save a few bucks and get the HD box.
There are other boxes that you can buy that have more to do with brand loyalty and user experience. For example, the Apple TV is still a viable box for movie and TV viewing, if you only want to spend money at the iTunes store. And, yes, there's value in that as well. There's value in the Vudu box, which also offers rental or purchase opportunities for new and classic movies, customized exclusively for the Vudu store. Both of these options are not just about brand loyalty, but they also offer some impressive functions for HD-quality viewing, something that comes easier with downloading versus streaming.
4. "I want my HDTV to be the only box I'm worried about. I already have a cable box, and one extra box is plenty."
Try out the LG 47LH50. It's a broadband-enabled LCD HDTV monitor, which means you can stream Netflix, YouTube, and a few other things (like Yahoo! widgets), directly onto your big screen. While some may connect PCs to HDTVs already, the functionality and optimization of this monitor will be more ideal and better suited for easy viewing.
5. "I'm fine with what my cable subscription provides me, either through scheduled programming or the on-demand channels."
That's a perfectly good option as well. Just make sure you know where your "On Demand" channels exist (Channel 1000 for Time Warner, Channel 1 for Comcast, etc.), as it's always shocking how few consumers even realize they have this available. When it comes time to get a new TV monitor, though, consider #4 above. As always, though, these options are not "one size fits all," and part of the entertainment future is knowing you have the ultimate choice.