Choosing a media streaming device

Because digital media players vary so widely in their capabilities, it's important to consider what you expect a player to do before you zero in on your choices. Some digital media players concentrate on bringing over-the-air media from Internet content providers to your TV. Some can also stream content from your PC or another compatible device. The most advanced digital media players can double as media servers, gathering videos and more from the Internet and local sources, and allowing those to be played on any device -- TV, PC, etc. -- connected to the same network. Here are some of the things experts say to consider when selecting a digital media player:

  • Different digital media players offer different lineups of streaming media partners. Most offer at least Netflix. Others might also offer Vudu, Blockbuster Video on Demand, Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Flickr and a host of others. More information on these and other streaming media providers can be found in our report on video streaming.
  • Look for DLNA compatibility if you want to also stream video from your PC. Digital media players that adhere to the standards of the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) can find video, music and photos on your compatible computer, networked external hard drive or another device and stream those to your TV, as well. Apple devices, such as Apple TV, stream video via an alternate protocol called AirPlay.
  • Consider a wired network connection instead of Wi-Fi. Most but not all digital media players have built-in wireless, and some can take advantage of the latest high-speed standards. However, any wireless link will have less bandwidth than a wired Ethernet network connection, and that can result in reduced -- though still quite good -- video quality or buffering interruptions during playback.
  • A fast Internet connection is a must. For best video quality and seamless playback, high-speed broadband is pretty much a must. Even DSL users might find streaming video to be a challenge. Frequent stoppages for buffering and reduced resolution make streaming video a poor choice for most dial-up users.

Back to top