This report focuses on set-top digital media players, sometimes called over-the-top (OTT) digital media servers. These small, set-top boxes provide the hardware link between your TV and Internet content providers such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, Pandora and scores of others.
So what do digital media players do? All make it easy to get OTT streaming movies and other video from content partners to your TV screen with a minimum of fuss. Most digital media players also deliver other types of streaming media from the Internet, including music, photos, social media, information feeds and more. Some digital media players are Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) compliant and can stream movies, music, photos and more from your computer, external hard drive or other DLNA devices to your TV. Some include a hard drive to store your media for centralized access by any device on its network.
Digital media players are just one way to get streaming video and other content from the Internet (or your PC) to your living-room TV screen. Streaming technology is built into more LCD TVs (and LED TVs), plasma TVs and rear-projection TVs and all video game consoles, as well as many Blu-ray players and some DVRs, and we cover those capabilities in our reports on each of those product categories. While we'll touch on some of the many -- and growing -- content providers in this report, full coverage can be found in our report on streaming video.
While streaming capabilities are a feature on all sorts of home-entertainment equipment, standalone digital media players have their place. They let you enjoy the growing availability of Internet-delivered streaming movies and other entertainment and information without upgrading or replacing your existing gear. Even if you're looking for a new toy for your viewing pleasure, the TV or other device you really want for its performance, features and/or value might not support video streaming, or even if it does, might not partner with the specific content providers that interest you the most.
Given the increasing interest in watching online videos, and the growing number of devices that let you do that and more, it's not surprising that we found a number of helpful places to read reviews of digital media players. CNET and PCMag.com lead the pack with detailed single-product reviews and category overview articles. Both leave no doubt about which streaming video players they like best by bestowing Editors' Choice awards on them. PC World and Wired provide coverage that's nearly as helpful. The technically obsessed will also want to read the in-depth reports available at AnandTech.com. About.com, ConsumerReports.org and Time magazine are among other sites we found with worthwhile coverage of digital media players. Amazon.com is a good destination for user reviews.