After the initial unboxing, the consumer encounters the setup and user interface of the media streamer. It is essential that the setup process be simple and straighforward. Both the A.C.Ryan PlayOn!HD2 and the Netgear NTV550 are quite painless to setup. The Boxee Box requires an Internet connection as well as a Boxee account to complete the setup process. The general feel of the user interface and the various available options in each of the streamers are given in the three galleries below.

It is also necessary for the streamers to support jukebox capabilities for the user's media collection. Most streamers go for the local scraping option in which some PC-based scrapers (like YAMJ or Media Center Master or ID3 TAG tools) generate the metadata for the media files. The streamer accesses this metadata either during normal browsing or in a special jukebox mode. The Boxee Box handles scraping on its own. Therefore, no media library setup was necessary. The automatic scraping tool wasn't always correct in determining the correct title. However, we also have support for local NFO files. Using Ember Media Manager, it is possible to ensure that the correct titles and metadata are picked up. Unless the user specifically browses to the 'Files' section, the default browsing mode is the Cover Art mode. Some screenshots of the jukebox in action are provided along with the user interface screenshots above.

The A.C.Ryan PlayOn!HD2 and the Netgear NTV550 adopt the PC scraping strategy. A.C.Ryan relies on YAMJ for its jukebox capabilities. They carry an official user guide (PDF) for this purpose. Omertron's site also has PlayOn!HD specific directions. Unfortunately, my experience after creating a YAMJ database for a sample media library on a NAS was not as expected. Using the Jukebox option in the main menu, I navigated to the index.html, only to be presented with a blank jukebox despite all the necessary metadata files being present. This is apparently a documented bug in the official forums. However, resetting the filters to browse titles alphabetically did work. I am sure many users might have got the jukebox to work for all the titles in one screen, but, in my limited testing, it has not lived upto its promise.

The Netgear NTV 550 has a couple of jukebox solutions. One of them involves the Tag Tool supplied in the bundled software CD. There are other tag tools listed in the support site. For the purpose of this review, I used Ron Chernich's TAG Maker and Editor for the EVA and NTV devices. There is no dedicated jukebox mode in the NTV550, but, the Cover Art browsing mode works well as a replacement. Users need to press the Info button to get the full details about the video in question. This is not the greatest of jukeboxes in existence, but it actually works seamlessly with the existing user interface.

Hardware Impressions Container Compatibility
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  • Methusela - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    What is a media streamer roundup without the latest WDTV? Just because you had another Sigma-based design from a different company? WD is the market leader in sales for network media tanks/streamers.
  • loox - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Surprised here, as well. I honestly believe that there is no way the WDTV has been tested extensively by Anandtech (or else it'd be here).

    Like the folks at Anandtech, I too have spent YEARS finding a decent solution to playing multiple media formats on my HDTV, beginning with Lacie's Silverstream device.
    Ultimately, I settled on the WDTV (gen 1), then the Plus, and sticking with the WDTV Live.

    It just works. It works with my TV, my HDTV, hotel room TV's, My friends TV, My Parents TV (its very portable), HDMI, HDMI w/ Optical audio out, 7 ch. PCM, Bitstream Passthrough, Component HD, Composite SD, my Sony Amplifier/Receiver, DTS, DD, can stream DNLA content, as well as the iTunes server content on my WD My Book World Edition. Blu-ray ISO's, DVD ISO's, WMV, AVI, MP4, MKV, and the list goes on.

    It also supports Windows 7's PlayTo functionality and streams Netflix and other online content in HD with considerable less buffering/lag than any other solution.

    My conclusion is that at this moment, for watching (or listening to) media on a Television set (not so much internet browsing) the only superior solution to a WDTV Live is a good HTPC or quite laptop with recent hardware.
  • Souka - Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - link

    I have a networked Brite-View unit....great product except for the interface....kinda basic.

    but that being said, I've been able to play pretty much any video file I've tossed at it.
    Friends with WD units have compatibility issues with various files, but I don't.

    I'm not a huge video watcher....except when I'm bettween jobs..heh

    my $.02
  • ganeshts - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    This review is primarily meant to finish up coverage of the review units we have had for a long time. The WDTV Live Hub has been extensively tested and reviewed here:

    In addition, the WD TV Live Streaming Media Player has been with us for the last 1 month or so. Still some pending issues to fix up in that player, and I am waiting for a stable firmware from WD before reviewing it.
  • jonyah - Monday, November 28, 2011 - link

    Funny, I think the same thing, but replace WDTV with PopcornHour. There is no match for the latest PCH (now the A-300). WDTV just seems like a little plastic toy box in comparison. Yes it's twice as expensive, but with that you get something that supports everything, integrates with IMDB, has apps addons, etc.
  • pseudo7 - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Nice round up, though it would be nice to XBMC in the review round up (especially after next release).
    There are number a commercially available boxes:

    Plus shed light on a nice opensource project
  • kolepard - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Agree. XBMC is a fantastic piece of work, and I'd love to see it compared in the roundup. The Boxee software is based on XBMC, and one of the reasons I purchased a Boxee was that they support the XBMC project.
  • Rainman200 - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Well those are PC's not really off the shelf boxes, XBMC is getting there though to a point were a set top box running XBMC is viable.

    The Arm linux port of XBMC is making progress and Sigma Designs are porting XBMC too so in the future you might see XBMC powered players like a WDTV Live that use it for GUI rendering and jukebox creation.

    Hopefully the Pulse Eight guys can cook up an low cost Arm set top box that runs XBMC.
  • pseudo7 - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - link

    Hmm The pulse eight box seems "off the shelf" as there is no assemble required.
    Also you can get the xtreamer ultra with openelec preinstalled (and hense XBMC)
  • Boopop - Monday, November 21, 2011 - link

    I concur, I've been a fan of XBMC since the early days when it was only available on the original Xbox. It would be nice to see how the people here think it compares!

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