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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  • 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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