Several friends have asked me recently what they should buy to watch Internet videos on their televisions. The newly revamped Apple TV? The cheaper and more services offered Roku XDS. My answer: None of the above.
Oh, there are good reasons to buy either one. If you're already wedded to the Apple way of doing things, the new Apple TV, or the old Apple TV for that matter, will work just fine. I'm not inspired by the new Apple TV, but that's just me.
Roku, on the other hand, offers by far the widest variety of video choices: Netflix, Amazon Video, MLB.TV, and many more besides. In addition, it offers many Internet radio choices as well such as Pandora and, in just the last few days, Sirius XM Radio.
So, why am I not recommending either? While I use both, on my main TV, a Sony KD-34XBR960 34-inch HDTV, one of the last of the high-end, picture-tube HDTVs, I use my Sony BDP-S570 Blu-ray Disc Player. Besides playing Blu-Ray DVDs and normal DVDs, it also comes with Internet streaming support for Amazon Video on Demand, Netflix, and, real soon now, Hulu Plus. As soon as Hulu Plus shows up, I'll be bidding cable TV a final adieu.
My point isn't though that you should buy the Sony BDP-S570, although it is a great combination of Blu-Ray player and Internet video extender. No, my point is that almost any high-end TV or DVR player that you'll be buying soon is going to have Internet video capabilities built-in. By the holiday season of 2012, I expect only the cheapest new TVs and DVRs won't have it built in.
In short, if you plan on upgrading your TV or any other major entertainment center component soon, you don't need to spend anything extra for an Internet video-specific media box. There are better things you should be spending money on if you want to watch Internet TV and enjoy it in your living room.
For starters, you really need at least a 3Mbps DSL Internet connection to enjoy Internet video. I've tried it at slower rates, and you really don't want to go there. Most of Internet TV's accessories are pure-streaming devices. If there's much more than a second or two of lag on your Internet connection, you're going to see the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory stutter across the screen. Yack!
Personally, I recommend getting at least a 10Mbps connection. I'm currently running with a 20Mbps cable connection and it works well all the way up to 720p. If you want to get to even higher resolutions, 1080p, you'll soon find yourself running into the limits of home broadband. Your devices may support it, but I've yet to see 1080p over the Internet work well in practice.
In addition, you really need 802.11n, and have it setup properly. You can make do with 802.11g, but in my experience, you're likely to run into video stuttering from time to time even with plain old 480i TV episodes and movies. Back when 802.11g was as fast as you could get, I just ran Fast Ethernet cable between my router and my early model media extenders.
In the near future, you're going to have a lot of other wireless choices for your Internet video. General purpose Gigabit Wi-Fi is on its way. There are also about half-a-dozen video-specific, high-speed Wi-Fi on their way, but I'll tell you more about those in my next column.