What box should I buy?
January 25, 2012 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Roku vs. Apple TV vs. ?

The particulars: I subscribe to Netflix streaming and am an Amazon Prime Member - I'd like to leverage both. I also have video files (home movies and the like) on my PC that I'd like to be able to watch from my TV as well. Preferably it'd be networked wirelessly, but if either (or some other platform I've not considered) can do it (even if transferred by thumb drive), I'm good to go. If it enhances functionality or swings things one way or the other, there's also iPhones/iPad2's in the mix.

I know for my needs I probably need to do a full-blown HTPC, but I'm looking for something around the Roku/Apple TV price range.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions!
posted by po822000 to Technology (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Roku with Roksbox. I have mentioned it in previous roku threads. Should handle 90% of your needs.
posted by kookywon at 12:25 PM on January 25, 2012

We have both.

Roku will get you Amazon Prime, which Apple TV will not.
Apple TV will get you Airplay allowing you to stream video wirelessly (and pretty effortlessly) from your iPad2 or iPhone 4S to your Apple TV, which Roku will not.

Apple TV is generally more user friendly and has a better fit and finish than Roku, but both are pretty simple.
posted by rocketpup at 12:29 PM on January 25, 2012

I love the Roku box, but it takes some finagling to get it to stream your own content from your PC. You might also look at the Western Digital TV Live, which combines both functions.
posted by maxim0512 at 12:31 PM on January 25, 2012

I've had a great experience so far with my Boxee Box. Airplay from my iPad works beautifully (audio AND video), and the Netflix app is really nice. It will play any format you can throw at it from a USB drive, SD card, or network share (wired or wireless). Dunno about Amazon Prime though...

The remote is by far the best part--simple D-pad on the front like its competitors, but flip it over and its a qwerty. Brilliant.
posted by weaponsgradecarp at 12:35 PM on January 25, 2012

I also have both and would recommend Roku + running Plex Media Center on your PC to handle the video streaming to the Roku. That should get you Netflix, Amazon and video files.

The only benefit to the Apple TV (which you could jailbreak and run Plex on) is that it interfaces nicely with your iDevices (but no Amazon option).
posted by FreezBoy at 12:36 PM on January 25, 2012

Just FYI, Roku will not play all video file types.
posted by royalsong at 12:46 PM on January 25, 2012

Roku Roku Roku. The Apple TV 720p makes it really semi-worthless. I mean, I use it daily, and it works, and I love its menus and home sharing and la la la all that stuff, but I'm almost always annoyed by the visuals.

Roku has an ugly annoying interface but it's not that tricky. And, most importantly, ta-da, 1080p.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:46 PM on January 25, 2012

I was facing the same dilemma and ended up getting an Apple TV. Mostly due being able to use AirPlay from my iPhone (sadly, the Hulu+ app doesn't allow AirPlay) but some of the other A/V apps will work. I'm a 100% Apple household and I can also listen to any music from iTunes Match, or stuff bought through iTunes store without having to have my Mac running. I don't have Amazon Prime so that wasn't a factor for me.

To watch your own videos, you need to first import them into iTunes and play them from that. This can add a layer of conversion if some of your videos aren't iTunes ready.

I've been thinking about jailbreaking it to give it more functionality. But really these days I almost use it exclusively to watch Netflix.

I've also thought of adding a Roku box to my bedroom TV to play with it.
posted by birdherder at 12:46 PM on January 25, 2012

In my experience, Roku isn't pretty or flashy, it just works. It's snappy and responsive. Which is totally enamoring after using Netflix on Xbox 360 for a long time. There is also the concept of private channels where you can find some more fringy stuff. Kind of disappointing there is no official Youtube channel but there is a channel app for podcasts and vodcasts. I've also never gotten a commercial from the Pandora app. I think major content providers might be forgetful of Roku since it was the first Netflixbox on the scene but it's wide open for small providers. One could keep pretty entertained with all the free/commercial supported content even without Netflix.

The default "USB" channel didn't recognize all the video formats and codecs that I threw at it, but I haven't had the box long enough to try things like Roksbox...
posted by Skwirl at 12:47 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Boxee has a great feature list, but they continue to mangle and de-power what started out as a system with great potential. It has a great spec list: local movies, streaming, audio management, even an app facility. They continue to make utterly bizarre and inexcusable interface decisions however, even in the face of significant userbase pressure.

For example, a big downside to the Boxee Box is that Boxee apparently doesn't think the remote should be able to control volume. Volume control was deleted entirely in a March update, then half-assedly restored in April after a huge protest. Volume post-"update" cannot be adjusted for a whole bunch of streams including Netflix and Youtube. To change the volume for these streams, for example, you must exit the Netflix app, open something you can adjust for volume, a local file, say, change the volume to the desired level, exit the local file playback, then go back to the Neflix or Youtube stream. It's even more cumbersome than it sounds. This is actually the company-recommended procedure on their support pages.

The Boxee group have more or less said "fuck you" to their community over the issue: there have been at least two updates since then with no apparent changes in sight.

In short, I would steer clear of the Boxee Box.
posted by bonehead at 12:50 PM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

And, most importantly, ta-da, 1080p

Bear in mind streaming from Netflix or Amazon won't take full advantage of the image quality - there are significant problems with color depth that are pretty noticeable in dark scenes and scenes with subtle gradiation (sunsets are =really= bad.)

I think this is a "Netflix/Amazon" issue rather than a Roku issue... the few HD shows we watched with the USB player seemed fine.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:53 PM on January 25, 2012

Though bonehead's concerns are valid, I still think the Boxee Box comes the closest of all the alternatives to a good user experience. That said, it does not support Amazon Video on Demand.
posted by gd779 at 1:02 PM on January 25, 2012

I have a Roku and a Boxee I use the Roku for services and the Boxee for local videos. (I work in this space so I've got all the damn boxes except an AppleTV since they don't allow 3rd Party apps)

I lean towards Roku for you though I think Roksbox is a poor solution for streaming local network videos.

I think this is a "Netflix/Amazon" issue rather than a Roku issue... the few HD shows we watched with the USB player seemed fine.

1080p on a streaming device is a marketing gimmick. Virtually none of the service providers are going to stream at a high enough bandwidth to get full quality 1080p - you're going to get a better picture at 720p in a bandwidth constrained situation last I checked I think Netflix's highest bitrate stream is at about 4.8mbps which is not high enough to get clean 1080.
posted by bitdamaged at 1:10 PM on January 25, 2012

From my research, streaming Amazon video to an Apple TV requires jailbreaking and then purchasing/installing PlayOn. I was too cheap for the latter part.
posted by BurntHombre at 1:21 PM on January 25, 2012

Not intending to threadsit, but, roku only supports mp4 video from what I've seen. You'll have to convert AVI/DIVX to .mp4. Even if you use the USB app, you'll have to have them in .mp4.

Also, I know there is a plex/roksbox shism, but roksbox passed my easy to setup and girlfriend can use it without my help criteria. Other people may have other criteria. Just a data point.
posted by kookywon at 1:45 PM on January 25, 2012

I went from HTPC to Apple PC with XBMC (requires jailbreak). I have a lot of video content on a few Synology NASs that I want to be able to watch. XBMC seems to handle any video format I throw at it. Netflix I watch occasionally. I would love to have Amazon prime video to but haven't worked out if I can get that into XBMC yet.

I did not know about many of the other options in this thread so I can't say if my setup is best, but it works great for me.
posted by jockc at 4:17 PM on January 25, 2012

My Apple TV is a bit wonky, sometimes it seems to have a hard time waking up and sometimes it seems to take forever to get into Netflix. That may or may not be normal, but I probably would not buy another one right now based on this sometimes poor performance.
posted by caddis at 8:03 PM on January 25, 2012

My Apple TV works very well. However, you really need iTunes running on the network to make it work, and if you have a digital video library, you may need to convert it.

Roku is better at j random file types. Apple's fit and finish is stellar, the install is simple, and the remote is small, but annoying. The first gen ATV remote was much better.
posted by eriko at 3:28 AM on January 26, 2012

I use a slim HTPC. The benefit of this over a Roku/AppleTV/Boxee Box is that it is a full computer; I added a USB TV Tuner and a remote and it feels like a normal DVR, but then I can minimize that program and watch video however I want like on a normal computer. Best of all worlds for about $300.
posted by benbenson at 8:35 AM on January 26, 2012

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