What's the best option for a dedicated media box for my tv?
December 29, 2013 12:23 PM   Subscribe

For the past year, I've been plugging my laptop into the TV using an HDMI cable to watch netflix, youtube clips, or TV shows. This is getting tedious, and I'd like to move to a dedicated box for this purpose. But I don't know what to get.

The must-haves:
1. 1080p HDMI output
2. Wi-fi
3. Wireless keyboard/mouse
4. Full web browser with flash support

The nice-to-have:
1. Plays music (CD and/or mp3)
2. Plays DVD movies

I don't think a dedicated steaming box like a roku will work for me; I need a full web browser to watch shows on *ahem* non-mainstream websites as well as netflix and none of the streaming media players seem to have it. I'd love to be wrong, because that seems like the easiest solution.

I could probably just buy a small form-factor computer with HDMI output and hook it up to the TV, but I'm hoping to find a cheaper and/or cleaner solution.

(if it matters, I don't have cable TV and have no plan to get it)
posted by zug to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I need a full web browser to watch shows on *ahem* non-mainstream websites as well as netflix and none of the streaming media players seem to have it.

This is deliberate, of course- the people making streaming boxes don't WANT you to do this. They're app-based because they want you to use the apps.

If the main issue for you is the annoyance of fiddling with a cable all the time, something like this will let you dispense with it, but it still involves using a computer.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:32 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think you're going to find anything with flash support short of a full-fledged PC; none of the streaming boxes or mainstream mobile OSs support it at all. You've definitely just described a computer, plugged into HDMI (directly or via something like the gadget showbiz_liz linked to.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:33 PM on December 29, 2013

Given your interest in a web browser with flash suppprt have you considered using chromecast or apple tv (depending on what type of laptop you have) to mirror your laptop's screen to the tv? I mention this because I have yet to see a media player with a halfway decent web browser.
posted by phil at 12:47 PM on December 29, 2013

Take a look at Chromecast + Plex and see if that doesn't do what you want.
posted by lilnublet at 12:54 PM on December 29, 2013

Check your MeMail.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:05 PM on December 29, 2013

Chromecast is pretty cheap. I added one to our AppleTV and Roku with the idea that we'd chromecast stuff that was only available from a full web browswer. It didn't work out that way. I wasn't impressed the few times I tried to use it.

I think your best bet is probably an inexpensive SFF PC. You should be able to get the hardware for under $250 (not including the wireless keyboard/mouse). I don't know about the OS license.
posted by Good Brain at 1:11 PM on December 29, 2013

I *think* a PS3 will do all that but you'd want to look up stuff about its web browser. But I think I saw something on joystiq/kotako/destructoid about how ps3 makes up a substantial portion of traffic on pr0n sites.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:12 PM on December 29, 2013

If your laptop is a Mac, get an Apple TV and use airplay. Otherwise, a chrome cast is likely your next bet.

If your really want a new computer for this, just buy a small form factor machine from whoever.
posted by reddot at 1:36 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't have a TV right now but I was at a friend's house recently and he had an Apple TV and I was sorta blown away at how seamless it was. Someone pulled up a YouTube video on an iPhone and a few seconds later it was playing on the TV.
posted by radioamy at 1:36 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I use the following plugin to mirror chrome on my chromecast. There were issues with the audio early on, but these days it just works for me.
posted by phil at 1:40 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

This Android Mini PC device is $38 on Amazon with a Browser and can do Netflix, etc. Even XBMC, if you want to go down that particular rabbit hole of nerdery. I just fixed my cousins up with one of these over xmas and they're over the moon with it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:42 PM on December 29, 2013

I don't have a TV right now but I was at a friend's house recently and he had an Apple TV and I was sorta blown away at how seamless it was. Someone pulled up a YouTube video on an iPhone and a few seconds later it was playing on the TV.

AppleTV is pretty great, but it definitely does not have the full-fledged web browser that zug requires.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:17 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

The GF and I have been using a Mac Mini running Plex (which interfaces to Netflix, though not as nicely as the GF's new Wii U does, as well as many other sites) for a few years now, though we never really leave Plex, it just runs full screen 24/7. We sleep the Mac when we turn the TV off, it resumes from sleep faster than the TV turns on. We stream files to it from our Linux server (Debian wheezy which has plexmediaserver). We never bothered with the Apple TV since it didn't get 1080p output until 2012. A used Mac Mini would meet all of your requirements (though you didn't mention budget).
posted by Brian Puccio at 2:54 PM on December 29, 2013

I have a Chromecast, an Apple Tv, and a Roku box. None do web browsing.

You can "cast" a Chrome tab to the TV, and that works fairly well, but is annoying if you are someone like me that likes to surf while having shows on (it's just not there yet). The idea that you can start casting content and then shut off your device is basically a lie. Maybe you can do this, but then you have no controls to back up or pause (and it's never worked well regardless).

I can Airplay my screen as well, and this works better, but again, it ties up the device while it is doing it, and often a lot of the app based stuff is buggy when Airplaying. The Network channel or NHL app sucks are this. Every commercial it basically breaks and you have to re-Airplay.

I seldom use the Roku. It's only there for Amazon streaming (and backup when the NHL app fails on the Apple TV). I also use it on occasion because of the Plex server, but more often than not in the super rare event that I can't watch a show on the AppleTv I dump it to usb flash and skeakernet it from the living room.

In short, I don't think anyone makes what you are looking for, especially since the few who have tried have had their browser agents blocked, so hitting the network channels with your google TV is a waste of time.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:07 PM on December 29, 2013

Whoa really? No raspberry pi fans here? Dude. Raspberry pi running raspbmc. Huge Dev community. Tons of ways to watch content. Forget DVDs (just buy a $39 Walmart DVD player for that).

Much effort recently to building up an awesome browser in raspbmc too. Very very much aging parent level effort to make it work. Adding WiFi is a snap. Same with wirless keyboard and mouse ( or use a free app on android or iPhone or webbrowse) to type in stuff (my android app allows me to type stuff into boxes on my pi no problem). You can have it legally play your Netflix queues qtc... It checks all your boxes.

Seriously. This is the way. I have one on every TV.
posted by chasles at 3:10 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here to recommend the Roku for most of your needs, but you'll have to supplement with a Chromecast (which only costs a measly $35) to push a web browser with Flash to the screen. I have both (the new Roku 2 is just fine for my and probably your purposes), and they're both terrific devices.

I think only Roku 3 has a YouTube channel currently, but the other versions are expected to get it in January, if I remember correctly.
posted by General Malaise at 3:11 PM on December 29, 2013

Windows Laptop + AppleTV + AirParrot
posted by blue_beetle at 3:46 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Looks like the chromecast supports outputting a chrome tab, in addition to all the standard subscription-based channels. Pretty easy solution for $35. Thanks everyone!
posted by zug at 3:56 PM on December 29, 2013

Echoing the chromecast love -- we got ours last week and it's been great. Works well for "casting" one tab to the TV, while continuing to browse, read Mefi, etc. in your other tabs.
posted by gingerbeer at 5:29 PM on December 29, 2013

I went with the the android based SmartTV 3 with a logictech wireless keyboard because I decided I wanted skype and the 2 usb ports. Mostly I am pleased with it though there are few nags like apps that don't do well with my logitech k400 keyboard touchpad navigation (Interestingly Youtube is one of the worst. You would think Google would do a good job with an app on their own OS but nope).
posted by srboisvert at 6:59 PM on December 29, 2013

"I need a full web browser to watch shows on *ahem* non-mainstream websites"

That pretty much rules out just about everything other than a dedicated computer.

What's your budget? Why not try looking into something that's Atom based with a nVidia ION graphics chipset for handling the graphics? That's what I have and I can recommend it.

Just about every other solution here involves something other than a full web browser with a regular desktop operating system, so sooner or later you are going to run into some incompatibility.

Also, there are plenty of nice "remote control type" wireless keyboard / mouse on Amazon. If you go this route, message me and I can point you to the one I have and other nicely reviewed ones.
posted by harisund at 6:26 PM on December 31, 2013

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