High-end streaming device?
May 23, 2016 9:06 AM   Subscribe

We currently use the streaming capabilities of our DVD player. The UI is very sluggish to respond, and rewinding/fast forwarding/scrubbing is a nightmare. We use Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, primarily, with a smattering of YouTube.

Are there players that are zippier? Or are the above complaints just a fact of streaming life? I'm willing to consider a dedicated Kodi box or Mac Mini if people have had good experiences pointing in that direction.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Amazon's FireTV (the $99 version, not the stick) works very well for Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, and HBO Go. The UI is intuitive and responsive. I don't use Hulu, but there's an app for that too. I've been very happy with it. I got it on sale last xmas for $59.

I hear good things about Apple TV from friends who have it, but I have not used it personally.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:10 AM on May 23, 2016

I use the Amazon Fire TV box. It was fairly cheap, and it is fast fast fast. Fast forwarding/rewinding are easy to control. It has Prime, Netflix, and Hulu, YouTube, PBS, and more available.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:11 AM on May 23, 2016

I have a Roku 3 and it's pretty zippy and responsive; so are the AppleTVs I've used. Basically any dedicated device will be a LOT better than what's built into most DVD players, though scrubbing through streaming content is never a blast simply because of network limitations.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:12 AM on May 23, 2016 [8 favorites]

You can't get Amazon programs on an AppleTV so if that's a significant part of your ecosystem, I wouldn't recommend it.

I have a Roku (five years old) and an Amazon Fire Stick and they both work so much better than my BluRay for streaming. I think you'll be very happy with a $60-100 dedicated streaming player, either Roku or Amazon Fire.
posted by mskyle at 9:12 AM on May 23, 2016

We have a TiVo that does awesome at all of this. My favorite thing is that if you create a search, it tells you all the services the show is available on. (Hulu, Netflix, Amazon). Netflix is really slow to load on ours, but it is two generations old - the newer ones are zippier. The interface can't be beat.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:17 AM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ok, this is good. I am on board with just trying a doohickey designed for streaming--looks like Roku Stick is a good candidate. Thanks, everybody.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:21 AM on May 23, 2016

Fast forward/rewind on streaming will never be as responsive as what you're used to from physical media, at least not with current streaming/internet tech. But I'll second the suggestion of a Roku as a more flexible streaming solution with a better interface and selection of channels than what you're getting from your DVD player. I've owned one for the past four years and it's only gotten better over time as new apps are added.

(As an added note, I'd avoid Kodi, because everything I've seen about those looks super-sketchy.)
posted by Strange Interlude at 9:21 AM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a little computer plugged into my TV; it's great. You don't have to worry Amazon not playing nice with AppleTV or whatever, just pull up a browser and open Amazon.com. Pair that with a little wireless keyboard and you have a better media playing system than any player.
posted by gregr at 9:24 AM on May 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

I really like Apple TV. You can use Netflix, HBO Now, iTunes, and various other streaming services.

There is currently no app for Amazon Video but if you have an iPhone or iPad you can get around this by playing the video on your tablet and using Airplay to put it on the Apple TV. The remote will still let you control it. Quality is just as good as if you were watching it directly on the Apple TV.

The remote uses Siri so you can say things like "Skip two minutes" or "go back one minute" or even stuff like "Who's in this?" to get IMDB info, or "what's the weather tomorrow?"
posted by bondcliff at 9:27 AM on May 23, 2016

I second the Roku recommendations...

We have older Apple TV (circa 2010) and a Roku 3, and I think the Roku is far superior. The Apple TV "channels" rarely seem to change, while the Roku has an always increasing number of streaming channels to choose from..

Plus if you have cable, you can stream from the Roku instead of your cable box. So for example, we can stream directly from Disney Junior or Showtime from the Roku, and I find the user interface much nicer through Roku than Xfinity X1.

Apple TV has some streaming services, but it doesn't feel like as many as Roku. It is definitely missing some of the sprog friendly ones (Nick Jr??)

And has been already noted, Apple TV doesn't offer access to Amazon Prime videos :(
posted by starbuck43 at 9:27 AM on May 23, 2016

Roku Stick is a good candidate.

We have both a Roku 3 and a Roku Stick. If you can spring for the 3, do it. The Stick is infuriatingly sluggish in comparison.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:38 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a little computer plugged into my TV; it's great.

Better yet: Chromecast.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:46 AM on May 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

uncleozzy: We have both a Roku 3 and a Roku Stick. If you can spring for the 3, do it. The Stick is infuriatingly sluggish in comparison.

Do you have the new stick that came out a month ago? It has an updated processor. Gizmodo review: "The New Roku Streaming Stick Is All You Need"
posted by bluecore at 10:02 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was an early Roku adopter, but I have to admit that Apple TV is better at skimming through shows.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:04 AM on May 23, 2016

(Though I haven't used the new Roku linked above.)
posted by roll truck roll at 10:05 AM on May 23, 2016

Do you have the new stick that came out a month ago?

Ah, indeed I do not.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:19 AM on May 23, 2016

Just got a Sharp brand smart TV with the Roku system baked in as its "smart TV" system and really like it. My older TV (also a HDTV Sharp, but not a smart TV) mainly uses an Amazon Fire Stick for bringing in Amazon, Netflix, and other streaming stuff - I'd say Amazon and Roku are pretty competitive with each other in terms of having the different streaming providers, but Roku seems like it's going to be the winner in "platform-agnostic streaming doohickey."

I own an Apple TV (older generation) for casting my Mac screen, mainly. Apple has really put themselves in a backwater trying to control your experience. Slick enough piece of kit, but I don't recommend it unless you are dedicated to the idea of getting all your TV and movies from Apple.
posted by randomkeystrike at 10:37 AM on May 23, 2016

If you're using wifi, what wireless router and whether your bluray player is dual-band you have also matters a lot for how good the streaming is.

I have a Kodi-puter with Playon, a sony bluray player with streaming apps, a "smart" TV, and an older Roku 2 and the Roku is by far the best because the quality is only topped by the computer and the interface is vastly simpler and more responsive than any one of the other choices (unless I'm using the HBO or youtube roku channels which both stink). But I've also got them all hooked up to the wired network. It made a big difference for me to run that cable.
posted by mattamatic at 10:41 AM on May 23, 2016

I use a Mac mini. Works with Amazon just fine, as well as Netflix, Hulu, etc. I can play all kinds of media through it — Apple doesn't control it, does not control the experience, nor require I get all my media through Apple, because I set it up with the software and media I want to use.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:43 AM on May 23, 2016

I have a Chromecast, and I like it pretty well for Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc.

However, because Amazon and Google are quietly refusing to play nice with each other, there's not currently a "native" way to stream from the Amazon Video app directly to a Chromecast. (At least that I've been able to find. I haven't checked lately though.)

There is a workaround available that basically will let you stream from Amazon.com in Chrome rather than via the Amazon Video app, but since it's kind of dependent on Adobe Flash, it might not work if you're using an Apple product to cast to the Chromecast.

This isn't an insurmountable obstacle, but it is kind of a PITA and something to keep in mind if you're weighing your options.

FWIW, I've also heard amazing things about the Roku box, but I've never owned one myself.
posted by helloimjennsco at 11:34 AM on May 23, 2016

I have a fire stick and a roku stick. The fire stick is fast. The roku interface seems fine, but it is annoyingly slow in comparison. Either will do what you want.
posted by J. Wilson at 1:47 PM on May 23, 2016

Also adding my recommendation for a Roku. We use all three services you mentioned seamlessly, and also HBO Now. It just works without too much trouble or thought.
posted by seasparrow at 2:18 PM on May 23, 2016

I use both Roku3 and an android smarttv addon. The Roku3 is much faster and was quite cheap refurbished. The Roku3 is my primary and gets used for amazon, netflix, hulu, youtube, vimeo and HBO Go

My one piece of streaming advice: Steer well clear of Sony. My bloody Sony DVD player takes forever to turn off because it has to phone home to some unresponsive server to share my viewing habits. It takes about 30-50 seconds of a flashing "OFF" led and sometimes it hangs and flashes off until I power cycle. Real pain if you accidentally hit the off button let me tell you!.
posted by srboisvert at 2:30 PM on May 23, 2016

Oh and the best feature of the Roku3 is that the remote has a headphone jack. So you can watch it without disturbing any one else. Great for small apartment insomniacs or if your partner likes watching Nashville and you don't.
posted by srboisvert at 2:33 PM on May 23, 2016

It made a big difference for me to run that cable.

IME, this is the real key to having a responsive system. Wireless is still not really quite good enough to really do video well, too prone to dropouts and mysterious stutters. We've used a bunch of systems over the years, wireless and wired. The worst wired one is faster and more reliable to stream, more responsive to control than the best wireless ones. Right now we're using a wired second-generation Chromecast, and we love it. I recommend it over anything else, save for the Amazon issue. But it's much better than the first gen wireless only models.
posted by bonehead at 3:12 PM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I ordered a Roku 4 because it has an ethernet port. I'll report back shortly.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:19 AM on May 24, 2016

The latest AppleTV and the prior generations aren't really comparable. I have had the gen 2, gen 3, have the gen 4. Prior to the latest, you just had whichever apps / channels Apple made available. Now there's an App Store like on Roku and Android / Amazon boxes. Compared to the Roku, their Apple TV feels a lot more polished and the quality of the channels, in general is a lot higher. There's also more games available too, if that matters.

Like Roku, Apple also has cross-service searching. And it basically supports an app for everything except Amazon, which is because Amazon hasn't released an app yet, not because Apple is blocking them.

I don't know if I'd choose a Roku. If you do get a Roku, stay away from the Roku 4. It's a turd, from all accounts. The 3 would be the way to go, or the new stick. They've got a good comparison chart on their site.

If you didn't want an Apple TV or Roku, I'd probably go with an Amzon device rather than an Android one. I think that Amazon is committed to this product line, while Google isn't quite so much. Even if Google stops developing Android TV products, I think that Amazon would continue with their streaming devices.

Unless you want to manage yet another computer, I wouldn't bother going with the Mac Mini / HTPC route.
posted by reddot at 3:20 PM on May 30, 2016

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