Tech

Top 10 Best Set Top Boxes & Cable TV Alternatives

set top box, cable tv alternatives, alternatives to cable tv, roku, amazon fire tv, apple tv, western digital box, netgear neotv, vizio costar, playstation 4, wii u, streaming media player, xbox one, chromecast

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Finally ready to cut the cord and find an alternative to cable TV? Any of the following game consoles, set top boxes, or streaming media players are great cable TV alternatives. We’ll also let you know if these streaming media options include access to the “big three” streaming video apps: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant Video.


1. Apple TV

Check out an in-depth review of the Apple TV in the video above.

The Apple TV is one of the “sleeper hits” of the set top box industry. Over the years, it’s quietly sold 20 million units. Thanks to a blend of intuitive menus and multiple types of streaming content, this set top box is appealing to technophiles and technophobes alike.

In terms of working as a cable TV alternative, the Apple TV is somewhat limited in terms of channels that have live content. That being said, it does provide HBO Go…though of course you’ll need a cable subscription to use it. Unless, you know, you can share someone’s HBO Go password.

You can learn more about the Apple TV as a cable TV alternative in this interesting read from the Wall Street Journal.

Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Available?: Yes (AirPlay workaround for Amazon)

Buy it here.


Pros:

  • Ideal for people who already have bought into the Apple ecosystem
  • Attractive interface
  • Movies stream at 1080p
  • AirPlay makes iOS device mirroring painless
  • Fast and easy set-up

  • Cons:

  • Interface is hard to customize
  • Tricky to jailbreak
  • Remote requires direct line of sight
  • Remote can sometimes accidentally activate nearby Apple devices or computers
  • Rentals are very expensive

  • 2. Roku 3

    Watch the Tekzilla video above to see a comparison between the Roku 3 and the Apple TV.

    The Roku 3 set top box is a nice step up from the Roku 2 in terms of processor speed, though it should be noted that the Roku 3 only works with HDTVs, unlike the Roku 2. That being said, The Roku 3 is a desirable because it includes an Ethernet port, USB port, and microSD slot.

    As far as cable TV alternatives, many Roku channels (including WSJ and Nowhere TV) have been known to broadcast live events and live TV. This makes a Roku player ideal for staying current with live events, even without a cable subscription. That being said, no set top box can fully capture the cable TV experience when it comes to live programming.

    Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Available?: Yes

    Buy it here.


    Pros:

  • Motion-based controller requires no direct line of sight
  • Headphone jack built into the remote, ideal for easy listening to TV late at night
  • Support for about 100 games
  • Great for accessing user-created channels (including adult channels)
  • Wide array of channels to choose from

  • Cons:

  • Won’t work with standard TVs, unlike the Roku 2
  • Some users may prefer portability (and price) of the Roku Stick
  • Some games are hard to control
  • Local network sharing can be difficult to set up
  • Some users dislike focus on M-Go service

  • 3. Amazon Fire TV

    Check out a video review of the Fire TV above.

    Amazon’s Fire TV has a whole host of cool features, including voice search, customizable parental controls, and ASAP (an algorithm that reduces buffering by predicting what you want to watch next and pre-loading it.) You can read some reviews of the Fire TV here. As a cable TV alternative, Amazon’s Fire TV system isn’t a bad choice.

    Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Available?: Yes

    Buy it here.


    Pros:

  • Offers extensive parental controls
  • Intelligent search features
  • Huge games library
  • Cool voice search feature
  • Zippy response when streaming video

  • Cons:

  • Will not support HBO programs until later this summer (via Amazon Prime, not via HBO Go)
  • Games library is not fully stocked yet
  • Good device, but not enough features to convert people from other set top boxes they already own
  • Voice search has some limitations
  • Controller for gaming costs extra

  • 4. Chromecast

    Check out Phandroid’s full review and walkthrough of the Chromecast dongle in the video above.

    Chromecast is a simple little dongle that’s not much bigger than a flash drive. Retailing for just $35, it is the cheapest streaming media device on this list. That low price makes it appealing to bargain hunters, as well as to Google devotees.

    If you’re interesting in cable TV alternatives, you might want to read this Wall Street Journal article about a man who managed to get HBO without cable.

    Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Available?: No, Only Hulu and Netflix

    Buy it here.


    Pros:

  • Cheaper than “full size” set top boxes
  • Designed to be ultra-portable
  • Control your TV from any phone, tablet, or computer
  • Comes with HDMI extender cable
  • Easy to set up

  • Cons:

  • Does not support ESPN, Showtime Anywhere, Bloomberg TV, or Amazon Instant Video
  • Some users will miss a physical remote
  • Some users have experienced issues with screen mirroring
  • For slightly more money, you can get a Roku stick with more channels and a better interface
  • Some users have reported issues with audio lag

  • 5. PlayStation 4

    In the CNET “Ask the Experts” video above, the streaming functionality of the PS4 is compared to the Xbox One.

    The PS4 has outsold the Xbox One, and it’s not hard to see why. In addition to a lower price point, the PS4 hosts a large collection of entertainment apps.

    Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Available?: Yes

    Buy it here.


    Pros:

  • Slightly cheaper than buying an Xbox One with a Kinect
  • Large library of new games, plus the ability to play old games
  • Starting Summer 2014, PlayStation Now will launch a streaming game service
  • Comfortable controller
  • Beautiful design

  • Cons:

  • People who live in areas with no broadband (or can’t afford broadband) may not be able to get the most out of their console
  • Has some playback and streaming limitations
  • PlayStation Camera is sold separately
  • Enabling game audio output on the DualShock 4 disables all audio via HDMI and optical out
  • Hard to organize your friends list on the PlayStation Network


  • 6. Xbox One

    The video above compares the Xbox One against the PS4.

    The Xbox One may lag behind the PS4 in terms of consoles sold, but Microsoft has a bit of an edge when it comes to software sales. Boasting some very cool exclusive titles, the Xbox One is also interesting because of its entertainment channels. Plus, starting in June 2014, Xbox One will have its own original programming.

    Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Available?: Yes

    Buy it here.


    Pros:

  • Snapping apps interface lets you keep an eye on apps while playing
  • Integrated Kinect gameplay
  • Has some of the coolest games of this console generation
  • Appears to have slightly sharper graphics in some games (versus PS4)
  • Network powered by over 300,000 servers for maximum performance

  • Cons:

  • Some users have felt “short changed” by Kinect, constant flip-flopping of features
  • Xbox One available in fewer countries than the PS4
  • Controller support for last-gen systems is non-existent
  • Controller lacks PS4′s on-board share button
  • After subtracting the size of the OS, the 500GB hard drive has just over 360GB of space

  • 7. Western Digital Play Media Player

    Check out a review of the Western Digital media player in the video above.

    Western Digital may not be the first brand to come to mind when you’re hunting for a set top box, but those who have Western Digital boxes tend to have very positive experiences to share. If you trust Western Digital for your hard drive or external storage, there’s good reason to trust them as a cable TV alternative as well.

    Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Available?: No, Only Hulu and Netflix

    Buy it here.


    Pros:

  • Supports a wide array of video formats: AVI (Xvid, AVC, MPEG4, VC-1), MKV (h.264, x.264, AVC, MPEG4, VC-1) TS/TP/M2T/M2TS (MPEG4, AVC, VC-1), MP4/MOV (MPEG4, AVC), WMV9, FLV (AVC)
  • Simple set-up
  • Cheaper than Apple TV, Roku 3, or Amazon Fire TV
  • Includes popular streaming media apps
  • Stream media from any DLNA/UPnP device on your home network, or plug and play from your camera

  • Cons:

  • Doesn’t support MPEG2, VOB and DTS (for that you want the WD Live, which is a bit more expensive)
  • Does not support multi-room streaming
  • Lacks built-in network drive
  • While Netflix and Hulu channels are supported, Amazon Prime/Streaming is not
  • Designed as an entry-level product, remote is less feature-rich as a result

  • 8. Wii U

    The video above walks you through the process of turning your Wii U as a media center, for free.

    In the ongoing sales war between the PS4 and the Xbox One, the real loser has been Nintendo’s Wii U. That being said, this console is still a solid options for people who want to experience Nintendo’s exclusive library of games, as well as those who want a streaming media hub.

    Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Available?: Yes

    Buy it here.


    Pros:

  • Cheaper than Xbox One and PS4
  • Asymmetric gaming (where a player on the GamePad faces off against those with Wii Remotes) is a unique, exciting way to play
  • Mario Kart 8 is reason enough to grab this console
  • Backwards compatible with Wii
  • Intuitive motion controllers

  • Cons:

  • While many users like the features of the GamePad, the battery life of the GamePad could be improved
  • Limited game selection
  • Some reviewers feel that the hardware isn’t living up to its potential
  • GamePad can’t be directly plugged into console
  • Cumbersome menu design

  • 9. Netgear NeoTV

    Learn more about the Netgear NeoTV in the video above.

    While most people know Netgear for their line of wireless routers, the company has also produced a line of streaming media set top boxes. The cheapest of this line is the NeoTV, which costs about half of what you’d pay for an Apple TV, Roku 3, or Amazon Fire TV.

    This handy comparison chart can help you decide if you will be happy with a NeoTV, or if you should pony up the extra dough for the NeoTV Pro or NeoTV Max.

    Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Available?: No, Only Hulu and Netflix

    Buy it here.


    Pros:

  • Available with or without WiDi (WiDi enables wireless streaming to a TV, essentially turning it into a smart TV)
  • Somewhat cheaper than comparable options
  • Built-in wireless-N
  • Simple set-up
  • Decent channel selection, overall

  • Cons:

  • Depending on your needs, the NeoTV Pro or NeoTV Max may be more suited to your lifestyle
  • No VUDU 3D support
  • Lacks 300 Mbps WiFi of Pro model
  • NeoTV remote control app for iOS and Android devices, but not Windows phone
  • QWERTY keyboard remote control only available with Max model

  • 10. Vizio CoStar LT

    Check out an unboxing and set-up guide for the Vizio CoStar LT system in the video above.

    Most people know Vizio as the maker of cheap big screen TVs, but the Vizio CoStar LT has a couple of features that other set top boxes lack. These features include apps like iHeartRadio and Facebook (not found on all set top boxes), as well as 3D support for select videos. Additionally, the CoStar LT is very simple to install.

    Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Available?: Yes

    Buy it here.


    Pros:

  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • Supports second screen interactivity
  • Energy Star-certified
  • 3D support
  • Three-step setup process

  • Cons:

  • No Internet browser
  • CoStar must be within 30 feet of the wireless router, and on the same floor of the house as your router
  • Some users find the app selection limited
  • Some users have reported issues with overheating
  • No advanced search features (like Amazon’s Fire TV voice search)

  • If you’re looking for a more detailed breakdown of which boxes support a given streaming channel/app, Wikipedia has a great table that has info about support for Crackle, Redbox Instant, Vevo, Vimeo, VUDU, YouTube, and more.


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    1 comment

    1. Great, thorough article. There are so many alternatives to cable TV it is a wonder anyone still uses it. Antenna/Amazon Prime/Netflix/Hulu+ and a Roku will get you everything you need. I decided a few years ago to cut the cord and get rid of cable it has saved me a ton of money and I think I actually watch more content now. I wanted to help other people do the same so I started a website on the matter that you can check out if you are interested or want more information. http://getridofcable.net/cable-tv-alternatives

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