Still playing with streaming video services. Forget the Amazon thing I posted; Netflix puts it to shame.

Of course, Netflix has issues, but they're geek issues. Doesn't play with Linux. It claims can't play with Linux, but runs fine on numerous Linux based embedded devices. One of these devices, recently granted access to the inner circle is Boxee. I currently have two little digital video devices; the Roku and the Boxee box.

The Boxee does pretty much everything I want. Of the available devices I've seen, it's the most friendly with home networks, playing any media it finds without complaint. And the format that media is in doesn't much bother it. Any codec, any container, any time. It supports Netflix and most content providers ( though, notably, doesn't have direct Amazon support). It does allow the installation of a general purpose web browser that will get you around to the places that don't have a spiffy "App" icon. Adding third party "Apps" is relatively painless. The iPhone remote control app is really handy. It takes both USB and SD cards for external data. It's wireless support is hassle free.

On the downside, the Boxee is, well, boxy. While quiet, there is a slight hum. You'll want to turn it off when not in use; it seemed to get confused when I left it on too long. Boot up time isn't great. There are some bugs that occasionally pop up, but no show stoppers. I've actually yet to see one of these things that's entirely bug free. It's one of the more expensive of the breed, coming in at $200.

The Roku is a cute little thing. No moving parts, quiet, leave it on forever and not notice, doesn't even sport a power button. It plays online services well and if you're looking for a dedicated Netflix appliance, this one is for you. The low end is a mere $60, with the high end being only marginally more at $100. The $100 model adds a USB plug and "Extended-range Wireless-N", among other things. Its "Apps" are "Channels". You can actually search around the internet for "private" channels that you have to register via their web page for more content.

While it handles supported online feeds well, that's the extent of Roku's power. The number of channels you can have active are limited. There is no built in way to stream your own content to the thing. There are a few third part addons that will do it, for a fee. There are some free projects that will do it, but you essentially have to jailbreak the thing. It's crashed a bit, so I don't want to taunt it.

The Roku "wifi" is a joke. The $100 model with "extended range" sometimes lost connection even when sitting on top of the wifi access point. Network discovery is hit or miss and it will often lock up during the process. Even after it's discovered a network, you still have to kill a chicken to get it to initialize and even then you don't know how long you'll keep it. If you plug it into wired connection, all these issues go away.

The Roku USB serves mostly to taunt. The number of formats supported are sadly wanting and even supported formats may not work if not encoded just so. Those third part streamers are really just hacks of this mechanism, so the files have to be encoded even if coming off a home media server.

If you want an efficient little Netflix box and have a wired connection, Roku is great. If you have your own stuff you want to play, or pretty much need to do anything beyond Roku's canned channels, I'd go with the bigger Boxee.
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