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Digital Life
 
Spotlight

Which device should you get?

Published on May 5, 2014 6:00 AM
 

If you do not mind viewing Netflix and Hulu on your PC, the computer is the easiest way to view content from these streaming sites.

However, if you have a big TV set in the living room, you will naturally prefer to use a bigger screen. This is where media streamers come in.

Essentially, they are compact Internet TV boxes with preloaded channels, which you can connect to your TV set. These boxes will have HDMI-out ports for connecting to the TV or, better still, linking to your home AV receiver system for life-like surround sound.


Tablets and smartphones

Apple scores high in making it easy. Just log in with your US iTunes account and you will be able to access the US App Store.

Search for your favourite streaming apps and download them to your device. You will need to be connected via VPN to launch them.

Strangely, it is harder to switch to the US Google Play Store on Android devices, such as the recently launched Samsung Galaxy S5 (photo). You need to search for the .apk files of the apps and “sideload” them into your Android device.


Apple TV

$148, from Apple stores and online

Apple TV is an excellent choice for a media streamer, except that it does not have Amazon Instant Video.

In recent months, Apple has expanded its list of streaming apps and now has PBS, ABC, Crackle, Netflix and Hulu Plus.

To change your country settings from Singapore to US to get these apps, go to Settings, then iTunes Store and change the location to the US. You will also need to create a US iTunes account to pay for the content.

If you are a ViewQwest VPN customer, the local ISP has added PPTV, Youku and other China streaming sites to the Trailers app on Apple TV, although you do need to tweak the settings to activate this.

These are the same versions of the apps which are shown in China. They have a lot more content than the international versions, which people here are more familiar with.

Apple TV also offers a-la-carte rentals and purchases of the latest Hollywood movies.

For beginners, Apple TV is the best choice. Its sleek silver remote control is impressive.

You can also download an app on your iPhone or iPad and use your mobile device instead of the remote control.


CONSOLES

Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 (photo)

Xbox 360 ($399), Xbox One (US$499 or S$625, not available here), PlayStation 3 ($349) and PlayStation 4 (S$639)

It does not make sense to fork out so much more for a game console to watch Netflix.

However, if you are a gamer and already have one, then media streaming is an awesome bonus.

All the major channels are available here, including Amazon Instant Video.

With the Xbox One, you can use gestures and voice commands to control the dashboard, including pausing movies and menu navigation.

But you must be an Xbox Live Gold member to access these streaming apps and it costs an extra $88 a year.

For the Xbox and the PlayStation, you will need to create a US account and log in with the US account to view and access these apps.

Both the Xbox Video and the PlayStation Store also offer movies and TV shows for rental or purchase.


Roku 3

US$94.99 (S$119, from Amazon.com)

Roku is the brand to beat when it comes to media streaming. It has hundreds of apps, including all the major ones (even Amazon Instant Video). It has so many that not all are preloaded on your box.

Go to the Roku website to add or delete apps to customise your own viewing experience. The Roku 2 XS (above) which I use seems to be no longer available for direct shipping to Singapore.

Only the Roku 3 is available for direct shipping now.

There is also an app for iOS devices, so you can use your Apple iPad and iPhone to control the Roku, instead of using the remote unit.

Roku 3 also has some games, but the only ones worth playing are the various versions of Angry Birds. The remote unit doubles as a wireless motion-sensing game controller for Angry Birds fans.


ViewQwest TV

Bundled with selected ViewQwest fibre broadband subscriptions

You can get this box only when you sign up for ViewQwest’s Freedom VPN subscription. It is the least elegant box and the only one without a remote control. In fact, you have to connect a mouse to navigate it, which is inconvenient.

However, what it has are channels from the US (Netflix and Hulu Plus), Britain (BBC iPlayer), China (PPTV) and Hong Kong (TVB) – all bundled together in one nifty box.

This is a great choice if you want to watch Asian and US content, but I would suggest other set-top boxes if you are not into Korean, Hong Kong and Chinese dramas.


Western Digital TV Live

$169, from electronics stores and www.westerndigital.com

It is tough to recommend this media streamer when it costs more than the Apple TV. Also, it does not have as many channels as the Roku.

What is in its favour is that this box is sold in Singapore, so you can get a local warranty and a compatible power brick.

Once it is connected to your VPN, go to Settings to do a master reset and the US dashboard will appear, complete with Netflix and Hulu Plus, but not Amazon Instant Video.

There is also a remote-control app for your smartphone.

This article was first published in The Straits Times Digital Life on April 16, 2014.