Devices such as the Vudu and the Roku boxes fall under this category. They aim to do one thing and do it well by restricting themselves to some VOD services and presenting their users with an environment similar to DVD renting, only online. Local media can't be played through them. Some of the SOC platforms which have found traction in this market include NXP STB 236 and Broadcom BCM7401. These SOCs were primarily designed for the IP set top boxes (Vudu and Roku may also be termed IP set top boxes, but at a more basic level compared to what these were originally designed for). These platforms do not support DTS audio, which is pretty much a pre-requisite nowadays for products geared towards the media streaming audience.

The Roku HD streamer introduced recently utilizes the NXP platform with a 320 MHz MIPS32 host processor. The STB 236 platform uses the PNX8336 at its core. H264 and VC1 seem to be supported codecs for hardware acceleration, while MPEG-2 seems to be only partially supported. The SOC has suitable connectivity options including USB, SATA and Ethernet. However, HDMI is not integrated in the SOC. The PNX8336 was released in April 2008. Since then, NXP has released video decoder chips targeted towards the TV and the DVR markets in December 2008 and March 2009. However, they seem to miss the mark as far as the features required for a media streamer device go. It will be interesting to see what Roku has in its roadmap, and whether they would shift suppliers for future products. The Roku HD-XR has a USB port, but it serves no discernible usefulness at present. The unit has an operational power consumption of 6W.
 


Vudu & Roku
Media Streamers Based on IP Set Top Box Platforms


Vudu, on the other hand, has realized that selling a restrictive IP set top box in this market is not an easy task. It is now striving to remodel itself as a service provider of sorts by integrating their software into the next generation Blu Ray players and TVs. Still, it is interesting to take a look at the platform behind their original device. It is based on Broadcom's BCM7401 (which also happens to have a 300 MHz MIPS32 host processor), which provides support for H264, VC-1 and MPEG-2 decode. Connectivity options include the standard set of USB, SATA and Ethernet. Now classified by Broadcom as a legacy product, this SOC has probably been superseded by the BCM7400 / BCM7400B introduced around the same time. It is also puzzling as to why the BCM7400B which provides support for DivX decoding wasn't used. That would have probably made the box closer to what the media streamer market needs. Vudu, unlike Roku, also provides the ability to purchase and download movies from their collection. This necessiates a hard disk inside their unit, which puts the operational power consumption much higher than Roku's at 18W.

All said and done, the days of these types of media streamers are numbered. They have to evolve themselves to different types of products in the coming years in order to survive in this market.

Blu-Ray Player / Media Streamer Combo Internet & Local Media Streamers
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  • agold80 - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Could I put in a request that you test subtitle languages that are Right to Left oriented, like Hebrew? there is quite a market for HTPC and Media Streamers in the middle east but companies support for RtL languages has been less than stellar and is something that often even their technical support finds hard to give a straight answer about. Reply
  • beginner99 - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    I would also test network capabilities. Support for wireless or wired, limitations, connection stability and so on.
    I would say most people buying such a device will sooner or later also get a NAS.

    Personally I have a WD TV Live and it's fine.But it has it's issues. One beeing that it sometimes has trouble connecting to the network. Another thing is that some content from youtube is blocked. You get a message similar to:
    "This content can not be watched from TV attached devices."
    This is pretty annoying because it is no mentiond that youtbe access i limited...
    -> one thing that speaks for a real HTPC.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    beginner99, Thanks!

    We definitely plan to test the networking capabilities, and present it in the review. The only problem we will need to work around is the fact that the network performance is highly dependent on the setup and environment. So, one thing which works in the reviewer's home perfectly, might not be very stable in someone else's home. Of course, we will be keeping an eye out on the various forums to get the various users' experience and make those observations play a small role in our review.

    By the way, my WDTV Live experience is also very similar to yours, and that is the main reason I am unable to get rid of my HTPC :)
    Reply
  • SlyNine - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    For HD content you will def. need 50+ sustained mbps. I find that even my netgear WNDR3700 based wireless stutters on High Def, I just wired everything and now it's silky smooth.

    I think the devices should be reviewed in their own right, with no networking limitations, then a general review of how wireless works on media streamers ( unless you find one that performance unusually well or poor)

    Also you might think about looking at software media servers like twonky and tversity and others. With Twonky and WD Live, through the twonky software on your server ( computer) you can tell the WDlives what to do, for instance, play music in the bathroom, see what each device is playing, Play the same music through out your home.
    Reply
  • clarkn0va - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    "For HD content you will def. need 50+ sustained mbps"

    For non-recoded BD rips perhaps, but many users will not run into this limitation, at least not in the current state of things. I've tested hundreds of 1080p mkv/H264 rips and typical bitrate is in the neighbourhood of 20mbps (variable, peaking as high as 40).

    I don't stream a lot of HD over wireless, but with a good 54mbps connection I've found 720p to work well, while 1080p is more hit and miss.
    Reply
  • SlyNine - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    Yea I'm talking about demuxing and remuxing a Blu Ray and playing back TrueHD which is my preferred way of getting HD content. I guess if you reencode it at 720 P you would be ok. Now, I'm way more picky then most so to get acceptable quality encoding HD takes around 5-10 hours, I have a Core I7 at 3.7ghz. So for me, forget that.

    But I just say 50mbps just to be on the safe side, you'd probably be ok with 40 but you would have no overhead.
    Reply
  • Hubble70 - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Don't forget the SageTV HD200. It is the only media streamer that spans all of the categories. It can act as an extender for their excellent media center software, can play almost any file format (mkv, blu-ray file format, etc) as a standalone media streamer, and can stream non-DRM internet video. I'd love see Anandtech cover it since it never seems to get any love from the media. Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, June 15, 2010 - link

    Hubble70,

    Thanks for your suggestion. SageTV HD200 is based on a Sigma Designs chipset. It will probably have the same features of a WDTV Live or any other NMT, except for UI changes. We will definitely review an upcoming revision of the product if we manage to get our hands on a review unit.
    Reply
  • Hubble70 - Wednesday, June 16, 2010 - link

    Yeah, its based on the old Sigma, but I find that its not the hardware that limits most of these devices, it is the software stack. Whether or not they can play ISO, full BD menus or just BD menu lite, whether you can pick a BD playlist, container support, etc. It seems to matter a lot more than the hardware in them unless you really want HD audio support which it lacks.

    And no, the HD200 is nothing like the WDTV since its primarily designed as an extender for for their media center software. And when you use their media center software you can use any UI on it that you want. There are LOTS of user created UIs and you can customize your own easily. SageMC is the most popular alternate UI. Their new version of their media center, V7.0 even allows you to install XBMC frontends on them, though this feature is in beta.

    Used as a standalone unit it is pretty similar to the WDTV live but with better file format support.

    It's definitely worth taking a better look at since it is unique among media players because it can be used as an extender, a standalone media streamer, and even as a placeshifter.

    Here's a geektonic review of the unit.
    http://www.geektonic.com/2009/01/sagetv-hd200-hd-t...
    Reply
  • dumbletore - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    Hi and thx for an very interesting article.

    I would like included test for playback of the format WTV which is the standard TV recording format for Windows7 / media player 12
    WMP cannot record TV shows in any other format, and i am really annoyed by my WDTV LIVEs lack of ability to playback it.
    Not that any of the competition can either though..
    Reply

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