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Streaming Media Player Buying Guide

Types of Streaming Media Players

Not all streaming media players are the same, and some will fit your personal needs better than others. In addition to the particular services each one offers, you'll probably want to decide which type of streaming media player works best for you.

First, there are the straightforward streaming media consoles. The function of these devices is to simply stream media, and they typically don't have any other major applications. But they're perfect for viewers happy with their current home entertainment setup, and they don't need anything additional besides streaming capabilities. The most popular console in this category is the Roku, the first player to work with the Netflix streaming service. It has since come out with more advanced models and offers an array of streaming services in addition to Netflix. Other boxes to consider in this category include the WD TV, Apple TV, Google TV and Boxee Box.

If you have TiVo or you're a gamer, you might actually already own a perfectly good streaming console. In addition to its recording features, TiVo can stream Netflix, as well as Hulu and Amazon content. And several game consoles, such as the Sony PS3, the XBox 360 and the Nintendo Wii have the ability to stream media. If you've been looking for an extra excuse to get a gaming console, the streaming abilities could make it worth the purchase for you.

If gaming isn't your thing, but you'd like to have the versatility to play DVDs and Blu-ray discs, you could opt for any of a slew of DVD/Blu-ray players that offer streaming. Companies like Insignia, LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony offer not only Blu-ray players but also HDTVs and home theater systems with streaming functionality. So, if you were already planning on a major overhaul of your current home entertainment center, it's certainly worth considering getting something that also satisfies your streaming desires.

Finally, besides consoles, you might also consider simply streaming to a mobile device. Although people seem to prefer to watch Netflix and Hulu on TV rather than a mobile device, streaming videos from YouTube is extremely popular on smartphones and tablets [source: Carmody].

What else should you take into account when looking for a streaming media player?