Media Player Buyer’s Guide 2015

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As everyone is gathering around the TV, the holiday season is upon us and some quality family time is abound. Outside of ingesting ginormous amounts of food and having to bust out the stretchy pants after too much turkey, countless families will be hanging out around the TV is inevitably going to happen. So why not find the perfect media centre to gift for your family or loved one?

While the choices might vary if you’re exclusively an Apple or Windows users, whether you subscribe to cable or decide to forgo it altogether and move online entirely for your entertainment purposes or if you want to have an all-in-one media centre that stores all of your music and movie files. Chances are you or the person you’re buying the gift for fits somewhere along that spectrum, read on to check out our picks on the best media centres, according to purpose, budget and lifestyle.

staples streaming media centre holiday buyers guide 2015

Apple TV

Apple TV 2015

Tech Specs:

Apps – Yes
Dimensions – Height 1.4 inches, Width 3.9 inches, Depth 3.9 inches
Voice – Siri Voice support
Connectivity – Bluetooth 4.0, IR Transmitter, 10/100 Ethernet port, 802.11ac w/ MIMO, HDMI, USB-C
Remote – Yes. With touchpad
Media Support – H.264 video up to 1080p, 60 frames per second. MPEG-4 video up to 2.5 Mbps, 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second, Simple Profile with AAC-LC audio up to 160 Kbps, 48kHz, stereo audio in .m4v, .mp4, and .mov file formats. HE-AAC (V1), AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), protected AAC (from iTunes Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV; Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital Plus 7.1

Once an afterthought in the Apple product line, the new Apple is back with a vengeance to literally own all screens in your household, from phones, tablets, desktops, laptops, watches and now the TV.

Leveraging their ecosystems in iTunes for content whether it’s music, TV shows, or movies, to their App Store that has the most vibrant developer ecosystem to deliver you world class app experiences and games to your TV.

The beauty of making the Apple TV stand apart from all others is their inclusion of Siri into Apple TV along with having a touch clicker that allows for very easy navigation compared to their older remote.

But wait! There’s more, their games are also, with an onboard accelerometer and gyroscope sensors in the remote, you can expect Nintendo Wii-like game experiences. I briefly played a Tennis game that was a free download and it was delightful.

While a bit more expensive, coming in at $199 or $269 for their 32 GB or 64 GB models respectively, if you or the person you have in mind has bought into all things Apple, the Apple TV is something you should definitely consider.

The Good: Robust app ecosystem, Siri support makes navigation and getting to what you want a lot easier.

Perfect for: the person who loves all things Apple. People who want a simple and intuitive user experience designed by Apple.

The Bottom Line: Perfect for folks that love all things apple, you’ll be getting a world class media centre that’s extension of your iPhone, Tablet and Macs. It’s tightly integrated with all things Apple.

buy-now-red

Roku 3

roku 3

Tech Specs:

Apps – Yes
Dimensions – 3.5 x 3.5 x 1 inches
Voice – Yes
Connectivity – 802.11 (a/b/g/n compatible) with WEP, WPA, and WPA2 support
10/100 Base-T Ethernet
Remote – Yes
Media Support – Video: MP4 (H.264), MKV (H.264), Audio: AAC, MP3, Image: JPG, PNG

With some pretty big features added in the third generation of their Roku medai centre in the form over the Roku 3 over their previous generation Roku 2, the Roku 3 has won accolades and awards for good reason. Being that they’re platform agnostic and aren’t owned by Apple, Amzon or Google, the Roku 3 packs a whole lot of punch for such an aggressively priced and feature packed device and fills in gaps for whatever platform you’re using.

The magic in the Roku 3 is their feature packed remote, that’s comfortable in the hand with a candy bar style design, and dedicated buttons to your favourite streaming service.

With power features such as voice search and adding a headphone jack, you have a “private listening” mode to keep your viewing sessions to a mouse peep without having to bug others if sound is an issue in your household. At only $109, it’s a great gift for the person who wants to build an agnostic media cente.

The Good: Platform agnostic, the remote is the centrepiece of the Roku 3, has a Private Listening mode that you can connect your headphones to, competitive price. Supports MicroSD so you can quickly load media from your computer without having to use WIFI.

Perfect for: those who don’t care for platform lock-in from Apple, Google or Amazon. Students and anyone who wants a streaming media centre that balances the needs of the user and actually listens to them.

The Bottom Line: Coming in at an amazing price point, if you want a streaming a media player that is expandable and will be relevant for years to come, the Roku 3 with its strong feature set is a strong contender for your hard earned dollars.

buy-now-red

Google ChromeCast

Google Chromecast 2015

Tech Specs:

Apps – Yes
Dimensions – 2.04 x 2.04 x 0.53 in
Voice – no
Connectivity – HDMI, Micro USB, 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi
Remote – your phone is your remote
Media Support – anything that you can “cast” you can stream onto your Chromecast. Whether it’s mp3’s to mp4 files on your phone. Any apps that will support Chromecast fit into this as well, such as Netflix.

Google has updated the Chromecast with a new look and feel, keeping the same aggressive pricepoint at a paltry $45. With a price point like that, it will only feel like a stocking stuffer, but it packs a lot of punch for an amazingly low price into its diminutive frame.

You’ll notice that the look is much different compared to the USB-like stick design from a few years ago. This time around, it looks like a hockey puck, connected to an HDMI cable dongle so it can fit into tighter spaces. While at such a low price, you’d figure that Google is allowed to cut a few corners, but it’s the little details that they’ve paid attention to such as including a magnet at the end of the HDMI cable that snaps to the bottom of the device, so it’s not flailing about.

In terms of the support for major content providers, Chromecast supports Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and a host of other content providers as well. Really, there shouldn’t be any reason why you shouldn’t be able to pick this up even as a “starter” media centre for even the most hardcore gadget nut.

The Good: It’s affordable price point, everyone who owns an LCD TV should be able to afford one. Outside of that, there’s Chromecast Apps that extend the abilities of the Chromecast. You can send games from your Android powered phone to talk to the your Chromecast and use your phone as a controller. Finally, if you want to be able to send content or tabs from a tab opened in your Chrome web browser, whether on computer, smartphone or tablet, you can do that too.

Perfect for: Anyone really – it’s so aggressively priced that it’s can pretty much anyone will enjoy it with all its jam packed feature set.

The Bottom Line: A perfect stocking stuffer for the gadget lover to the person who wants to extend their Chrome experience to their TV’s.

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Will obsesses over the latest and greatest in gadgets, startups, does CrossFit and writes about technology, growth marketing, programming and personal development. He curates the Startup Digest in Toronto and is a coffee enthusiast.

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