The death of the cable box has been greatly exaggerated, but streaming-media boxes that deliver online services are increasingly popular, offering easy access to such entertainment staples as Netflix, Amazon and Pandora. There is a wealth of models available, with features ranging from place shifting and time shifting to social media and special-interest channels. The options will continue to expand, thanks to Samsung’s purchase of Boxee and more players looking to compete with Apple and Roku. To help you choose, we’ve compiled 10 of the best streaming-media players for the couch potato on your gift list.
The most audacious entry in the streaming-media market is Google's Chromecast. It's not a set-top box but an HDMI dongle about the size of a USB thumb drive that essentially turns an Android or iOS phone or tablet into a remote control for streaming Netflix, Hulu Plus and YouTube to a TV. It does not yet offer other streaming sources or the hundreds of channels and apps that Roku does. However, it's simple, inexpensive and svelte.