Media streamers like the Western Digital WD TV Live and Netgear NeoTV make just a little less sense than they did a couple of years ago. In those days, they were the perfect alternative to stuffing a home theater PC into your entertainment center. These days, you can get nearly all the same functionality from a new Blu-ray player or a Smart TV.
On the other hand, the latest incarnations of these two products cost less than a new Blu-ray player, and they’re several orders of magnitude cheaper than a new HDTV (or a home theater PC, for that matter). And while they do have some features in common, the NeoTV delivers far fewer features than the WD TV Live and is priced accordingly, so we’re not making a direct head-to-head comparison between the two here.
Technology is transforming the humble idiot box into a powerful Internet appliance. Whether you call it “smart TV,” “connected TV,” or “Internet TV,” it has the potential to upend our boob tube experience, letting us watch our favorite shows whenever and wherever we want, and merging TV shows with online content in cunning, clever ways. Smart TV won’t prevent television from rotting your brain (it’s not that smart), but it should empower you to find, and get more from, all the content that’s available.
Hollywood studios and TV networks are finally waking up to the power of the Internet, thanks to pioneering efforts by the likes of Netflix, Hulu, and Vudu. And if you can wait for pay-TV services such as HBO and Showtime to release their original programming on DVD, you can seriously consider ditching your expensive cable or satellite subscription services, too.
In the following pages, we’ll solve all the mysteries of smart TV. We’ll explain every important service and device that falls under the smart TV rubric (omitting only the most obvious players, such as YouTube), and tie everything together into a neat and simple package. It’s time to turn on and tune in.
For a company whose primary business is manufacturing hard drives, Western Digital sure knows a lot about digital media and how to stream it over a network. Each succeeding generation of the company’s WD TV Live product has led the market in terms of features, price, and performance, and this one is no different.
Craving a spot at the commercial online media buffet, but not at all interested in ripping your own media? Netgear has just the right dish. The NeoTV taps your broadband connection to serve up Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, YouTube, Picasa, and plenty of other online services; but it can’t tap media stored on your own network, and it doesn’t have any USB ports to access local storage.