A little less than a year ago, I wrote a post on what I perceived at the time to be the best media center. Well, as my TV and media needs have started to shift over the last year, I figured now was a good time to rank the different media player hardware that I’ve been using in my household.
7. (The Worst) Chromecast ($35):
While I struggle to call any of these devices bad, I can emphatically say the Chromecast is not for me. Specifically because I like to use my mobile devices while watching TV. It’s relatively simple to use, but it’s inability function as it’s own device is a total deal breaker. I could see this maybe being used in a bedroom, where someone wants to watch an episode of Netflix or listen to Pandora before bed, but it’s not a living room device.
6. Raspberry Pi 2($35):
I friggity love my Raspberry Pi 2, and the idea of cheap computing in general. That being said using the RPi as a media center definitely won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. First, there is a bit of knowledge required to make a Pi a good media center as a user will need to assemble the Pi and dump an OS (likely conaining the Kodi software) on to the system. My second knock against the Pi is I think in order for it to be a good media center, one needs to have a PC running the PlayOn Software which will cost you an additional $50 bucks for a lifetime subscription. That being said, there is some reward in nerdy work, and a Raspberry Pi and it’s software are pretty open to tinkering, leaving you a media center you can continuously improve. After all, you bought the Pi to do nerdy things, right?
5. AppleTV ($69.99):
I’m sure I will catch some guff for this, and this could arguably be the best media center for a user who wants simple. That being said the AppleTV is closed source, and not very open to tinkering at all, you’re somewhat stapled to iTunes, and the variety of media apps is a bit lacking when compared to say it’s closest competitor, the Roku. Everything aside, the AppleTV is simple enough for my grandparents to use for Netflix.
4. Roku ($35-$100):
Make no mistake about it, the Roku is a great media center up against some really stiff competition. I find the Roku to closely resemble what the AppleTV offers as it is very simple. The Advantages for the Roku over AppleTV is that it has more apps: Google Play, Vudu, SlingTV, amongst others, and it has a better navigation menu as you can customize (add and remove apps) base on your personal preferences. I also find the universal search on the Roku to be quick kick butt. Finally, it has a bit more variety in hardware allowing it to be a bit more budget friendly if that is a factor for you.
3. Amazon Fire TV ($39.99 or 99.99):
I like the Amazon Fire TV, but I don’t love it. The FireTV is based of Android, but stripped down to make it’s interface more user friendly? Mostly, it’s an HTML5 wrapper that makes the FireTV a bit more…. Amazon-y. It’s an open enough system where if you want to get geeky and sideload other Android Apps with ADB you can, but it trys to keep things quite simple a la AppleTV/ Roku. I rate this a bit higher than than the aforementioned Roku and AppleTV solely because it allows for more customization that the others. Unfortunately, it behaves a bit slower than either of those systems (at least on the $40 Fire TV stick) and really doesn’t do much to separate it from the others out of the box… outside of doing a better job selling you Amazon stuff.
2. The traditional HTPC ($100+):
The HTPC used to be the undisputed champion in this niche. Due to it’s versatility, It still might be. The biggest problem I have with my traditional HTPC is this: at the end of the day, a PC is designed for a mouse and keyboard. Kodi works great without one, but any other app you need to run on the PC pretty much requires it. Including the SlingTV app for cable cord cutters. While HTPC hardware + Kodi + Steam is still definitely the best solution for hardcore gamers (potentially alongside gaming consoles). I find this system is starting to feel antiquated.
1. Nexus Player ($69.99):
The new king. The Nexus Player is the new king as it does the best job blending all the functionality of my HTPC, sprinkling some on top, and allowing me to free myself from a backend playon server if I so choose. It has the biggest game and app selection of all of the above devices (arguably the traditional HTPC may have it beat). It’s easy to install new apps. You don’t have to sideload with ADB to use a web-browser. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I’m fairly certain I’d rather have a Nexus Player connected to my TV than my $600 HTPC.