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From the author of Set-Top Boxes

Set-Top Boxes

Apple TV

Price: $99

Key apps: HBO Go, Hulu, iTunes, MLB, NBA, Netflix, NHL, WatchESPN, and YouTube

More info: http://www.apple.com/appletv/

Though it doesn't attract the high-profile attention reserved for the iPhone or iPad, the Apple TV brings some powerful media options to your HDTV. This small set-top box (it's about hockey-puck sized) plugs into an HDMI port, connects to Wi-Fi or Ethernet, and then lets you access a world of media on the web and on your home computers running iTunes. The Apple TV's major selling feature is its iTunes integration (it's the only device of its kind that supports iTunes video), which lets you rent or buy TV shows and movies from Apple's online store, as well as stream all kinds of content from computers. Other highlights include Remote, an app that turns an iPhone or iPad into a remote control, and AirPlay mirroring, which lets you display your iPhone, iPad, or Mac screen on your TV. An elegant device, it's ideal if you already have some Apple products, but it can work well for practically anyone.

Pros: Tight iTunes integration; super-smooth interface; streams audio, podcasts, and photos from computer; AirPlay mirroring.

Cons: No Amazon support; users can't add apps.

Roku

Price: $49-$99

Key apps: Amazon Instant Video, iHeartRadio, HBO Go, Hulu, MLB, Netflix, NHL, Pandora, Spotify, and hundreds more

More info: http://www.roku.com/roku-products

Roku's line of media streamers are excellent alternatives to the Apple TV. Although they don't support iTunes, they offer basically every other major streaming audio or video service, plus hundreds of additional "channels" of content. Roku players hook up to HDMI and Wi-Fi and offer different features depending on which model you buy. If you want to steer clear of Apple, or just want a lower price, they're terrific options. One really cool feature is the $99 Roku 3's remote control, which includes a headphone jack so you can watch TV in a quiet room without disturbing anyone (think watching TV in bed without waking your partner).

Pros: Huge number of channels; multiple device options; cool headphone-jack-equipped remote.

Cons: No iTunes or YouTube support.

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