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Exploring Smart TV Set-Top Devices

If you have an older TV (or even a lower-priced newer one without built-in connectivity), you can add similar smart TV features by purchasing a streaming media set-top device. There are lots of these devices, with the most popular being the Roku models, Apple TV, WDTV Live, and Amazon Fire TV. All of these devices are small enough to hold in your hand and sell for $100 or less.

Consider the Roku 2, shown in Figure 3.5. This one’s smack dab in the middle of the Roku line (between Roku 1 and Roku 3, naturally), and sells for $69.99. It connects to your home network via Wi-Fi and to your TV via HDMI, and includes its own remote control. Configuration is as easy as navigating through a handful of setup screens.

Figure 3.5

Figure 3.5 Roku 2 streaming media player.

Like all Roku models, the Roku 2 comes with a number of popular apps (they call them “channels”) preinstalled, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go, Vudu, YouTube, Vevo, Pandora, Spotify, and TuneIn Radio. You can download a plethora of additional channels online for a variety of different streaming services; because of its popularity, Roku has the most available third-party apps of any of the currently available smart TV devices. (Figur 3.6 shows some of the most popular Roku channels.)

Figure 3.6

Figure 3.6 Navigating online content on the Roku 2.

If one of these little boxes is too big for you to deal with, consider a smart TV on a stick. These are streaming media devices in the form factor of a universal serial bus (USB) dongle, such as Google’s Chromecast, the Roku Streaming Stick, and Amazon’s Fire TV Stick. As you can see in Figure 3.7, these devices plug into any open HDMI connector on your TV and provide similar app functionality for web-based streaming media services. There are fewer cables to worry about, plus the cost is lower, ranging from $35 for the Chromecast to $49.99 for the Roku Streaming Stick. The Roku and Fire sticks come with their own remotes, while you operate the Chromecast with the accompanying smartphone app. It’s a nifty way to add smart TV functionality to any TV set that has an HDMI connection.

Figure 3.7

Figure 3.7 The Google Chromecast streaming media stick.

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