I am an early adopter of all things technological. I am fanatical about having the latest and greatest technology in my hands. So when media players started showing up several years ago, I was all in. In fact, I still am all in. Residing in our house are the following media players: Apple TV, Playstation 3, Xbox 360 S, Direct TV, Wii and Roku.
At first they were a quick way to grab a movie if we didn't like the Netflix DVD's and Blu-ray Discs that were sitting on our counter. Then Netflix went and negotiated away their immediate access to new DVD/BD releases. When that happened, we dropped the DVD/BD part of our Netflix subscription and started streaming new movies through our various media players.
After using them all for some time, there is a clear winner...Roku. While Apple TV comes close, Roku executes a lot better. Roku gives us streaming access to 20+ channels like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Disney and HBO GO. But the best Roku channel of all is Amazon Instant Video. Amazon Instant Video is the service that outperforms Apple TV.
While the Apple TV user interface is superior and more elegant than Amazon's, Apple TV falls down on the most important aspect of streaming, server strength. To have a good experience with HD streaming, you need really powerful servers. There have been many times when the Apple TV servers were just not up to the task. For example, we recently bought a movie on Apple TV and went to watch...and we got a message stating that our film would start streaming in 44 minutes! You've got to be kidding me. Thanks, Apple...I'll just sit here and play with my underpants until you are ready to go. We flipped over to Amazon Instant Video, bought the same movie and it started streaming immediately.
So while Apple TV gets the nod for hardware and software, it's all about the servers. And after several years of side-by-side use, I'm here to tell you that Amazon's servers are considerably more robust than Apple's. (It is interesting to note that Netflix chose the Amazon server farm to host all of their streaming.)
The Roku box is really tiny and it's a breeze to connect to your TV and WiFi network. Roku sells 4 models starting at $49.99 and they go up to $89.99 I'd recommend the Roku 2 XD for $69.99 as that model supports full HD at 1080p.
We subscribe to Amazon Prime for $79 a year, which gives us free shipping on all Amazon.com purchases. And when you are a member of Amazon Prime, you get free access to Amazon Prime Instant Video, the TV and movie library that is nipping strongly at the heels of Netflix. Amazon Prime Instant Video has over 10,000 movies and TV shows that are free for members. You can access the library right from your Roku. There's a lot of really great, free content on Amazon Prime Instant Video and it's got to be keeping the Netflix people awake at night. Check it out here: http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=2676882011
So if you are in the market for a streaming media player, I strongly recommend Roku. At $69.99, it's an excellent value and you will get untold hours of enjoyment out of it. Here is their web site: http://www.roku.com/
Update: Roku announced today (January 4) that they will be rolling out a stick for those who have MHL compatible TV's (which are really new, few and far between right now). See this: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/gadgetreviews/roku-shrinks-its-set-top-box-with-the-roku-streaming-stick-dongle/28721?tag=mantle_skin;content