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The best TV set top boxes/sticks for this holiday season

The Black Friday / Cyber Monday / Christmas shopping season is upon us, with more gadgets than ever available to choose from.

A smart TV box might be a great holiday present for your loved ones and family. They are reasonably cheap, many of them are extremely intuitive to use (so that I would trust my parents to not call me every weekend to fix it), and they are still a quite original present (compared to, say a tablet)

Our specialty on this site is to make your dumb TV a smart TV, through the help of a Set top box. My personal choice tends to go towards cheap Android Chinese boxes nowadays, because I love the flexibility of running a tiny computer connected to my TV, but that might not be the best for everyone.

What’s available in 2014, that people love and recommend? Looking at amazon’s best seller lists in electronics for TV, we found the following ranking:

 

9. Samsung BD-H5100 Blu-Ray Disc Player

 

Don’t be misled by its name, this is not only a Blu ray player, but a full Smart device with app support! In addition to playing blu Rays, the device comes with full support for Netflix, Youtube, Amazon Instant Videos, etc… this is a very good, low cost way to introduce non tech savvy to the smart TV: they’ll probably use the Blu ray player 99% of the time, but at least you’re giving them the option to switch to streaming in the near future.

  • Recommended for: non tech savvy family members. People who still use blu ray

8. Sony BDPS3200 Blu-ray Disc Player with Wi-Fi

This is simply the best selling blu ray player on Amazon. Just as the Samsung player above, it is a “smart” blu ray player with app support (more than 200 according to Sony), including the usual Netflix, Hulu plus, amazon instant video, but also music applications such as Pandora, etc…  Although initial reviews of the device were mixed, Sony have gone through several firmware releases that have addressed all the issues, making it the most recommended blu ray player right now. It also supports miracast, which lets you send the content of your Mobile device (tablet, phone) to your TV screen.

  • Recommended for: non tech savvy family members. People who still use blu ray

7. Roku 3500R Streaming Stick

This is a combination of a “typical” roku box and a chromecast. Unlike the chromecast, it supports many apps and does not “need” a mobile phone to pilot it. In other words, it’s a standalone box that can also be used like a chromecast. Tiny as a usb stick and comes with a remote. It’s a bit more expensive than a Chromecast, but provides much more for the price.

  • Recommended for: people who like gadgets. People who want more than just a chromecast. People looking for a cheap, yet user friendly solution

6. Apple TV

Although this is ranking high in the lists, you have to be warned that the Apple TV is for people who are already in the Apple ecosystem. With a limited variety of apps, this really appeals to people who have already invested significantly in iTunes, and do not mind the lack of options. This will have the “mainstream” apps such as Netflix or Youtube, but no Amazon Instant Video for example. It is also on the “pricier” range of this list. Apple make good quality product, and for example the Netflix interface has the reputation of being better than on other devices, so that works well if you are ok with the limitations that come with it.

  • Recommended for: people who are already in the Apple ecosystem

5. Playstation 4

Although the Playstation 4 has limited Media functionality, it has access to the main media applications (including Netflix and amazon Instant video), plus, of course, the additional bonus of being one of the best gaming systems out there. It comes at a price of course, but it was worth mentioning, as one of the best sellers in the “TV” category at Amazon.

  • Recommended for: Gamers who want some media on the side

4. Roku 3

Another box from Roku, this one is a bit bigger than the 3500 R that we mentioned above. Compared to the stick, it adds gaming functionality, a better remote with an audio jack included (incredibly useful to watch the TV without waking everybody up!), a much better CPU for more reactivity of the box, and support for a LAN cable (which will dramatically improve the network quality over a wifi connection). I’d personally choose this one over the stick today, but the stick has this geeky gadget appeal that could make it a better present (it is also cheaper by a significant margin)

  • Recommended for: people who don’t want to choose between an Apple TV and a Fire TV. People who would enjoy the headphones integrated on the remote

3. Fire TV

The Amazon rankings might be biased on this one, but the Fire TV is a powerhouse for a reasonable price. Given that I am not personally tied to the Apple ecosystem, and all other things equal, I’d choose the Fire TV over the Roku 3 and the Apple TV. The Fire TV is good for both Media and gaming, and because it is Android based it will also relatively easily run gems such as XBMC (Kodi), making it closer to the Android boxes that I personally like. As such, the Fire TV can work “out of the box” with its intuitive interface for non tech-savvy people, but geek enthusiasts will not be frustrated by it either. You can check our review of the Fire TV here.

  • Recommended for: People who want a good media experience with a bit of gaming on the side. People looking for a powerful box. People in the amazon ecosystem.  People who want the Android ecosystem

2. Chromecast

The Chromecast is very particular: its price, its simplicity, and the concept that you control it with any phone, tablet, or computer in the house make it a very promising gadget. The limited number of compatible apps however can be a drawback. This is Amazon’s second best seller in the electronics/TV category (and it was first for a long time), because it is so simple and cheap. It might not fully replace your other set top box, but for less than $30 it could be a nice cheap complement if you have several TVs for example.

  • Recommended for: gadget enthusiasts. People who want a simple Netflix solution, as cheap as possible

1. Amazon Fire TV Stick

Fire TV Stick on Amazon

The Fire TV stick might very well be the chromecast killer. Although it does not exactly do the same thing, it provides access to many more services, including some (albeit limited) gaming, and its price range is designed exactly to compete with the Chromecast and Roku stick. Probably the best choice if you are already in the Amazon ecosystem and are looking for a cheap way to make your TV smart. And still a great choice even if you are not interested purely in Amazon’s stuff, since it supports Netflix, etc… The device was propelled as #1 seller in TV electronics the day of its release.

  • Recommended for: People who want a good media experience with a bit of gaming on the side. People in the amazon ecosystem.  People looking for a cheap solution with a decent amount of apps

The adventurous among you might want to consider a Chinese Android box, which are my personal favorites (check here my review of the CR11/S, for example). They offer more power for reasonable prices, and the full flexibility of android. Geeks only!

 

Looking for more Holiday shopping? Check here the best selling list of Smart TVs in 2014

2 Responses

  1. Cameron

    I feel the Playstation 3 should have been mentioned somewhere here, as it would be cheaper than a PS4 and yet capable of 1080p and gaming.

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