Gift Guide 2012 – Internet-ready multimedia devices

Cord cutters, connected consumers who’ve severed ties with cable companies, have helped create a new market of devices dedicated to bringing Internet media to the living room.

Services like Netflix and Hulu allow consumers to watch much of the content available on cable, but at a smaller monthly cost and without the need to be involved with a cable contract.  These streaming services can also be used on newer “Smart” televisions and media devices, essentially replacing cable.

Here are some Internet ready televisions and multimedia devices that can help turn the living room into a streaming media haven:

Smart televisions

Connected televisions have are those that support either a Wi-fi or hard connection to your home Internet.

These “smart” televisions can access a variety of streaming services and digital platforms, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and YouTube.  The specific supported services vary by model, so be sure to check the device specs to see if your must-have streaming sites are included.  Additional research should include checking the device manufacturer’s forums and support website to make sure that they are fully compatible with the advertised services; some connected televisions are still working out the kinks for connectivity with Netflix and other streaming video platforms.

One of the least expensive value products in the 32” television category is the Vizio E320i-A0 ($299), which provides access to Vizio’s app platform.

The 40” class is more competitive, with offerings from LG (42LS5700, $699), Panasonic (VIERA TC-L42E50, $600) and Samsung (UN40EH5300, $799), among others.

Most manufacturers all sell similar connected products in the bigger screen classes, which couple smart TV features with thinner displays and additional technologies, like 3D and 120hz.

Streaming media players

Users that want a connected television but aren’t interested in purchasing a new TV should look into a streaming media player.  These Internet-ready devices can stream web video or local content, via a connected hard drive or network source, to the television.

If streaming video from Netflix and/or Hulu is your primary activity, it’s difficult to beat the devices in Roku’s line.  The Roku LT and HD can both be had for under $50 and do an excellent job streaming content from the Web.  Roku also sells models for users that need 1080p.

Western Digital’s WD TV Live ($99) is a great solution for users with personal content they’d like to play over the network or through a connected external hard drive.  It also connects to some of the more popular streaming platforms, providing a nice all-in-one solution.

The Apple TV ($99) is the only device compatible with content from the iTunes Store. If you’re heavily invested into the iTunes/iOS ecosystem, it’s the way to go.  It’s not overly friendly to non-iTunes content, though, so there are better options if you need to support personally-collected multimedia.

All of these devices connect to the television via HDMI.  A few also allow for component connections, but may require a special cable; check the documentation before purchasing to see if you’re covered.

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