Alternatives to Apple TV

Thanks to Apple TV, all the music, TV shows, and movies purchased at Apple’s iTunes Store will no longer be trapped on your computer. Instead of watching on your comparatively cramped desktop or laptop monitor, you’ll be able to enjoy iTunes-purchased movies and TV shows on a big-screen TV. While Apple TV will almost certainly remain alone in being compatible with iTunes content–the company has thus far refused to license the FairPlay DRM to any third parties–it’s not the only “content box” that you can attach to your TV.

MovieBeam MB2160

It’s a promising idea: a rotating selection of 100 movies–including some in high-def–are automatically queued up on the MovieBeam’s hard drive (the content is downloaded via a proprietary over-the-air service–if it’s not available in your area, the company won’t sell you the box). You can view any of the movies on a pay-per-watch basis (a onetime fee of $2 to $5 gives you a 24-hour viewing window), and because they’re already on the hard drive, there’s no waiting for a long download. Unfortunately, the video quality leaves a lot to be desired, and the fact that you’re limited to just 100 choices–determined by the company–makes it a tough sell. Perhaps new owner Movie Gallery can reinvigorate the MovieBeam concept

RCA “Akimbo” Video On Demand Player 

In addition to Akimbo’s video content–which ranges from the familiar (BBC, Discovery, and National Geographic TV shows) to niche-oriented programming (anime, extreme sports, international TV, adult content)–RCA’s Video On Demand Player also provides access to all of the films from Movielink. But its combination of a flat monthly fee plus pay-per-view and subscription charges–depending on what you want to watch–remains confusing, and none of the content is available in HD (unless you sign up for the software-only version).

Netgear EVA8000 Digital Entertainer HD

In addition to offering HD video output and compatibility with a wide range of file formats, the Netgear is said to enable playback of YouTube videos on your TV. Netgear is also touting the Digital Entertainer HD’s ability to play back video files purchased from the new BitTorrent Entertainment Network. We’re getting one next week, and we’ll be able to do a head-to-head streamdown with the Apple TV.

Digital Media Adapters 

Already have a hard drive full of music, movies, and photos, and just want to watch them in another room? A digital media adapter will let you stream them from your PC to your TV. Originally limited to digital music files, the latest digital media adapters (known by a variety of names, including “network media devices” or “digital media receivers”) handle audio, photos, and video–but getting one that’s compatible

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