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As an Apple TV owner, I typically find little reason to use different solutions to take media from my computer and view it on my television. That said, there are a number of products out there that may be able to give you what you want, in some cases without having to pay the $299 it takes to have an Apple TV. You decide.
1. The D-Link Media Lounge streams music, videos and photos to any television with the help of an 802.11g network, and it can even handle Xvid. Unfortunately, the player won’t play native iTunes songs and can only support MP3, WAV, AIFF, WMA and Ogg Vorbis (which is a nice touch). But if you don’t mind the absence of iTunes support and you want a more advanced remote to drag audio and video back and forth, the $189.99 (direct) device may be a nice place to start.
2. The Netgear EVA8000 Digital Entertainer HD connects to a home network via a wired or wireless connection and can stream movies, videos, music, Internet radio, and photos from a PC straight to your HDTV. Unlike the D-Link Media Lounge, the EVA8000 supports AAC files and sports an HDMI port for a solid HD experience. Its biggest issue? It only supports Windows and will not work on a Linux or Mac. If you ask me, it’s not worth the $349.99 direct price tag if I can’t use it with a non-Windows OS.
3. If you’re in the mood for something from a company you may not have heard of, one option is the Zensonic Z500 series. Sure, it may not be the best-looking device on the planet, but it supports a host of audio formats and has a nice collection of inputs on the back. Even better, it has a built-in DVD player in case you don’t want to waste time sending files over a wireless network. Unfortunately, the Zensonic Z500 is a bit difficult to find (it’s only available at one store in the U.S., Media West Distribution), but for a relatively cheap price of $199.99, it’s a nice competitor to the Apple TV.
4. An Xbox 360 will also do the trick if you want to take media from one device to another. Of course, the main drawback with the Xbox 360 is the need to have a Windows box that’s equipped with Windows Media Center. But if you have a Media Center device and you’d like to play the Apple TV game, you may find this is the easiest way to go about it. By connecting the Xbox 360 to a network, it quickly interfaces with the Windows machine and will stream media to your TV in a matter of seconds. Is it as simple to use as the Apple TV? Yes. But unfortunately, the barriers to entry (mainly cost) are a bit too high for those on a budget. You can have the Xbox 360 at most major electronics retailers for $279.99 (core system) to $449.99 (Elite).
5. Get yourself a Mac Mini if you don’t want to deal with an under-powered Apple TV. The Mac Mini can do everything your Apple TV can do as long as you have iTunes installed on it. And with the help of Front Row, it should work much better than the Apple TV. Installation is simple: plug it into your HDTV and use it as the monitor. Once you have your files on the computer, take out that handy Apple remote and find what you want. Although it’s a bit more expensive ($599 direct), it’s the best alternative to the Apple TV, hands down.
Don Reisinger is a freelance technology journalist who covers everything from Google to HDTVs. He currently writes for over 15 popular technology publications, including CNET’s Digital Home, InformationWeek and PC World.