It’s been a heck of a year for online video on connected devices. Starting with this year’s CES, consumer electronics manufacturers started rolling out TVs, Blu-ray players and broadband set-top boxes that connect viewers with all their favorite online video services. It’s now easier than ever for users to stream video in the living room or on the go, and it’s mainly due to the wide range of awesome new gadgets that have been launched in the last 12 months. Here’s a list of our top five favorites.
Apple didn’t introduce its iPad tablet launch until April, but no gadget over the past year has had a bigger impact on the way people consume media or the way content owners published video. This first-of-its-kind tablet device singlehandedly opened up new revenue streams and launched new business models for media companies, whether it be by selling high-definition apps or expanding subscription services. The iPad also pushed the media industry to adopt HTML5 for interactive web applications and video distribution, proving its importance stretched well beyond consumption. But at the end of the day, of all the gadgets we’ve played with over the past year, the iPad is really just the most fun.
No one has been more instrumental than Apple in changing consumer behavior, and the the iPhone 4 is the perfect example of how little changes to hardware can make a big different in functionality. Over the past several years, the iPhone has worked wonders for getting users to watch video on their mobile devices, but the iPhone 4 stepped things up a notch with a brilliant new display. Not just that, but with its launch Apple introduced one of our favorite new services — FaceTime — which is revolutionizing personal communications by making video chat drop-dead simple.
The next-generation Roku device looks about the same as the old one, and it also carries the same pricing model as previous versions. But the big difference comes in the ability to stream video in HD. Roku already has a great selection of some of our favorite streaming services — including Netflix, (s NFLX) Hulu Plus and Amazon (s AMZN) Video On Demand — but it also has a wide range of third-party apps available. Mainly we like the Roku because it’s got the best mix of value, content and function of all the other cord-cutting devices we’ve tried.
Boxee Box by D-Link
We were divided on how good — or not — the Boxee Box would be, with Janko getting really excited for its release and me questioning the device’s viability over the long term. That said, the box has a great user interface, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the fact that Boxee is bringing content like Hulu Plus online. While the price is a little higher than we’d like, the mix of great content and extendability has won us over.
Wireless operators are just now making their fourth-generation networks available for consumers to use, and Verizon is one of the first to launch. The big advantage for Verizon is in enabling viewers to watch streaming video from wherever they are, with the same quality as if they were on a Wi-Fi network. We are a little worried that the pricing might not work for hardcore video viewers, but we’re totally excited about the high-speed data capabilities that will soon be available nationwide.
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