So to give a back story here, in March my wife and I got a Netflix account after some family members lead us on to it. I was excited to have both one DVD at a time and unlimited streaming but you can't stream on linux. Like so many before me I tried and failed to get it to run without having a virtual windows machine. We had my wife's iPad, which allowed us to stream. But who wants to gather the entire family around an 8 inch diagonal screen? So after much discussion we got a Network Media Player to sit atop the television and give us unlimited entertainment.
I had a few requirements. One it had to be able to hook to my old TV through regular RCA cables. I also wanted it to be unusable for when I someday get a nicer TV, so I needed HDMI and/or Component video also. I have a good amount of my personal collection ripped onto the computer. I wanted to be able to play this collection either over a SMB share or DLNA server. Lastly, I had to be able to hook up wireless internet, as I didn't feel like dragging cords all over the place. So off I looked to see about a player that could do this.
In my search I looked at Roku, Seagate, Western Digital, Sony, and others to try and find something that would do all that I wanted. In the end I actually settled on the Sony SMP-N100. The reason being that it was wireless, had all the connection options that I needed. Could play media off of a USB drive, and could act as a DLNA client. It seemed perfect. Once the box arrived I was of course very excited. I plugged it in, hooked it up, and then the disappointment happened. Here is my list of things that went absolutely wrong:
- Wireless is finicky. I have a Linksys WRT54GL V1.1 running DD-WRT and it would connect, but then not reliably transfer data and I could not watch Netflix. In the end I finally used a Linksys WRT54G v5 hooked just as a wireless switch to my DD-WRT router and then I could get wireless.
- DLNA sucked. On the advertisements etc it gives a long list of supported video formats it can play, and then says it is a DLNA client. What it doesn't say is that not all supported types are supported over DLNA. So I can't play 90% of my personal collection to it.
- Interface sucks. They use the Sony media cross. While logically this should work great, because you can narrow by catagory, the problem (or suckiness) comes because you can't rearrange anything. So my most used features (Pandora, Slacker and Netflix) I had to scroll through a ton of options to get to and it became very cumbersome.
- Sony Proprietary Crap. This one has some subpoints.
- All services must be routed through Sony. So to use Pandora, I had to link it to my Sony account. Because I had a store return player I could not do that until I called and talked to Sony to reset my device. Sony is very interested in locking you in. I reset my player to factory defaults and removed all personal data. I still had to call Sony.
- All Netflix traffic is first routed through Sony servers. Now we all know the problems that Sony has with their servers. I can not say how many times I got a 'Netflix unavailable: error 300' message. Netflix doesn't have an error 300. This is a Sony server error number.
- It seemed to have a memory leak. Not 100% sure on this, but while having the SMP-N100 I changed from 1.5 Mbps DSL to 15 Mbps Cable. This increased quality and speed should have been a good thing. However, after watching one show with no interruption, all subsequent shows would be choppy and have dozens of spooling pauses.
Now aside from not working, the sony media player did have some good things. The remote could also control the TV. So I didn't need to have multiple remotes. Also ... Nope, that was it.
I finally got tired of having a player that wouldn't play, and so I switched gears and bought a Roku XD|S player. Now the Roku has some things against it. The remote that is supplied with it is simple, so simple it won't control the TV volume too, so I must have two remotes. Also no option for DLNA client or playing over a SMB share. With that said there are some things that are really good:
- Wireless works. It connects and transfers data over my DD-WRT router. No problems.
- It can play various media off a USB stick. So I could play some of my collection, just one more step.
- Interface is better. Not amazing. It is linear. So you have to just scroll through everything. But you get to pick your 'channels' and so you only see what you want. Right now I have just Amazon, Netflix, and Pandora. There are other channels you can add.
- So far I have not run into any connection problems because the Roku servers are down.
- I have watched for hours without any spooling pauses or apparent memory leaks.
In all, Roku, all the way. I have not tried Seagates or Western Digitals players although I looked at them in my research. But at this point I am super pleased with the Roku.