New media streamers, speakers and over-the-air DVRs for spring 2014
Spring brings new home theater gear and there's a lot of good stuff coming up, especially for cord cutters.
Roku Streaming Stick (2014)
Roku's new Streaming Stick is easily one of the most promising products of the spring. Roku's managed to pack an entire streaming box into a Chromecast-style stick, which means you get access to Roku's giant 1,200-app library. Roku also includes a standard remote, which means you don't always have to rely on a mobile device for navigation, although that's an option if you'd like. The $50 price is still more than the $35 Chromecast, but our early impression is that the Streaming Stick's more robust content offerings may be enough to justify the extra cost.
ClearView Audio's Clio really sets the bar when it comes to fascinating Bluetooth speaker design. The clear sheet of acrylic glass actually produces the sound, although there's a conventional 2-inch driver on the bottom to help fill out the low-end as well. The bad news is the Clio's dazzling design will set you back $349, which puts it in competition with some great-sounding premium Bluetooth speakers on the market. We'll have to see how it stacks up to the competition when it comes out at the end of April.
Cord cutters can get their live-sports and awards-show fix by tuning into over-the-air TV, but options for recording content are slim, especially if you don't live in an area with Aereo. Channel Master's upcoming DVR+ is aiming to be a no-fuss, over-the-air DVR that lets you record your favorite content without ponying up for a monthly subscription fee. It may not have the polish of a TiVo or the gee-whiz factor of Simple.TV, but its focus on the core functionality of could make it an enticing option for those looking to cut the cord.
The outlook:Mohu made its name selling flat, over-the-air TV antennas, but the company is branching out with the new Kickstarter-funded Channels. It's part over-the-air tuner, part streaming media box, part Web browser, and the idea is to bring all of these types of content into the traditional channel grid. It also comes with a remote that features a full keyboard and can also control your TV. Mohu Channels is expected to be released in June, although pricing hasn't been determined yet.
Simple.TV is back with a new box. The refreshed hardware looks completely different, opting for a more traditional set-top box approach this time that's significantly more compact. The new box also has dual-tuner functionality, so you can record two shows at once or watch live TV while recording another program. The other big upgrade is completely overhauled software, which might help some of the instability that troubled the first box. (Although the earlyuser reviews aren't promising.)
Onkyo tends to offer a lot of value for the price, and the TX-NR535 looks no different. It has standard AV receiver perks like six HDMI inputs and support for 5.2 channels, but it also adds built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for wireless audio streaming. The TX-NR535's list price is $499, but Onkyo's receivers tend to sell for considerably less online, so we're looking forward to seeing how much this model actually costs.
Tablo is the newest product trying to offer cord cutters a way to record over-the-air TV and watch it on a variety of devices. While Tablo's solution isn't all that different from Simple.TV, the software looks slick and the inclusion of integrated Wi-Fi surely adds to the convenience. The big test will be how Tablo performs in day-to-day use, as many over-the-air recording solutions fall short when it comes to reliability.
Google TV is apparently now called Android TV, and Hisense's Pulse Pro is one of the more interesting devices running Google's new living room software. It ditches the big, clunky remotes of older Google TV devices for a simple clicker that relies on voice recognition for text input. And the early look I had at the user interface seemed significantly simplified compared with the sometimes confusing organization of Google TV.
The big question will be whether Android TV offers enough of an upgrade over Google's other living room device: the $35 Chromecast. Hisense says the Pulse Pro should be coming out this spring, although there's been no official price announced so far.