Cutting The Cord Part II: Best Streaming Devices - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 66 Old 08-14-2012, 11:41 AM - Thread Starter
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Cutting The Cord Part II: Best Streaming Devices

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By Eric Podolsky, 8/14/12

For those looking to free themselves from the shackles of the all-powerful cable company, there are plenty of hardware options that will help you declare your independence and still get all the content you need from your TV. The world of streaming video has expanded dramatically in the past year, and though the picture quality of streaming video is still not quite up to speed with cable, the money saved through reliance on these services makes a strong argument for switching over. We know that the amount of streaming boxes on the market has become overwhelming, so here’s a guide to the best of the best: these are the most comprehensive, easiest to use, and best supported streaming devices -- guaranteed to help deliver the content you crave in a convenient bundle. Before you buy, though, keep in mind that many HDTVs and Blu-ray players come with many streaming services already built right into their hardware, so there is a chance that you may already have a streaming device at your fingertips. Choose wisely...

Roku 2 XS

700

Roku offers four different boxes, and the Roku 2 XS is the best of them all. For $100, you get the best selection of content available anywhere. There’s arguably nothing its competition offers that it doesn’t have -- including gaming capabilities, ethernet and USB ports, and a micro SD card slot to enjoy external content. And did I mention it’s able to stream in 1080p with 5.1 sound? AVS member greaser seems to be happy with his decision: "I bought a Roku 2 XS and dropped my sat. subscription. This move isn't for everybody!! But for me it's perfect because everything I like to watch is available on the net, ie, movies and old TV shows. With Netflix streaming/mail, Amazon, Crackle, Hulu+ and about a 20 other channels that i programmed into my Roku... I have more than enough to keep me happy... AND i am saving the 96 bucks/month i used to pay Dish." With all the features packed into this box, you won’t be going through cable withdrawal anytime soon.

Supports: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, HBOGo

PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360

700700


If you’re a gamer, these stacked consoles are your no-brainer go-to when it comes to streaming hardware. If it wasn’t for their hefty price tags, we would recommended them to everyone, as their compatibility and storage capacity are second to none. Both feature USB ports which allow you to watch your own external video files, and though only the PS3 supports Blu-ray, only the XBox supports HBOGo, so it’s a toss-up between the two depending what you’re looking for. There is one noticeable difference between the two consoles though, according to AVS member michaeltscott: “I don't think that I can live with the fan noise from my venerable old PS3... my Xbox S is silent when streaming video.” [UPDATE: michaeltscott later added, "It should be noted that the newer PS3s are probably just as quiet as the Xbox S...Newer models, cooler chipsets, less fan noise...If I had a quieter PS3 I'd much prefer it to the Xbox for streaming Netflix, as it can display Netflix's 1080p encodes, which the Xbox will not."] Regardless, both of these consoles are heavy duty, and at the very top of the stack when it comes to versatile media centers.

Supports: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, Vudu, HBOGo (XBox only) and more


Boxee Box + Boxee Live TV

700

What was once just another media streamer box has recently been updated into a frankenstein of sorts with the introduction of Boxee Live TV, a $49 add-on which allows you to access and seamlessly integrate OTA HDTV and local basic cable into the $200 Boxee Box’s menu, which features a smooth, easy-to-use interface and a fast processor. Boxee’s offering of extensive streaming web content and live TV makes it the only device of its kind, and well worth the investment if you want to loose the cable but keep your basic TV channels. Its only downside is that it does not support HD Audio, but if you aren’t concerned with that, give Boxee some serious consideration.

Supports: Netflix, Vudu, OTA HDTV


Apple TV

700

You may want to steer clear of Apple TV unless you own some Apple products, as this box is designed to work with iTunes above all else, and supports a very limited number of file formats (as most Apple gadgets do). But if you are an Apple die-hard and are used to working within the confines they have created for their products, you will probably love this box. The main reason is AirPlay, a feature which allows you to wirelessly beam content from your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch to your TV -- after trying it once, you’ll quickly find that AirPlay’s ease and convenience is incomparable. However, AVS member Secret Squirrel does point out that “The only thing that I don't like about the new Apple TV is that there is no longer a hard drive for storage. Sure its cheaper now at $99 but its basically only a streaming set top box.” This may not matter for you, as the box effortlessly streams content from your computer’s hard drive, as long as it’s through iTunes. Bottom line, if you subscribe to Apple’s user-friendly, closed-source vision, this is the device for you.

Supports: Netflix, Hulu Plus, and iTunes (obviously)


WD TV Live

700

While not as popular as its big-name peers, the $100 WD TV Live box is more than worthy of sharing equal praise -- its streaming capabilities are excellent, and unlike other boxes, it is compatible with virtually any file format, allowing you to enjoy your own media without hassle. The picture it delivers is also superior, as AVS member david0406 attests: “I must say that I would have to recommend my new device hands down over the Roku2 for video quality... This device does not have near the content that Roku has but makes up for it in video quality... Sorry Roku but you have been dethroned in my house. Correct colors and no black level issues. Just WOW. I really never expected it.” The WD TV Live also comes in a Hub version, which includes 1 TB of storage and multi-room streaming capabilities. Thanks to its impressive compatibility and versatility, this sleeper box is certainly worthy of your consideration as a multi-use streaming machine.

Supports: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, and more


OTA Antenna

700

When all else fails or if money is tight, there’s always good ol’, over-the-air antenna HDTV. Since the nationwide switch to digital transmissions in 2009, local networks have been transmitting surprisingly high-quality HD signals, including extra program channels that sometimes aren’t even available to cable subscribers (PBS broadcasts up to five different channels in certain areas). For some, OTA is enough to satisfy: AVS member dohnut says, “I've been primarily watching OTA digital when I watch TV (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS, ION). I find myself watching about the same amount of TV as before... I don't ever see myself going back [to cable].” If you’re looking for a tuner to integrate the OTA broadcast signal into your own set-up, Charles R suggests the SiliconDust HD HomeRun Dual, which “connects to your network, and all of your devices (which support it of course) can access the various channels.” Whether you utilize OTA to supplement your streaming services or on its own, you can bet that there’s more free content drifting on the airwaves than you could have imagined.

Supports: Local digital HDTV broadcasts!

The possibilities are endless....

Compatibility Breakdown

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This article is a companion piece to Cutting the Cord, Part I: Best Streaming Services

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post #2 of 66 Old 08-14-2012, 07:39 PM
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I've streamed hudreds of videos to my WDTV without a hitch. Plays everything and keeps on movin'. Zero complaints here.
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post #3 of 66 Old 08-15-2012, 08:55 AM
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Not on board 100% with the comment:<br><br>There is one noticeable difference between the two consoles though, according to AVS member michaeltscott: “I don't think that I can live with the fan noise from my venerable old PS3... my Xbox S is silent when streaming video.”<br><br>In my case, my old 360 Pro sounds like a jet engine. PS3 slim is sleek and quiet. If you have a newer model console, choosing one just comes down to preference.

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post #4 of 66 Old 08-15-2012, 11:20 AM
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I would like to see the Vizio CoStar added to the list once it is readily available. It should be shipping any day now, since I preordered the day it was available. I was impressed by the fact it will make your tv into a Google TV plus able to use all the other services and the remote has a keyboard for typing and search.
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post #5 of 66 Old 08-15-2012, 12:34 PM
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@hennesy80: As I've heard lots of mixed things about Google TV, I'd be curious to hear your take on the Vizio CoStar once you've used it a bit. Google TV was deliberately not included in the list due to its current limitations, but that may change soon...<br>
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post #6 of 66 Old 08-15-2012, 01:48 PM
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HTPC doesn't even get a mention? It would sure do pretty well on the compatibility breakdown chart of yours...

I'm not into "thumbs upping" or "liking". Don't take it personally. Just assume that I found your post helpful. Unless it wasn't.
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post #7 of 66 Old 08-15-2012, 07:56 PM
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I hope the HTPC is Part 3. These boxes are like sending a boy to do a man's job. HTPC's can access far more than these few services, and with the right hardware and software, can act as a DVR. The video quality is better, and you can color/gamma calibrate the system. Microsoft Media Center is included with most versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8.
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post #8 of 66 Old 08-17-2012, 07:45 AM
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Dont forget to mention that you have to have Xbox Live ($60 per year) to access these features, that makes a difference if your not a gamer.
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post #9 of 66 Old 08-17-2012, 03:47 PM
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I am using a SONY BDP-S790 to stream all of these, Amazon, Netflix, Vudu, Hulu etc.<br>Absolutely perfect - superb HD video AND audio (eg. Battleship Galactica in 5.1 sound, mmm! )<br>Higly recomended, and fast loading of the internet contents too.<br><br><br>Way better than my Boxee, which gives a decent picture, but only STEREO ;-(
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post #10 of 66 Old 08-18-2012, 06:37 AM
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@dryasanne - I just purchased a Sony BDP-S590 (BX59 from Costco) and I am very pleased so far with streaming services built into the box, plus DLNA capabilities to stream content that I have stored on my family media center. I have a Roku and 360 on other televisions, and on the Roku I really like the Plex app (and running that on my media center, along with Serviio, until I figure out which one I like). The UI for DLNA material isn't as nice on the Sony (no thumbnails) but it works well, including recorded television from Windows Media Center.
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post #11 of 66 Old 08-19-2012, 02:25 AM
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I use Google TV for internet streaming, PlayOn/PlayLater with a PC for SD streaming blocked to Google TV, Oppo BDP-93, PS3, LG BD590 and TiVo with OTA. I have also purchased the Plex Google TV app for 99 cents but I don't have a PC powerful yet to handle the things I want from Plex, fortunately Google TV finds enough to watch as is. Google TV is far and away the best streaming box for my needs, the walled garden approach with some selected apps with Apple TV or Roku and the others are of no interest although they work well enough if you want simple and limited.
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post #12 of 66 Old 08-19-2012, 01:46 PM
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Another vote for my new Sony S790 blu-ray player. You can get full the full video and audio from the major streaming services (e.g. VUDU at 1080P and 7.1). The dual core processor has no problems processing high resolution videos via DLNA from my older Synology NAS. Excellent blu-ray and dvd upscaling is added bonus.
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post #13 of 66 Old 08-19-2012, 08:14 PM
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Apple tv2 and 3 have a large buffer to make downloaded videos consistent. Why no one else has done this is a mystery.

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post #14 of 66 Old 08-24-2012, 02:04 PM
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I use google tv for my streaming, along with a sony bluray player with internet applications, this way I get it all, gtv gives me amazon, playon, netflix, and much more, and my bluray player gives me vudu, blockbuster, and hulu plus to name only a few. I love my setup, I have so many options if you throw in you tube and there rental movies along with all the others I mentioned I find myself with so many options, sometimes I just watch the news so I don't have to make a decision!! HAHAHA
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post #15 of 66 Old 08-24-2012, 06:22 PM
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No mention of the Asus O!play
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post #16 of 66 Old 08-27-2012, 07:50 PM
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Been jamming my WD box for a while. I have had several of them (previous models) WD just keeps getting it better. Latest edition has on-board wireless N, Gigabit Network input, Faster processor than previous versions, very nice interface with library creation. USB inputs, etc. Nice price point usually less than $100
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post #17 of 66 Old 08-27-2012, 11:10 PM
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Don't think I saw anyone using their laptop (with an Intel i3, i5 or i7) and WiDi along with a an associated TV adapter. I've been using one for the last 6 months and I can put anything from my laptop in 1080P and dolby up on my HDTV. It seems like a more universal solution to me. As I recall, I believe Costco had Belkin units on sale for $79.
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post #18 of 66 Old 08-28-2012, 06:36 PM
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Yeah... too bad none of these plays live HD football on the family of ESPN networks. I'll be keeping cable!
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post #19 of 66 Old 08-31-2012, 06:40 AM
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NO Mention of HTPC? Build your own and you have access to EVERYTHING!
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post #20 of 66 Old 08-31-2012, 07:58 AM
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Access to everything? How do you get Vudu HDX with an HTPC? Hulu Plus HD and Amazon HD? I don't think any of those services offer HD if using a PC to access the service, I know I tried with Vudu and couldn't do it, is there a workaround? It not, an HTPC is pretty pathetic for what I want from a streaming box. I admit I need several boxes for my cord cutting solution and a PC is one of them but it is used the least, Hulu and a couple of sites blocking Google TV are all I use the PC for. It seems poor when compared to TiVo for an OTA DVR as well so I couldn't make it work to my satisfaction for that either.
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post #21 of 66 Old 08-31-2012, 08:31 AM
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I've never tried Vudu, so I can't comment there. But I use Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant regularly through a PC. Both claim "HD", and both look pretty good most of the time. I think they both say they're coming in at 720p. I'm not going to say that either looks great, but I think they look at least as good as the same services look streamed over my display or optical player.<br><br>In other words, I don't think the PC or the method of access is a limiting factor. Unfortunately both Amazon and Hulu streams are still noticeably compressed. Hulu is worse. And both come in with very compressed sounding stereo. I believe that content I've purchased from Amazon can be downloaded instead of streamed, and then I'm supposed to get Dolby Digital quality sound. I haven't tried that yet to confirm.

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post #22 of 66 Old 08-31-2012, 09:26 AM
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Vudu HDX is the one I have used often, far and away the best streaming quality I have seen except when using a PC, indication all over the site and any rental I have watched is PC viewing is limited to standard definition. No way around that restriction as far as I know. I just now started using Hulu Plus, it looks pretty good but nothing close to Vudu quality so it is good to know it works at HD resolution using a PC when the content is available in HD. I will check Amazon and see what PC viewing resolutions are offered.<br><br>A good PC with a good processor should be fine for streaming HD unless the service restricts the resolution like Vudu does and I guess that is done as a result of licensing restrictions.
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post #23 of 66 Old 08-31-2012, 02:48 PM
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Sounds like Vudu intentionally cripples their PC service.<br><br><a href="http://forum.vudu.com/showthread.php?t=59562" target="_blank">http://forum.vudu.com/showthread.php?t=59562</a>
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post #24 of 66 Old 08-31-2012, 03:44 PM
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Yes, it is intentional, Vudu HDX video quality is much better, the files are bigger, stream at much higher bitrates than Netflix or Amazon or any other I have used. Realizing this and how it is impossible to prevent widespread copying of files accessible by a PC, some or all studios require SD only for PC Vudu access. Wikipedia has a pretty good article about Vudu encoding, it is pretty remarkable the quality attained at the bitrates used and encouraging for the future of HD streaming quality.<br><br>Amazon apparently restricts audio to 2.0 if streaming using a PC, I checked The Event Season 1 Episode 1 and that is clearly stated. Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 using a media streaming box, DD 2.0 streaming with a PC. There are other restrictions placed on PC use by various streaming services, enough that I dismissed an HTPC as an acceptable one box solution for my needs, in fact it is the worst of the various boxes I use because of the provider placed restrictions.<br><br><a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;camp=17 89&amp;creative=9325&amp;tag=avsforum_vs-20&amp;location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2Fgp%2 Fredirect.html%3Fie%3DUTF8%26linkCode%3Dur2%26camp %3D1789%26creative%3D9325%26tag%3Davsforum_vs-20%26location%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.amazon.com% 252Fgp%252Fproduct%252FB0043UBKGQ%252Fref%253Datv_ dp_season%253Fie%253DUTF8%2526redirect%253Dtrue" target="_blank">http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0043UBKGQ/ref=atv_dp_season?ie=UTF8&amp;redirect=true</a><img src="http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=avsforum_vs-20&amp;l=ur2&amp;o=1" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;"><br><br>Still as long as Hulu and a few of the network sites block Google TV and the other streaming boxes from accessing that content, I must have a PC in the mix for those sites. With the number of boxes required and hoops one has to jump through to get an acceptable solution for cutting the cord, it is no wonder it isn't commonplace yet.
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post #25 of 66 Old 08-31-2012, 04:22 PM
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Honestly, I had no interest in Vudu anyway. So having HTPC not fully supported doesn't matter to me. I just cut the cord last month after I built a killer HTPC using Assassin's guides. My main use for HTPC is ripped blu-rays (the ONLY way to get full 1080p HD video and full HD audio), Amazon HD Instant video and, eventually, Hulu Plus. I'll probably buy some 1080p downloads from iTunes too. I've watched almost the entire first season of Lost on Amazon Instant Video in HD and it looks and sounds fine to me. I haven't watched Netflix in HD on an HTPC for probably 6 months but when I did, it was perfectly fine. You can't bash HTPC just because of bad support with Vudu. I don't know of any 1 box that does nearly as much as a quality HTPC.
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post #26 of 66 Old 08-31-2012, 04:57 PM
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Lost is available for streaming from Amazon with Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 using a streaming player, a PC is restricted to streaming at DD 2.0. I understand some people don't care but I do so I don't want a PC for that appllication. I also understand that Blu-ray rips are better quality than any streaming available, but that is a crime in the US so I have no Blu-rips, don't even have any software capable to do it.<br><br>Scroll down to see what audio is available for which devices for Lost.<br><br><a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html?ie=UTF8&amp;linkCode=ur2&amp;camp=17 89&amp;creative=9325&amp;tag=avsforum_vs-20&amp;location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2Fgp%2 Fredirect.html%3Fie%3DUTF8%26linkCode%3Dur2%26camp %3D1789%26creative%3D9325%26tag%3Davsforum_vs-20%26location%3Dhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.amazon.com% 252FPilot-Part-1-HD%252Fdp%252FB003U53I3I%252Fref%253Dsr_1_1%253Fs% 253Dinstant-video%2526ie%253DUTF8%2526qid%253D1346457222%2526s r%253D1-1%2526keywords%253Dlost%252Bseason%252B1" target="_blank">http://www.amazon.com/Pilot-Part-1-HD/dp/B003U53I3I/ref=sr_1_1?s=instant-video&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1346457222&amp;sr=1-1&amp;keywords=lost+season+1</a><img src="http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=avsforum_vs-20&amp;l=ur2&amp;o=1" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;">
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post #27 of 66 Old 08-31-2012, 06:43 PM
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I think ripping your own blu-rays is a pretty gray area in terms of legality. Trust me, I do not advocate piracy. If I pay for it, I can and will do what I want with it. I have a blu-ray drive in my HTPC so I could just watch the disc but it is MUCH more convenient to rip it and play it on demand.
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post #28 of 66 Old 08-31-2012, 06:45 PM
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I have a stand-alone blu-ray drive in my basement too. But it's so slow!
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post #29 of 66 Old 09-07-2012, 10:32 AM
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I have both slim models ps3 and xbox 360 and both are very quiet but prefer the ps3 slim, it does def. come down to preference.
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post #30 of 66 Old 09-07-2012, 01:02 PM
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Given that you list the OTA Antenna, thought I'd mention that I just bought the Leaf antenna and am very happy with it. For those not aware of it, it is a paper thin, about 8" x 10" antenna that looks like a piece of white paper on one side and black on the other with a cable coming from it to go to your TV or home theater. I have mine, white side facing the room, taped to my window for max exposure and I pickup around 70 stations and like the Leaf company boasts, the picture quality is often better than the compressed signal that the cable company sends you over their wire. They make a non powered model for under $50 and a powered one for longer reach. But their tech support advised if you live in an urban area, you really don't need the powered version. It's inexpensive, sleeker than sleek and very effective. I'm very happy. Bye-bye cable company!
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