6 of the best media streamers compared

Six of the best media streaming boxes
These little boxes are the future of home entertainment

We're all going digital and the best thing is that this increasingly means just needing one li'l box sitting underneath your telly to do the whole multimedia dance.

Videos, music, photos; they're all there and ready to be streamed right onto your telly, whether that's in the lounge, kitchen or bedroom. We've got six media boxes, each offering different takes on the media playback conundrum and each at different price and functionality levels.

At their most basic you just get a simple little box that will plug into your TV and playback multimedia data from a couple of sources, such as eSATA or USB.

Step up a little and you're in the realms of network media players. Plugged into the network, wirelessly or via Ethernet, these players will pull content from other devices attached to the network, such as network attached storage (NAS) devices or from PCs you have in other rooms.

Network attached media players are increasingly able to play back video content from the web. Traditionally, this just revolves around the ubiquitous YouTube app many of them come bundled with, which allows you to watch amusing videos of kittens being tickled from the comfort of your sofa, though we can expect more licensed content being accessible via certain devices in the not-too distant future.

Some more advanced media players will have built-in capacity for storage, which usually just requires dropping in a standard 3.5-inch SATA drive, while others offer built-in TV-tuners as well. With both these features together, you've instantly got a complete personal video recorder (PVR) package too.

The bonus of having all this functionality in one, solitary box means that you'll only need one device plugged into your television for that whole media playing malarkey. It also means that you can ditch all the other myriad remotes you've got littered around the living room and hiding behind the cushions of your sofa in favour of having a far more streamlined experience.

There is a battle looming though, and that's the battle between locally stored content, home network or attached drives, and the burgeoning number of content providers setting up through the world wide web tubes.

With the success of home-grown talent such as BBC's iPlayer and Channel 4's 4oD content, the recently-launched BskyB Sky Player, as well as the imminent arrival of America's sweatheart, Hulu, and the in-development SeeSaw, the amount of media we can draw directly from internet sources is growing exponentially.

Few media players have the capabilities or licenses to connect to these services so a fully web-enabled, mini-PC in the living room is surely the only sensible choice then? If you're into that planet-saving palaver though having a single, incredibly low-powered device to manage your multimedia needs is a more sensible choice and that's where these media players come in.