5 best home media centres

The much-coveted space under your TV is expected to do a lot more than play a Blu-ray these days – these are the best shelf-filling media hubs

Microsoft Xbox 360

£140, amazon.co.uk

Microsoft has given its all to making the Xbox 360 your home media hub, even incorporating Kinect for gesture controlled interactivity. "But there’s no Blu-ray drive," you say.

We say you don’t need it, with catch-up services like BBC iPlayer and 4OD; all your PC-saved entertainment on your TV via the Windows Media Center, movie access through Netflix and Lovefilm; shows on 32 live Sky TV channels; plus Picturebox movie streaming and Zune Video to buy and rent new releases – you’re spoilt for choice.

Online gaming, social networking, Xbox Music (a cloud based service coming in October) and a beautiful OS that you can even control from your phone are just bonuses that should leave your PC feeling very unloved indeed.

£188,

Sony PlayStation 3

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Sony has been riding the wave from its Cell processor splash-down in the PlayStation 3 since 2006, and with 64 million of them sold in that time it appears to be working. The future-ready console can handle catch-up TV with BBC iPlayer, 4oD and ITV Player, movie subscription services from Netflix, Lovefilm, the PlayStation Video store et al, and networked streaming of picture, video and music files from PCs and Macs.

While the browser may be sorely lacking, and the interactivity limited, you do get yourself a Blu-ray player and 160GB storage included in the price. Blu-ray is undeniably the best way to enjoy 7.1 audio and 1080p video with no lag, even if Netflix is doing a great job of competing. Plus with 3D gaming and 3D films on offer the PS3 is a great, cheap alternative to an expensive 3D Blu-ray home system. And if you have a PSP Vita you can start a game on the PS3 and continue playing on the move.

Apple TV

£99, applestore.co.uk

Apple fans will know that Apple TV is a great way to throw whatever you’re watching or playing on your iOS device straight onto your big screen thanks to AirPlay. It also serves up plenty of great entertainment, with Netflix, Vimeo and YouTube all ready for you to access. 

At that bargain-basement price, Apple TV looks like a great way of adding smart functions to your TV. But without any gaming options above what you can download and play on your iPad or iPhone – and catch-up TV only available by sligning it through those devices – Apple TV on its own isn't a one-stop solution. If you do have an iOS device Dual Screen is a great way to play games. But watching downloaded movies from anything other than iTunes isn’t easy. Suddenly that price tag seems a little more expensive.

£150, amazon.co.uk

Boxee might not be the youngest contender in the media-streaming field but it’s certainly one of the most accomplished. With a fantastic OS, dual sided remote including full QWERTY keyboard, and app support it’s more than just a streamer.

Boxee is so smart it’ll even gobble up everything on your home network and organise it into tidy video selections. Plus the app and website mean you can throw any video links you find during the day into one place and have them all, along with any videos posted on your social networks, in one place.

D-Link Boxee

US$99 (£63), kickstarter.com

Okay, it's not actually out yet, but this open-source console has plenty of potential. Made by gamers for gamers, the Tegra 3 toting cube will come with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and be totally open to hackers and modders when it hits in March. That means, potentially, you can load up any Android app and have it running on your TV.

So if you want to stream movies from your computer, watch on Netflix, hook up a live TV card, or just check out catch-up TV – they’re all possible. But since it isn’t out yet, we can’t say for sure who will officially be onboard – except OnLive, which is already getting involved. This could be the cheapest, most versatile living room media centre to ever exist, and it’s under a hundred quid and coming in March 2013.

 

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