What is a Media Streamer?

Are Media Streamers and Network Media Players the Same Thing?

Roku 3 For 2015. Image provided by Roku

The term "media streamer" is commonly used to describe both media streamers and network media players. However, there is a difference. 

Media is streamed when the video, music or photo file is saved outside of the media-playing device. The media player plays the file from its source location.

You can either stream media from  


    All Network Media Players are Media Streamers, but not all Media Streamers are Network Media Players.

    Network Media players can stream content from both online sources and your home network, and some can also download and store content. On other hand, a Media Streamer is limited to streaming content only from the internet.

    Examples of Media Streamers

      A Roku box is an example of a media streamer.  Its sole purpose is to stream video, music and photos from Netflix, Roku, Pandora, Flickr and a number of special interest channels. It has no memory; what’s more, so far, it isn't DLNA certified as a Digital Media Player, and it doesn't really stream media from your computers, NAS drives or media servers on your home network.

      The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Generation Apple TV could also be called media streamers, especially when comparing them to the first-generation Apple TV.

        The original Apple TV had a hard drive that would sync — that is, copy the files — with iTunes on your computer(s).  It would then play the files from its own hard drive. It could also stream music, photos and movies directly from open iTunes libraries on your computers. This would make the original Apple TV both a media streamer and network media player.

      However, subsequent generations of Apple TV no longer have a hard drive and can only stream media from other sources. To view media, you must either rent movies from the iTunes store; play music from Netflix, Pandora and other internet sources; or play music from open iTunes libraries on your home network computers. So, as it stands, the Apple TV is more appropriately described as a media streamer.

      A Network Media Player Does More Than Stream Videos and Music

      On the other hand, a network media player may have more features or capabilities than simply streaming media.  Many players have a USB port to connect an external hard drive or USB flash drive directly to the player, or they may have a built-in drive. If the media is being played from a connected hard drive, it's not streaming from an outside source.  

      Networked Devices With Media Streaming Features

      Also, some video-game consoles, Smart TVs, most Blu-ray Discs players, and some home theater receivers have media streaming and/or network media player capabilities. The PS 3 and Xbox 360 can copy media files to their hard drives and play the media directly, as well as streaming it from your home network and from online.

      Also, some Smart TVs and Blu-ray Disc players can stream content from both the internet and your local network devices, but some are limited to just internet streaming.

      The same goes for home theater receivers that incorporate streaming functions, some can access internet radio and online music service streams, and others can also access and play music files stored on your home network.

      When Shopping, Check for Network Media Player Features

      When looking to buy a device that can stream media to your TV, be sure to look at its features. If you have photos, music or movies stored on your computer(s) or NAS drives, look for a device that lists the ability to connect to and play your home network media libraries, and preferably is DLNA certified as a Digital Media Player or Digital Media Renderer. And, be sure to purchase a player that can play the file formats you have in your libraries.

      On the other hand, if you simply want a device to stream media from online sites like Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora, a media streamer may be right for you.

      For more on Network Media Players and Media Streamers, check out my periodically updated listing of Network Media Players and Media Streamers.

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