The Apple TV and Roku XDS come with a basic remote controls (aka "clickers") limited to simple tasks such as navigating menus. Both these stink when it comes to typing on an onscreen via a virtual keyboard. However, if you have an iPhone or an iPad, an Apple Remote app allows you to use the screens of either as a trackpad to browse through the Apple TV library.
Boxee Box solves this problem by putting a full QWERTY keyboard on the back of its remote. The Revue's controller is actually a wireless keyboard with a D-pad and touch-pad, specifically designed to help you navigate and search the Web (at the detriment of size and ease of use). Similar to Apple TV, with Revue you can control Google TV with an app (available for both Android and iPhones).
Content Services Are Key
The Revue and all other boxes are designed to play media from the Internet, and connect either via Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi. Since all these devices are designed to play online media or pull content from your PC, none feature internal storage you can use.
The Revue and the Boxee have two USB 2.0 ports for connecting external hard drives. Roku says a free software update for its devices will enable the USB port on the box (we are still waiting). Apple TV has a microUSB port, but it can only be used only for service and support. The Boxee Box let you view media from SD cards.
If you have a Netflix subscription (starting from $9 per month), you can watch on-demand streaming on the Revue, Apple TV and the Roku XDS. If you are a Hulu fan, you can use the service on the Boxee Box, or Hulu Plus ($10 per month) on the Roku XDs.
Apple has no deal in place with Hulu. Logitech said Google is in talks with the company over future plans to bring the service to the Google TV. If Amazon Video on Demand is your thing, you can also get the service on the Revue and Roku boxes.
Apple TV has cut deals with major content partners so you can rent TV shows from ABC, Disney, Fox, and the BBC for $0.99 a pop and rent movies for $3.99. Apple also announced AirPlay, a feature that will let you stream video and music from the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad straight to an Apple TV.
Google TV has a similar trick up its sleeve with a feature called 'Fling' that lets you stream content from and Android smartphone to the TV.
Picking the Right Device for You
If you have a sizeable iTunes library and you just want to playback files and iTunes content to your TV, then the Apple TV is a cheap and elegant solution. But if you want to connect external storage devices or browse the Web keep on shopping.
If you have plenty of non-DRM movies stored on external hard drives, and also want content from the Internet, then the Boxee Box should be of interest to you. Boxee offers Internet based video access, but stops short of offering true Web browsing.
Roku is a cheap option to stream videos from a variety of paid-for services and will also let you hook up external hard drives to it soon.
But if you want a full-blown Internet experience on your TV, the Revue with Google TV leverages not only Internet video, locally streamed videos and video stored on an external drive, but also the whole Internet experience on a TV. It's the only box that lets your browse the Web and integrates with your DVR as well. On the downside you're going to pay a lot for the functionality.
Is the Logitech Revue with Google TV the set-top box you were waiting for, or is the cheaper Apple TV a better alternative? Sound off in the comments.
This story, "Google TV vs. Apple TV vs. Roku: Set-Top Box Smackdown" was originally published by PCWorld.