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What is a Media Streamer?

Are Media Streamers and Network Media Players the Same Thing?


Roku 3
Roku, Inc.

While network media player devices have been increasing in popularity, there still is a question of what to call them and how to describe them.  

The term "media streamers" has been cropping up on tech blogs. It is being used to describe all network media players. Yet this seems like an incomplete description. We would be better served making a distinction between the media-playing feature and the media-streaming feature. The distinction begins with downloading versus streaming media.

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

You can either stream media from  


  • Your home network —a computer, network attached storage (NAS) drive or media server.  

Examples of Media Streamers

    A Roku box is the perfect 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 second-generation Apple TV could also be called a media streamer, especially when comparing it 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. 

    The second generation no longer has 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.

    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

    It would be a mistake to call a video-game console, networked TV, or other networked home-theater component device a media streamer. These devices have media streaming 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. LG's BD-590 Blu-ray Disc player has a built-in hard drive to save and play your media libraries. 

    When Shopping, Check for Network Media Player Features

    When shopping for 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.

    We will have to see if the name "media streamer" will replace "network media players." Either way, look for the device that can play the media that you want to enjoy.  

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