Home Theater/Streaming devices
With regards to streaming devices of today (e.g. Roku, AppleTV, Chromecast, blu-ray players) in a home theater setup, are they all essentially the same when it comes to how good their wi-fi connection is? Reading reviews sometimes, "experts" make it sound like some devices are better than others because they supposedly have better antenna designs, like dual antennas, dual-band, MIMO technology, etc. There is even one blu-ray player made by Sony which they tout as having "super wi-fi" (if there was ever such a thing). I know mostly all streaming devices support the wireless-N protocol, but beyond that, can some have better "wi-fi" than others, or is all of this just nonsense? I thought it's really based on what kind of internet connection you have coming into your house, and also that at peak times (weeknights and weekends) is when your internet connection is going to be less because more people are connecting. Reviews on streaming devices seem like they vary, with some reviewers saying "there was more buffering with X device," or "smoother play with no dropouts on X device etc. while connecting to/using a streaming service (e.g. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu). Or they will say something like "X media player's wi-fi is so good that you can put a brick on top of it and it will still have a super good connection" or "we would recommend not even putting a piece of paper on top of X media player because wi-fi drops out significantly." They even go as far as to say something like "we test all of our devices in the same rack or media cabinet so we can get accurate results." Not sure if this is just all hogwash or not. Thanks for any help/clarification you can provide.
In general/theory, yes everything should be "equivalent" when it comes to WiFi support, however in practice there may be differences based on how the antenna(s) are arranged within the device, how the device's enclosure is designed, how the device is placed relative to your wireless AP (which is something reviewers should be mentioning if they're going to talk about signal quality), the quality of your wireless AP, and finally broader differences between the devices like their processing capabilities (which will influence playback capabilities and performance to an extent - something like the PlayStation 3 should have no problems with anything it can connect to, as it has a very powerful set of processors and a hard-drive, while an inexpensive Blu-ray player may have a less responsive UI, less capabilities in terms of audio/video output or scaling, less capacity to store data, etc).
Not all devices will offer HD quality video as well - again this is based on the device and its limitations; for example the Nintendo Wii can connect to Netflix, but cannot output or stream HD content (because the Wii itself cannot do that).
Your ISP indeed does make a difference as well - if your connection is slow or heavily saturated (or worse: both) you can expect slow-downs or hangs depending on the density of the content you're streaming.
In practice, therefore, I'd say take the reviewers' comments with a grain of salt - if you have a lot of reviews consistently decrying a specific device's functionality, it might be worth passing over depending on the criticisms. On the other hand, a single review complaining about a seemingly minute problem in passing shouldn't make or break the choice for a specific device. When it comes to networking, WiFi can be very convenient, but if you have problems with coverage in your house (and this is highly variable from house to house, based on equipment selection and placement and other factors - it's possible to have very good equipment and still have trouble with WiFi because you live somewhere where the spectrum is very crowded and your house has a lot of "mystery metal" throughout the walls/floors that can foul the signal you do get) you can always used Ethernet and guarantee a connection. Of course the devices in your setup must support Ethernet, which a lot of inexpensive "instant setup" kinds of boxes tend not to, but at the "higher end" it's usually standard (by higher end I mean things like HD-capable game consoles, nicer Blu-ray players, most computers in general, etc).
I would also add that in general I'd go with a Blu-ray player or game console as opposed to a stand-alone "streaming box" because they tend to offer more functionality - they play discs as well as network sources, and may also offer the ability to rip media to their internal storage, connect to mobile devices, and other functionality (for example some of the newer Oppo players can actually lend their video processing/scaling hardware to other devices (like a VCR, LaserDisc player, etc), in lieu of an AV receiver). It's also nice to have a fall-back to physical media in the event of a network outage - even if you only have a half dozen or so movies on DVD or Blu-ray, it's probably more entertaining to re-watch those than stare at a blank screen.
Finally, image/sound quality is generally much higher with Blu-ray than with streamed content, as the bitrates can be much higher.