Apple's is undoubtedly a slick way to watch TV shows and movies on your TV, but you'll have to convert just about everything you want to play on it. Unless you pay to rent or buy content from iTunes, that is.

See also: Digital Home Advisor

The Apple TV (even the latest third-generation model, reviewed) can't play MKV files and you can't plug in a USB flash drive or hard drive full of your own videos. Instead, you have to stream them from a computer running iTunes. Heck, it doesn't even have any catch-up TV services such as BBC iPlayer.

Apple TV

So it's no wonder that many people are seeking an alternative which meets their needs. Here we look at the best rivals which are more flexible on file formats.

1. Western Digital WDTV Live

Western Digital WDTV Live (2011 model)

The new WDTV Live (not to be confused with the old model of the same name) includes BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, Vimeo and Acetrax movies.

Better still, it has almost endless support for video formats. Just about anything you have will play on the WDTV Live, from MKV to ISO and XviD. For the full list of supported formats, see Western Digital's website.

Files can be played from local storage via USB, or across your network (there's both wired and wireless networking built in). The HDMI output means there's Full HD support.

It can't mirror your iPad's screen as an Apple TV 2 or 3 can, but there's a remote control app for iOS which is similar to Apple's Remote app.

Possibly the best part is that the WDTV Live costs only £80, which is £20 cheaper than the Apple TV.

2. D-Link Boxee Box

D-Link Boxee Box

The quirky Boxee Box, reviewed takes its name from the freeware Boxee HTPC (Home Theatre PC) interface. Previously the preserve of super-geeks who would build their own living-room PCs exclusively for entertainment use, companies such as D-Link have produced hardware specifically to run the Boxee software so everyone can benefit.

Like the WDTV Live, the Boxee Box has BBC iPlayer, but the other UK catch-up services remain absent. Other streaming services include YouTube and Pandora, and you get Facebook and Twitter access too (the WDTV Live also has Facebook).

The Boxee Box's remote has a QWERTY keyboard on one side, making it easy to use services such as Facebook and when you need to search for videos in YouTube.

Ignore initial reviews at the time of launch as a firmware update sorted out problems with performance and the interface is almost as good as the Apple TV's.

Format support is good, with MKV, FLV, AVI, DivX, MP4 and WMV among others. There's no built-in storage, and it costs around £140, making it poorer value than the WDTV Live.

Next page: Roku 2 XS, Xbox 360 and Sony BDP-S490