The best media streaming devices offer all the apps and content you could want – but what really makes them great when you sit down to watch? Our top pick, the Fire TV stick from Amazon, is filled with features that make your entertainment center better than ever. That includes 4k resolution streaming support, 8GB of storage for all the apps you can want, and a control alternative with Alexa Voice Remote.
Amazon is also on top of the latest protocols with support for things like Dolby Vision (an HDR-like dynamic A/V format), so you can get the best audio/video experience possible, with confidence that your media streamer can keep up with your other hardware. However, we know other buyers may be looking for something a little different, so we included a number of devices with different specialties: Check out the full list to learn more!
Award: TOP PICK
WHY WE LIKE IT: It’s the best 4k streaming device we’ve found, and has compatibility for all the latest audio and video formats. Those interested in streaming quality above all else will love Amazon’s latest.
Read Full Review: Amazon Fire TV Stick Review
Amazon’s latest upgrade to the Fire TV Stick is packed full of top compatibility features – it works with 4k streaming, Dolby Vision, and all the apps you could want, including Sling, YouTube, and IMDB TV. The added range of streaming services with Sling TV and IMDB TV further helps this product stand out. There’s also 8GB of on board storage to pack those apps in. When it comes to image quality, the 4k resolution support is backed by support for HDR10 and HDR10+, ensuring some level of future proofing.
While there is a remote included with the stick, the device also has full compatibility with Alexa voice commands. You can instruct Alexa to find a show, play a favorite playlist, or open an app, all without touching a button. The voice assistant and voice recognition technology makes streaming media more convenient than ever so that you won’t have to flip through multiple channels anymore to find your favorite TV show or tune into the premiere for a new one. The Alexa compatibility extends to supported smart devices too, so you can dim the lights or adjust the thermostat with your voice as well. If you want the best for streaming movies and shows, this might be your pick.
Award: HONORABLE MENTION
WHY WE LIKE IT: A small stick with well-rounded features, this Roku streamer has extra range that’s great for lecture halls or classrooms, , and it comes with 4k support! Remote and voice control are both supported, with dedicated buttons for Netflix, Disney+, and more.
Read Full Review: Roku Streaming Stic Review
Roku has been in the streaming/cable world for many years now, and the company knows how to make a great streaming stick. Despite its small size, this streaming stick supports 4K resolution and HDR video quality to upgrade your streaming experience. Roku also mentions that it has 4x the range of older devices, making it a great choice for auditoriums, outdoor movies, and other spacious areas.
We also like the private listening function, which allows you to connect headphones to a mobile device with the Roku app on it, and listen to TV audio through that device while you watch – an ideal solution if you need to keep the TV speakers quiet for whatever reason. Just stick your wired headphones into the headphone jack on your device or connect your wireless earphones and then you’re ready for more private streaming content. There’s also Alexa compatibility if you like giving voice commands. All you have to do is just say the words for the virtual assistant, then you’re already ready to stream TV or watch a movie on Disney Plus, Netflix, etc. To fully upgrade your at home TV experience, grab some of the best subwoofers too.
Award: BEST BUDGET
WHY WE LIKE IT: The 3rd generation Chromecast is easier to use than ever, the best option for quickly installing apps and getting to the good stuff. It also supports Google Assistant voice commands for those who have a preference!
Read Full Review: Google Chromecast 3rd Gen Review
Chromecast has always been particularly easy to use, and the 3rd generation Chromecast fully leans into the “plug and play” model. As long as your TV has an HDMI port, you can set up the Chromecast in minutes. Google’s interface for the streamer is also minimalistic and gets you to your shows or movies at top speed. The device supports up to 1080p resolution and 60fps. The streaming device’s performance through your soundbar or sound system on your home entertainment system isn’t a completely immersive audio experience, but it still conveniently gets the job done with streaming media without breaking the bank.
The great affordability also makes this Chromecast a great choice if you want to equip multiple TVs throughout a home or business with streaming and/or screen mirroring capabilities all at the same time. There’s also Google Assistant support, so if you’re more familiar with that than Alexa this could be a better pick for you. Being compatible with Google smart home devices like Google Home will only further transform your life at home. The user interface that Google sets up for consumers is so easy to navigate, making the user experience for this product stand out. Also if you’re after 4K HDR streaming capabilities, be sure to check out the Chromecast Ultra. If you want to get into your own streaming, you’ll definitely also want the best streaming microphone.
Award: BEST CABLE REPLACEMENT
WHY WE LIKE IT: TiVo’s excellent box does it all, from live TV and saving episodes to supporting ultra high definition shows on apps like Netflix. If you want a great live TV streaming device, this is the one for you.
Read Full Review: TiVo Bolt OTA Streaming Device Review
You may remember the TiVo name from the DVR days, but now the company has expanded into streaming devices and the Bolt OTA is one of its best offerings. TiVo approaches the streaming world a little differently: Apps like Netflix and Hulu are fully supported, but TiVo also supports live TV viewing and its traditional DVRing, all in one package. Classic TiVo capabilities like skipping ads easily are, of course, included.
The device also supports Alexa voice compatibility, and includes an app for mobile viewing or easier settings management if necessary. However, keep in mind that you need a monthly subscription to TiVo for this device to work, in addition to your streaming service fees. With this device’s wireless capabilities, you’ll be putting your best aux cable to the side for good.
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Award: BEST MULTI-SCREEN PERFORMANCE
WHY WE LIKE IT: Apple TV latest model comes with remarkable performance and the best storage out of all our picks. From gaming to syncing with iOS devices, it’s a powerhouse for anything you need.
Read Full Review: Apple TV 4K Review
While Apple lives to keep everything “in house” as much as possible, we were pleased to see that the latest Apple TV still offers easy connections to multiple apps, including Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, ESPN, and anything else you could want. It also supports 4k, Dolby Vision, 7.1 Dolby surround sound, and HDR10. Thanks to Apple’s tight ecosystem, it’s also effortless to switch streaming around from iPhone to iPad to TV as you need it. The easy compatibility between Apple products makes this a better choice for established Apple users than many other streaming devices. The familiarity of the classic user interface used throughout Apple operating systems makes using Apple TV a simple task for long-time Apple fans. Even if you’re new to the cord cutter life, most can easily learn how to navigate Apple TV’s user interface to watch their favorite shows, access the App Store, boot up a game system, etc.
We also love the large 32GB storage (64GB also available). Remember, in 2019 Apple launched its Arcade full of games, and the storage capacity allows you to turn it into a gaming app machine if you prefer. This gaming friendly device can connect to a Bluetooth enabled device like a PS4 or XBox game controller. If you want to organize the chords around your TV, you may want to also grab some of the best cable ties.
To really drill down and find out what makes a streaming box great, we looked past the apps they offer (which are largely the same no matter what device you get) and toward usability. With so many smart TVs present, it’s important for a streaming device to offer easier control and better service than you can get from the TV itself. Our top picks have rich, helpful interfaces and great remote control options, plus voice commands when possible.
Content quality is important too! The best and latest streamers offer support for 4k resolutions (if your streaming services have that kind of content and your internet bandwidth can keep up), as well as compatibility with HDR and the more advanced HDR10+, which allow for improved video quality. Poor visual picture quality can be very distracting during your streaming experience, so decent quality is a must for many consumers. Speaking of compatibility, we also looked for devices that work with common audio protocols like Dolby and DTS, particularly newer versions like Dolby Vision. After all, a good audio system that projects better sound overall can further transform your watching and streaming sessions and make the experience of your entertainment system more immersive.
Then we took a look at how streaming devices that could solve certain problems or provide additional features beyond content. Some of our picks are especially great for saving and watching live TV, even without a cable subscription. Others are perfect for gamers who already have all the content they want but need a way to stream it out to their fans. Extra capabilities like these are especially valuable when buying for a specific purpose!
To a certain extent, this depends on what platforms you are comfortable with and what you have used in the past. If you are more familiar with Amazon devices, the Fire Stick might be the easiest option for you. If you use a lot of Apple devices, the Apple TV may be the easiest to learn. Android fans might want to take a look at the Nvidia Shield TV, Shield Android TV, or simply the Nvidia Shield – an Android TV-based digital media player produced by Nvidia. But if you don’t really have any built-in preference for anything, two of the easiest streaming sticks to pick and use right out of the box are the Roku and Chromecast. Both these streaming devices have plenty of features, but you only need to learn a few simple basics to get them to work. Also pay attention to voice assistant compatibility if you have a preference! Some devices also have enhanced voice command features in contrast to others. All these streaming players have their similarities and differences on certain features or streaming platforms, so be sure to evaluate your own streaming needs and personal preferences as well.
This is an excellent question that’s not always easy to answer. In general, smart TV features and streaming device features have broad overlap: They allow you to access the same apps on the same screen. Streaming devices are most useful when people want to add smart features to a TV that doesn’t have them, while those with smart TVs don’t really need them. However, there are some exceptions. Certain devices may give you access to apps or discounts that the average smart TV doesn’t have. Additionally, smart TV interfaces and controls can sometimes be very awkward, and some people might prefer an affordable streaming stick with easier controls or voice commands instead. Both smart TV platforms and streaming devices have their pros and cons as tools for content on the streaming platforms, so some consumers may only need one over the other, while others may prefer both.
Your choice! YouTube TV is available on basically every streaming device platform around, so there’s no compatibility issues to worry about. YouTube TV performance will depend on things like your bandwidth and site traffic, things that aren’t affected by your streaming device. However, if you want to keep everything in the family then Chromecast is probably your best bet, as Google owns both YouTube and Chromecast.
Any good streaming device can help you replace cable, because the most important aspect is what streaming services you sign up for. However, Roku and TiVo in particular have worked hard for many years to build broad platforms that are as close an approximation of cable as possible, and able to work with cable systems when necessary. Their experience in this sector makes them very good choices to start with.
This is an interesting question. In most cases, gamers won’t need a streaming device, because they have consoles or PCs that already have all the streaming services they could want available right from platforms like PlayStation or Xbox. A streaming device in these cases is simply unnecessary. However, there are cases when gamers can benefit from an additional streaming device. One of our picks, the Elgato model, is specifically designed for gamers that already have streaming services, but need extra capabilities for streaming their own content to Twitch, YouTube, or other platforms. Devices that enable this are the best for serious gamers that are working to build an audience.
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