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Plenty of hardware options exist for streaming Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon and the rest. Here are our picks for the best.
So you need a new device to connect to your TV and stream video, but you’re not sure which one? We’ve got you covered. This guide will help you find the best streaming device that connects to your TV and streams video — something you’ll likely use every day for multiple hours at a time to watch movies and TV. We’ve reviewed every major smart TV system and most Amazon, Roku, Chromecast and Apple TV. With the exception of smart TVs that actually run Amazon’s or Roku’s streaming app software, TV streaming have more apps, simpler remotes, better search and more frequent updates than the smarts built into your set.media devices on the market today, including
If you’re looking for the best streaming device to go with that newHDR TV, or if your current media streaming device is getting long in the tooth, chances are you’ll be more than happy with one of these.
Take everything we just said about the Express and add must-have features like 4K HDR streaming, a voice remote control that can control your TV’s volume and power, plus compatibility with Apple’s AirPlay system and you get our favorite streamer for the money. Other $50 options like the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and Chromecast with Google TV are solid too, but Roku’s simplicity wins the holidays.
The Chromecast with Google TV isn’t quite as good as the Roku Streaming Stick Plus but it comes closer than any other device on the market. It outdoes the Streaming Stick Plus by adding Dolby Vision compatibility — to get that in a Roku you’ll need the $100 Ultra — but its biggest strength is Google Assistant voice search, which works well for finding stuff to watch. We also like the integration with other Google services such as Google Photos and YouTube TV is also impressive. The interface is more evolved-looking than Roku but ultimately we prefer Roku’s simpler approach and no-nonsense search results. That said, the new Chromecast is a better choice for those already living in Google’s world.
The perfect foil to the Roku Streaming Stick Plus, the Apple TV bumps up your cost by more than $100, but it’s the better choice for people who can appreciate its advantages. Those include support for HBO Max, compatibility with Dolby Vision HDR, flexible upconversion, superior voice command features, a touch remote control and a smoother, slicker user interface. The Apple TV 4K is so good for media streaming, it might make a great streaming device for someone even if they’re not an “Apple person.”
Let’s get this out of the way first: If you prefer the simplicity of Roku’s app-based menus like I do, you might like the Roku Express better (see below). But the Lite trounces the Express in features-for-the-money. Its biggest advantage is a remote with built-in voice search and control (the cheapest Roku with a voice remote is the Streaming Stick Plus) thanks to Alexa. Its remote also doesn’t need line of sight to work. If you can’t step up to a $50 player, the Lite is your best bet.
Roku’s most expensive streamer is twice the price of the Streaming Stick Plus, but maybe you’ll appreciate its extra features enough to want the upgrade. It offers more conveniences, including a headphone jack and programmable shortcut keys on the remote as well as our favorite feature, a remote finder in case you lose the clicker in the couch cushions. It also delivers Dolby Vision video, faster responses, improved Wi-Fi and a wired Ethernet port — particularly welcome if your home Wi-Fi is overloaded.
There’s no better streamer gadget for covering the basics. Roku Express delivers all of the goodness of Roku’s platform, including thousands of apps, best-in-class search and a dead-simple interface that just about anybody can understand. No fancy features at this price but compared to other $30 options — the more complex Amazon Fire TV Lite and the phone-centric Google Chromecast — it’s our favorite and would be welcome on any holiday gift list.
I don’t like it as much as the two other $50 streamers on this list, but Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K makes a lot of sense for people knee-deep in Amazon devices already. Like the Lite, it bakes Alexa right into the remote control. You can use voice control to search for video on Amazon or turn on your Christmas tree. Or both at the same time. Throw in a massive selection of Amazon content as well as Dolby Vision HDR and the Stick 4K is still an excellent choice.
Soundbars with streaming onboard may be a relatively recent development, but Roku’s new Streambar nails it. It has the Roku interface we know and love, complete with 4K HDR with improved sound for any TV, especially dialog. It’s smaller and more affordable than its predecessor, the Roku Smart Soundbar, but we think the new Streambar makes more sense for most people.
Sure, it’s an expensive media streamer at $150 — and that’s before adding a game controller — but if you want a Jack-of-all-trades video streaming player, the Shield is it. In addition to a streaming media player with 4K streaming and HDR, it offers a robust library of games, both console-level and Android, Steam Link, built-in Google Assistant complete with smart home control, NAS access, Plex server capability, HDHomeRun integration and much more.
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