The 9 Best Devices for Streaming TV in 2021

Cut cords with the cable companies and stream your content to your TV

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The Rundown
Access millions of websites as well as music streaming services, podcasts, and live radio stations.
The Roku Streaming Stick+ is our favorite low-cost streaming device
Best Streaming Device with Antenna DVR:
TiVO Bolt OTA at Amazon
It allows you to record shows over the air and play them back at your convenience.
Best Smart Home Compatibility:
Amazon Fire TV Cube at Amazon
A smart home and entertainment hub that follows your every voice command.
Best for 4K Content:
Nvidia Shield TV at Amazon
The NVIDIA Shield prioritizes speed and power with the company’s own Tegra X1+ processor
Best Features:
Roku Ultra at Amazon
A fantastic choice for streaming fans looking for the best-featured option.
Best Apple Device:
Apple TV 4K at Amazon
The latest version of the popular Apple TV streaming devices comes with 4K support and built-in Siri functionality.
Best Smart Home DVR:
Amazon Fire TV Recast at Amazon
Watch live TV or record your favorite shows using Fire TV, Echo Show, or compatible mobile devices.
The new Chromecast with Google TV offers a clean and efficient interface for 4K streaming at a reasonable price.

If you're a late adopter of smart TVs, picking up one of the best devices for streaming TV is going to be essential for a top-notch viewing experience. Besides cutting down on unnecessary cables and other clutter, picking up a discrete streaming device gives you the option to watch just about anywhere as long as you have an HDMI compatible display and stable internet connection.

Form factor is the most obvious difference between these devices but is far from your only concern. You'll want to stay apprised of the streaming services or applications that are offered on a particular platform, as well as what formats are supported as not all streaming devices offer 4K or HDR yet.

Our guide below will tell you who supports what, but if you're new to the streaming game make sure to check out our guide to the best TV streaming apps and services too.

Best Overall: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

What We Like
  • Fast performance

  • Great streaming quality

  • 4K and HDR

What We Don't Like
  • No YouTube app available

  • User interface can feel cluttered

The new Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K wants to upgrade your tried-and-true entertainment experience with its new streaming stick. Select from over 500,000 movies and TV shows from providers like Hulu, Netflix, STARZ, SHOWTIME, HBO, and Prime Video, and catch live TV if you have subscriptions like Playstation Vue, Sling TV, and Hulu. Users can access millions of websites like Facebook and YouTube, as well as music streaming services, podcasts, and live radio stations such as Amazon Music and Spotify. For the ultimate visual and audio experience, the stick is compatible with 4K Ultra HD, HDR, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision.

The Fire TV Stick’s latest iteration also features Amazon Alexa, which is capable of everything from helping you select what new show you should watch to controlling the lights, checking live camera feeds, and monitoring the weather. The stick features a powerful 1.7 GHz processor, and our testing revealed rapid loading times. The addition of physical volume controls and power buttons, also means you no longer have to deal with multiple remotes to control one device.

"We were impressed by the crisp picture quality and responsiveness when playing, stopping, and selecting content."Yoona Wagener, Product Tester

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

Best Budget: Roku Streaming Stick+

Roku Streaming Stick+
What We Like
  • Great value

  • Tons of different apps

  • Remote also has TV controls

What We Don't Like
  • Cheap build

The Roku Streaming Stick+ is our favorite low-cost streaming device. Whatever kind of subscription services you use, chances are this little device will have an app for it. Like many of the other devices on this list, the Roku plugs directly into the HDMI port on your TV and connects to your home’s Wi-Fi signal using a long-range wireless receiver.

The Roku is a great way to consolidate all your different platforms into one place, allowing you to switch from live TV on Sling to your favorite shows on Netflix and Disney+ with the click of a button. It even has content from Apple TV. This eliminates the need to create a patchwork of different streaming devices that you have to switch between on your TV. The Streaming Stick+ has also built TV controls into its remote, which means you can turn on and adjust the setting on your TV without having to switch back and forth.

"Overall, it’s a streaming device with a minimalistic sensibility."Yoona Wagener, Product Tester

Best Streaming Device with Antenna DVR: TiVO Bolt OTA

What We Like
  • Voice search

  • Channel grid is easy-to-read

What We Don't Like
  • Huge remote

  • Lacks some streaming services

If you’ve “cut the cord” on your cable service and switched over to streaming services only, you may realize you miss some of the programming from over-the-air channels like ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS, and The CW — there are a lot of great shows and sporting events on these channels that you can watch for free. TiVO has provided a solution for this. If you purchase a digital antenna and a TiVO Bolt OTA, you can record shows over the air and play them back at your convenience.

The TiVO Bolt OTA acts as a digital DVR for all the shows you watch from free channels. It has 1 TB of memory and can record up to 150 hours of HD content. The Bolt OTA can also stream shows from services like Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, and YouTube if you feel like using only one device for everything. Unlike most other boxes in this category, the Bolt OTA requires you to buy the box for $250 and then pay for the TiVO service to get the most out of it. This will run you $7 a month, $70 annually, or a one-time payment of $250. This pricing is a little steep, but if you love network shows and live sports, it very well may be worth it to supplement your other streaming services.

"Always check your streaming devices output settings and make sure you have a strong network environment to ensure the best overall viewing experience."Alice Newcome-Beill, Associate Commerce Editor

Best Smart Home Compatibility: Amazon Fire TV Cube

Amazon Fire TV Cube
What We Like
  • Hands-free usage

  • Smart-home integration

  • Sharp picture quality

What We Don't Like
  • No HDMI cord included

  • Voice commands not always intuitive

Amazon’s Fire TV Cube hopes to replace the TV remote entirely. A combination of the Echo speaker and Fire TV stick, it will be your new smart home and entertainment hub that follows your every voice command. And as with most of Amazon's other branded devices, you can use the Alexa assistant to control your TV, cable box, soundbar or other audio equipment. If you want to turn on the TV, just say “Alexa, turn on the TV.” Ask it to play your favorite shows or music, too. During our testing, we found that even the volume can be controlled through voice commands.

Amazon's Fire entertainment hub gives you instant access to all your favorite streaming services like Prime Video, Netflix, HBO, Showtime and more. All totaled, there are more than 500,00 movies and TV episodes. That includes a large number of 4K Ultra HD-ready content that streams at a super-smooth 60fps. The Fire TV Cube also gives you direct access to YouTube, Facebook, and more with two built-in web browsers.

"It offers the smart speaker qualities of an Amazon Echo while also serving as a free-standing remote." Yoona Wagener, Product Tester

Amazon Fire TV Cube

 Lifewire / Emily Ramirez

Best for 4K Content: Nvidia Shield TV

Nvidia Shield TV
What We Like
  • Sleek design

  • Generous memory

  • Smart-home compatible

What We Don't Like
  • Console scratches easily

  • No incremental volume controls

  • No power button on remote or controller

If you have a 4K TV and a great sound system in your entertainment center, you’re going to want a streaming device that delivers the highest-quality image and sound. In that case, the NVIDIA Shield Android TV streaming device is hard to beat. Its design is a bit different from the others on this list — instead of placing it under your TV or plugging it directly into the HDMI port, the Shield connects to your TV via an HDMI cable (sold separately) and sits down behind your entertainment center out of sight.

The NVIDIA Shield prioritizes speed and power with the company’s own Tegra X1+ processor, making it one of the fastest and most advanced devices on this list — this makes it the best option for gamers as well. Even if you’re just planning to stream shows and movies, the Shield packs in features like Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio to make your media look and sound its best. It also has video upscaling features to optimize non-4K content for your 4K screen. With apps for all the major streaming services, the NVIDIA Shield Android TV gives you access to the most 4K content at its best quality.

"Whether downloading a new game, loading up one we’d already downloaded, browsing the Playstore, or playing music from Google Music, all experiences were responsive and seamless, without any hiccups." — Yoona Wagener, Product Tester

NVIDIA SHIELD TV Gaming Edition

Lifewire / Yoona Wagener 

Best Features: Roku Ultra

Roku Ultra
What We Like
  • Solid 4K HDR performance

  • Easy to setup and use

  • Voice remote with headphone jack

What We Don't Like
  • No Dolby Vision support

  • Doesn’t include HDMI cable

  • Very limited voice assistant

Roku’s new flagship, the Ultra is a fantastic choice for streaming fans looking for the best-featured option. At 4.9 x 4.9 x .8 inches, the square-ish Ultra is capable of supporting both 4K and HDR picture quality with a powerful quad-core processor. The 4K Ultra HD streaming is handled at 60fps, or four times the resolution of 1080p HD, and, thanks to a new design, runs without fans. There’s an HDMI port, Ethernet port (plus 802.11 a/c), digital output, microSD slot for additional storage and a USB port. Unfortunately, there’s no HDMI cable included, which is a strange omission.

Thanks to a powerful processor, navigating Roku’s already friendly menu system is a cinch. Channel selection is front and center and shows apps that have been downloaded. The Ultra, like a number of other Roku devices, offers voice search, which works fairly well overall. Speak the name of the show, actor, director or app into the remote control or mobile app (Android and iOS) and voila, your results will pop up. The remote is standard Roku fashion with the colorful Purple direction pad and a slew of shortcuts to big name apps and other controlling functions.

There is a 4K spotlight app that highlights UHD content across a variety of services. Night mode is a welcome addition that tones down big explosions and highlights dialogue so you can let the rest of the house sleep while you watch late at night. The combination of the new processor, 4K and HDR streaming, plus one of the most expansive channel selections, means the Ultra won't disappoint.

Best Apple Device: Apple TV 4K

Apple TV 4K
What We Like
  • Siri voice remote

  • 4K HDR support

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

The latest version of the popular Apple TV streaming devices comes with 4K support and built-in Siri functionality. Gone are the days of the frustrating click-wheel remote — now you can use voice commands to effortlessly find your favorite content. The Apple App Store gives you access to apps for all your streaming services, including YouTube (finally).

As with all Apple products, you’ll get the most out of the Apple TV if you’re already in the brand’s ecosystem. Apple TV effortlessly syncs to your Apple Music, iTunes, and Photos accounts and lets you seamlessly mirror content from your Macbook or iPhone to your TV. New support for 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos sound will make your media look and sound fantastic — a definite bonus if you’re already invested in some quality gear for your entertainment center.

Best Smart Home DVR: Amazon Fire TV Recast

Amazon Fire TV Recast
What We Like
  • Easy setup

  • No necessary subscription

What We Don't Like
  • No way to watch from a computer.

  • Requires a Fire TV device, Echo Show, or Fire TV mobile app.

With the Fire TV Recast, you’re able to watch live TV or record your favorite shows using Fire TV, Echo Show, or compatible mobile devices. Amazon’s first step into the future of entertainment, the Recast gives you access to over-the-air (OTA) channels, works with Prime Videos, and provides access to premium subscription services like HBO, Starz, and Showtime. Though a separate HD antenna is necessary to access OTA channels, the Fire TV mobile app helps you set it up in a spot with the best possible reception.

The entry-level, two-tuner Recast lets you record and watch up to two programs at once, and is able to store up to 75 hours of HD DVR recordings. Upgrading to the four-tuner, 1TB model will introduce the option to store up to 150 hours. Pair the Recast with an Alexa-enabled device to search for shows, change channels, browse, or schedule recordings, all with just a voice command.

Best Value: Google Chromecast with Google TV

Chromecast with Google TV
What We Like
  • Intuitive interface

  • Easy to set up

  • IR voice remote

  • Google Assistant

  • 4K and Dolby Vision

  • Dolby Atmos

What We Don't Like
  • No Ethernet port

  • Interface looks a lot like Amazon’s

  • Wouldn’t power with only USB

  • Missing Apple TV Plus and Spectrum apps

Unlike past generations of Google’s Chromecast, the Chromecast with Google TV includes a remote control that makes the device so much easier to use. The remote can control your TV, receiver, and soundbar in addition to your Chromecast, and it features Google Assistant for voice searches, asking questions, and controlling compatible smart home devices. If you have the Chromecast with Google TV, you don’t even need a smart speaker in your TV room, as you can turn off your smart lights using the Google Assistant on your remote.

With 4K resolution, and HDR formats like Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HDR10+, you’ll get stunning picture quality on your 4K TV or projector, along with support for Dolby Atmos sound. The Google TV interface—a version of Android TV—combines all of your streaming services onto one main menu, so you can find your favorite shows and movies right on a main screen. You’ll find content from services you subscribe to all in one place without having to click into the individual apps, whether you subscribe to Hulu, Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, YouTube TV, or a number of others. 

The Chromecast with Google TV comes in three color options: snow, sky, and sunrise. It has a small profile, and it’s easy to install and set up. Plus, with a price tag of around $50, it’s an excellent value too.

"The Chromecast with Google TV has a user-friendly interface, great video features, and speedy performance." Erika Rawes, Product Tester

Chromecast with Google TV

Erika Rawes / Lifewire

Final Verdict

Unless you're an avid viewer of Youtube, the obvious choice is the current version of Amazon's Fire TV Stick. This device is host to a litany of services and applications and won't break the bank. However, users that buy into the Apple ecosystem may find more utility with the latest iteration of the Apple TV.

How We Tested

Our expert reviewers and testers test streaming media devices by using them just like an average consumer would. We look at how easy the setup process is, particularly when it comes to connecting accounts and using the software platform to find and manage content. We also use objective measures by looking at their specs, their streaming quality, and if they're capable of streaming at 4K HDR. Finally, we look at the price and compare the device to rivals to make our ultimate judgment. All the streaming media devices were purchased by Lifewire; none were provided by the manufacturer. 

About Our Trusted Experts

David Beren is a tech writer with more than 10 years of experience in the industry and founded his own tech site in 2008.

Yoona Wagener has a background in content and technical writing. She has written for Bustle, Idealist Careers, BigTime Software, and other small tech companies. She is an expert in streaming devices, home theater, and entertainment setups.

Alice Newcome-Beill is still a staunch defender of her media PC but loves the mobility and utility of modern streaming devices.

Erika Rawes has been writing for Lifewire since 2019. She's previously been published in Digital Trends, USA Today, Cheatsheet.com, and more, specializing in consumer electronics and the latest gadgets.

FAQs

If you already own a Smart TV, do you need another streaming device?
Depending on who makes your TV and which services you subscribe to, you may not even need a Roku, Fire Stick, or Chromecast. Most Smart TVs have access to a wide variety of streaming applications, although some models do feature some curious omissions. LG TVs for example, currently lack support for Discovery Plus as well as a number of other fringe services.

What kind of internet connection do you need for your streaming device to be effective?
With the vast majority of content being streamed being at least 1080p, a minimum of a 5 Mbps internet connection is a necessity. Of course, having better bandwidth will allow you to stream 4K content without interruptions.

Will a streaming device work in your country?
Yes. While there are some services and shows that may either be region locked or region-specific, you can still get around these restrictions by using a VPN.

What to Look for in a Device for Streaming TV

4K Resolution

If you have a 4K television, and a fast internet connection, then a television streaming device that supports 4K is the perfect way to watch ultra-high-definition content. If you don’t have a 4K television yet, then getting a streaming device with 4K resolution will future proof your setup.

Ethernet Connectivity

Streaming devices typically connect to the internet via Wi-Fi, but plugging in a physical Ethernet cable is much more dependable. If you want to avoid annoyances like buffering, make sure that you have the option to use Ethernet when you really need it. Some TV streaming devices have an optional Ethernet adapter for just this reason.

App Availability

Most TV-streaming devices support most video streaming services, but don’t take it for granted that this will always be the case. If you already subscribe to any streaming services, make sure that the streaming device you choose actually has apps for them.

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