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Best Overall: Amazon Fire TV Stick at Amazon
"Access millions of websites as well as music streaming services, podcasts, and live radio stations."
Best Budget: Roku Premiere at Amazon
"The latest generation corrects many of the inconveniences of earlier models, making it truly the best budget option out there."
Best Streaming Device with Antenna DVR: TiVO Bolt at Amazon
"It allows you to record shows over the air and play them back at your convenience."
Best Value: Roku Stick at Amazon
"Platform agnostic and wants to give its customers all the options and it does so with gusto."
Best Smart Home Compatibility: Amazon Fire TV Cube at Amazon
"A smart home and entertainment hub that follows your every voice command."
Best for Gamers: NVIDIA Shield at Amazon
"All the streaming TV options are just icing on the cake as the real prize is the gaming."
Best Features: Roku Ultra at Amazon
"A fantastic choice for streaming fans looking for the best-featured option."
Best Apple Device: Apple TV 4 at Best Buy
"Supports many of the same services as the Roku but adds the ability to play back content from your iTunes library."
Best Smart Home DVR: Fire TV Recast at Amazon
"Watch live TV or record your favorite shows using Fire TV, Echo Show, or compatible mobile devices."
Best for Smartphones: Chromecast Ultra at Best Buy
"Maybe the easiest and best-designed streaming service around."
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.
Great streaming quality
4K and HDR
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
4K and HDR supported
No power or volume buttons on remote
No voice controls
Sluggish at times
While the Roku Ultra is the current king of streaming devices, the Roku Premiere does nearly everything its big brother does but costs less than half the price, making it an especially good deal. The Roku Premiere wants to be the center of your entertainment universe, capable of streaming more than 1,000 “channels” like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Amazon Video, Sling TV, and YouTube. And on top of being the unit that delivers HD shows and movies, our testing showed that the Roku Premiere is powerful enough to show you brilliant 4K and HDR content that will light up any 4K HDTV.
The Premiere also has a 4K Spotlight channel if you want to easily find 4K movies and shows. If you want to control the box from your phone instead of the included remote, our testing showed us that you can do that with the Roku mobile app for iOS or Android. One final and underrated thing that makes the Premiere such a good deal is the inclusion of a free HDMI cable, something people often have to buy separately.
"Overall, it’s a streaming device with a minimalistic sensibility." — Yoona Wagener, Product Tester
Channel grid is easy-to-read
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 healthy network environment to ensure the best overall viewing experience." — Alice Newcome-Beill, Associate Commerce Editor
Small and portable
Minimal cords involved
Supports voice controls
Initial setup can be buggy
Streaming stick can overheat
No mute button on the remote
The Roku stick has a powerful quad-core processor and dual-band wireless that provides up to 8x more processing power than ever before. The usual suspects are here with Netflix, VUDU, Amazon, Google Play and more.
Unlike Chromecast and Apple TV, Roku is platform agnostic and wants to give its customers all the options and it does so with gusto. We’d love to see 4K support, but that’s a sacrifice we can make thanks to the superb IR-ready remote control, excellent companion app for Android and iOS and hundreds of apps and services. In fact, the only big name missing here is iTunes and unsurprisingly, you won’t find iTunes anywhere other than an Apple-manufactured product. You might miss out on expandable storage but, again, aspects like best-in-class search allows us to overlook some of the Roku Stick drawbacks.
There are some additional downsides, like the fact that not every included streaming app is up to date with its most recent UX changes or that its HDMI-only which is bad news for older TV owners. Also, our testing revealed a lengthy 2 minute and 52 second startup time. However, thanks to its selection of streaming content, a fast and incredibly responsive interface and cross-service search, the Roku Stick is an easy choice for one of our favorite streaming TV devices.
"If you want to go mostly cordless and minimalistic, the Roku Streaming Stick may fit the bill." — Yoona Wagener, Product Tester
Sharp picture quality
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
Console scratches easily
No incremental volume controls
No power button on remote or controller
If it’s gaming you really want, the NVIDIA Shield is your Android TV streamer of choice. Rather than the more expansive and feature-rich options like the Xbox One or Playstation 4, the Shield is a happy medium between a gaming device and full TV streamer. While it’s pricey, it does come with 16GB of internal storage and performance that’s 3x faster than the Apple TV, 10x faster than the Roku 4 and 4x faster than the Fire TV. There’s no shortage of entertainment prospects here including Netflix, HULU, YouTube, ESPN, Showtime, Disney, Kodi, HBO, etc. Pick up the additional remote and say things like “Oscar-winning movies” or “Launch Netflix” and Google’s advanced voice commands will find exactly what you’re looking for. Although one notably absent service is Amazon’s Prime Video.
All the streaming TV options are just icing on the cake as the real prize is the gaming. Capable of streaming new and classic PC games from the cloud via GeForce NOW alongside a host of Android and SHIELD-exclusive gaming options, there’s everything from family favorites, indie hits to the biggest names in mobile gaming. During our tests, it ran circles around the Apple TV or Amazon’s Fire TV from a gaming standpoint, but the Shield still isn't a dedicated replacement for a game console. Included is a game controller which also functions as the main way to search.
Setup is relatively easy with Android TV and the Shield is no exception. Choose a language, Wi-Fi password, account log-in and you’re off. The Shield handles all OS and app updates behind the scenes leaving you to enjoy the fruits of technology.
"Finding, arranging, downloading, and deleting content is straightforward and painless." — Yoona Wagener, Product Tester
Solid 4K HDR performance
Easy to setup and use
Voice remote with headphone jack
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.
Small, sleek case design.
Access to the app store
No optical audio out.
No support for 4K video.
Apple TV 4 is a smaller, more expensive unit but retains the polished interface that has made Apple’s products some of the best-selling devices. The 1.66-ounce unit features incredible voice search from Siri, an excellent selection of apps and AirPlay for unsupported apps. Apple TV supports many of the same services as the Roku but adds the ability to play back content from your iTunes library. Throw in mirroring from your iPhone, iPad or Macbook through AirPlay and you’ve got a whole lot of possibilities.
Still, not everything is perfect as anyone not tied into Apple’s ecosystem won’t see the full value of the Apple TV. Given the cost, there’s little question this streaming TV device is only good for those completely sold on Apple’s closed ecosystem. Of 6,000+ native apps on the Apple TV now, 1,300 are for streaming video. Siri voice search does well, but its app limitation is an annoyance given how well Roku has performed this function at a cheaper cost. One particular note is that most buyers should be more than satisfied with the less expensive 32GB model rather than the 64GB model. Unless you’re looking to use the Apple TV as a heavy gaming machine, the smaller memory learns how to free up space on its own to allow for the introduction of new apps.
The lack of first-run content from other sources like Google Play is a notable omission, but hardly a surprise in today’s Apple vs Android world. Considering that most first-run content is available on each platform (save for some exclusives), it’s not a deal breaker.
No necessary subscription
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.
Cheap, effective 4K and HDR streaming
Built-in Ethernet adapter
Google Home integration
No native Amazon Video support
No remote control
Google’s taking the “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” saying and throwing it right out the window by taking the already impressive Google Chromecast and making it even better. The Chromecast Ultra now offers streaming in 4K Ultra HD and HDR with additional speed boosts to handle the more intense quality. Like its predecessors, the Chromecast Ultra plugs right into your TV’s HDMI port and works with the iPhone, iPad, Android devices and laptops with thousands of Cast-enabled apps.
Google’s Chromecast supports more than 200,000 TV shows and movies, plus 30 million songs, radio, sports, games and more. While it’s arguable that options like the Roku are more feature-rich, Google’s Chromecast Ultra may be the easiest and best-designed streaming service around.
The inclusion of an Ethernet adapter will assist homes and Internet connections that might not already be optimized and ready to take advantage of 4K streaming. Chromecast users will find the ability to mirror websites right on the TV, as well as mirror their smartphone. Power is supported through a microUSB connection that can go right into any power outlet, while HDMI plugs right into the TV.
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.
Alice Newcome-Beill is still a staunch defender of her media PC but loves the mobility and utility of modern streaming devices.
David Beren is a tech writer with more than 10 years of experience in the industry and founded his own tech site in 2008.
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.