The Best Media Streamers And Network Media Players

Stream or Download From the Internet to Your TV

With the convergence of the PC and Home Theater, a type of product has emerged, the Network Media Player, Media Extender, Media Streamer. These products allow access to PC media content or the streaming/downloading of audio, video, and still image content directly from the internet that can be played on your TV or home theater system. In addition to standalone devices, Media Player/Extender capability is also being built into other products, such as Blu-ray Disc players and even TVs. For a look at Media Player/Extender/Streamers that might work well with your home theater, check out my top picks.

NOTE: The product entries for Network Media Players and Media Streamers are updated on a continuous basis with new units and reviews to keep them current.

1
Roku Streaming Media Players

Roku Express (top) - Roku Ultra (bottom) Media Streamers
Roku Express (top) - Roku Ultra (bottom) Media Streamers. Images provided by Roku

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All Roku's models in the product line featured here are standalone media streamers that provide access to up to 3,500 channels (location dependent) of internet streaming content.

Roku provides a comprehensive search and discovery feature for the top 100 channels that shows what programs and movies are available, as well as a "coming soon" feature that will remind you when they will be available. You can bookmark desired TV shows and movies and place them in a "My Feed" category.

You can take your Roku box wherever you go and use it in a hotel, someone else's house, or even a dorm room. Using your mobile phone, tablet, laptop, or a PC, just log into your Roku Account, follow the instructions, and you are all set to use your Roku device and account.

An HDMI output for connection to an HD or 4K Ultra HD TV is provided on all the streaming players. In addition, Wifi is included for connection to a home network for internet access.

Roku also provides a mobile app for iOS and Android devices that provides even more flexibility. The mobile app n provides Voice Search, as well as duplicating several menu categories that are a part of the Roku TV onscreen menu system, allowing you to control Roku players directly from your compatible mobile device.

Roku Express

  • Basic compact media streamer that includes the features listed above, with 1080p video resolution output and 720p to 1080p upscaling.
  • Dolby Digital surround sound pass-through compatible.
  • Standard remote control with popular internet channel shortcut buttons.
  • HDMI cable and USB power cable included.

Express+

  • The Express+ adds a composite video/analog audio output for connection to older TVs that may not have an HDMI input connection. It must be noted that 1080p output resolution and Dolby Digital pass-through not available via the composite video/analog audio output connections.

Express+ Available Exclusively From Walmart

Premiere

  • The Roku Premiere provides the ability to stream 4K content, provided you have a fast internet connection as well as providing native 4K resolution output with 4K upscaling for 720p and 1080p content sources.
  • The Premiere also incorporates a "Night Listening Mode", which compresses the volume peaks present in movies and TV programs so that dialog is more intelligible and things such as explosions are not too loud.
  • The Premiere includes the same remote control as the Express and Express Plus..

Premiere+

  • The Premiere+ includes the core features of the Premiere plus the following:
  • In addition to 4K Streaming the Premiere+ can also pass-through HDR signals for enhanced contrast and brightness from selected encoded content.
  • The Premiere+ provides both built-in Wifi and Ethernet
  • For added channel app storage, the Premiere+ features a MicroSD card slot.
  • Incorporation of a headphone/earphone jack in the remote control for convenient private listening. In other words, the remote control also serves as wireless headphone receiver. Earphones are included in the package.

Ultra

Further additions over the Premiere+ include the following:

  • Inclusion of a Digital Optical audio output connection option that makes it convenience to use the Ultra with sound bars and home theater receivers.
  • A side-mounted USB port is provided for access to audio, video, and still image files stored on Flash Drives or other compatible USB connectable storage devices.
  • A microphone in the remote control to facilitate voice search features without having to use a smartphone.
  • Gaming buttons on the remote control for easier game play.
  • A speaker in the remote control for finding the remote control if misplaced

Buy Premiere, Premiere+, and Ultra From Amazon

Roku Express -

2
The Roku Streaming Stick

Roku 3600R Streaming Stick - Package Contents
Roku 3600R Streaming Stick - Package Contents. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

If you don't have a Smart TV, or have a Smart TV that doesn't offer much of a selection of internet streaming services, the Roku Model 3600R streaming stick is a very practical add-on that can boost your TV viewing experience..

The Roku Streaming Stick is just a little larger than a USB flash drive, and can plug into any TV that has an HDMI input (you can also connect it to most HDMI-equipped home theater receivers that can route video through to a TV), and, via built-in Wifi, can provide that special someone with over 3,500 streaming channels of great video and audio entertainment. Of course Netflix, Vudu, Crackle, and other popular services are included, but there are a lot more (definitely too much to list here!).

The Streaming stick comes with a remote and easy-to-use onscreen menu system that provides easy navigation of all channel options and features.

In addition, Roku offers a free app that enables you to use your Smartphone instead of the provided remote to control the Stick. Also, with the screen mirroring and sharing features, you can even send photo video content from your smartphone to your TV through the Streaming Stick.

The Streaming stick has the ability to stream and output 720p and 1080p. However, the Streaming Stick does not provide access to 4K streaming services, but if you have a 4K Ultra HD TV, you can still get some great image quality from 720p and 1080p source content coming from the Streaming Stick..

For audio, the Streaming Stick is compatible with Digital Stereo as well as pass-through of Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS Digital Surround (content dependent).

The Streaming Stick comes with a micro-USB to USB cable, USB-to-AC power adapter, Quick Start Guide and Information Guides, remote control, and two AAA batteries to power the remote.

You also have a choice of a standard remote, or an Alexa-enabled voice control remote.

BONUS For 4K Ultra HDTV Owners - If you own a compatible 4K Ultra HD TV, the Amazon Fire TV provides access to native 4K streaming content from Amazon and Netflix (Faster internet speeds also required).

3
Amazon Fire TV Media Streamer

Amazon Fire TV with Alexa Voice Remote and 4K Support
Amazon Fire TV with Alexa Voice Remote and 4K Support. Photo Courtesy of Amazon.com

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To start, the Fire TV features a MediaTek Quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 8 GB temporary storage, both 1080p and 4K video resolution output (content and TV compatibility dependent), and Alexa voice assistance.

For connectivity, Fire TV includes HDMI, and both WiFi and Ethernet connection options for accessing the internet.

Content access obviously emphasizes Amazon Instant Video, but also includes Crackle, HBOGo (must already be an HBO cable/satellite subscriber for access), Hulu, iHeart Radio, Netflix, Pandora, YouTube and more.

Amazon's Fire TV also provides access over 200 online games, but you need to purchase a game controller separately.

Fire TV also features Alexa Voice Search on the included remote control.

4
Amazon Fire TV Stick Media Streamer

Amazon Fire TV Stick - Package Contents
Amazon Fire TV Stick - Package Contents. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

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In competition with the Roku Streaming Stick, Google Chromecast, and BiggiFi Family Stick, Amazon has introduced its own HDMI Wifi-enabled plug-in streamer, the Fire TV Stick.

The Fire TV Stick has a dual-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 8 GB temporary storage, 1080p video resolution output, and is Dolby Digital Plus audio compatible.

WiFi is built-in for convenient internet access to services such as Amazon Instant Video, but also includes Crackle, HBOGo (must already be an HBO cable/satellite subscriber for access), Hulu, iHeart Radio, Netflix, Pandora, YouTube and more.

The Fire TV comes with its own remote control, or you can use a compatible smartphone or tablet by downloading Amazon's Fire TV remote control app.

5
Google Chromecast

Google Chromecast and Power Adapter (2nd Generation)
Google Chromecast and Power Adapter (2nd Generation). Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

The Google Chromecast is creating quite a buzz, and deservedly so. The Chromecast is an audio/video internet streaming device about the size of the USB flash drive, except that it has an HDMI connector, rather than a USB connector. If you plug this device into a free HDMI input on your TV (USB port or AC Adapter also required for power - provided with Chromecast package), have access to the internet via WiFi, and iOS or Android phone or tablet, you have everything you need to get started.

Using your iOS or Android device you can access services such as Netflix, YouTube, and Google Play, as well as select content accessible via the Google Chrome browser (new apps and content services are expected to be added on a periodic basis). You send the content to your TV via the Chromecast and then also use your portable device to navigate through content features as well as playback control functions.

The Google Chromecast is a great way to add internet streaming capability to any TV that does not have it built-in already without having to add another external box and the cable clutter that goes along with it.

Update: Read my report on the 2nd Generation Google Chromecast (shown in photo) as well as the Chromecast Ultra, which adds 4K streaming capability.

6
BiggiFi Family Stick Smart Control Media Streamer

BiggiFi Family Stick Smart Control Media Streamer - with Included Accessories
A Photo of the BiggiFi Family Stick Smart Control Media Streamer with Included Accessories. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

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The BiggiFi Family Stick combines an internet streaming platform on an HDMI stick that plugs directly into an HDMI-Equipped HDTV, in ​a similar way as Roku Streaming Stick and Google Chromecast, but provides its own smart control interface.

The BiggiFi Family Stick provides access to internet streaming content (Netflix, YouTube, Vudu, Pandora, Crackle, and more), internet games (Temple Run, Angry Birds), and internet browsing (Google Search) functions, while the BiggiFi app enables a compatible iOS or Android smartphone to be used as a remote control to navigate through menu and available content sources.

7
AppleTV - 3rd and 4th Generations

Apple TV Media Streamer
Apple TV Media Streamer. Image provided by Apple

The iPod may be the most successful portable entertainment device ever, including the creation of a whole industry just devoted to iPod accessories, but that isn't all that Steve Jobs had up his entertainment sleeve before he passed away. AppleTV is definitely a serious contender world of media streamers. The AppleTV allows you either wired or wireless connection to your home network, access to iTunes music and both SD and HD video content directly from the internet. You can also store purchased content in the Apple iCloud for later viewing.
Review of 3rd Generation Apple TV - Available At Best Buy

Also,available - the 4th Generation Apple TV Media Streamer, with added features, including Siri voice assistance and more apps -- read my full report for details.

8
Western Digital WD TV Network Media Player

wdtv-triple-view.jpg
WD TV - Front - Rear - Packaging. Images provided by Western Digital

Priced at $99, the WD TV is a compact media player that provides access to a lot of streaming and network-based content.

For easy connection to ​your home network and the internet, the WD TV provides both Ethernet and Wifi.

For connection to your TV and home theater system, the WD TV Player features an HDMI output (1080p resolution is supported), as well as a standard resolution composite video output (combined with analog audio outputs). A USB connection for accessing content stored on USB flash drives and other compatible devices is also provided.

As far as internet-based streaming content goes, the WD TV can access streaming content services, including Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, Pandora, and More.

In addition, you can use the WD TV to access content stored on compatible PCs and media storage devices on your home network.

You have two remote control options - you can the included remote, or a compatible iOS or Android device.
 

9
NuVo Whole Home Audio System

NuVo Whole Home Audio System - Packaging
A photo of the packaging for a basic NuVo Whole Home Audio System featuring the GW100 Gateway and P100 and P200 Wireless Audio Players. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

Review - Product Photos

The NuVo Whole Home Audio System can access streaming music services from the internet, music content stored on PCs or USB flash drives, Bluetooth devices, as well as enabling you to plug in your CD player or audio cassette deck.

At its core, the Nuvo System consists of Gateway Router ​that connects to your home internet router. The Gateway serves as the wireless access point for the NuVo system wireless audio players (the P200 or P100) and control system (an app that you download directly a compatible iOS or Android device). The Nuvo can send music from any of the compatible online, network, or connected sources to any room in the house where a compatible player is located (up to 16 can be accommodated).

The system is easy to set up and use, and the players provided strong audio output from their built-in two channel amplifiers. Also, an audio output connection is provided on each player that can be used to plug in a set of headphones, or, if desired, a powered subwoofer.

Sold only through authorized dealers

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