You can watch your favoriteson your TV using a streaming device. Streaming devices are small boxes or rods that connect to your TV via an HDMI cable. When connected, they turn your internet-enabled TV into a fully equipped streaming hub.
ManyThey come with some type of operating system that is capable of downloading streaming applications, but additional streaming devices often have simpler remote controls, more applications, better search, and more frequent updates than the OS built into your set. In addition, they are a much more affordable alternative to upgrading an entire TV.
Roku recently released a new high-end versionwhich now includes . The system is expensive and may not be the best for most people. So which streaming devices do we think could offer better value?
We’ve reviewed almost every streaming device and large smart TV system available today, including, , and Apple TV. Read on as we analyze the best streaming devices currently available.
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Roku is our favorite streaming system, with the most streaming application options, the simplest streaming platform interface and the best search. It also has a platform that is independent of content that does not push any media streaming service provider, such as Amazon Prime Video or Apple, over another. Express 4K Plus streaming media player is one of the cheapest options for streaming TV with 4K HDR. (Even if your current TV doesn’t support those formats, your next one probably will.) Thanks to the AirPlay update, this Roku device is one of the cheapest ways to connect your iPhone or other Apple device to your TV. Cheaper than Streaming Stick 4K + and other 4K HDR streaming devices, it is our best choice for the best streaming device as a whole.
Read our review of Roku Express 4K Plus.
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Chromecast with Google TV is not as good as Roku Express 4K Plus, but it is closer than any other device on the market. Chromecast outperforms Roku by adding Dolby Vision compatibility, but its biggest power of the smart device is Google Assistant voice search, which works well for finding things to watch. We also like the impressive integration with other Google services like Google Photos and YouTube TV. The interface looks more evolved than Roku, but in the end we prefer Roku’s simpler approach, meaningless search results and lower price. However, the new Chromecast is a better choice of smart streaming device for those already living in the Google world.
Read our review for Chromecast with Google TV.
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Roku Streaming Stick 4K is a long-awaited upgrade to Roku Streaming Stick Plus. It has the same simple interface, a large selection of applications and an impressive search function that is found on all Roku devices, but also offers Dolby Vision support. With a stick-like design, Dolby Vision HDR is the main difference between the Streaming Stick 4K and Express 4K Plus, and that’s supposedly why the Streaming Stick 4K is more expensive than its brother. While we think the Streaming Stick 4K is a great device, we just aren’t selling on the Dolby Vision upgrade – mostly because we generally don’t think it provides a big picture quality upgrade over standard HDR. But if Dolby Vision is important to you, this device will not disappoint.
Read our review of Roku Streaming Stick 4K.
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If you’re looking for a fast device, look no further than the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max. Max loads apps almost instantly, and system navigation is fast and smooth. Even better, Max supports Wi-Fi 6 and almost all the latest playback standards, including Dolby Vision. The downside of Max is his Fire TV platform and the fact that commercials are featured everywhere. We just don’t appreciate that TV becomes a giant rotating billboard for content or commercials when in screen saver mode. But this is a good choice for those looking for a fast device or those involved in the Amazon ecosystem. The Fire TV Stick 4K Max is the best Fire Stick on the market today, and is worth the extra money compared to the standard Fire TV Stick 4K.
Read our review of the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max.
Let’s get this out of the way first: if you prefer the simplicity of Roku-based menus, you might like Roku Express better. But Lite outperforms Express in functions for money. The biggest advantage of this Fire TV remote control is the remote control with built-in voice search and control (the cheapest Roku with voice remote control is Streaming Stick Plus) thanks to Alexa Voice Remote. The Fire Stick remote also doesn’t need a line of sight to work. If you can’t reach the $ 50 player, Lite is your best streaming device.
Read our review of Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite.
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Roku’s most expensive streaming box is more than twice the price of our best streaming device, but you may appreciate its additional features enough to want an upgrade. The 2022 model still costs $ 100 and is almost identical to previous versions, but now comes bundled with the great Voice Remote Pro.
But if you really like remote and want to save some money, you can try Roku other package, Roku Streaming Stick 4K Plus for $ 70, which also includes Voice Remote Pro. The Streaming Stick 4K processor isn’t as powerful as the Ultra, but it can do almost all the same tricks as Dolby Vision HDR, and costs $ 30 less than the 2022 Ultra.
By the way, Ultra continues to deliver Dolby Vision video, faster responses than Streaming Stick 4K, enhanced Wi-Fi and a wired Ethernet port – especially welcome if your home Wi-Fi is congested.
Read our review of Roku Ultra (2022).
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The perfect foil for affordable 4K streaming devices above, the new Apple TV 4K still costs $ 179, but is a better choice for people who want to test every feature – or who just want their Apple device to use Apple Arcade to play games or take full advantage of their Apple One subscription packages. Video purists will appreciate its flexible HDR and TV calibration feature, while those with older Apple boxes will love the new and improved remote control.
For most people, however, Apple’s reputable remote streaming device is simply not worth the money, especially now that Roku has almost all the major apps and AirPlay. If you really want Dolby Vision, you can find it on Roku Streaming Stick 4K at a slightly lower price.
Read our review of Apple TV 4K.
Sarah Tew / CNET
Soundbars with built-in streaming may be a relatively new development, but Roku’s new Streambar succeeds. It has a Roku interface that we know and love, along with 4K HDR with enhanced sound for any TV, especially for dialogue. It’s smaller and more affordable than its predecessor, the Roku Smart Soundbar, but we think the new Streambar media streamer makes more sense to most people.
Read our review of Roku Streambar.
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Of course, it’s an expensive $ 200 media device – before adding a game controller – with 8GB of storage and 2GB of RAM, compared to 16GB of storage and 3GB of RAM , but if you want a top-notch video streaming player, Shield is it. In addition to 4K streaming and HDR, it offers a robust library of games, both console and Android, Steam Link, built-in Google Assistant along with smart home control, NAS access, Plex server capabilities, HDHomeRun integration and more.
Read our review of Nvidia Shield TV.
How we test streaming devices
Each streaming device we review receives hours of hands-on testing. This usually involves installing the device on multiple TVs, evaluating the setup process, adding popular streaming channels, and using a product like ours. We use all the main features available on the platform and notice how they stand up to the competition. To do this, we connect rival streaming devices to the same TV so we can easily switch back and forth to compare experiences.
Our indicators we look at to evaluate a device include: hardware design and features, remote design capabilities and design, general ease of use of the platform, efficient layout and design, search capabilities, privacy settings, number of applications and their performance, and overall system speed and reliability.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do streaming devices have monthly fees?
No. Streaming devices by themselves do not have any monthly fees. However, the channels you can watch on streaming devices, such as Netflix, HBO Max and Hulu, require users to pay monthly fees to access their content.
Do you need a streaming device with a smart TV?
Not necessarily. Many smart TVs come with their own streaming platform where users can download popular apps like Netflix and Hulu. Samsung’s smart TVs offer quite robust options. Also, TVs now come built-in with more mainstream streaming platforms like Roku, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV.
Problems can occur when the interface of your TV is missing some of the content you need. For example, Spectrum users who have an LG smart TV will not be able to find the Spectrum app via the LG platform. Instead, they will have to take Roku, Apple TV or Google Chromecast to broadcast their cable package. Generally speaking, Roku or Amazon streaming-focused devices usually have more apps available than the TV manufacturer’s streaming platform. Of course, as you will see below, there are some exceptions.
Can I get all the channels I want on any device?
Each streaming device has major streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max and Amazon Prime. However, not all services have access to every existing streaming channel. Once again, the Spectrum TV app proves to be illustrative. It is available on most platforms, but not on any Amazon Fire TV. It might be a good idea to check which device has the apps you need before you buy. Otherwise, you may be unpleasantly surprised to learn that your device does not have an application for one of your favorite services.