Video and music streaming is insanely popular, and you’re no longer forced to purchase an expensive computer or video game console to consume content. Now you have the ability to stream from a stick, dongle, puck, or set-top box. Companies like Amazon and Google have released popular streaming devices, and newer brands like Roku have also created more choice in the market.
Think about what you normally stream. Netflix? Hulu? HBO? YouTube? Pandora? It’s an endless list of services that stream content for your consumption. Just make sure you have the right device in your living room, bedroom, or office to do that.
Here are some of the best streaming devices you can buy today.
Amazon Fire TV
- Price: $70, eligible for Prime shipping
The Fire TV launched in 2014, and since then the set-top box has turned into a dongle. While it’s compact, you can expect a lot out of the Fire TV. Amazon serves up over 500,000 movies and TV episodes from content providers like Prime Video, Showtime, NBC, Sling TV, and more. Amazon’s Fire TV has a robust collection of apps and games, so you’ll never find yourself bored without anything new to stream.
Alexa plays nice with the software, too. Amazon includes a physical remote that has a dedicated button to launch the digital assistant, but you can even direct your Fire TV using something like the Echo or Echo Dot.
Those of you with a 4K television can enjoy the benefits of enhanced viewing as well. The Fire TV does indeed support 4K UHD and HDR, improving the sharpness and color accuracy of everything on your screen. And there’s no shortage of 4K content these days. Netflix and HBO often shoot their new programming in the high-resolution format.
Amazon also makes the Fire TV Stick, which is a watered-down version of the regular model. It features access to all of the same apps but restricts you to Full HD (1920×1080). The Fire TV has a bit more horsepower, too, which might make the user interface run faster and handle games better.
If you’re struggling to decide between streaming devices, you can’t go wrong with the Fire TV. Amazon developers its products and services for both iOS and Android, so you’re not locking in with one platform while leaving friends or family with the other lost.
Buy now: Amazon (Fire TV)
- Price: $100, eligible for Prime shipping
Roku was there when streaming was an ambitious, unproven idea. The company launched the world’s first streaming device that had access to Netflix in 2008. A decade later, Roku offers an incredible portfolio of streaming devices at every budget. Its products are affordable, and the software is so simple while boasting a massive selection of apps to choose from.
The Ultra, which is Roku’s most expensive streaming device, deserves to be recommended because there are some features you just won’t find anywhere else.
Shaped like any other set-top box, Roku’s Ultra steps up with power and content. The user interface shows a rundown of sections on the left and channels, which is what the company calls apps, on the right. Roku covers it all, including basics like Hulu and Prime Video but extending support to Google Play Movies & TV and Crackle. The Ultra does also support 4K and HDR.
We understand that 4K and HDR might not be important to you yet, so then there’s the Express+ that sticks with Full HD but maintains access to the same apps.
Its connections could be attractive, including an Ethernet port in addition to dual-band wireless. Roku threw in a USB port and a microSD card slot, too, in case you need local playback or extra storage.
Roku also makes one of the best remotes around. It’s loaded with traditional buttons for control, but you get shortcuts for popular services like Netflix and HBO Now. If you ever lose the remote, you can hit a button on the set-top box that’ll emit sound from the remote and help you find it. And, perhaps best of all, Roku’s remote has an auxiliary port for private listening.
By the way, don’t feel forced to stick with Roku’s remote. Get the free Roku app, and then all of the same features are available on your mobile device.
Buy now: Amazon
- Price: $35, eligible for free shipping
The Chromecast was a game-changer when it debuted in 2013. It hasn’t been tweaked too much since then, and that’s a testament to its excellence. Google’s darling of a dongle is cheap, easy to use, and extremely useful.
Google didn’t create an entirely new platform. In fact, there’s no user interface at all. Everything that’s done with a Chromecast comes from a phone or tablet. The Cast technology within the streaming device uses Wi-Fi to sync your mobile device and the Chromecast. When you have a Cast-ready app open, you’ll see a little icon at the top of the screen. Tap it, select your Chromecast, and immediately the content will stream.
Don’t worry if you have an iPhone or iPad. Google’s Cast technology works with iOS devices, too. Whether you have an Android or iOS device, using a Chromecast works exactly the same.
At $35, you can’t beat the Chromecast. It’s downright the best low-cost streaming device. Google does have the Chromecast Ultra on the market, but at $70 you’re better off with a different streaming device.
Buy now: Best Buy (Chromecast)
- Price: $149, eligible for Prime shipping
The Apple TV is an original streaming device. Back in 2007, the very first generation of the Cupertino-based company’s set-top box arrived and people didn’t know what to expect. Users needed an iTunes-enabled computer nearby to use it, but Apple eventually switched over to a legitimate operating system for standalone functionality.
Since then, the software was renamed tvOS and rivals just about anyone in terms of simplicity and apps. You get full access to Apple’s own apps and many more from content providers. Siri is on-board as well to listen to commands.
Just last year, the Apple TV 4K was introduced. It includes, as the name suggests, 4K and HDR support. The Apple TV 4K also has a newer A10X Fusion processor, but otherwise, it’s the same experience between both models.
The reason why Apple’s set-top box gets recommended so often is because, aside from being a really strong entertainment hub, its customers just love the brand’s ecosystem. If you have an Android device, you probably shouldn’t have the Apple TV. But you probably want one if you have an iPhone, an iPad, a Mac, or some mixture of any of them.
When you’re a little tapped-out on binge-watching, switch over to a quick game. Apple did create its set-top box with gaming as a key feature. While you can purchase a separate game controller, the bundled remote gets the job done for many titles.
Owners of other Apple-branded products can also use AirPlay, a special feature mirroring what’s on your personal device’s screen and puts that on a television.
The advantage held by the Apple TV is its longevity. While other streaming devices could end up losing software updates relatively soon, Apple always pushes its products to operate for years. Developers do the same. That means your Apple TV will continue streaming movies, TV shows, music, games, and more well into the future.
Your phone (or tablet)
The phone in your hand might just be the best streaming device you can have. Being that you already own it, there’s no additional cost. Pay for the services you want, and you can stream directly from there. If you want a little more screen real estate, get a tablet. Both types of mobile devices have excellent experiences and add portability.
Mobile devices are, in a sense, safer to stream from because the apps are frequently updated. If there’s a bug on Fire TV or Roku app, the wait for a fix could be long. Meanwhile, a development team is constantly rolling out updates for an iOS or Android app.
Your selection is also much more vast. The apps available on the Apple App Store and Google Play completely outnumber what you’ll find elsewhere. So you can definitely find the content you’re looking for.
The whole reason to get a streaming device, though, is to enjoy entertainment on a large display. Phones and tablets cannot match the glory of streaming crisp, colorful content on a television or monitor. With that said, you should have a pretty good idea of which streaming devices would be a good fit for you. Good luck, and happy streaming.
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