Best Streaming Devices

Updated March 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

66 Models Considered
13 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
124 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

Shopping guide for best streaming devices

Last Updated March 2019

Cord-cutting is officially a phenomenon: millions of users are giving up their cable TV subscriptions and opting instead to watch their favorite shows and movies through streaming services over the internet. And who can blame them? Streaming services offer higher quality video and audio, they offer content with few if any commercials, and subscribing to multiple services is still cheaper than paying a single cable TV bill. There’s no other way to say it: streaming is the future.

To get streaming content on your TV, you’re going to need a streaming device: a gadget that plugs into your TV and provides access to services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Streaming devices are everywhere, and they come in all different shapes and sizes — and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Some streaming devices are ideal for traveling, while others are powerful enough to be the centerpiece of a home theater.

Whether it’s your first time getting streaming content on your TV or you’re just looking to upgrade your existing streaming device, it’s a good time to take a fresh look at the market: there are options for every scenario, at every price point, so no matter what your needs are, we’ll have you up and binging TV in no time. Here’s everything you need to know to find the perfect streaming device for you.

If you have a slow internet connection, you can increase streaming performance by reducing the resolution of the displayed content.

Box vs. stick

As you browse streaming products, you’ll immediately notice two distinct options available to you.

  • HDMI sticks, which work like a USB for your TV
  • Media boxes, which run the same way as a provider’s box

To the untrained eye, it may seem inconsequential which one you get. After all, they’re both designed to do the same thing.

But that’s not true.

A stick system serves just one purpose: WiFi streaming. You plug it in, set it up, and it utilizes your home WiFi to stream whatever you’re watching. But that’s where the functionality ends.

A media box includes more interactive elements, including chat services, linking to computers, and video gaming. If you want to do more than watch TV and movies, you need to have a box.

Matt
EXPERT CONSULTANT

Matt graduated from Columbia University with a Masters in Mechanical Engineering, then went on to become the founder and CEO of Computer Repair Doctor, a phone repair, computer repair, and laptop repair company with locations throughout the United States. Matt and his team of tech doctors are experts in consumer electronics of all types – there is no device they can’t fix!


Matt  |  Consumer Electronics Expert

What do you want to stream?

Once you’ve chosen between a stick and a box, you’re still only halfway there.

The other important question to answer is this: what do you want to stream? It’s true that each system contains apps for your usual array of providers  Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Crackle, and so on  but different systems contain different content providers that others don’t carry.

RELATED: The cord-cutter's secret weapon

So, what’s your pleasure?

Original series

When it comes to original content, Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu are all producing. If you’re a fan of Netflix and Hulu material, a Roku or Apple TV would do fine. But an Amazon Fire or Stick utilizes Amazon Prime’s service to get a lot of its programming. If you’re drawn more to that, Amazon would be the way to go.

Classic shows

Just about every service delivers some classic television, but it’s spread across different platforms. For example, you can watch Friends on Netflix, but you can’t watch individual episodes on Amazon. You can watch SpongeBob SquarePants on Amazon Prime but not Hulu. And you can watch South Park on Hulu but not Netflix.

It’s a difficult balancing act, but depending on the kind of classic shows you like, Roku will probably do the best. The reason: Roku has better access to channel-specific apps than Amazon.

Current television

Due to the complicated nature of broadcasting rights and ratings, a lot of current television episodes are shown on streaming services a day after they air. Apple TV and Roku have the best access to channel-specific programming, such CBS, HBO, NBC, ABC, and more.

Movies

When it comes to films, Amazon is king, as they have access to pretty much everything current. You’ll find some cool selections through specific channels provided to Roku and Apple, but Amazon definitely leads in the area of current content. It’s not going to be like PPV (where the film is available one month after hitting theaters), but it will be faster than waiting for Blu-ray to arrive.

Sports

One of the sad parts to streaming media is that people are still working out the kinks to sports channels. The current leaders in this are the MLB (Major League Baseball) and WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), both of which offer subscription-based services. The rest are simply highlight channels that rarely offer full games. Unless you’re exclusively into baseball and wrestling, you’ll have to watch games at your local bar when you switch to streaming media.

Random channels

Roku offers the best selection of random channel apps. You’ll find a ton of oddity channels here, from vegan cooking to classic cartoons made in the 1930s. There’s even a channel that simply features cats playing around with yarn and stuff.

Media websites

For the video junkie, every system has access to apps and services provided by YouTube, Twitch, DailyMotion, and more. But be forewarned: these apps are often behind the times by a week or so. If you’re looking for up-to-the-minute videos, you probably won’t find much.

EXPERT TIP

If all you care to do is watch TV and movies, the sticks from Amazon or Roku would do nicely. But if you want more from your streaming device than that — video gaming, chat services, and so on — a media box is in order.


Matt  | Consumer Electronics Expert
EXPERT TIP

If you live in a home with spotty WiFi, aim for a box with a port that you can plug an Ethernet cable into for a direct signal to your modem or router. But if your WiFi works well, a box or stick should suit you just fine.


Matt  | Consumer Electronics Expert

What you’re viewing: HD/4K

As of this writing, no one has released anything capable of having a 4K adaptable system. That’s not to say that they aren’t in development, but for the time being, every system on the market is still broadcasting in standard HD.

The big reason no one has made the push is because no one has made the effort to turn all of their streaming services to 4K. It’s simply a matter of demand and time. If you truly want to see old episodes of Star Trek in 4K, you’ll probably have to wait until a service like Netflix upgrades everything. In the meantime, there isn’t much of a demand for it on either side.

We’re not saying that the streaming device you buy won’t work with 4K televisions and monitors. We’re just saying that you probably won’t be utilizing that aspect of your TV with these players.

Remotes

Each remote comes with its own set of pluses and minuses. The Amazon models are sleek and modern looking: small buttons with a slight rise, smoothed out edges, and a flat dial for easy thumb selection. However, sometimes that giant thumb button doesn’t respond like you want it to, and depending on how fast your connection is and how up-to-date the software is, it could get very clumsy.

Roku remotes exude a classic look with a shiny black design. They include a D-pad for selection and a few buttons for selection control. One of the added bonuses of the Roku is that, from the Roku 3 model and up, there’s a headphone jack in the side. You can watch whatever you want without disturbing others, and you can walk away from the TV and still hear the audio.

With two buttons and a thumb controller, the Apple TV remote is as basic as it gets. If you want real power over the device, you’ll want to switch up to the app that you can download on your iPhone or iPad. The drawback is that, depending on the signal in the room, your device may have a delayed response.

Updates

Every streaming system comes with frequent updates. Why? Because technology changes quickly and often, and these systems adapt with them. It truly doesn’t matter which one you buy; you’re likely to see an update at least once or twice a month, and failure to update these devices will cause problems with your service.

Gaming

Every box system now includes gaming capabilities. But don’t expect to purchase a streaming device with gaming capabilities equal to that of an Xbox One or PS4.

The Amazon and the Apple TV are pretty neck-and-neck when it comes to selection, and with both, you have the ability to buy modern game controllers to work them. The Roku systems are more for puzzlers and basic titles like Tetris.

WiFi vs. port

We’re living in a WiFi age, but WiFi isn’t always dependable — especially at home. Depending on where you live, you may experience dropouts from time to time. Streaming sticks are no different, and they often suffer greater problems, as they’re plugged into the back end of a television or monitor with the front already blocking part of the signal.

EXPERT TIP

Find out other devices or processes that might be hogging your bandwidth and causing intermittent display on your streaming device's playback, and eliminate these processes.


Staff  | BestReviews

Computer connectivity

An Apple TV uses its AirPort system to connect to your iMac and other devices. This makes for easy transfer of files, including downloaded movies, music, photos, and more.

The Roku comes with a USB port so you can download material to a memory stick and play it on the Roku, but there’s no way to connect it to a PC at this time. The Amazon Fire has absolutely no capability to do this remotely or by USB.

If you’re paying for lots of subscriptions, we recommend an inexpensive stick player. If you don’t subscribe to much, but you want more out of your investment, we recommend a box.

Price

For most buyers, the entire reason you ran to a streaming device was because the cost of cable or satellite was burning your money away. So price becomes everything in the end.

Not surprisingly, the Apple TV costs the most right now, but that’s what we’ve come to expect with Apple products in general. Prices vary depending on the device’s storage capacity. You’re also paying for its interaction with your devices, along with Apple Care if you want it insured.

The Roku and Amazon Fire are two different beasts when it comes to pricing. For the boxes, the Roku is cheaper than the Fire, but when you get to the sticks, you see the Amazon model is cheaper than Roku’s. The Roku seems a bit more balanced in terms of overall price, but the Amazon brand usually has the cheaper deal for the basics.

Keep in mind that with a device, you’re still buying a subscription service. Most services like Hulu and Netflix are around $10 per month for streaming. Amazon Prime service, at this time, is $99 yearly or $11 monthly. These three basic services cover most everything, but they don’t include speciality channels like HBO or sports like MLB.

The team that worked on this review
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