It’s a great time to buy a streaming media device, whether you’ve cut the cable or are looking to supplement your TV package with an online video service like Netflix, Hulu, or a newcomer like Apple TV + or Disney +. . Compared to the typical smart TV, standalone streamers like Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and the new Nvidia Shield TV tend to have larger app selections, faster performance, and more features. And with so much competition among device makers, hardware is getting faster, more capable, and more affordable.
We constantly test all the latest devices, including Roku players, Fire TV devices, Android TV devices, Apple TV, and Chromecast. We review each new generation of hardware and constantly review the selection of software and applications to help you determine which platform is right for you. Here are our picks for the best transmission boxes and sticks, along with all of our latest product reviews. Our recommendations will change over time as new products are released.
Updated October 15, 2021 to add our review of the Roku Streaming Stick 4K. This $ 50 streaming dongle feels fast and smooth, and it supports 4K HDR video with Dolby Vision and HDR10 +. More importantly, it’s a straightforward streaming device packed with useful features, and its improved Wi-Fi receiver helps you get better reception than previous low-cost Roku players. As such, it’s our newest choice of editors for budget-priced 4K HDR streaming devices.
The 4K HDR streaming device with the best value for money
Looking for a simple answer to which 4K streaming player to buy? Here it is. This $ 50 dongle has all the features most people will need in a streamer, including a fast and smooth interface, Dolby Vision and HDR10 +, strong Wi-Fi performance, a compact design, and AirPlay 2 for streaming content. multimedia from Apple devices. Of course, it lacks some advanced features you’ll find on the more expensive Roku Ultra, including Dolby Atmos, a wired Ethernet port, and USB media support, while the high-priced Apple TV 4K adds a bevy of HomeKit features, without mention a Thread. edge router. Still, for the money, the Streaming Stick 4K is excellent value.
You might not expect one of the best budget streaming players to come from Walmart, but it’s true. This 4K player runs Android TV, offering a sleek streaming menu, powerful voice search, and the ability to stream video from your phone. It also has a feature-rich remote that lets you switch between live TV channels, switch inputs, and control your A / V gear. Best of all, it’s only $ 30, which undercuts comparable Roku players, Amazon and Google itself. Just keep in mind that if you need Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, or HDR10 +, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Best high-end media streamer
If the second-gen Apple TV 4K hadn’t cost $ 179, it would have been our top pick in this category. It’s a fabulous piece of hardware with a feature set no competitor can come close to, and its aluminum-wrapped remote is as sleek as it is catchy on the competition. And while our review focuses on its media streaming capabilities, it should also be mentioned that it can also serve as a HomeKit smart home hub and thread edge router. Finally, Apple is unique in its efforts to protect the privacy of its users. But you will have to pay to play.
Other options to consider
the Apple TV HD it’s very expensive at $ 149, even if it comes with the same new remote that ships with the even more expensive Apple TV 4K. This 1080p streamer is a good choice for people who have dedicated themselves to the Apple ecosystem, including the Apple TV + streaming service (you can read our Apple TV + review here), but can’t pull the trigger on the second one. $ 179 generation Apple TV 4K (or that doesn’t have a 4K TV to take advantage of it.
Chromecast with Google TV is an interesting alternative and no longer depends on using your smartphone or tablet as a remote control. Best of all, the hardware now incorporates the Android TV operating system that strives to incorporate all of your streaming options into a single comprehensive guide. It doesn’t live up to its ambition, but it comes very close.
the Nvidia Shield Android TV It’s relatively expensive at $ 149, but a new processor and an AI-powered 4K upgrade make it an attractive option for power users.
The Nvidia Shield Pro version is even more expensive at $ 200, but it can be configured to stream your personal media library to all of your other devices; connected to an HDHomeRun network tuner for use with Plex DVR, allowing you to record and view free over-the-air broadcasts; And you can even plug in a USB stick and use the cable box as a Samsung SmartThings smart home hub.
the Of the Ultra Year (2020) now supports Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. It can stream music via Bluetooth and it has a faster processor. The company hasn’t removed any of the Ultra’s best features, including its remote with a built-in headphone jack for private listening, programmable home buttons, and voice control. We’re not that thrilled with Roku’s decision to stick with its approach of displaying apps, rather than displaying content. Maybe next year?
the Roku Express 4K + It’s one of our favorite 4K streaming players at a budget price. It includes an anywhere remote control with voice, volume and power controls, plus it includes dual-band 802.11ac for faster connectivity with newer wireless routers. At $ 40, it undercuts Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K and Chromecast with Google TV by $ 10 with no major compromises. That said, it lacks Dolby Vision HDR support and there is no universal guide to help users understand all of their streaming options.
Sling TV subscribers who are also interested in receiving over-the-air television broadcast might be interested in watching the AirTV Player + AdapterAlthough we found it a disappointment.
What to look for in a streaming media device
Are you still trying to decide between all these options? Here are some additional factors to consider when making your decision, followed by a chart comparing the characteristics of the charts we mentioned above.
Performance: Set-top boxes are generally faster than streaming sticks, and the amount you spend correlates pretty much with load speeds and how smooth you’ll get.
Playback quality and resolution: If you have a 4K or 4K HDR TV, you probably want a streaming box that takes full advantage of those capabilities. But these days, you won’t find any modern device that doesn’t support at least 1080p resolution.
Application selection: Traditionally, this has been the most important factor when choosing a streaming device, but over time the selection of apps has started to look quite similar no matter which device you choose, at least among the major streaming services. Our table of application clashes will help you with any particular service that interests you.
Links to the ecosystem: Apple apps and services are only available through Apple TV, while Fire TV devices are the most convenient way to watch Amazon Prime videos, and Google’s video and music services are generally best accessed through from Chromecast or Android TV. Roku is more of a party neutral, offering apps for Amazon, Google Play Movies & TV, and several other competing video services, but it lacks the fancy virtual assistants and smart home controls you’ll get with other platforms.
Content discovery features: Streaming media devices are beginning to evolve beyond a static list of applications. Features like Roku Feed and the Apple TV “TV” app help you keep track of newcomers, while Amazon includes recommendations right on the Fire TV home screen. Read up on these approaches to decide which one sounds more attractive.
Private listening options: Many devices support Bluetooth headsets for when you don’t want to disturb your spouse or children. Roku players also support wired headsets through the Roku mobile app and via the remote on their more expensive set-top boxes.
Captive portal support: If you plan to take your streaming device on the road, you may run into Wi-Fi networks that require a web browser to log in. This is known as a “captive portal” and not all streaming devices support it.
Remote control functions: Some remotes are loaded with buttons for forward, backward, and other special functions, while others take a more minimalist approach. Some remote controls can control the volume of your television and some include microphones for voice commands. However, no remote is perfect, so take a look at the ones included with each box to decide what is most important to you.
Audio codec support: An increasing number of streaming services support object-based soundtracks, such as Dolby Atmos and DTS: X, which add height signals to surround sound. If your home audio system can take advantage of it too, and even many of today’s soundbars can, you’ll want to hear it.
Connectivity: Planning to connect a USB storage device, an Ethernet cable, or a sound system via an analog or digital optical audio cable? Make sure your transmission box has the proper connections. You’ll also want an 802.11ac Wi-Fi enabled device if you are concerned about bandwidth in a crowded home network.
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