Ever since the releases of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in 2005 and Sony’s PlayStation 4 in 2013, it’s been possible to stream music and movies to your television—a capability that has since replaced DVD players and Blu-ray players for many. For a fraction of the cost, media streaming devices provide a more elegant and compact solution.
You can find media streaming hubs for less than $100 that stream online content to any device, including a large 4K TV. From Apple TV to the Amazon Fire Stick, Roke and Google’s Chromecast, here are our favourite devices to stream Netflix, HBO Max, Disney Plus, YouTube and more on your TV.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Media Streaming Device for You
A dedicated media streaming hub provides access to apps and online platforms otherwise unobtainable. By getting a media streaming device, you are in effect converting your smart TV into an extension of the internet, rendering cable TV and satellite TV redundant.
A media streaming device provides a smoother, friendlier user interface for accessing media content than a web browser provides. Moreover, media streaming packages are often given priority when new channels and streaming platforms are released. Whether you enjoy live TV or have a neatly organized library of music and movies, a streaming box makes the magic happen.
Some of the magic can happen even when you’re offline. During an internet outage, media streaming devices can plug into your home network and access shared files so that you can still view and listen to content offline.
TV remotes have become a lot more than just channel-clickers. The best media streaming boxes now include a remote with customizable shortcuts, voice search, and even a headphone jack for private listening. You still have to use a standard TV remote for basic functions like adjusting the volume of TV speakers. But thanks to the voice command feature of the streaming-box remote control device, you no longer have to continuously juggle a herd of remotes to control your entertainment system.
4K HDR capability
A resolution of 4K or Ultra High Definition (UHD, 3840 x 2160 pixels) is a dramatic improvement on Full HD (FHD, 1920 x 1080 pixels). No longer will videos and images look pixelated if they can be displayed at 4K. Unfortunately, 4K also demands a download speed that is five times greater than that of Full HD: at least 25 Mbps. If your ISP provides this speed, 4k is a must-have feature.
High dynamic range (HDR) is a relatively new standard that makes imagery more natural-looking. Whites look brighter and blacks look darker. Combined with a 10-bit panel capable of producing 1.07 billion colours, HDR provides an authentic and visceral viewing experience.
With 4K as the cherry on the cake, there has never been a better time to enjoy movies. But video-game and movie content must be recorded and developed with these features in mind in order to be viewed at such a high resolution. So don’t expect every type of content to look as beautiful as a show or game that has been produced with full support for 4K HDR.
Apps and Ecosystems
All other things being equal, the best media streaming device has the widest sources of content. After all, to watch a particular show or movie, you must be able to access it. Unfortunately, no streaming box supports every single kind of streaming platform that’s out there.
But you can minimize the problem once you know which sources a particular media streaming box is plugged into. A good media streaming device integrates many different streaming platforms into one user-friendly home screen. This way, you don’t have to use a bunch of different apps to watch content, laboriously switching apps every time you want to watch something provided by a different platform.
In addition to single-screen integration of multiple services, a media streaming device should have a cross-platform search function. Amazon’s Fire TV is a good example of how not to implement a search function; it makes Amazon’s own platform the priority in search. Other media streamers also limit a search to platforms tied to their income.
If you don’t want to be tied to a single content platform, you need an unbiased, universal search feature. Such a feature makes it a lot easier to find both paid and free content. You also benefit from the ability to customize your favorite platforms and content no matter what company is providing it.
Best for Apple Fans
If you are already tied into Apple’s ecosystem of phones, laptops, or tablets, you will find that the Apple TV streaming box is every bit as elegant, intuitive, and functional as you’d expect an Apple-produced product to be.
The design of the Apple TV interface is clear and minimalist. Its main content platform is Apple TV+, which offers thousands of shows and movies. Without having to create new accounts or access different apps, you can extend the range by subscribing to Showtime, Paramount+, STARZ, noggin, Epix, AMC+, HBO Max,, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and others.
CApple TV also provides access to all of the content in your iTunes library. The new remote is Siri-enabled and has a touchpad that is supposed to make navigation easier. Unfortunately, and unusually for Apple, the remote is of poor quality. Its touchpad is too sensitive, resulting in inaccurate selection, and the minimalist interface is less functional than it should be.
Apple TV doesn’t provide a direct link to the Google ecosystem, but you can end-run this obstacle by using the YouTube app. Also, Google Play has an app that you can use to stream Apple TV by using AirPlay from any iOS device.
Apple TV 4K
Apple recently launched the second-generation Apple TV 4K. Starting at $199, it is pretty expensive. But it is a game-changer for Apple’s venture into media streaming. Powered by the cutting-edge A10X Fusion CPU, Apple TV 4K will smoothly play back any content. But the device will also be able to access a wide range of games through the Apple Arcade subscription service, effectively becoming a miniature gaming console.
In addition to HDR10 and crystal-clear 4K resolution, Apple TV 4K will also support Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, making the device compatible with the very latest industry standards.
Best for Android Fans
The Android ecosystem is compatible with a much wider range of media streaming devices. The most notable include the Xiaomi Mi Box S, the TiVo Stream 4K, the Nvidia Shield TV, and Sling’s AirTV Mini. Although they are all solid choices, none is as good as Chromecast with Google TV.
Chromecast offers a more complete set of features and better Android ecosystem integration than most other options.
Chromecast with Google TV
Much like the upcoming Apple TV 4K, Chromecast with Google TV is a substantial upgrade. It comes with a redesigned, sleek menu that makes it easy to organize your favorite channels and libraries. It, too, supports the latest audio and video industry standards: HDR10, 4K, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos audio.
Chromecast with Google TV has an unbiased system for managing content. All the platforms you subscribe to—Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, and so on—will be unified by your own preferences.
This top-of-the-line Android media streaming device also integrates universal search across all platforms. It lacks support only for Apple TV+. Otherwise, you can use Chromecast with Google TV to stream any content under the sun. Even if you manage to stumble across an unsupported service, you can use the Cast feature from a phone or a computer to stream it to Chromecast.
Its remote control is enabled by voice command using Google Assistant.
Given Chromecast’s comprehensive access to streaming platforms, clean interface and content organization, and affordable price tag, it’s hard to imagine that a better media streaming device will come along any time soon.
Best for Amazon Fans
Like Apple, Amazon has a closed ecosystem. So far, the mega-store has released four media streaming devices: Amazon Fire TV Cube, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite, and Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. Of the four, the Cube has the best presentation and offers the most unbiased search results. It also integrates very smoothly with Amazon’s home automation system.
Amazon Fire TV Cube
At about $150, Cube is somewhere between the new Apple TV 4K and Chromecast with Google TV. As Amazon’s premium media streaming device and also a smart speaker, the Cube supports all the latest standards supported by Chromecast and Apple TV. It would be hard to find a streaming service that the device doesn’t support.
Cube takes full advantage of Amazon’s home automation system. Using voice commands with Alexa assistant, you can use a wide range of smart devices in your home, from Vizio and Samsung to LG and Sony to control lights, TV, and soundbars.
Even when the Cube is inactive, you can tell Alexa to turn on your compatible TV, precisely navigate through the content, or dim the lights—all without using a remote. Thanks to Cube’s far-field microphone array, you can issue your instructions from the other side of the room.
For a third of the price and without the smart speaker, there is Fire TV Stick 4K, which is bundled with a more typical but still Alexa-enabled remote with a slim USB stick. Although the Cube has a more even-handed approach to search results, the Stick 4K is heavily biased toward Amazon Prime Video, yielding inaccurate results if you go beyond Prime Video. You also get hit with ads on every interface page.
Best Budget-Friendly Streamer
When you try alternatives to the Big Tech behemoths—Google, Apple, Amazon—you tend to get uneven results. Roku is the exception. Its philosophy has always been to simplify and minimize its media streaming devices as much as it is possible. Roku is also ahead of the pack when it comes to universal, unbiased search; it does an even better job on this count than Google.
Roku’s previous media streaming devices, the Roku Ultra and the Roku Express, sold like hotcakes. But with its ability to handle 4K, the Roku Streaming Stick+ takes the lead.
Roku Streaming Stick+
Costing around $50, the Streaming Stick+ is Roku’s most balanced device yet in terms of price tag and hardware: 4K, HDR, and Dolby Atmos audio. It does lack Dolby Vision, which you can find in the twice-as-expensive Roku Ultra.
Roku also suffers in the voice-search department. Its ability to interpret natural language queries is more limited than that of Google and Amazon products. Nor can you use the Stick+ to control your home-automation gadgets. To compensate for these shortcomings, Roku has integrated AirPlay support. If you are an Apple user, you can cast content from any iOS device to Roku-enabled TV.
Roku’s latest offering, to be released soon, is Roku Express 4K, which will cost about $50. In conjunction with a fast wireless connection, this will be one of the cheapest solutions for streaming 4K content to several devices. Roku has announced that the Roku Express 4K will come with a free three-month subscription to Apple TV+.
Your Current Ecosystem Affects Which Media Streamer You Should Get
If you already have smartphones or other gadgets that can be linked to Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant, pick the best device for the respective ecosystem.
If you want a device that can tap into all available media-streaming services, pick Roku. With the exception of Roku Ultra and Roku Streambar, all Roku devices cost $50 or less. If your internet speed is between 5 megabytes and 20 megabytes, you should choose Full HD resolution instead. That means getting Roku Express, the cheapest version of which costs only $30.