Thinking about getting a new device to connect to your TV to stream video, but you’re not exactly sure which streaming platform is the one to choose? You’ve come to the right place. This streaming device guide will help you find the best streaming device — something you’ll probably use every day for hours at a time to watch TV shows and movies. We’ve reviewed nearly every streaming device and major smart TV system on the market today, including Roku, Google Chromecast, Amazon and Apple TV. With the exception of smart TVs that actually run streaming software from Roku, Google or Amazon, these add-on streaming devices often have simpler remotes, streaming dongles, more apps, better search and more frequent updates than the smarts built into your TV set.
Roku, the biggest name in streaming hardware, has a $40 streaming device option called the Roku Express 4K Plus that has taken the top spot on our list of the best streaming devices. It’s $10 cheaper than the new Roku Streaming Stick 4K, yet is just as capable. Amazon’s new Fire TV Stick 4K Max sets the bar for speed on a streaming device and offers plenty of features at a slightly more expensive $55.
At the high end of the market, Apple’s latest version of its Apple TV 4K streaming box sells for $179 and comes with a couple of slick upgrades, including an all-new Siri remote control (the company is also selling the remote separately for $59).
Apple TV’s new remote is the upgrade we needed
Which one should you buy? Here are our favorite streaming devices available now.
Read more: Best streaming service of 2021
Roku is our favorite streaming system, with the most streaming app options, the simplest streaming platform interface and the best search. It also has a content-agnostic platform that doesn’t push any one media streaming service provider, like Amazon Prime Video or Apple, over another. The Express 4K Plus is one of the cheapest streaming TV options 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 least expensive ways to connect your iPhone or other Apple device to your TV. At $10 cheaper than the company’s Streaming Stick 4K and other 4K HDR streamers, it’s our top pick for best streaming device overall.
Read our Roku Express 4K Plus review.
The Chromecast with Google TV isn’t quite as good as the Roku Express 4K Plus, but it comes closer than any other device on the market. Chromecast outdoes Roku by adding Dolby Vision compatibility, but its biggest smart device strength is Google Assistant voice search, which works well for finding stuff to watch. We also like the impressive integration with other Google services such as Google Photos and YouTube TV. The interface is more evolved-looking than Roku, but ultimately we prefer Roku’s simpler approach, no-nonsense search results and lower price. That said, the new Chromecast is a better smart streaming device choice for those already living in Google’s world.
Read our Chromecast with Google TV review.
The new Roku Streaming Stick 4K is the long-awaited update to the Roku Streaming Stick Plus. It features the same simple interface, large app selection and impressive search function found on all Roku devices, but also offers Dolby Vision support. Along with a stick-like design, Dolby Vision HDR is the main difference between the Streaming Stick 4K and the Express 4K Plus, and is ostensibly why the Streaming Stick 4K is $10 more expensive than its sibling. While we think the Streaming Stick 4K is a great device, we’re just not sold on the Dolby Vision upgrade — mostly because we generally don’t think that it provides a major image quality upgrade over standard HDR. Our advice is to pocket the $10 and get the Express 4K Plus instead. But if Dolby Vision is important to you, this device will not disappoint.
Read our Roku Streaming Stick 4K review.
Which Roku is the go-to? We break it down
If you’re looking for a speedy device, look no further than the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max. The Max loads apps almost immediately, and navigating around the system is swift and smooth. Even better, the Max supports Wi-Fi 6 and nearly all the latest playback standards, including Dolby Vision. The downside to the Max is its Fire TV platform and the fact that ads are featured prominently throughout. We just don’t appreciate the TV becoming a giant rotating billboard for content or ads when in screensaver mode. But this is a good choice for those looking for a fast device or those hooked into the Amazon ecosystem. The Fire TV Stick 4K Max is the best Fire Stick on the market today, and it’s worth the extra money over the standard Fire TV Stick 4K.
Read our Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max review.
Let’s get this out of the way first: If you prefer the simplicity of Roku’s app-based menus, you might like the Roku Express better. But the Lite trounces the Express in features-for-the-money. This Fire TV remote control device’s biggest advantage is a remote with built-in voice search and control (the cheapest Roku with a voice remote is the Streaming Stick Plus) thanks to Alexa. The Fire Stick’s remote also doesn’t need line of sight to work. If you can’t step up to a $50 player, the Lite is your best streaming device bet.
Read our Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite review.
Roku’s most expensive streamer is more than twice the price of our top streaming device pick, but maybe you’ll appreciate its extra features enough to want the upgrade. It offers more conveniences, including a headphone jack and programmable shortcut keys on the remote as well as our favorite feature, a remote finder in case you lose the clicker in the couch cushions. It also delivers Dolby Vision video, faster responses, improved Wi-Fi and a wired Ethernet port — particularly welcome if your home Wi-Fi is overloaded.
On the other hand you can upgrade any Roku streaming device to get an even more tricked-out remote, and the new Express Plus 4K works with wired Ethernet dongles too. Adding both to the Express plus 4K still costs less than an Ultra 4K UHD.
Read our Roku Ultra (2020) review.
The perfect foil to the affordable 4K streamers above, the new Apple TV 4K still costs $179, but is the better choice for people who want to check every feature box — or who just want an Apple device to use Apple Arcade for gaming or take full advantage of their Apple One subscription bundles. Video purists will appreciate its flexible HDR and TV calibration feature, while those with older Apple boxes will love the new and improved remote.
For most people, however, Apple’s venerable remote control streamer just isn’t worth the money, especially now that Roku has nearly all the major apps and AirPlay. If you really want Dolby Vision, you can find that on the Roku Streaming Stick 4K at a fraction of the price.
Read our Apple TV 4K review.
We don’t like it quite as much as the Fire TV Lite, but it is a Roku. Roku Express delivers all of the goodness of Roku’s platform, and it includes a remote, HDMI and Micro-USB ports, an HDMI cable and a little sticker to keep it in place. And it’s often on sale for less than $30.
Read our Roku Express (2019) review.
Soundbars with streaming onboard may be a relatively recent development, but Roku’s new Streambar nails it. It has the Roku interface we know and love, complete with 4K HDR with improved sound for any TV, especially dialog. It’s smaller and more affordable than its predecessor, the Roku Smart Soundbar, but we think the new Streambar media streamer device makes more sense for most people.
Read our Roku Streambar review.
Sure, it’s an expensive media streamer at $150 — and that’s before adding a game controller — $50 less than the Nvidia Shield TV Pro with 8GB of storage and 2GB RAM, compared to 16GB of storage and 3GB RAM, but if you want a jack-of-all-trades video streaming player, the Shield is it. In addition to 4K streaming and HDR, it offers a robust library of games, both console-level and Android, Steam Link, built-in Google Assistant complete with smart home control, NAS access, Plex server capability, HDHomeRun integration and much more.
Read our Nvidia Shield TV review.
More home entertainment recommendations
Understanding Video Streaming
What is video streaming and how does it work? In this tutorial you’ll learn the basics. This is a great starter course for those of you who aren’t too technical but would like to understand what the heck your IT guys are talking about.
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Building a FULL Streaming Setup on the Cheap!
Thanks to OWN3D.tv for sponsoring this video! Jumpstart your stream with assets and tools from OWN3D.tv, use code LINUS to get 50% off at https://geni.us/own3d
Streaming or online content creation can be a seemingly VERY expensive endeavour, so today, we explore some cheap or free options so you can get started streaming today!
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Wardruna and Aurora – Helvegen (Live)
Helvegen (here featuring Aurora) is a song about death, dying and remembering those who have passed. About crossing over and about letting go. It is a song about searching for lost songs and old traditions.
Filmed by Broadstone Film at Bergenhus Fortress in Bergen, Norway on August 22 2018. Sound recorded by Stein David Baastad. Mixed by Iver Sandøy/Solslottet Studio.
Eg songane søkte
Eg songane sende
då den djupaste brunni
gav meg dråpar så ramme
av Valfaders pant
Alt veit eg, Odin
kvar du auge løynde
Kven skal synge meg
i daudsvevna slynge meg
når eg helvegen går
og dei spora eg trår
er kalde, så kalde
Årle ell i dagars hell
enn veit ravnen om eg fell
Når du ved helgrindi står
og når du laus deg må rive
skal eg fylgje deg
yver gjallarbrui med min song
Du blir løyst frå banda som bind deg
Du er løyst frå banda som batt deg
The Way to Hel
I sought the songs
I sent the songs
when the deepest well
offered drops so mighty
of Valfather’s pledge
I know it all, Odin
where you hid your eye
Who will sing me
in the deathsleep sling me
when I walk the road to Hel
and the tracks I tread
are cold, so cold
Early or in fading day
still the raven knows if I fall
When you stand by the gate of Hel
and when you must tear loose
follow you I shall
across the bridge of Gjöll with my song
You become free from the bonds that bind you
You are free from the bonds that bound you
The Invention That Made Streaming Video Possible – The Lightbulb Moment
The early days of online video were plagued by low resolution, stampsized video, and unbearable buffering times. But one day that all changed. In the late 90s one breakthrough technology revolutionized streaming video, setting the foundation for the era of Netflix.
This is The Lightbulb Moment. A Cheddar and CuriosityStream Original Series. The show that uncovers the surprising impact of lesscelebrated inventions and the moments of inspiration that made them possible.
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