When it comes to finding the best streaming device for you – be it a streaming stick, dongle or dedicated media player – there’s more choice than ever. What’s more, they’re products that are being constantly upgraded all the time.
Amazon’s Fire TV range, for instance, recently received a major OS update with a host of improvements including new user profiles, simplified menus and the ability to pin your favorite apps, while upgrades like Dolby Vision support seem just around the corner for devices like the Roku Premiere.
There’s never been a better time to purchase a streaming device, either, thanks to deals that tie-in to subscription services like HBO Max and Disney Plus. Nabbing the Google Chromecast with Google TV, for example, can net you a hefty saving on a Netflix subscription.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the best streaming devices from the likes of Amazon, Apple, Roku and Nvidia, picking out the top options for a variety of budgets. We’ve tested them all, so we know which products work best for which use cases, and you’ll soon be on your way to upgrading your home viewing experience.
At three times the cost of entry-level 4K HDR streaming players, the Nvidia Shield TV isn’t cheap, but it’s an incredibly powerful streaming player thanks to its cutting-edge AI upscaling tech and its support for both HDR10 and Dolby Vision content.
With it, you’ll also get the revamped Shield remote and the latest version of Android TV, which serves as a gateway to Nvidia’s game-streaming service, Geforce Now.
But the feature that puts it miles ahead of the competition is Nvidia's new AI upscaling feature – it's one of the coolest features in any streaming device right now. It's powered by a neural network that has been 'trained' using thousands of hours of footage and which can hugely sharpen content, making HD content from the last 20 years look like it was shot earlier this year with a 4K video camera. It's wild.
It has a few limitations – notably it doesn't offer Apple TV, and it costs a bit more than a Roku Streaming Stick – but you get what you pay for here. The Pro model adds an additional 1GB of added RAM and a larger hard drive, too, though you're be forking out a bit more cash for the premium model.
Google's Chromecast with Google TV (2020) is a revelation – it fixes something that wasn't broken, and improves a nearly perfect technology in a tangible way. And it's all thanks to the remote and Google's 'new' software, Google TV.
Combined, the two offer a massive uptick in usability over previous Chromecasts that required you to use your phone or tablet to Cast content rather than giving you an on-screen interface to interact with.
But now that Google has added a dedicated TV interface that you control with a remote, you have instant access to most of the major streaming services, including Disney Plus, HBO Max and even the streaming app of its biggest competitor, Amazon Prime Video. On top of that, there are a number of apps that have been carried over from Android TV, Google TV’s predecessor, that bring games and productivity apps to the streamer.
The result is a retooled streaming device that might resemble its predecessors, but which offers a whole new experience that’s more user-friendly for folks who are used to using a remote control and an easily navigable interface. The classic Google Cast functionality is always straightforward and simple to use, too, and works across literally thousands of apps.
Read the full review: Chromecast with Google TV
The Roku Express is a marvel of a streaming stick. While it's capped at Full HD streaming, it still packs in a huge range of streaming apps on the excellent Roku platform at an incredibly inexpensive price.
The Roku remote is quite iconic these days: nowhere near as sleek as the Alexa Voice Remote that ships with the Fire TV Stick, but pleasingly straightforward in its own way, featuring chunky and highly visible buttons. The Roku remote was featuring dedicated shortcuts to key apps long before Amazon, too.
We can't stress enough how simple it is to navigate the Roku OS, too – there's a reason it's been ported over to TCL Roku TVs and Hisense Roku TVs alike, with well-organised tile icons for easy browsing, as well as a free ad-supported Roku Channel platform.
For a quick, cheap and easy-to-use dongle to get you started in the world of streaming, you can't go wrong with the Roku Express.
Of course, if you like the look of the Roku Express but can't bear to settle for HD streaming on your 4K TV, you can check out the Roku Streaming Stick+, or the upcoming Roku Express 4K+ complete with a rechargeable remote that finally ditches disposable batteries.
Read the full review: Roku Express (2019)
While it can't match the AI upscaling of the Nvidia Shield or the usability of the Apple TV 4K, the second-generation Fire TV Cube is, by far, our favorite Amazon streaming device – it's better in so many ways than the Amazon Fire TV Cube that was released in 2017, and every single Amazon Fire TV box before it.
By packing in the smart functionality and speakers of an Amazon Echo, it's a versatile smart speaker as well as competent media player and streamer. For the 2019 version of the Cube, the processor upgrade and inclusion of Dolby Vision are great new additions and, in spite of a few shortcomings, help to solidify the Cube's spot as one of the best streaming players to be released this year.
Yes, technically speaking you could do almost everything the Fire TV Cube does with an Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, but the hexacore processor-powered box moves faster and creates fewer frustrations. It's a cliche to say it, but the Fire TV Cube is greater than the sum of its parts.
Read the full review: Amazon Fire TV Cube (2019)
We finally have an upgrade to the 2017 Apple TV 4K, and it's well worth a look for those of you in the iOS ecosystem.
The Apple TV 4K (2021) is a slick streaming device, which can play 4K video in HDR and Dolby Vision, and supports high-frame-rate HDR to make fast action and sports look smooth and clear. The new A12 processor definitely ups Apple's game here, with improved pictures and power for TV and games alike (great for Apple Arcade subscribers who like playing in their living room).
The revamped Siri remote is a pleasure to use, and there are plenty of small but handy features, such as multi-user support and the ability to tweak your TV’s color balance automatically.
There’s no denying it’s expensive, but it’s more than just a way to watch movies and TV shows, doubling up a smart hub with Thread smart home technology that enables your smart home gadgets from different manufacturers to work together more seamlessly.
The Apple TV 4K 2021 doesn't do a lot different compared to the previous model, and if you're still sporting the 2017 iteration, there's not much impetus to upgrade. The only game-changing difference is the new Siri Remote, though it's available to buy separately, meaning you don't need to get a whole hardware refresh to get the benefit.
Read the full review: Apple TV 4K (2021)
The Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite is a smart buy for those on a budget, if you're willing to accept some of its compromises compared to the Fire TV Stick (2020) or Fire TV Stick 4K.
This HD streamer won't offer sparkling 4K detail, but you do get the basics of HDR / HDR10+ support, as well as 60fps playback for smooth action in a movie blockbuster or sports match. The Quad-core 1.7 GHz processor is a step up from the 1.3 GHz processor used in the 2nd-generation Fire TV Stick too.
You are sacrificing volume controls and AV controls on the remote, though this isn't irregular for streamers at this price.
Less forgivable is the at-times domineering presence of Amazon-owned or Amazon-affiliated content across the Fire TV operating system, including ads for Audible subscriptions on every menu pane – but if you're a Prime subscriber this should be less of an issue for you.
Read the full review: Amazon Fire TV Stick
Best streaming device apps to consider
It’s true that most of today’s televisions are smart TVs, meaning they come pre-packed with apps (and therefore streamers) straight out of the box. But for those using an older set – or a newer TV which lacks support for a particular service – streaming devices can provide an easy, low-cost alternative to gaining access to services like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime Video.
Panasonic TVs won’t support Disney Plus, for one, while many projectors don’t come with native Netflix apps, either – making a strong case for a streaming device that fills the gaps.
Which services you’ll gain access to of course depends on the streamer, and it’s also worth noting that support for a particular app doesn't mean a subscription is thrown in by default – if you want to watch Netflix, for instance, you’ll still have to pay for it separately.
As for the best TV streaming service, it depends on your region, though the main players like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus still sit at the top of the pile when it comes to their selection of movies and TV shows. Still, burgeoning platforms like Apple TV Plus are improving month-by-month, with new series – like Ted Lasso and Mythic Quest – proving must-sees, while YouTube mustn't be forgotten as an ever-excellent source of entertainment.
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