If you're yet to invest in a 4K TV, streaming devices dealing in 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision/Atmos are way over-specified for your needs. So swerve the high prices of the 4K streamers and head for the bargain basement, where you will find some excellent value streamers dealing in all the same content, only in fewer pixels. It also comes with miniaturisation; any search for a Full HD 1080p streamer quickly turns into a 'best dongle' dogfight.
WINNER: Google Chromecast
One of our favorite streaming devices of all time is all about one thing: the Cast button
Google is almost giving away its flagship streaming device. In fact, the Chromecast is the most insanely obvious device you should consider if you have a Full HD 1080p TV… and don’t subscribe to Amazon Prime Video. One of the easiest ways of getting video streams onto any TV, this puck plugs into an HDMI port on the rear of your TV, is powered by micro-USB, and is controlled by a smartphone.
No remote control, then. Or even a user interface. However, it's devilishly easy to use; fire-up the compatible app (which now has an effective universal search function) on any smartphone, and tap the 'Cast' button to immediately have content streamed to the big screen. Easy. Whatever's on your phone, or available via apps on your phone, can be streamed to your TV. That makes it very different from the way its main competitors work, and it outperforms Amazon Fire TV devices thanks to its new-and-improved 802.11ac Wi-Fi antenna.
There are thousands of Chromecast apps that come with the Cast button built in, from Netflix, HBO Now, Spotify, NFL Sunday Ticket, Tidal and Twitch here in the US to Sainsbury's Movies and TV, Blinkbox, BT Sport, NowTV, Napster and, of course, BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport in the UK. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
However, there is one small problem; if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber you won't be able to watch the service on Google's streaming stick – Amazon's mobile app doesn't support Google Cast functionality.
Read the full review: Google Chromecast
RUNNER-UP: Amazon Fire TV Stick (2017)
For Amazon and Netflix content this stick's user interface is a dream
Amazon’s Fire TV Stick isn’t meant to be the company’s top-of-the-line streamer, but just because you’re buying a budget streaming stick that doesn’t mean you should accept a sluggish interface and meager apps. A stick designed to plug directly into an HDMI port on the back of your TV, the Amazon Fire TV Stick's user interface – including its Alexa voice search via an Alexa Voice Remote – is snappy and fast, and it allows access to most of the apps you’d need on a regular basis.
That would be Amazon Video and Netflix. With those two apps, it’s almost flawless, and if you just watch Amazon or Netflix content, then the interface is a dream. It’s quick, voice search works well, and it’s easy to find what you want to watch. However, venture into more niche streaming services and the stick’s functionality is much more basic, offering merely a portal to each app’s own interface rather than functionality of its own. The foundations are here for a solid streaming device, but it’s a little too inconsistent to be the perfect budget streamer. Oh, and it's not got access to YouTube, thanks to a corporate spat between Amazon and Google.
Read the full review: Amazon Fire TV Stick
RUNNER-UP: Apple TV (2015)
An aging streamer for iPhone owners with a Full HD 1080p TV
If you use an iPhone and don't have a 4K TV, the older Apple TV from 2015 will do you just fine. It's all about Apple; you'll be shown the latest hits on the iTunes Movie and TV show storefronts, as well as be directed towards Music for all your audio needs. It can be slightly overwhelming if you're not used to Apple's lush, content-rich financial minefield, but anyone who's used an iPhone or iTunes in the past few years will be able to navigate around (though the finicky remote doesn't help).
However, find the epicenter of the new Apple TV, the App Store, and you'll enter a world of streaming video apps (HBO Now, Showtime Anytime, Netflix and Hulu are all here), and many of the top US sports apps including MLB.tv, NHL GameCenter Live, NBA.com League Pass and Watch ESPN.
OK, so it's expensive for a streamer that doesn't deal in anything above Full HD 1080p, and besides, it concentrates mostly on Apple's own video stores to find content. However, taken on its own merits, it's a good – if aging – streaming video player that's perfect for iPhone owners with a Full HD 1080p TV who want to stream and indulge in a little AirPlay awesomeness.
Read the full review: Apple TV