BEST STREAMING DEVICES OF 2021

BEST STREAMING DEVICES COMPILATION

NAMES FEATURES WHERE TO BUY

Roku Streaming Stick+

Number of Apps: Thousands | Size: 3.7 x 10 x 1.0 inches | Weight: 0.7 oz GET IT ON AMAZON

Chromecast with Google TV

Number of Apps: Over 6,500 | Size: 6.4 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches | Ports: HDMI, USB-C | Supported HDR formats: HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision GET IT ON AMAZON

Nvidia Shield TV (2019)

Number of Channels: 5,000 | Size: 6.5 x 1.6 x 1.6 inches | Weight: 4.8 oz GET IT ON AMAZON

Amazon Fire TV Cube

Number of Apps: Hundreds | Size: 3.4 x 3.4 x 3.0 inches | Weight: 16.4 oz GET IT ON AMAZON

Roku Ultra (2020)

Number of Apps: Thousands | Size: 4.9 x 4.9 x 0.9 inches | Weight: 8.0 oz GET IT ON AMAZON

Apple TV 4K

Number of Apps: Thousands | Size: 4.0 x 4.0 x 1.3 inches | Weight: 15.0 oz GET IT ON AMAZON

Xbox One S

Number of Apps: 50+ | Size: 11.6 x 9.1 x 2.5 inches | Weight: 102.4 oz GET IT ON AMAZON

TiVo Stream 4K

Number of Apps: 5,000+ | Size: 3 x 2 x 0.6 inches | Ports: HDMI, USB-C, microUSB GET IT ON AMAZON

Xfinity Flex

Number of Apps: Size: 5.1 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches | Weight: 8 ounces GET IT ON AMAZON

 

INTRODUCTION

The best streaming devices place all of your favorite streaming services, plus other apps and access to on-demand movies and TV shows in a convenient stick or box. And while you may have bought one a while ago, serious updates from all companies give good reason to upgrade. You may be unwittingly living a lackluster streaming life with shows in the incorrect (i.e. lower) resolution, or waiting forever for your outdated box to load Hulu.

We love the Roku Streaming Stick+ (it’s the best one overall), and we can now recommend it with zero caveat, as HBO Max is finally on Roku. We recommend the regular Google Chromecast for those on a budget, as it matches a streamlined feature set with a low price tag for one of the best streaming devices — though the new Chromecast with Google TV is a more complete option. Check out our other publication like desktop computer, rowing maching, running headphone, anti virus device, office coffee maker.

 

BEST STREAMING DEVICES BUYERS GUIDE

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 features of the boxes we’ve mentioned above.

Performance: In general, set-top boxes are faster than streaming sticks, and the amount you spend correlates pretty strongly with the loading speeds and smoothness you’ll get.

Playback quality and resolution: If you have a 4K or 4K HDR television, you’ll probably want a streaming box that takes full advantage of those capabilities. But these days, you won’t find any modern devices that don’t at least support 1080p resolution.

App selection: Traditionally, this has been the most important factor in choosing a streaming device, but over time app selection has started to look pretty similar no matter which device you choose, at least among major streaming services. Our app showdown chart  will help you any particular service you’re interested in.

Ecosystem tie-ins: Apple apps and services are only available through Apple TV, while Fire TV devices are the most convenient way to watch Amazon Prime video, and Google’s video and music services are generally best-accessed via Chromecast or Android TV. Roku is more of a neutral party, offering apps for Amazon, Google Play Movies & TV, and several other competing video services, but it lacks the sophisticated virtual assistants and smart home controls you’ll get with other platforms.

Content discovery features: Media-streaming devices are starting to evolve beyond a static list of apps. Features like Roku Feed and the Apple TV’s “TV” app help you keep track of new arrivals, while Amazon includes recommendations directly on the Fire TV home screen. Read up on these approaches to decide which one sounds most appealing.

Private listening options: Many devices support Bluetooth headphones for when you don’t want to disturb your spouse or kids. Roku players also support wired headphones through the Roku mobile app, and through the remote control on its pricier set-top boxes.

Captive portal support: If plan to take your streaming device on the road, you may run into Wi-Fi networks that require a web browser for logging in. This is known as a “captive portal,” and not all streaming devices support it.

Remote control features: Some remote controls are loaded with buttons for fast forward, rewind, and other special functions, while others take a more minimalist approach. Some remotes can control your television’s volume, and some include microphones for voice commands. No remote is perfect, however, so take a look at the ones that are included with each box to decide what’s most important to you.

Audio codec support: An increasing number of streaming services are supporting object-based soundtracks, such as Dolby Atmos, which add height cues to surround sound. If your home audio system can also take advantage of it—and even many of today’s soundbars can—you’ll want to hear it.

Connectivity: Do you plan on connecting a USB storage device, ethernet cable, or sound system via an analog or digital optical audio cable? Make sure your streaming box has the appropriate connections. You’ll also want a device with the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi if you’re worried about bandwidth on an overcrowded home network.

 

 Roku Streaming Stick+

Thanks to the Roku Streaming Stick+, the best streaming device, you no longer have to choose between price and content selection. The Roku Streaming Stick+ costs and provides access to more than 5,000 channels — including the sometimes-elusive Amazon Video. And it’s finally got the streaming service it was lacking HBO Max (which took 7 extra months to get there). It’s also got complete 4K HDR compatibility, meaning you’re getting a relatively future-proof device at a surprisingly low price.

It’s also pretty powerful, with snappy performance. In our testing, it took 5 seconds at the most for content to stabilize at 1080p and around 10 to 15 seconds for 4K. The device is small and unobtrusive, and thanks to a wireless amplifier, it’s easy to get a strong signal from anywhere in your home. Its remote is also really useful, as Roku finally added Power and Volume buttons. On top of that, you get the same customizable interface seen in the Roku Ultra, which is much more capable than the Amazon Fire TV interface.

PROS CONS
Full 4K HDR capabilities Remote lacks an audio jack
Huge app selection

Chromecast with Google TV

A Chromecast with a remote? Yes, Google finally did it, and the Chromecast with Google TV makes the company’s traditional streaming device a whole lot more complete. It starts with 4K UHD streaming with support for HDR and Dolby Vision, for excellent picture quality, and Dolby Atmos for immersive sound. Also, it’s got Google TV, an interface and operating system that supports the over 6,500 Android TV apps. That means you get everything from HBO Max to Disney Plus to Peacock — plus Netflix. Even Peloton’s in there. A lot of other streaming devices can’t boast as much.

While it’s not the minimalist streaming device that the Chromecast 3 was, the new Chromecast remote could even replace your TV’s remote. It’s got the power and volume controls you need to turn on your TV, plus a TV Input button for switching to other devices, such as gaming consoles. On top of that, its $49.99 price makes it more affordable than the Chromecast Ultra, Google’s previous 4K streaming device.

PROS CONS
Lots of streaming services General Google searches poorly formatted
Remote included

 Nvidia Shield TV (2019)

The 2019 Nvidia Shield TV doesn’t just look unlike any other streaming device we’ve ever seen (it’s more like a mobile power charger), it’s also one of the best streaming devices, period. This tube for your tube is great at speedily spitting out UHD 4K content, and its thousands of apps means you’re getting practically everything you could watch. And it’s so slight in size that it fill fit discretely into the ever-crowded space around your TV.

This Shield TV also includes a remote control, rather than a game controller. We love this remote because it illuminates when you pick it up in the dark. You won’t miss the lack of a packed in controller, thanks to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One controller support. That all adds up to the best streaming device for those willing to spend more. And while you can game with Google Stadia on the Chromecast Ultra (not the regular Chromecast), the Shield TV supports 4K HDR streaming, making it the best streaming device for those looking to game and watch.

PROS CONS
Quick rendering of UHD content Somewhat expensive
Excellent game-streaming

 Amazon Fire TV Cube

The Amazon Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen) packs a version of the virtual assistant that offers more entertainment device tricks than most, including switching HDMI inputs and tuning to cable channels. And thanks to a faster processor in this new model, commands happen up to four times as fast. Cutting down the amount of times that voice commands are performed will help people stick with using Alexa commands and stop looking for their (still missing) remote.

PROS CONS
Alexa’s cable box controls are great Awkward Ethernet adapter
Great 4K HDR picture quality

Roku Ultra (2020)

The new Roku Ultra is pretty much still the great streaming box it’s always been, just with a couple of tweaks — and keeping most of the perks you’d expect for $100 (4K HDR video and fast performance for starters). For example, they’ve also added Dolby Vision, a must for those streaming high-quality movies and TV shows. Plus, it’s still got a USB port which allows for folks to play back their own library of movie files on their TV. Yes, you don’t even need to learn what a media server is, or how to set one up. This year’s model also offers a faster processor and better wireless streaming.

The other big boon of this model is that you can program the Roku remote’s two customizable buttons to open your favorite channels, in addition to the pre-programmed ones for Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV and Vudu. The included earbud headphones sweeten the deal, as they plug right into the remote control for private listening. This is highly important to those who want to watch TV without disturbing the other person in the room.

PROS CONS
Great performance Expensive
Inventive remote control

 Apple TV 4K

The Apple TV 4K delivers everything fans loved about the last iteration of the box, but its 4K HDR support makes it the best streaming device for those in Apple’s ecosystem. In addition to watching iTunes movies and TV shows on your big screen, you can watch hundreds of streaming apps, play games, AirPlay content from other Apple devices and even control your smart home devices right from a Siri-enabled remote. The refined voice search gives it an edge over other streaming boxes, but you’ll pay a lot for the privilege.

iPhone owners will also find that the Apple TV has better integration into their phone. You can easily enter passwords directly into apps through the Remote app, plus you can access the Apple TV Remote app directly from the Control Center (though you’ll need to add it in system preferences). The Apple TV 4K (and the rumored Apple TV 2020) will soon get higher integration with Apple’s HomeKit devices, so you can see who’s at your door from a pop-over menu, thanks to tvOS 14.

PROS CONS
Simple iOS and macOS integration Expensive
Intuitive home screen

Xbox One

The Xbox One S is only, but streams movies and TV in 4K and supports HDR content. It’s also going to get Dolby Vision capabilities in the near future, and you can install Kodi on the console, if that’s your jam. It also plays 4K Blu-ray movies, unlike any of our other picks.

Oh, and you also get a great video game console with your purchase. The Xbox One S is slimmer than its predecessors, and its black and white design makes for a surprisingly stylish addition to your home entertainment console. Its internal capacity limit of 2TB means you can stop micro-managing the games and other content you download onto the drive.

PROS CONS
Can stream 4K content Can’t play games in 4K
HDR support for videos and games

TiVo Stream 4K

A ton of applications? Check. An affordable price? Check. Support for your own media on external storage too? You bet. The Tivo Stream 4K is a great streamer that deserves a place in this hall of the best streaming devices. And unlike some streaming devices, it has HBO and Peacock. Sling users will appreciate its live TV integration, and the Google Assistant is there to follow through on your voice commands.

We just wish that the Stream 4K had a better interface for its Stream app that aggregates content, and that its recommendations were a little more on the nose. Plus, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and Fubo TV don’t get the red carpet treatment that Sling gets in the Guide section. If it weren’t for the Chromecast with Google TV, the Tivo Stream 4K would be a lot more interesting, but for now it lives in the new Chromecast’s long shadow.

PROS CONS
Speedy 4K streaming Poor recommendations
Supports most if not all services and apps

Xfinity Flex

Free for Comcast Xfinity Internet customers, the Flex is a very cheap way to get access to streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix. Plus, the Flex lets you monitor and control other devices connected to your home network.

However, the Flex has far fewer services than other streaming devices—there’s no Disney+, nor is there Spotify, to name a few—which limits its usefulness. But, almost to make up for any gaps, Flex devices get early access to the latest streaming service, as NBC’s Peacock is here well before its official nationwide July 15 debut. Yes, Comcast is giving Peacock Premium to Flex devices (it should arrive soon if it hasn’t already) for free. Still, because it’s free, there’s no harm in picking one up and waiting for other streaming services to arrive.

PROS CONS
Lets you control xFi products Limited apps
Cross-app searches

CONCLUSION

Trust me, as someone who uses at least one device from every streaming platform, if you can limit yourself to just one device, your entertainment cabinet or counter will look a lot nicer. Oh, and you can rearrange the heck out of the Roku home screen, putting apps in your order of preference, which you can’t on Fire TV. We also really like the new Chromecast with Google TV. Its remote enables you to put down your phone already and focus on what you’re watching.