The best streaming device is harder to choose than ever, but if you’re looking for a handy streaming stick, dongle, or dedicated media player to connect to your TV, this is the guide for you.
We’ve put the best streaming devices from Amazon, Apple, Roku and Nvidia to the test, and picked out our top picks for a variety of price points, use cases, and general capability.
While any new television releasing today is a smart TV, you may well be making do with an older set, or just a screen that doesn’t have the specific app support your after – something a good streamer can absolutely help with.
Some streaming devices, too, offer a host of secondary functionality like Bluetooth casting or game streaming that will surpass that of the average smart TV, and it’s well worth considering which of the best streaming devices will suit your specific needs.
While everything from the smartphone to the laptop can stream television these days, there’s something to be said for the dedicated streaming device, one that focuses on TV streaming and will pair best with whatever TV you own.
Of course, there’s plenty of variety in the streaming space these days, with some streaming devices packing built-in speakers and voice control, and others offering dedicated shortcut buttons on their remotes for top streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime Video.
If you’re watching on an HD TV rather than a 4K TV – or hoping to save some cash – you probably won’t be looking for some of the pricier 4K resolution models either. And if you’re happy with the interface, features and app support of your current smart TV – or even a games console like the PS5 or Xbox Series X – you might be able to miss out on buying one of these streamers entirely.
Keep in mind that a streaming device supporting a particular app doesn’t mean a subscription is thrown in, though – if you want to watch Netflix you’ll need to pay for that separately.
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)
Yes, it’s locked to the Apple ecosystem, but iPhone users will love the tvOS operating system, which looks nothing short of sublime. It packs in the pixels and looks sharper than ever, while a souped-up A10X processor means navigation and app loading are fast.
Whether you go for the 32GB or 64GB storage versions, every streaming app you can think of is here, with one glaring omission: there’s no Amazon Prime Video. However, we do like the 4K HDR ‘room’ within its iTunes movies app, which makes it easier to discover high-res video content.
Dolby Vision is a real asset that few other streaming devices support right now (with Dolby Atmos to follow, we’ve been told), and just as impressive are universal search and the addition of Apple Music, the latter of which which makes Apple TV a competent jukebox as well as a top-tier movie streamer – and the integration of the proprietary Apple HomeKit smart home tech could be a feature to watch. Our only criticism is that Siri makes too many mistakes.
It’s worth noting that we could well see new Apple TV hardware release in 2021, given it’s been a lengthy four years since the last iteration, so it may be worth waiting for the next one to appear.
Read the full review: Apple TV 4K (2017)
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