Best Streaming Devices

Category: Video

There are lots of ways to stream content over the Internet directly to your TV or other viewing devices. They include simple set-top boxes, tiny streaming “sticks,” and even video game consoles. Read on for my advice on how to choose the video streaming device that's best for your needs…

Which Streaming Gadget is Best?

Streaming devices come in a variety of shapes and sizes. But the form-factor is usually not the most important thing. A device’s channel line-up, remote control device, and user interface are actually more important. Price is a factor too, although all streaming services and devices will be far cheaper than their cable equivalents.

One thing to consider is that you may not need a streaming device at all. If you own a “smart TV,” it probably includes major streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and others. Check the specs of a TV you own or are planning to buy.

For the largest selection of channels and dead-simple operation, it’s hard to beat the Roku 4 Streaming Media Player ($114) Access to Amazon Video, Netflix, Hulu, and HBO are the most popular features, but Roku offers over 2,500 channels of movies, TV shows, music, sports, news, international, kids programming and more. Its text and voice-enabled search function makes it easy to find content by title, actor, or director. Its remote control includes a headphone jack. The Roku 4 delivers great selection and it’s ready for the 4K future.

Best streaming devices

The Amazon Fire TV set-top box ($99.99) is smaller than the Roku in physical dimensions, but it supports over 4,000 channels of content. Fire TV supports 4K Ultra HD, for which there is little or no content as yet, but it also supports 1080p “full HD” for Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, Hulu, and more. Live TV includes NBC News, NBA, and Sling TV, which includes ESPN, CNN, HGTV, AMC, A&E, Cartoon Network, and more. The Fire TV includes voice control; just say the name of the show you want to watch and it starts streaming. There’s also a Fire TV Stick ($39.99)

The cheapest major streaming device is the Google Chromecast ($35), a button-like dongle that plugs into an HDMI port on the back of your TV. The Chromecast 2, released in September, 2015, requires a computer or mobile device as its source of streamed content, and also as its controller; there is no dedicated remote control to lose. The improved Chromecast 2 app makes it much easier to find content. The external power cable is now five feet long and connects to either a USB port or a standard AC wall socket.

One unique feature of the Chromecast is its ability to "cast" whatever you're viewing in your Chrome browser (from desktop, laptop or mobile) to your TV set. In addition, there are thousands of apps that can stream content via Chromecast; among them are Netflix and Hulu, TV shows from HBO Go, Crackle, Showtime Anywhere, and Plex; and network TV apps from the likes of CBS, ABC and Comedy Central. Sports fans can enjoy ESPN, MLB.com, NFL Sunday Ticket and dozens of specialty sports apps. On the music front, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio and NPR One are just a few Chromecast-compatible offerings.

More Streaming Options

Some people will prefer a portable streaming device that does not require a phone or computer. The Roku Streaming Stick ($43.87) may be for them, and it also includes a physical remote control. Basically, it’s the Roku 4 only smaller and cheaper. What’s not to like?

Apple TV is on its 4th generation, and the 5th is due out by the end of 2016. Naturally, it’s the most expensive streaming device ($149 to $199, 32 or 64 GB of storage) Its Siri-based content search is pretty darned good, enabling complex voice searches like “Find TV shows featuring Patrick Stewart,” with followup refinements like “just his newest ones.” You can search by movies, actors, directors, studios, age ratings and more criteria. Apple TV 4 also does apps for the first time, as long as you buy them from Apple. Apps range from from videos and music to real estate and fitness, as well as a handful of games.

If TV streaming devices can do games, why can’t gaming consoles do TV shows? In fact, xBox 360 and Playstation consoles will accommodate streaming video apps such as Netflix, Hulu, Animal Planet Live, and many more. They also play movies from DVD discs.

Do you stream movies, TV shows or other entertainment from the Internet to your television set? What streaming device(s) are your favorite? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "Best Streaming Devices"

Posted by:

Pat C
21 Sep 2016

I have 2 Roku's and a Chromecast and am happy with what I use them for. Google has a new one coming out, Google Mi. This should be an interesting addition to the mix and I will be waiting for your opinion on this one.


Posted by:

Will
21 Sep 2016

I would like to see WiDi and Miracast included in the discussion along with the difference between these and Chromecast.


Posted by:

Chuck
21 Sep 2016

I use TiVo OTA for a DVR and use it to control my streaming. My TV is a smart TV and I never use that function, wasted money there. My second TV I use a Fire Stick from Amazon. Had a Roku on a third TV but a button on the controller broke and the controller would be almost as much as a new unit. Simply discarded it since it was seldom used.

No cable in my future!


Posted by:

Steve
21 Sep 2016

I have Roku 3, Roku Stick, FireTV, Fire Stick, Chromecast 2, and a new Nexbox A5. I just got the Nexbox and it seems like a pretty capable box. Has a huge number of apps including Kodi preloaded. It has a nice remote that also has voice plus I have a keyboard and a mouse attached via the two USB ports. It just works. Since I watch predominately YouTube, I use the Chromecast the most.


Posted by:

Morgan
21 Sep 2016

Which, if any, of these show FOX News? I'd like to get off cable but FOX News is a must have for us.

EDITOR'S NOTE: There is a Fox News channel on Roku, but they don't show a live feed. Just highlights from certain shows. I don't know of any streaming service that has a live Fox News feed.


Posted by:

Allen
21 Sep 2016

Will these devices only work in the USA? I live in South Africa, so I wonder if they would work here. Also, does one pay a subscription to use any of these streaming devices?


Posted by:

Ralph
21 Sep 2016

Getting ready to "cut the cord" in another two weeks, and have purchased a Tivo OTA ($49.95 from Best Buy). I mounted an antenna on the roof, and get all the local channels which is all we watch. The Tivo has a DVR, and for $15/month (required) I get TV listings for the next two weeks. The box streams Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Go, Hulu, and many others. Bought the Tivo in April and sold my Roku 2. My monthly TV "bill" will drop from $130 (DirecTV) to $35. Not bad.


Posted by:

David Holland
21 Sep 2016

Very interesting article. I have about another year on my contract with Dish. I have taken advantage of the plan you mentioned a few weeks ago, and reduced my bill. I am looking for a DVR for when I "cut the cable". Can you do an article on DVR's? I am looking at ChannelMaster and Tablo, which seem to be the only 2 that offer OTA recording.


Posted by:

harvey
21 Sep 2016

i have a MYGICA 1800 and I get many more tv or movies than on my Roku. There is no comparison. You buy it once then all the programming is free.

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you are getting paid content for free, it's definitely not legal.


Posted by:

Nick
22 Sep 2016

I have noticed android boxes aren't listed here. You can get the tv apps like netflix, xfinity, etc, as well as Kodi and others. IMHO they are better


Posted by:

John T
22 Sep 2016

Ralph & David Holland;
I cut the cord almost 2 years ago. I bought the Channel Master DVR+ 16GB, then purchased a $50 Seagate 1TB external USB hard drive for DVRing (you can get Channel Master DVR+ with 1TB built in). I get up to 14 days of programming guide and DVR capabilities free, no extra cost like TiVo! Over the time I have had the Channel Master DVR+ they have added apps and streaming channels.The DVR only records 2 channels at one time max but you have to watch one of them. So to beat that I split my feed, 1 to Channel Master DVR+ and 1 to TV tuner cable connection, this allows me to watch a different channel on the TV built-in tuner while recording 2 shows on the DVR+! I also combined 2 antennas (1 west and other north) into 1 feed to get full coverage in my area. I also have a ROKU and signed up for Sling-TV. Plenty to watch! Experiment, it will still be cheaper than a cable bill!


Posted by:

Paul
22 Sep 2016

I had a Roku 3 but as a heavy YouTube watcher I found the Roku Youtube channel very poor (wouldn't show HD videos in HD half the time). Switched to a Chromecast and am now very happy with it streaming Youtube, Hulu, Netflix etc directy from the relevant apps on my phone and tablet.


Posted by:

KC
25 Sep 2016

I recently tried a Roku 3 but didn't care for it so I returned it. I was checking on computer sticks when I discovered an ASUS Chromebit. I already have a Chromebook so I decided to try the chromebit. I love it! I not only can stream just about anything (some things do require a subscription), I can do all my regular computing tasks. It is amazing to see a full computer in such a small package-with a small price,too.


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