Apple TV 4k Is Best For Apple Users
Plus, if you have a ton of movies and music on iTunes, this is the only streaming device that makes it effortless to integrate.
If you want to make the switch from DVDs or Blu-Ray and go digital, the Apple TV keeps your purchased movies in a neat library that’s organized by genres.
Best For Movie Lovers: Roku Streambar
The hybrid Streambar is a Roku 4K streaming device housed in a compact four-driver speaker. Because its a two-in-one system, its a great option for movie lovers who want extra audio features. The streaming capabilities are simple to use and reflect Rokus well-ordered menus and speedy response. It comes with Bluetooth, Spotify, and like the Roku Express 4K Plus, also supports Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit.
Best Streaming Device For Google Users
Pros: 4K HDR with Dolby Vision and HDR10+, voice remote, built-in interface and casting capabilities
Cons: Minor glitches, some lag
Google’s latest Chromecast model offers a sizable step forward in performance and usability over older versions. Though our previous pick in this category, the Chromecast Ultra, needed a separate phone, tablet, or computer to stream apps from, the actually features its own built-in interface with an extensive library of services.
You can still cast apps from a mobile device if you’d like, but the on-screen selection makes it more convenient to find your favorite shows and movies right on your TV screen. This makes the Chromecast a more worthy competitor to similar compact players, like the Fire TV Stick 4K.
Powered by the new Google TV platform, the Chromecast offers access to a huge collection of apps. Though a few services, like Vudu and Movies Anywhere, were initially limited to HD and SDR video, recent updates have added 4K and HDR playback.
From a design perspective, the new Chromecast features a similar puck-shaped form factor as older models, complete with a dongle connection that hangs from your TV’s HDMI port. Unlike older models, the latest version includes a handy voice remote with integrated Google Assistant support.
We encountered a few glitches while testing the new Chromecast and some lag here and there, but the device offers impressive value, especially for buyers already invested in Google’s ecosystem.
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Amazon Fire TV Stick 4k Max
Why you should buy this: If Roku just isnt your thing or you prefer the native Amazon and Alexa experience.
Who its for: Anyone whos all about that Fire TV lifestyle.
Why we picked the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max:
The original Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K has been a great buy for a couple of years now. Making it more Max just made it that much better. The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max now has newer internals with a faster processor and better Wi-Fi. It ships with the latest Alexa Voice remote, which doesnt include hands-free voice access but does have proper television controls.
What it doesnt change is the same great experience youll get with Amazon Fire TV OS. While the home screen may still be a bit busy for some, thats just a testament to how much great content is available in the Amazon ecosystem. Start with , of course, which has all the movies and series you could possibly want, as well as more than its share of great original content.
Then you add in things like IMDb.tv, which is Amazons own advertising-based streaming platform with free movies and shows.
Or connect an antenna to an Amazon Fire TV Recast and get your local broadcast channels right there in your native Fire TV experience.
And thats all before you get to all the third-party streaming apps, games, and other options available on Amazon Fire TV. The Amazon Fire TV Stick remains an excellent choice and one thats tough to beat.
Why we picked Chromecast with Google TV:
Best Fire TV Stick Overall
If you’re looking for the best Fire stick on the market, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is it. The Max is speedy and loads apps almost immediately, and navigating around the system is swift and smooth. Even better, the Max supports Wi-Fi 6 and nearly all the latest playback standards, including Dolby Vision. The downside to the Max is its Fire TV platform and the fact that ads are featured prominently throughout. We just don’t appreciate the TV becoming a giant rotating billboard for content or ads when in screensaver mode. But this is a good choice for those looking for the best and fastest Amazon Fire TV stick.
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Best For Sling TV Users
- Android TV and Google Assistant functionality
- Live TV support through Locast and Sling
- Supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision
- TiVo Stream and stock Android TV interfaces aren’t quite as sleek as competitors
- Remote is a little clunky
- Plenty of useful features including AirPlay, HomeKit, and Siri
- Dolby Vision support
- Comes with a free year of Apple TV+
There are many ways to watch online content on your TV. Your television itself might have apps, or you might have a Blu-ray player or game system connected with built-in streaming services. If neither case applies, or if your TV, Blu-ray player, or game system doesn’t have the exact media features you want, you can get a dedicated media streaming hub. Most media streamers allow you to set up your TV with any online or local media streaming services you need for well under $100.
Among the media streamers currently available, four platforms stand out: Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, and Roku. No matter which you choose, they each give you access to many of the most popular music and video streaming services available.
Resolution is another big factor to consider. All of the platforms mentioned have options for ultra high-definition and HDR content. In the list above you’ll find the top-rated media streamers we’ve tested. Below is a closer looking at the top media streaming platforms.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
Design And Voice Remote
The Fire TV Stick 4K is slightly larger than the standard Fire TV Stick, measuring 3.9 by 1.2 by 0.6 inches . It’s a simple rectangular matte black plastic bar with a male HDMI connector on one end and a micro USB port on one side. If it’s slightly too large to fit comfortably in a port on your TV, a short, flexible HDMI extender lets you reposition it at a different angle.
Amazon has updated its Alexa Voice Remote with some new tricks. The second-generation remote is still a slim rectangular wand with a prominent circular navigation pad and a pinhole microphone near the top for using Alexa. It still has menu and playback controls, and now power and volume buttons join them. The Fire TV Stick 4K can directly control your TV’s power and volume, letting you jump directly into watching streaming media without picking up a second remote. It currently only adjusts volume and toggles power, so you can’t navigate your TV’s menus or change inputs, but if your Fire TV Stick is the primary device you’re going to watch, it’s a very useful upgrade.
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Nvidia Shield TV Interface
Like previous models, the 2019 Shield TV runs on the Android TV OS. If you haven’t checked out Android OS recently, though, it’s worth pointing out that the interface is a lot better than it used to be. While doing so is a little cumbersome, you can customize your home screen to put the content you want front and center, and get rid of the content that doesn’t interest you.
In case you haven’t used it before, Android TV organizes content into rows. The first row you’ll see will be all your favorite apps. Below that, there might be a whole row dedicated to Netflix, and the shows you’re watching on that platform. Below that, you might get the same thing for YouTube, or games, and so forth. It’s pretty intuitive, and puts very little distance between you and what you want to access.
Historically, I’ve complained about the Google Play Store on Android TV, which is a little abstruse, and doesn’t do a good job of organizing content into browsable categories. However, a recent update has made it a lot easier to find what you’re looking for and, failing that, you can always just perform a text or voice search. It’s not as robust as something like the Roku search, or as deep as the Apple TV search, but I didn’t have any trouble finding apps that I was looking for.
Roku Streaming Stick 4k Review: Audio And Video
For a while, I always looked a bit sideways at the Roku Streaming Stick Plus because it lacked Dolby Vision which both the and both pack. Now that that’s complete, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K is going to stream all your shows and movies just as beautifully as anything else, which I saw when I rewatched some of the best Netflix shows .
The red and blue hues of the paper-throwing game in Squid Game episode 1 popped and the green and pink hues of the iconic house that Beth Harmon lives in also rendered properly. In the scene where Beth chugs her first beer, the black tone of her sweater looked pitch-black, with excellent contrast. The Roku Streaming Stick 4K also supports HDR10 and HDR10+, which also enable dark black tones and quality contrast.
The crisp UHD image quality continued through to the opening scene of Thor: Ragnarok, where individual engravings on the Mjolnir hammer looked crisp as it flew around a cave, demolishing baddies.
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K is lacking on audio standards, missing the spatially-focused Dolby Atmos sound technology. So, while I heard some dimensionality to that fight scene, as the hammer circled Thor it possibly could have been better . The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and Chromecast with Google TV both also have Dolby Atmos.
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What You Should Look For In A Streaming Device
Before buying a streaming device, there are a few factors you should consider. First and foremost, you should ensure you really need a separate streaming player at all.
If you’re someone with an old dumb TV that has HDMI ports, adding a standalone streaming device is a no-brainer. But, if you already own a smart TV with access to its own built-in library of apps, the decision isn’t as simple.
If you’re satisfied with your TV’s app selection, speed, and connectivity options, there’s really no need to invest in another device. However, if you’re frustrated with laggy navigation or your display is missing a few apps you want to use, a standalone streaming stick or box is an ideal buy.
Of course, you’ll want to confirm that the device you choose has all the services you need. Most popular apps, like Netflix and Disney Plus, are supported on virtually all streaming players, but some smaller services are missing from certain devices.
You’ll also want to keep in mind the specs of your TV. Not all streaming sticks and boxes are able to handle 4K or high dynamic range , so if you have a 4K TV, you’ll want to get a device that can take full advantage of your display’s capabilities.
You should also consider the ecosystem you’re most plugged into. For example, Android users might be able to get more use from a Google TV device, while those using an iPhone or Mac might prefer the Apple TV, and Alexa fans might want to opt for a Fire TV model.
Best For Most Alexa Users
- Supports 4K with HDR10 and Dolby Vision
- Amazon Alexa
- Quick Wi-Fi streaming and menu navigation
- Attractive, accessible new Google TV interface
- 4K with HDR10 and Dolby Vision
- Useful Google Assistant and Cast features
- Supports Apple AirPlay and Dolby Vision
- Voice features still lag those of Amazon Fire TV and Google TV
- No Twitch app available
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About Our Trusted Experts
David Beren is a tech writer with more than 10 years of experience in the industry and founded his own tech site in 2008.
Yoona Wagener has a background in content and technical writing. She has written for Bustle, Idealist Careers, BigTime Software, and other small tech companies. She is an expert in streaming devices, home theater, and entertainment setups.
Alice Newcome-Beill is still a staunch defender of her media PC but loves the mobility and utility of modern streaming devices.
Erika Rawes has been writing for Lifewire since 2019. She’s previously been published in Digital Trends, USA Today, Cheatsheet.com, and more, specializing in consumer electronics and the latest gadgets.
Best For Streaming Youtube TV: Google Chromecast With Googletv
The complete reboot of the Google Chromecast with Google TV is a revelation and the best device to stream YouTube TV with its full YouTube TV channel guide along with its DVR features. This updated device offers over 6500 apps , and allows for high-end 4K UHD streaming options and immersive Dolby Atmos audio. We also dig the updated version of the Google TV interface. Shaped as a dongle rather than a stick, the Chromecast, which comes in three colorssnow white, blush pink and eggshell blue. And if youre like us and hate having to sign into every single app, youll also appreciate the speedy recognition of personal information curated from your Google account.
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Airplay Cast And Screen Mirroring
Most streaming players including Fire TV, Roku, Android TV, and Chromecast have adopted Googles Cast which allows you to stream content from your smartphone to your television from both iOS and Android smartphones. If you want to mirror your screen, it will only work if you use an Android smartphone or tablet.
If you own an Apple TV or Roku, you will also be able to stream content from your iOS device using AirPlay. It is also the only way to mirror an iOS device on your television.
Best Streaming Device For Home Theater Enthusiasts And Gamers
Home theater enthusiasts, gamers, and people who like to tinker with their streaming devices have loyally stuck with Nvidias Shield TV and Shield TV Pro for a reason. They can serve as excellent players like any of our other picks, but you can also go more advanced and use them for cloud gaming or set up a Plex media library . GeForce Now and Steam Link probably do more to sell gamers on the Shield lineup versus something like Apple Arcade on the Apple TV.
The Nvidia Shields currently run Android TV with Google Assistant built in, but its expected theyll eventually get the same Google TV experience thats on the Chromecast. Nvidias AI-powered upscaling can eke out some extra detail from the shows and movies you stream, and Id rate the included remote control as the most ergonomic of them all.
But like with the Apple TV, the main hurdle here is the price. The Nvidia Shield TV costs $150, so youre looking at spending $100 more than devices that offer most of the same functionality. You get Ethernet and a very powerful streaming device for the added premium, and you can push the Shield TV farther and make it do more than just about any of its competitors.
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Best For Google / Android Users: Google Chromecast With Google TV
The 4th-gen Chromecast was announced at Google’s big hardware event in late 2020.
Unlike Google’s previous Chromecast dongles, which were based around casting the latest Chromecast comes with a genuine streaming platform built in: the .
Essentially a fork of Android TV, the new Chromecast allows all Android TV apps such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu and HBO Max and the Google Assistant is on board as well, through the slick new remote control.
Google TV is actually a version of Android TV that, like the Fire TV UI, brings together TV shows and movies from a range of different apps for your perusal, depending on what you subscribe to.
It can also act as a receiver, like a Chromecast-enabled speaker or TV but it’s a smart streaming device in its own right too.
It’s capable 4K HDR streaming as well as being Dolby Atmos compatible as well. What’s more, Apple TV+ was added to the mix in December 2020.
What we love
- Not as cheap as previous Chromecasts
- Assistant is still a work in progress for recommendations
What Is The Point Of A Streaming Stick If You Have A Smart TV
While its true that many of todays smart TVs come pre-installed with a wide variety of entertainment apps, external streaming devices will almost always improve the user interface of a given app.
Amazons Fire Stick, for instance, gives users access to more content with more control than the standard Amazon TV app, with other products in the Amazon line even coming equipped with Alexa giving you the extra option of controlling your TV with your voice.
Its also rare that a smart TV will come loaded with access to every streaming service out there. Apple TV Plus, for instance, seldom comes as a pre-installed app on standard smart TVs, hence the need for Apple’s 4K HDR streaming box, while Panasonic TVs dont support Disney Plus.
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Best For Apple Lovers: Apple TV 4k
Whether youre an avid Apple streamer or just looking for a higher-end device, the new Apple TV 4K offers the best way to access 4K HDR streaming content. In Apple style, its onboarded with an extremely speedy A12 Bionic processor and, yes, you can watch all your movies and TV shows from iTunes, but also play games, stream apps and even control smart home devices from the Siri-enabled remote. The 2021 Apple TV 4K is a solid upgrade from the 2017 streaming box, rocking a redesigned Siri remote which will restore your faith in the touch-enabled clickpad.