The best streaming device

Internet & Streaming

You do not need a 4K TV to operate a 4K streaming device. However, to get the best viewing experience, consider upgrading your TV.

BestReviews is reader-supported and may earn an affiliate commission. Details.

Which streaming device is best?

In 2019 alone, cable and satellite companies lost more than 5 million subscribers. If you are considering “cutting the cord,” you will need to find a way to stream your home entertainment.

The major drawback for streaming, however, is the average person doesn’t quite understand how it works, so they may be hesitant to purchase a streaming device.

We’re here to help you understand not only how streaming devices work but also what makes one different from the others so you can purchase with confidence. In this updated guide, we’ll tell you about two new models on our shortlist as well as a long-standing favorite.  

Top streaming devices of 2021

1. Roku Ultra: The edge that Roku has over its competitors is it plays no favorites — you are not funneled to a particular service, so it offers a user experience with less bias. This model is a newcomer to the top spot. 

2. Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K: This updated version of our longtime favorite makes our list because it delivers a vast amount of high-quality content to your TV at a price that fits any budget.

3. Apple TV 4K: Back on our shortlist, this model arguably gives the user the most elegantly designed streaming experience, even if it comes at a higher price.

Jump to the bottom of this article for more information on each model.

What you need to know before buying a streaming device

Basically, all a streaming device does is connect your TV to the Internet so you can have access to content. What makes one model different from the others is the way it connects, the variety of content that is available, the user interface, and the cost.

If you are happy with the entertainment system that you have, your primary concern when shopping for a streaming device should be finding one that is compatible with the equipment you already own. For instance, if your smart home is run by Alexa, it would probably make more sense to purchase a Fire TV Stick than Apple TV, because it will be a more streamlined integration. Likewise, if you don’t have equipment that can take advantage of Dolby Digital Plus 7.1, that shouldn’t be a selling feature for you.

Apps

All streaming devices offer access to several hundred thousand television shows, movies, and apps. That’s enough to keep your general entertainment needs satisfied for an entire lifetime. However, certain streaming devices may offer exclusive or early access to new shows. If you want to be the first to watch any of Apple’s original programming, for instance, you’ll want to consider an Apple streaming device.

On the downside, each streaming device, with the exception of Roku, tries to subtly steer you to make purchases that benefit that company. It’s not a bad thing — you wouldn’t expect a Lowes employee to send you to Home Depot for a better deal — it’s just something to keep in mind.

Ease of use

With any streaming device, the user interface may be a little jarring the first time you use it. With cable television, it’s like walking up and down the aisles looking at products on the shelves — it’s very intuitive and easy to find what you are looking for. With a streaming device, you’re dropped off in a mall with no understanding of what stores are there and which products are available in each store.

There’s much more exploring involved. After you become acclimated to a certain user interface, however, that will be the one that is the most comfortable for you. In other words, typically, the interface, layout, and searching strategy from device to device is not better, it’s just different.

How much you can expect to pay for a streaming device

The price of a streaming device can range from $40-$200. Depending on your situation, it may be more important to focus on the streaming device that is a good fit for your lifestyle and equipment rather than looking for one that offers the best price.

Best streaming device FAQ

Q. Do I have to “cut my cable” to use a streaming device?

A. Having cable and streaming content are not mutually exclusive. You can have both at the same time. In fact, this is how many people get started — they try streaming without cutting the cable so they can have a side-by-side comparison and make an informed decision about which is best for their particular usage.

Q. Are there any hidden costs with streaming devices?

A. Plenty. Purchasing a streaming device in no way guarantees that your monthly entertainment bill is going down. Many people now pay far more for a variety of services than they used to pay for their cable bill alone. A streaming device can save you money, but only if you are smart about managing the number of your subscriptions.

In-depth reviews for best streaming devices

Best of the best

Roku Ultra

Roku Ultra

What we like: The Roku Ultra provides access to over 500,000 movie and television programs in HD, HDR, and 4K streaming. The unit is compatible with iOS and Android and it comes with an enhanced voice remote with JBL headphones for private listening.

What we dislike: Some users would have preferred including a free HDMI cord over a set of headphones.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Best bang for your buck

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

What we like: This model has fully integrated, intelligent voice control that is powered by Alexa. It is effortless to set up, easy to use and offers an intuitive menu so you can quickly find all of your favorite, shows, movies and apps.

What we dislike: The user experience is enhanced if you are an Amazon Prime member, so be sure to factor that into the overall cost.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Apple TV 4K

Apple TV 4K

What we like: This impressive streaming device offers 4K HDR, Dolby Vision and Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 for a remarkable entertainment experience. It features Siri, access to exclusive original programming, and apps from Apple.

What we dislike: The high price.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

 

Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.

Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

Copyright 2021 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.

Trending Stories

Donate Today