If you're on the market for a new streaming device, chances are you want to make your watching experience better than it already is. Streaming dongles and set-top boxes are ubiquitous these days, but deciphering the differences between them can be challenging. Plus, they're not the only gadgets that can deliver your latest Netflix obsession to your TV screen. Let's break down all of the streaming device options you have today and give you our picks for the best you can buy. It's worth pointing out that if you only use a couple of streaming services (say, Netflix and Hulu), you might not need a standalone streaming device.
The Roku Ultra offers everything we want in a streaming box. Though Roku's lineup has undergone some changes in the past few years, the latest Roku Ultra is the current flagship model and will be the best option for most people. It supports 4K/HDR (including Dolby Vision), Dolby Atmos sound on select services, and nearly every streaming service, including Apple's own TV app. It was the first non-Apple device to fully support the app, letting you access your iTunes purchases and rent or buy movies from Apple just like you would on the Apple TV. Like many Roku devices, it also supports Apple AirPlay and basic HomeKit smart home functionality.
Our picks for the best streaming device to connect to your TV to stream video will help you figure out which one is right for your needs. We've reviewed nearly every streaming device and major smart TV system on the market today, including Roku, Google Chromecast, Amazon and Apple TV. With the exception of smart TVs that actually run streaming software from Roku, Google or Amazon, these add-on streaming devices often have simpler remotes, streaming dongles, more apps, better search and more frequent updates than the smarts built into your TV set. Roku, the biggest name in streaming hardware, has a $40 streaming device called the Roku Express 4K Plus that's taken the top spot on our list of the best streaming devices. It's $10 cheaper than the new Roku Streaming Stick 4K, yet is just as capable. Amazon's new Fire TV Stick 4K Max sets the bar for speed on a streaming device and offers plenty of features at a slightly more expensive $55.
Whether you've just gotten rid of cable or want to supplement your TV package with online video, now's an excellent time to buy a media streaming device. Compared to the typical smart TV, standalone streamers such as the Roku Streaming Stick and Amazon Fire TV tend to have bigger app selections, faster performance, and more features. And with so much competition between device makers, the hardware is becoming faster, more capable, and more affordable. We constantly test all the latest devices, including Roku players, Fire TV devices, Android TV devices, Apple TV, and Chromecast. We review each new generation of hardware and constantly revisit the software and app selection so we can help you determine which platform is right for you.
The original Chromecast that debuted in 2013 was a simple $35 dongle. But it was still notable, providing a cheap way to make any TV "smart." Things have changed a lot since then, however. Not only do a lot of TVs now come with built-in apps, Roku and Amazon developed their own streaming sticks over the years -- both of which have remote controls and visual menus for easy navigation. Google's Chromecast soon seemed outdated by comparison.