There’s no doubt about it; many people who love television are ditching cable and satellite connections and are using their home Internet network to stream TV shows and movies to their big screen televisions. While there are many “smart TVs” out there that offer access to all those internet media services on their own, there are still tens of millions of TVs out there that either have no “smart” features or have inadequate ones that can’t access the many streaming services that have launched in just the last few years.
The good news is that there are many streaming media players and set-top boxes that can be connected to your big screen TV so you can successfully cut the cord and get all of the shows you are able to watch on cable and satelliteTV, plus tons of other content that are only available via Internet streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and many more. The bad news is that they all offer a range of different features, designs, and prices. So which of the current media streaming players is the best for your needs?
We have picked the five best media streaming players brands that you can currently buy for your TV. Some of these brands have multiple models that support different types of televisions, so we will point those out for people who may own a TV without features like 4K resolution or even older TVs that don’t have an HDMI port.
Roku is perhaps the most popular of the media streaming device brands in the US. You can find its smart TV user interface integrated with a number of televisions. It offers access to perhaps the largest number of streaming services on any of the brands and models on this list. Indeed, if a new streaming service launches, such as the upcoming Disney service in 2019, its likely that Roku will be one of the first players that will support it. If you don’t own a Roku-based TV, but still want to use its UI, there are a large number of Roku streaming media boxes and sticks you can buy to turn your TV into a Roku smart TV.
If you own an older TV without an HDMI port, then you can still turn it into a smart TV with the Roku Express Plus. It includes a composite cable connection in addition to an HDMI port. It streams video at up to 1080p quality. The included remote has quick buttons for popular services like Netflix and Hulu in case you just want to jump in. The UI is also easy to navigate, and also includes support for downloading new screensavers and themes, if you are into that sort of thing. The Roku Express Plus is available on Amazon for $39.99.
If you want to get a Roku device in a more compact package for a wall-mounted TV, or perhaps you want to take your Roku on the road and set it up in your hotel room, then the Roku streaming stick is for you. It supports up to 1080p streaming media, but in a smaller HDMI stick form factor that takes up only a little space.
It also comes with a revamped remote that responses to voice commands. Yes, you can search for your favorite shows by speaking to the Roku remote. Indeed, the Roku OS is scheduled to get an update soon that will allow those voice remotes to accept Google Assistant-based commands. The remote can also be used to turn your TV on or off or to control its volume. It’s available on Amazon for $49.99.
If you have a 4K TV, you will definitely want to get the Roku Streaming Stick Plus. It supports 4K video streaming for the services that support it, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube and others. The Plus model also has a more advanced Wi-Fi receiver compared to the standard Roku Streaming Stick. which means not only can it handle the higher data rates needed for 4K resolution, but it should have up to four times the wireless range, which means you can use it in more locations in your home. It also has the same voice remote as the standard Roku Streaming Stick. You can get the Roku Streaming Stick Plus on Amazon for $59.99
Finally, if you want the ultimate Roku experience, then you can snap up the Roku Ultra set-top box. It’s the largest Roku streaming device you can get, and is designed mainly for large media rooms or living rooms. Not only do you get wireless 4K streaming support, but you can even connect it physically to your network router with its built-in Ethernet port for the best possible data connection. It also comes with a voice remote, plus a remote finder on the box itself that causes a sound to come from the remote.
The Roku Ultra also comes with a USB port, in case you want to show off your local videos and photos from a connected flash drive. There’s also a microUSB card slot, made mainly so you can store more Roku channels at once. It also supports night viewing mode, which automatically lowers louder moments on the screen, and boosts the volume on lower moments at night. Finally, the Roku Ultra ships with a pair of JBL headphones, which can connect to the remote so you can listen to your shows without disturbing anyone else. You can get the Roku Ultra now on Amazon for $99.99.
Amazon Fire TV
Along with its Echo lineup of smart speakers, Amazon also sells a lineup of its Fire TV set-top boxes and sticks. Indeed, much like the Roku platform, the Amazon Fire TV OS has been installed directly inside a number of smart TVs. While the Fire TV OS doesn’t have quite the amount of channel and streaming services options that Roku has, all of its devices support voice commands via Amazon’s own Alexa service.
That includes the cheapest model you can buy, the standard Amazon Fire TV Stick, which supports streaming of up to 1080 quality. It even supports web browsers such as Amazon’s own Silk for internet surfing. The voice support via Alexa allows you to search for shows, actors and more without having to type in anything. Unfortunately, none of Amazon’s Fire TV devices support composite cable TVs; it’s an HDMI-only product. You can get the standard Amazon Fire TV Stick for $39.99.
If you want to upgrade so you can watch streaming services on your 4K TV, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is for you. In addition to supporting 4K media, it also comes with an upgraded remote. It can still handle Alexa voice commands, but it also has buttons to turn your TV on or off, along with volume control and a mute button. It’s priced at $49.99.
Finally, the most advanced Fire TV device that Amazon currently sells is the Fire TV Cube. This is basically a combination of a Fire TV device with an Echo smart speaker. While there is an included Alexa voice remote, the Fire TV Cube is supposed to be used with just your voice. It has eight microphones built into the device with far-field voice recognition. That means you should be able to control the Fire TV Cube even if you are outside your TV media room or living room. It can also be set up to control products like your TV sound bar or A/V receiver with your voice.
In addition, the Fire TV Cube serves as an Alexa-based smart speaker. You can ask it to give you the latest news and weather headlines, play music or even control other smart home devices, even if your TV is turned off. The Fire TV Cube does not have some features that are available on other Echo smart speakers. It does not support Alexa calling or messaging, nor does it support multi-room music streaming. The Fire TV Cube also comes with an Ethernet adapter so you can connect it to your home network router. You can get the Fire TV Cube for $199.99.
You can also get the Ethernet adapter that ships with the Fire TV Cube separately for $14.99, so you can use it to connect it to either of the Fire TV Stick products so they can benefit from direct router streams.
Google doesn’t currently sell a product that directly streaming media to a TV. However, it does sell two models of its Chromecast TV HDMI dongle. Both can connect to your Android or iOS smartphone, so you can stream apps and media from those devices to your Chromecast-connected TV. Thousands of apps and games support Chromecast, with more added all the time. You can also connect your Chromecast to other Google smart devices. It can connect to your Google Home smart speaker so you can relay voice commands to your TV. It can also connect to your Nest video security device so you can see any suspicious activity outside your home on your TV.
Google recently launched a third-generation version of its standard Chromecast, which now supports multi-room audio and video streaming at 1080p resolution at 60fps. It sells for $35. Google is still selling the Chromecast Ultra, which bumps up the video streaming resolution to 4K. It’s available for $69.99.
NVIDIA Shield TV – Android TV
Google’s Android TV OS has not caught on as much as Roku or Amazon Fire TV in terms of support from third-party smart TVs and set-top boxes. However, Android TV still has an excellent UI and its support for thousands of Android-based games makes it an excellent way to play console-level titles on your TV. Android TV also supports Google Assistant for voice commands. Finally, Android TV allows users to download and install third-party apps and games from outside the Google Play Store, if they have the technical know-how, along with taking the risk of breaking their device.
If you want to try out Android TV, there’s no better way to do it than with the NVIDIA Shield TV set-top box. It may have launched way back in 2015, but NVIDIA continues to update its Shield TV box with regular updates, adding more new features along the way. Indeed, the box has added features like Google Assistant, support for HDR video, and most importantly support for NVIDA’s GeForce Now game streaming service. You can play over 400 PC games from Valve’s Steam service on the Shield TV device, as they stream over NVIDIA’s cloud servers to the set-top box. Yes, you can even hook up a mouse and keyboard to the Shield TV to play those games as if you were playing them from a PC desktop.
NVIDIA currently sells four models of its Shield TV product, but they are all pretty expensive compared to the rest of the streaming media devices on this list. The cheapest is priced at $179.99 and is mainly for streaming media, with its included remote. The Shield TV Gaming Edition costs $199.99 and throws in a dedicated game controller, along with beta access to GeForce Now.The Shield TV Smart Home Edition costs $219.99 and trades in the game controller for a SmartThings hub device, so you can connect and use the set-top box with other SmartThings-supported devices. All three of these models include 16GB of onboard storage, along with an Ethernet port in addition to its Wi-Fi wireless hardware.
Finally, the Shield TV Pro costs $299.99. It comes in a bigger set-top box compared to the first three models; that’s because it has a huge 500GB hard drive inside, with support for Plex Media Server. It also comes with a remote and a game controller and is basically the one to get if you want the full Shield TV experience.
Of all the product lines on this media streaming list, the Apple TV brand has been around the longest. The first TV set-top box from Apple was first released way back in January 2007. The Apple TV hardware division has sometimes been referred to as a “hobby” by the company compared to its other product lines like the iPhone, iPad, and iPod. The current Apple TV models run the latest version of tvOS, based largely on Apple’s iOS mobile operating system. Like Roku, Fire TV, and Android TV, tvOS supports most of the current and popular streaming TV services, and it has its own app store where you can download other tvOS-based apps and games.
The Apple TV set top boxes are the only ones on this list that support Apple’s popular iTunes service for purchasing and downloading movies, TV shows and music. If recent rumors are to be believed, Apple TV boxes will also likely be the only ones on this list that will support the company’s many upcoming and highly anticipated original streaming TV series. The first ones are expected to launch in 2019, with some rumors claiming that those shows will be free to access for Apple TV, iPad and iPhone owners. Combined with the fact that Apple has already signed up some major TV and movie creators to make shows for the new service, this could send Apple TV orders through the roof next year.
Apple sells an Apple TV box with 32GB of storage and support for 1080p video resolution for $149. It sells another model with 4K video streaming support for $179 with 32GB of storage and another for $199 for 64GB of onboard storage. All current Apple TV boxes include a voice remote control based on the company’s Siri digital assistant to search for movies, TV shows and more with your voice. The 1080p Apple TV has an 10/100BASE-T Ethernet port, while the 4K Apple TV models include a Gigabit Ethernet port, in addition to Wi-FI hardware.
Best streaming media devices for your TV – Conclusion
As you can see, there are a ton of media streaming devices you can buy for your television. Some just stream video and support simple games, and usually, don’t cost an arm and a leg. More advanced media streaming products, like the Amazon Fire TV Cube, the NVIDIA Shield TV box and the Apple TV devices, can do much more, and thus their prices are also higher. That’s actually good news since there is a device that will likely fit any individual or family’s home or budget.
Which of these media streaming devices do you use on your home TVs? If you own an older model, or maybe one with not as many features, are you thinking about upgrading to a new TV stick, dongle or set-top box on this list for, say, a new 4K TV? Let us know your favorites on this list in the comments. We will be updating this post as more new streaming media devices and companies are released.