It is an excellent time to buy a media streaming device, whether you have cut the cable or are looking to complement your TV package with an online video service like Netflix, Hulu or a newcomer like Apple TV + or Disney + . Compared to the typical smart TV, independent transmitters such as the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and the new Nvidia Shield TV tend to have a greater selection of applications, faster performance and more features. And with so much competition among device manufacturers, 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 review the selection of software and applications so that we can help you determine which platform is right for you. Here are our selections for the best gearboxes and sticks, along with all our latest product reviews. Our recommendations will change over time as new products reach the market.
Updated December 13, 2019 to add our revised review of the Roku Streaming Stick +. We had reviewed this device when it was launched in 2017, but Roku has made a number of improvements to its software that we thought warranted a new look.
The best 4K HDR transmission device
Amazon did almost everything right with its latest transmission device. The Amazon Fire TV 4K, of course, supports 4K streaming, but also offers all the HDR formats you could want (including HDR10 + and Dolby Vision), supports Dolby Atmos soundtracks for truly immersive audio, and It includes hardware-accelerated MPEG-2 video decoding for cable cutters who wish to stream live TV through their home networks.
You will also find Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant on board, and the new remote control can control the power and volume of your TV, including a mute function. It is not absolutely perfect: YouTube TV subscribers will be disappointed to hear that they have been ignored, but it is the best media streaming hardware deal you can buy today.
While it hit the market at this time in 2017, the Roku Streaming Stick + remains a strong competitor, and is a great option for YouTube TV subscribers. You will find many things that you will like in the Roku user interface, its dual band 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapter and its remote control. Of course, it is a 4K transmission, but it only supports conventional HDR, not HDR + or Dolby Vision.
If you don’t need the strongest Wi-Fi capabilities offered by the Roku Streaming Stick +, the latest version of the Roku Premiere + offers many of the same features and costs $ 10 less.
The best voice controlled media transmitter
Voice control is the future of the smart home, and Amazon is closer to delivering it in the living room with its second-generation Amazon Fire TV Cube. Could it be even better? Of course, and our review points out how the areas where it still falls short. But nothing else is coming, yet.
Other options to consider
Apple TV 4K It is very expensive, but it is an obvious choice for people who have dedicated themselves to the Apple ecosystem, including the new Apple TV + streaming service (you can read our review of Apple TV + here). It is the only streaming box that supports videos from iTunes, Apple Music and AirPlay streaming, not to mention Dolby Vision HDR, and serves as a HomeKit center for remote control of your smart home.
The Siri remote control offers excellent voice control functions and is fully compatible with the volume and power of the TV. The Apple TV of the previous generation (1080p) also remains available for a price slightly less than $ 149.
Chromecast It is an intriguing alternative if you like the idea of using a phone or tablet as a remote control. Because all browsing happens on a separate device, Chromecast is still cheap, and the 2018 version is even faster. You can get years of using this device without feeling that it has become obsolete. Consider Chromecast Ultra if you are using a 4K TV.
the Nvidia Shield Android TV It is relatively expensive at $ 149, but a new processor and AI-driven 4K scaling make it a compelling option for advanced users. The Nvidia Shield Pro version is even more expensive at $ 200, but it can be configured to stream your personal media library to all your other devices; connected to an HDHomeRun network tuner for use with Plex DVR, allowing you to record and watch free air transmissions; And you can even plug in a USB stick and use the decoder as a Samsung SmartThings smart home center.
the 2019 edition of the Roku Express, on the other hand. It is not a good deal, in our opinion. It’s cheap enough at $ 30, but your remote control too cheap has no buttons to control your TV. That means you will constantly juggle two remote controls, one to turn your TV on and off and control its volume, and the second to control and choose the programming you want to watch on the Roku Express.
The Roku Express + is exclusive to Walmart and costs $ 10 more, but its remote control has volume, power, silence, and Voice search buttons on your remote control. That is worth at least $ 10 in our book.
Sling TV subscribers who are also interested in receiving air television may be interested in watching the AirTV Player + Adapter, although we found it a disappointment.
What to look for in a media streaming device
Are you still trying to decide between all these options? These are some additional factors to consider when making your decision, followed by a chart that compares the characteristics of the tables we have mentioned above.
Performance: In general, the decoders are faster than the transmission sticks, and the amount you spend correlates quite a lot with the loading speeds and the smoothness you get.
Playback quality and resolution: If you have a 4K or 4K HDR TV, you probably want a transmission box that takes full advantage of those capabilities. But these days, you will not find any modern device that does not support at least a 1080p resolution.
Application Selection: Traditionally, this has been the most important factor in the choice of a transmission device, but over time the selection of applications has begun to look a lot, no matter which device you choose, at least among the main transmission services. Our application confrontation chart will help you with any particular service that interests you.
Linked Ecosystems: Apple applications and services are only available through Apple TV, while Fire TV devices are the most convenient way to watch Amazon Prime videos, and Google video and music services generally have better access through Chromecast or Android TV. Roku is more of a neutral party, which offers applications for Amazon, Google Play Movies & TV and several other competing video services, but it lacks the sophisticated virtual assistants and smart home controls you’ll get with other platforms.
Content discovery features: Media streaming devices are beginning to evolve beyond a static list of applications. Features like Roku Feed and Apple TV’s “TV” app help you keep track of newcomers, while Amazon includes recommendations directly on the Fire TV home screen. Read about these approaches to decide which one sounds more attractive.
Private listening options: Many devices support Bluetooth headphones for when you do not want to disturb your spouse or children. Roku players also support wired headphones through the Roku mobile application, and through the remote control in their most expensive decoders.
Captive portal support: If you plan to take your streaming device along the way, you may encounter Wi-Fi networks that require a web browser to log in. This is known as a “captive portal”, and not all transmission devices support it.
Remote Control Functions: Some remote controls are loaded with buttons for fast forward, rewind and other special functions, while others adopt a more minimalist approach. Some remote controls can control the volume of your TV, and some include microphones for voice commands. However, no remote control is perfect, so take a look at the ones included with each frame to decide what is most important to you.
Supported audio codec: A growing number of streaming services support soundtracks based on objects, such as Dolby Atmos, that add height signals to the surround sound. If your home audio system can also take advantage of it, and even many of today’s sound bars can do it, you’ll want to hear it.
Connectivity: Do you plan to connect a USB storage device, an Ethernet cable or a sound system through an analog or digital optical audio cable? Make sure your transmission case has the proper connections. You’ll also want a device with the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi connection if you’re worried about bandwidth on an overcrowded home network.
Our latest reviews on media transmitters
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