Streaming TV makes it easy to access your favorite shows and movies with a touch of a button. There are a lot of different streaming devices on the market. While they are all somewhat similar, each product has its own unique features. To get a general idea of what is offered, it can be helpful to review all the options.
Summary of Streaming Devices
Key features of popular streaming devices include:
|Amazon Fire Family||Apple TV||Chromecast||Nvidia Shield||Roku|
|Price||$39 to $89||$169 to $199||$35 to $69||$200||$30 to $90|
|HDR||Fire TV||Yes||Ultra version||Yes||Premiere+ and Ultra versions|
|4K support||Fire TV||Yes||Ultra version||Yes||Premiere+ and Ultra versions|
|Major Services Supported||Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu||Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, ESPN||Pandora, Hulu, HBO GO, WatchESPN, Google Play||Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, VUDU, Google Play Movies||Amazon Video, Netflix, VUDU, Crackle, YouTube|
Amazon Fire TV
Amazon offers two different streaming TV products: Amazon Fire Stick and Amazon Fire TV (pictured). Both products can be voice activated through Alexa, which will turn on your TV and stream your favorite shows. The Alexa feature sets Amazon Fire TV apart from some of its competitors. (Apple TV comes with Siri and Chromecast can be turned on and off by Google Assistant, which can be accessed via a Google app.)
- Amazon Fire TV Stick is one of the least expensive video streaming devices at $39. It comes with many options, including access to apps and speed. However, the Fire TV Stick is definitely aimed at Prime users.
- While Amazon Fire TV ($89) is great for watching shows via Amazon Prime, it isn't ideal for people who use other streaming services because each one has to be downloaded separately. While Amazon Fire TV doesn't support Dolby vision, it did receive an excellent rating from PC magazine for its fast performance and ethernet connectivity option.
Apple TV 4K HDR ($169 to $199) takes your television watching experience to a whole new level with four times more pixels than other streaming services. You can also use this Siri-enabled device to show photos, stream music and play games found through the app store. In addition to Siri voice assistant and a massive selection of video apps, the interface comes with a personalized layout, so you tailor its set-up to your needs. Additionally, a remote isn't required if you have an Apple mobile device or tablet.
While picture quality is a huge advantage of this device, that feature may not be sufficient to offset its hefty price tag when compared to competitors like Amazon Fire TV and Roku. Price is not the device's only drawback. Additionally, CNET notes that the app isn't streamed in 4K, which can be a drawback for YouTube streamers.
Google Chromecast and Ultra
If you are looking for a diverse streaming player with a lower price tag, then you might want to give Google Chromecast or Ultra a try. It plugs into your TV's HDMI port and comes with new content aggregation, gaming, and screen-mirroring services that compare to Roku and Fire TV. It also comes with cross-platform search functionality, allowing you to search for specific content across various apps, which is impressive considering the price.
- At $35, Google Chromecast is one of the most affordable video streaming devices on the market. It can stream popular providers like Netflix, Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, HBO Now, and other apps and games. It's compatible with Android and AppleOS. However, Techspot notes that it has limited app controls and lacks central playback controls.
- At an impressive $69, Chromecast Ultra works in 5G Wi-Fi networks and with 4K HD and HDR. However, if you are a gamer or an Amazon junkie, Chromecast might not be for you, according to RadarTech. Additionally, if you like to kick it old school, you may not like the fact that this device doesn't have a remote.
Nvidia Shield TV
The Nvidia Shield TV ($200) is an option for enthusiastic gamers who also watch a lot of streaming videos. It might not be for everyone, but it certainly is a special device for dire hard Nvidia fans. Not only does it support 4K and HDR videos, it also comes with 500GB of storage, file sharing capacity, and an array of gaming titles. The remote is included in the price and it includes Google Assistant.
The console requires a fast, reliable network to run optimally, according to PC Magazine. Additionally, it costs as much as a regular game console. While this device may be ideal for gamers, there are more affordable options suitable for people with typical streaming habits.
Roku offers several types of streaming media devices, which you can choose based on your needs. Each has pros and cons. One key advantage is that Roku products have a feature that can search across multiple streaming services, which gives it a leg-up compared to Amazon Fire and Chromecast. Additionally, it's nice to have access to multiple devices to fit the needs of everyone in your family.
- Roku Express ($30): The cheapest of all Roku devices, this one is ideal for older TV sets and comes with basic functionality. Despite its price, it still comes with tons of streaming media apps and private listening with the Roku app. It has an HDMI port, a micro USB port, and a pinhole reset button. However, according to Gizmodo, if you are looking for speed, you might want to try a different player.
- Roku Express+ ($45): This version is an ideal choice if your older TV doesn't have HDMI inputs. It includes free cables and an awesome app ecosystem. All other functionalities are identical to Roku Express. You do need a solid Wi-Fi connection for this device to function properly.
- Roku Streaming Stick ($41): CNet describes this device as "the best streamer if you don't want 4K or HDR." It streams videos directly to the TV set with pre-set streaming. It's fast, has intuitive menus, and great search functionality. However, CNet did note that its voice controls don't measure-up to Amazon Fire TV Stick.
- Roku Premiere + ($90): Even though there isn't much streaming in 4K and HDR yet, this device is already equipped to serve those features for high-quality images. However, it can still be used for TVs that don't come with the HDMI feature. TechRadar notes that the interface has not been updated significantly with this version, pointing out that its "design lags behind competition."
- Roku Ultra ($90): It's the most expensive Roku device, hence the name "Ultra." With this unit, you can access more streaming movies and TV shows in 4K and HDR than any rival devices. It comes with most features and a remote, though a Tom's Guide review notes its lack of an optical audio port.
There are other options for streaming you may also want to consider.
- Blu-ray players are an option for viewing streaming video from some sources. However, not all video streaming providers cater to those devices, which is something you should seriously investigate before deciding to go this route.
- You can also stream videos via game consoles like XBox One and PS4 from major providers like Netflix. However, some streaming services aren't available via these devices.
- The latest version of digital TV sets are smart TVs with streaming capability already pre-built into the system, so you don't need to purchase any streaming device separately. You can simply set up this type of television to accept streaming videos after subscribing to the services, like Netflix or Hulu. Examples include Sony Bravia TV, Philips OLED, Samsung Smart Hub, Roku TV, and more.
Streaming Is the Future
Video streaming is the future and it's already here. Digital television technology has reached a point where streaming is becoming mainstream. However, if you watch videos on a TV set and need a streaming device and aim for the lowest cost, Amazon, Chromecast, and lower-level Roku devices can be strong candidates. If you prefer the next-level technology, Apple TV or Nvidia Shield could be a strong contender. The variety of available streaming devices in the market provides a large selection, so you're sure to be able to find one that match your viewing preferences.