The best media streaming devices you can buy
There’s no doubt about it. Lots of TV fans are ditching their old-fashioned cable and satellite connections. Instead, they are using their home internet network to stream TV shows and movies to their big-screen televisions. Cord-cutting has lead to the rise of media streaming devices of all types and price points.
Streaming is becoming more and more important for the entire movie and TV industry. Netflix’s success served as the template for this trend. Other services like Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Shudder, CBS All Access and many others have continued to expand this audience. It’s only going to get bigger as Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus launch. Plus, we have HBO Max and Peacock, among others, in the wings for 2020. So, which of the current media streaming devices is the best as we get ready for all of these new services?
We have listed the best media streaming devices you can buy with budget, mid-range, and high-end models to choose from. As you can see, if you are interested in checking out the new streaming services launching this fall and into 2020, price will not be an issue.
Best media streaming devices
- Roku Express
- Roku Premiere
- Amazon Fire TV Stick
- Google Chromecast
- Roku Streaming Stick Plus
- Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
- Google Chromecast Ultra
- Roku Ultra
- Amazon Fire TV Cube
- Apple TV and Apple TV 4K
- Nvidia Shield TV/Shield TV Pro
- Roku Smart Soundbar
- Anker Nebula Fire TV Soundbar
- JBL Link Bar
Editor’s Note: We will be updating this list as more media streaming devices are launched.
1. Roku Express
Roku makes the most popular of the media streaming devices in the US. It offers access to perhaps the largest number of streaming services available. The best thing is that the company provides the cheapest and easiest way for non-smart TVs to join the streaming trend. The Roku Express, priced at just $29.99, is a small set-top box that you connect to your TV with an included HDMI cable. Once it’s connected to your home Wi-Fi, your TV can start streaming from thousands of Roku channels, including all the major services. That includes both the upcoming Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus, both of which will have native Roku apps. Streaming resolution is limited to 1080p with the Roku Express.
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. Roku Express also includes a simple remote to control the device. If you want to use your voice, Walmart sells a special version of the box, Roku Express Plus, for $39.99. It’s the same set-top box, but it throws in a voice-support remote as well. It works with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa-based smart speakers. Both versions can also be controlled with the Roku app for iOS and Android smartphones.
2. Roku Premiere
The Roku Premiere is basically the same product as the Roku Express, with one major difference. The cheaper Express model limits streaming to 1080p resolution. The Premiere model boosts that stream up, and supports 4K and HDR picture quality. It has the same simple remote as the Express. The remotes on both models have quick buttons for popular services like Netflix and Hulu in case you just want to jump in. You can get the Roku Premiere for $39.99.
3. Amazon Fire TV Stick
The Amazon Fire TV family is perhaps the biggest rival to Roku in the media streaming devices race. The Amazon Fire TV Stick is the cheapest of the line at $39.99 and it comes with an Alexa voice remote. It allows you to search for shows, movies, actors and more with voice commands. In addition, you can watch live feeds from your security cameras, or control smart home devices with the remote as well.
Like the Roku OS, the Amazon Fire TV operating system has access to thousands of streaming channels. However, the Fire TV OS doesn’t have quite the amount of channel and streaming services options that Roku has. In fact, if you are looking for Disney Plus or Apple TV Plus support, Amazon’s Fire TV devices have not yet announced support for those upcoming streaming services.
4. Google Chromecast
Google doesn’t currently sell a product that directly streams media to a TV. However, it does sell two models of its Chromecast TV HDMI dongle. The cheaper standard model costs $35 and can connect to your Android or iOS smartphone. 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.
In 2018, Google launched a third-generation version of its standard Chromecast, which now supports multi-room audio and video streaming at 1080p resolution at 60fps.
5. Roku Streaming Stick Plus
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 cheaper Roku models. That means it has 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 Roku Premiere.
The Roku Streaming Stick Plus is priced at just $49.99, which is a permanent $10 price cut from its earlier $59.99 cost. Best Buy is also selling a version of the same stick for $59.99 that throws in a set of earphones that connect to the Roku remote.
6. Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, as the name suggests, boosts the video resolution up to 4K compared to the standard model. 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.
7. Google Chromecast Ultra
The Chromecast streaming media devices get a boost with the Ultra model. It bumps up the video streaming resolution to 4K for those services that support it. More importantly, the Chromecast Ultra is the device to get if you want to access the upcoming Google Stadia streaming game service on your TV. You get the Chromecast Ultra as a bundle with the Stadia controller if you buy the Stadia Premiere Edition for $129. However, if you want to wait to get Stadia, you can buy the Chromecast Ultra now for $69, and then get the controller sometime in 2020 later.
8. Roku Ultra
If you want the ultimate Roku experience, you can snap up the Roku Ultra set-top box. It’s the largest of the Roku streaming media devices you can get. It’s 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. For 2019, the remote also has personal shortcut buttons. You can customize them so you can immediately launch your favorite channels.
The Roku Ultra also comes with a USB port, 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. It also 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 for $99.99.
9. Amazon Fire TV Cube
The Amazon Fire TV Cube basically merges 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 $119.99.
10. Apple TV and Apple TV 4K
Before the first Roku and Amazon Fire TV streaming media devices launched, Apple was there first. The folks at Cupertino released the first Apple TV device way back in 2007. Today, the current Apple TV models run the latest version of tvOS, based largely on Apple’s iOS mobile operating system. Like Roku and Fire TV, tvOS supports most of the current and popular streaming TV services. It also has its own app store where you can download tvOS-based apps and games.
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.
While all of the Apple TV devices are on the pricey side, keep in mind that if you buy a new one, you get a nice bonus. Apple is giving away one free year of its Apple TV Plus service for any new hardware purchases. That means you can save about $60 on a subscription to the service.
11. Nvidia Shield TV/ Shield TV Pro 2019
Nvidia has been supporting its older Shield TV set-top streaming devices for a couple of years with major software updates. In late October, the company launched an all-new 2019 edition of the Shield TV device, with a much smaller cylindrical design. It still runs Android TV, which means you can access its supported media streaming services. It also has a new and more powerful Tegra X1+ processor. That new chip can not just stream native 4K video content on your TV. It can also upscale 720p and 1080p video to 4K with a high degree of quality, with some help from Nvidia’s AI neural network.
The new Shield TV also supports both Dolby Vision and HDR10 for a higher quality of video. In addition, it throws in Dolby Atmos audio support. It includes both Wi-Fi and wireless ethernet support, plus 2GB of RAM and 8GB of storage. You can also play most Android-based games on this media streaming device. If you are lucky enough to be signed up for the GeForce NOW streaming service (still in closed beta), you can play a number of high-end PC games.
There’s also an Nvidia Shield TV Pro model for 2019, which retains the older console-like case design. It has 3GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, two USB-C ports, and support for Plex Media Server and SmartThings. It also can record any game you play, or you can stream it via Twitch.
Both models are on the more expensive side. You can get the standard 2019 Nvidia Shield TV for $149.99. The Pro model will set you back even more at $199.99.
12. Roku Smart Soundbar
In 2019, we saw the rise of another sub-genre for media streaming devices. A number of companies launched “smart soundbars” that included full streaming media operating systems along with its speakers. Roku joined that trend recently with its own smart soundbar. It will not only give your big-screen TV a huge audio boost with its four drivers, but it can stream video just like its sticks or set-top boxes. There’s support for up to 4K streaming resolution with this soundbar, and you also get Bluetooth wireless support for streaming audio. It comes with a voice command remote as well. It’s available from Roku for $179.99.
If you want to save some money, Walmart is selling an Onn-branded Roku Smart Soundbar for just $129.99. The only difference is that the Walmart version has a standard remote, rather than the voice remote that’s bundled with the regular Roku model.
13. Anker Nebula Fire TV Soundbar
If you like Amazon’s Fire TV OS, there’s also a smart soundbar you can purchase. Anker’s Nebula brand is selling a Fire TV soundbar right now. It includes two speakers and two-built in subwoofers to improve the sound from your TV. Of course, it can stream anything that a Fire TV-based device can, up to 4K resolution. It also comes with an Alexa-based voice remote. Pre-orders for the soundbar are being taken now, and it will start shipping November 21. The price is pretty high at $229.99.
14. JBL Link Bar
Android TV fans can also purchase their own smart soundbar with the JBL Link Bar. It not only supports streaming via Android TV, but it also adds Chromecast support for casting media and apps to your big screen TV. Of course, it streams video at up to 4K resolution, and it features full Google Assistant voice support. The audio quality from this soundbar is also great, as usual from the folks at JBL. However, you will have to pay a premium to get this streaming media device. It’s easily the most expensive product on this list. with Amazon selling it at a whopping $399.99.
Bonus – Smart TVs as media streaming devices
If you want to buy a new big-screen television, you should consider buying a “smart TV” that has a streaming media device OS already installed. TVs with the Roku OS are available from TCL, Sharp, Hisense and many more. You can also buy Amazon Fire TV-based televisions made by Toshiba and Insignia. The Android TV OS can be found installed on some smart TVs, including ones made by Sony. However, other major TV makers like Samsung, LG, and Vizio each use their own proprietary smart TV operating systems. As a result, the streaming services available for those televisions may vary widely. Keep that in mind if you want to buy a new smart TV and want to use it to access the streaming services you want to sign up for.
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 Roku Ultra, 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.