Whether you’ve cut the cord or want to add the option of internet TV to your viewing choices, you need the right streaming device for your budget, system, and lifestyle.
With more people cutting the cord every day and switching to getting their TV online, finding the best streaming device to watch internet TV becomes a hot topic. Streaming devices are what send content from your mobile, tablet, or other device to your TV screen so that you can watch your TV shows and movies in sharp, clear images on a big screen. Streaming devices cover a big range of prices and almost as big a range of features, too. Here are the primary things to take into consideration before you choose a streaming device.
One of the main choices you need to make before you buy a streaming device is which content supply service you'll be using. One of the best-known content systems is Amazon, which offers up content from its own Amazon Prime Media, Amazon Instant Video, and Amazon Prime Music through the Amazon Fire TV and Amazon Fire TV Stick. You can also watch shows and movies from Netflix, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, HBO Now, and Hulu Plus by adding the individual apps.
One of the widest choices of content is provided by Roku, through one of 6 streaming devices that include the low-cost Roku Express, the Roku Streaming Stick, and the Roku Ultra. The Roku Channel Store doesn’t market its own content but instead gives easy access to content from thousands of streaming suppliers like Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Sling TV, Hulu Plus, Twitch, Google, YouTube, and many more, including a lot of smaller media companies which aren’t as widely available.
The main app that it doesn’t provide is iTunes. If you’re an Apple user, you’ll want a streaming device that’s compatible with all your other i-devices like Apple TV 4K. This gives you content from the biggies like Netflix, Hulu, and Sling TV as well as Apple’s own apps such as iTunes, which isn’t often available from non-Apple systems. However, you can’t run any competitor apps, like Spotify, which competes with iTunes.
There are also other content suppliers like Android TV, which has a relatively small app store through Nvidia Shield, but does offer a huge number of games, including PC games. Google also has its own store for media apps which include the big hitters like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Sling TV.
Another big concern today is resolution. With advances in technology, you can enjoy the sharpest, clearest picture yet – but that depends not just on the size and resolution of your screen but also on what your streaming device supports. If you're interested in a top of the line device that enables excellent picture quality and Dolby surround sound, you'd do best with Apple TV 4K or Nvidia Shield, which both provide extremely good resolution and audio quality. Amazon Fire TV, Roku Streaming Stick Plus, and Roku Ultra all offer a choice of 4K and high-definition resolution options. Google Chromecast Ultra is worth a special mention for having the biggest number of HDR options for its relatively low price.
Another element to bear in mind is the choice of controls you’ll have for switching channels and finding content. It’s pretty standard for streaming devices to include menu systems that show up on screen and dedicated remotes that make it easy to search for content without getting up from the couch.
Voice controls are particularly handy, especially when they include native language support so that you can ask ‘Show me the newest episode of Homeland’ instead of needing to phrase your request in the right way. Amazon Fire TV and the Amazon Fire TV Stick both come with Alexa voice support, although only Amazon Fire TV will answer you back. Apple TV 4K is integrated with the Siri voice assistant, and the Nvidia Shield connects with Google Home so that you can use your Google Home system to control your TV viewing. Roku Ultra and Roku Streaming Stick Plus both have a voice search option built in so that you can even shout instructions from another room.
No matter what you’re buying, price is always going to be part of your decision-making. You can get very effective basic streaming devices for as little as $30, such as the Roku Express and the Amazon Fire TV Stick which are both available for $29.99, or the Google Chromecast which usually retails at around $35. Although you won’t get any extras like voice controls, HD or 4K image resolution, or other perks, you will get reliable access to all of the same content as the more expensive models from the same businesses.
At the other end, the more expensive streaming devices cost well over $100 for a much larger lineup of features. The Apple TV 4K costs around $180 for advanced 4K resolution, Siri voice assistant, and other perks, while the Nvidia Shield edges on $200 for an intense and immersive gaming and viewing experience.
There are also plenty of middle of the market options which retail at the $50 to $70 mark, such as the Roku Streaming Stick at $48.58, Google Chromecast Ultra at $69.99, and Amazon Fire TV at $49.99.
All streaming devices carry out the basic functionality of sharing content from your device onto your big TV screen, but if you're having a hard time deciding between models, there are some extra features which you might not need, but would really enjoy having. One nice extra is a high-speed streaming connection, which is especially beneficial to gamers who don't want anything holding them back. Nvidia Shield gives a particularly fast connection so that the only thing slowing you down is your reflexes.
Amazon Fire TV is unusual for providing a web browser right on your TV scr