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Whether you're >cutting the cord or just looking to get the internet’s vast entertainment library onto your TV, a good media streamer is a trusty companion. Compared to accessing apps through a smart TV, the best media streamers offer more content in a smoother package and with more speed. They cause the least resistance possible between you and the things you want to watch — and compared to cable, they can save lots of money along the way.
The media-streamer market isn't quite as competitive as the >headphone, >Bluetooth speaker, or >fitness-tracker ones. Thankfully, most of the ones you'll see advertised are genuinely pretty good. Still, some are better than others, and there are enough differences between them to make finding the right box for your particular needs less than straightforward.
To help you out, we've once again scoured the web and performed our own hands-on testing to find the best media streamers currently on the market. We split them up by specialty and, as usual, we've assigned them a BI Rating — click here to see how that works.
For now, though, here's what we found.
Update (12/17/15): We've started our first major refresh of this guide. We've swapped the Roku 4 in for the Roku 3 as "the best overall" streamer, and we've updated our Fire TV Stick recommendation to reflect its new voice search and Alexa support. We can also say that the Apple TV (2015) is our new "best for iTunes users" pick, though we'll have more on that in the near future.
Update (12/17/15): We've started our first major refresh of this guide. We've swapped the Roku 4 in for the Roku 3 as "the best overall" streamer, and we've updated our Fire TV Stick recommendation to reflect its new voice search and Alexa support. We can also say that the Apple TV (2015) is our new "best for iTunes users" pick, though we'll have more on that in the near future.This post was originally published on 9/15/15.
The best for most people: Roku 2
BI Rating: 9/10
>Roku 2 (2015 model), $69, available at Amazon.com.AmazonMost people in search of a media streamer should buy a Roku. As of today, its family of boxes come with the widest variety of content for the widest swath of users, the smoothest and most easily navigable user interface, and the best search function.
The Roku name has become the standard in streaming media, so outside of iTunes — which Apple blocks off from everyone — Roku boxes come with more or less every app you could possibly want, from the mainstream to the hyper niche to the user-created.
The last of those often provide serviceable workarounds for the few channels Roku doesn’t officially support. Crucially, these apps are frequently updated, sometimes well before they're on competing devices.
If you want to watch something, you’ll probably find it here — and unlike their rivals from Amazon, Apple, and Google, Roku boxes don't have any obligation to push you toward one particular content source. They're as close to a platform agnostic as you're going to get.
Roku’s UI, meanwhile, is simple to navigate. It's also customizable, allowing you to pick and choose which apps you want to display most prominently on your home screen. That may not sound like much, but it's not a universal thing, and it's the kind of feature you won't want to lose once you've had it.
Roku also improved its OS's "My Feed" feature with the launch of the Roku 4. New to the OS is an improved “My Feed.” This lets you bookmark your favorite movies, shows, and actors, who’ll then appear in a separate tab in the main menu. You can then quickly access those programs from that tab instead of searching for them every time, and you’ll get updates when your bookmarks have relevant new content.
This doesn’t work with every service, and it’s really only useful for TV shows, but it cuts out a good chunk of the clicking and searching you’d otherwise have to do to find what you want. It feels like common sense.
Also new is support for captive WiFi portals — i.e., the annoying, agreement-laden connections you'd find in a hotel or dorm room. Amazon's Fire TV and Fire TV Stick have had this travel-friendly feature for some time, but we'll take late over never.
The UI's search function, meanwhile, is a little more mixed. On one level, it’s the best there is. It takes a >ton of channels into account, it presents your results by affordability so you can stream the cheapest option possible, and again, it doesn’t feel like it’s pushing an agenda.
When it comes to voice search, though, it still has some growing up to do. You can tell it’s not a forte of Roku’s the way it is for Amazon, Apple, or Google's Chromecast. There’s no Alexa- or Siri-like voice assistant, and while those aren’t quite necessary, the kind of conversational search they enable is something you’ll miss once you lose it.
It wouldn’t be as big a deal if keyword searching was better, but you'll have to slow down and enunciate more than you would elsewhere. It’s slower to gather results than something like the Fire TV, too. To be clear, it works well enough to avoid using the virtual keyboard, and it's wonderfully convenient when it gets everything right, but there’s obvious room for improvement.
Roku's devices could also stand to support a few more file types when it comes to playing local media, but for the way most people are going to use one of these boxes — i.e., searching and streaming through online apps — it's the king of the mountain.
You have three choices if you want to get the most out of Roku: the Roku 2, the Roku 3, and the newest Roku 4. The latter two are better devices, but the former is the best purchase. For $70, it's just as fast as the 3 — which is to say, very fast — close enough to the speed of the 4, and fitted with virtually the same UI, which is the real selling point here. It shares the same discrete, hockey-puck-style design as the Roku 3, too, complete with a built-in Ethernet port for faster Internet access.
It loses a few handy features in its remote — which we'll get to in a second — but none of them will likely be essential enough to be worth the extra cash. If you do want them, though, you can always buy an updated remote on your own time. Even in its default state, the Roku 2 is still the best mix of affordability, performance, and features on the media-streamer market.
- Truckload of apps
- Customizable, dead-simple interface
- Fast performance
- Not as robust with local media files
- No headphone jack or microphone in remote
BI Rating: 8/10
>Roku 4, $129.99, available at Amazon.Business Insider/Jeff DunnTake everything good about the Roku 2 — and our previous pick in this spot, the >Roku 3 — make it a little bit faster, and add 4K support. You now have the >Roku 4, which is the best media streamer you can buy if money is no object.
The big thing you’re buying here is the ability to run Ultra HD content at up to 60 frames per second. It all runs beautifully, and the “4K Spotlight” section of the latest Roku OS makes it easy to find all the high-res streams you can run today. We mention this in the review linked above, but just know that you need a TV compliant with HDCP 2.2 standard for any of this to work. You need fast Internet and a lot of bandwidth, too, though the 802.11ac WiFi support included here helps with that.
That 60fps detail is notable, since the Roku 4’s closest competitor — the >new Amazon Fire TV, which >we’ve reviewed — can only stream 4K up to 30fps. It’s not going to make a major difference for most people, but if you’re paying $130 for a streamer, you might be the type who wants to feel secure knowing they have the smoothest picture possible. This is the box that can get you that. (The Nvidia Shield TV can as well, but Roku OS is miles more accessible than Android TV, as we note below.)
Now, the value of having 4K right this second is debatable. The amount of readily available 4K content is still limited, and the only way you’ll notice the difference between a 4K picture and a 1080p one (with everything else being equal) is by owning a fairly sizable TV. Today, the old chicken-and-egg scenario — people need to buy 4K devices for studios to produce 4K content, and vice versa — is still in play.
At the same time, we’re pretty clearly headed toward a 4K future. The prices of 4KTVs have steadily dropped over the last few years, and most signs point toward it becoming the standard resolution in most future purchases, the way 1080p is the norm now. And that’s not even counting the fact that a handful of movies are already sold in 4K today, or that major apps like Netflix and YouTube have started promoting 4K streams themselves.
This is all to say that, in addition to having the user-friendliest platform, the Roku 4 is arguably the most future-proof streamer on the market. Still, that’s the only real reason you should buy it: You’re okay with dropping $130 on one thing now just to not have to worry about any of this for a few years.
in addition to having the user-friendliest platform, the Roku 4 is arguably the most future-proof streamer on the market. Still, that’s the only real reason you should buy it: You’re okay with dropping $130 on one thing now just to not have to worry about any of this for a few years.
Otherwise, the upgrades you get with buying a Roku 4 are very similar to the ones you get with buying a Roku 3. It mostly comes down to a better remote. Here, as with the Roku 3, it includes a headphone jack for private listening (very useful if you want to watch without disturbing a sleeping partner), a built-in microphone for voice search (the Roku 2 can only use Roku's mobile app), and Wi-Fi direct support (which, unlike the Roku 2's option, lets the remote work even if it's not facing the box head-on).
Besides that, the Roku 4 tacks a new remote finder button onto the box itself, which you can tap to set off an alarm on the remote itself, just in case you lose it between the couch cushions. It’s nothing essential, but it’s the kind of convenience every box should implement going forward.
The other difference worth noting here is that the Roku 4 is physically larger than its predecessors. It looks nice, and it’s only “big” relative to its competition, but there’s at least some chance you’ll have a harder chance fitting it in if your space is tight.
Here’s the tl;dr version of all of this: If you’re only streaming in 1080p for the foreseeable future, and you mostly want a box for right now, the Roku 2 is tops by a mile. If you
Here’s the tl;dr version of all of this: If you’re only streaming in 1080p for the foreseeable future, and you mostly want a box for right now, the Roku 2 is tops by a mile. If youreally want that headphone jack, and you’re still sticking to 1080p, the Roku 3 might be worth it. But if you are (or will soon be) an early 4K adopter, and you can pay for everything Roku has to offer, the Roku 4 is the best product it makes.
- Outstanding interface
- Remote headphone jack and microphone are great
- Fast and powerful
- Extra tricks aren't worth the premium for most
- Not as robust with local media files
The best dongle: Amazon Fire TV Stick
BI Rating: 8/10
Most "full-size" streaming media boxes like the two above aren't particularly big, but alongside them have come a handful of streaming dongles — tiny, flash-drive-sized sticks that plug directly into your TV's HDMI port (and, usually, another power source).
They aren't as powerful as the larger boxes, but they come with complete interfaces, plenty of app support, and, most appealingly, a much lower price tag than most full-on streamers.
There are three main horses in the streaming dongle race: the Roku Streaming Stick, the Google Chromecast, and the Amazon Fire TV Stick. All three have distinct flaws, but given that each is available for less than $50, there's no obvious "loser" among them. Roku’s stick has the same outstanding software as the two boxes above. Google's is the cheapest and extremely simple to configure and use. (Read our full review for more.) Amazon's is easily the fastest performer of the bunch.
If we had to pick one, though, we're going with the Fire TV Stick. Yes, its OS strongly pushes you toward Amazon's content library, and its app selection isn't as automatic as Roku's. Like the Fire TV and most other Amazon devices, it really wants you to be a Prime member. If you aren't, it can feel like you're being shamed by your TV.
That said, it's a mostly clean UI, and it still supports the vast majority of apps most people will use, from Netflix to HBO Now to Plex. And if you do use Prime Video and the like, the device will pick up on what Prime content you watch most frequently and preload it before it's even chosen.
New this year to the Fire TV Stick is the option to get an improved remote. It’ll run you another $10, but it's much like the one that comes with the full-size Fire TV, which means it has built-in voice search along with Amazon’s “Alexa” assistant. It's wonderful.
Much like Apple TV's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana, Alexa can fire up movies or music, give you suggestions on what to stream next, tell you the weather, look up sports scores, crawl Wikipedia for random facts, and so on. If you connect it with the corresponding app on your phone, you can set up things like calendar reminders, traffic reports, and to-do list updates. It’s personable, fun, and useful, if you bother to use it.
We should note that Alexa works separately from standard searching; it's more like an add-on to it than the function itself. Amazon's search isn't perfect in general — it can’t instantly launch apps (saying “open Netflix” won’t do that) a la Android TV or Apple's tvOS, some commands need be phrased a specific way, and again it pushes Amazon's stuff first — but it's quick and near-constantly accurate. It all feels more natural than Roku's equivalent, and it's well beyond what any other dongle currently offers.
Beyond that, the Fire TV Stick (sans remote) is cheaper than the Streaming Stick, and it isn't dependent on another device, unlike the Chromecast. Amazon provides deeper parental controls than its competitors, too. And it's long been travel-friendly, thanks to its support for the aforementioned captive WiFi portals.
As noted above, where the Fire TV Stick really wins out is in its performance. It's noticeably faster than the Chromecast and, especially, the Roku Streaming Stick, which makes its interface deficiencies more bearable. At least compared to the Roku, the Chromecast mostly relies on your smartphone or tablet to beam content onto your TV, which can be cumbersome. Having a few more apps and better search is only worth so much when you have to wait an extra minute and a half to use them. Ultimately,
where the Fire TV Stick really wins out is in its performance. It's noticeably faster than the Chromecast and, especially, the Roku Streaming Stick, which makes its interface deficiencies more bearable. At least compared to the Roku, the Chromecast mostly relies on your smartphone or tablet to beam content onto your TV, which can be cumbersome. Having a few more apps and better search is only worth so much when you have to wait an extra minute and a half to use them. Ultimately,we think the difference is dramatic enough to put up with Amazon's thirstiness.
- Fastest performance at this size
- Great voice search with Alexa support
- Compact and travel-friendly
- Pushes you toward Amazon content
- Slower than larger boxes
The best for iTunes users: Apple TV
BI Rating: 8/10
>Apple TV (current version), $64.99, available at Amazon.com.AppleYes, we know, there's a certain >highly anticipated follow-up to the Apple TV coming in a little over a month. We'll be happy to include it here once we're able to see if it's worth the hype. It's not available right yet, though, and it's going to cost $150 when it arrives.
So right now the best, and really only media streamer for those who are heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, is still last year's Apple TV. It's a modest update to a device that's three years old, but if you're one of the millions who've bought lots of movies, music, and TV shows through iTunes, it's the only device that lets you stream all of that content from the cloud and onto your TV.
It doesn't support nearly as many apps as the Roku family, but it has most of the big ones, ranging from YouTube to Hulu to MLB.tv. It's still missing heavy hitters like Amazon Instant Video (making it a much harder sell if you're a Prime user), Pandora, and Spotify, but most of those AWOL apps can be had through AirPlay.
That lets you stream media from your iPhone or iPad, or mirror videos from a newer MacBook or iDevice's display, on your TV screen. As with the Chromecast, using an external device like that isn't the most straightforward solution, but it's effective for what it is.
There's little point in harping on the downsides of the current Apple TV when a new one is just on the horizon. For now, we'll just note that — aside from its lacking app selection — the current box can't search across apps for content, doesn't have many games, and is tied to iTunes, which can get much more expensive than just using streaming services like Netflix.
That's all annoying, but much of the current Apple TV's issues appear to be addressed with the new model. We just can't say for sure if those improvements will be worth its asking price yet. What we can say is that today's version is still a great choice for anyone who has gone all in with Apple and is something that can mostly be ignored by everyone else.
- Perfect for big iTunes collections
- AirPlay works great
- Clean and simple interface
- Not as useful if you aren't invested in the Apple ecosystem
- No cross-platform search
- Soon to be outdated
The best for gaming: Microsoft Xbox One
BI Rating: 8/10
>Xbox One + Halo: The Master Chief Collection Bundle, $349.99.MicrosoftIt's worth noting that you may not need a dedicated streamer to satisfy your media needs. If you can get by with just the most popular streaming services, a game console like the Xbox One doubles as a halfway-decent set-top box.
Your choices in the "streaming console" space are twofold: You have the Xbox One, and you have Sony's PlayStation 4. While we'd say the latter is a better outright gaming machine, Microsoft has the edge from a media-streaming standpoint.
Both consoles support the essentials — and play Blu-ray disc — but the Xbox One is privy to notable apps like WatchESPN and Fox Now, as well as full access to HBO Go. (For some inane reason, Comcast currently blocks that last service on PlayStation.)
If you use cable, you can also use the Xbox’s HDMI-in port to route your existing cable box through it, giving it a refreshed, livelier UI in the process.
In general, we prefer the Xbox's Windows-based interface to Sony's confused, horizontal line setup. It isn't perfect, but it wastes less space on screen, it has a better search function, and it's more customizable. It puts less obstacles between you and the apps you want to access.
You shouldn't go out and drop $350 on a gaming console just to stream things — they don't support as many apps, and they aren't designed with streaming in mind. But if you're going to buy something for games anyway, the Xbox One puts less pressure on you to go out and drop another $70 on a Roku 2.
- Supports a growing number of services
- Doubles as a cable box
- Also plays games
- App selection isn't as deep as dedicated streamer
- Louder than a typical streamer
The best for streaming local media: Nvidia Shield Android TV
BI Rating: 7/10
>Nvidia Shield, $199.99, available at Amazon.com.NvidiaFinally, if you've built up a large collection of media on your computer and want a box that'll ensure you can watch it all on your TV, the Nvidia Shield is your best bet. It runs on a lacking Android TV interface and it's a bit overpriced, but it's the single-fastest streamer available, and it worked with every local file type we could throw at it.
Essentially, the Shield tries to find a balance between a super-powerful set-top box and a lightweight gaming console. Its big hook is that it can stream Netflix and YouTube in Ultra HD, which does a number on your Internet's bandwidth but gives you the sharpest picture you can get today.
That isn't worth much unless you've already dropped the cash for a large 4KTV, but if you have, and that TV doesn't come with Netflix built in — which is rare, but still — the Shield is the only way you can get such gorgeous quality from the service.
Purely as a set-top box, the Shield is decent. It's blazing fast and capable of loading up streams at a significantly faster rate than the Roku 3 or Apple TV, and its tile-based interface looks good. But while Android TV is growing as a platform, recently adding support for things like Fox Sports Go and the WWE Network alongside the usual big names, it can't match the depth and versatility of the Roku.
It doesn't have HBO Now yet or Amazon Instant Video, its UI is too spaced out and difficult to customize, and its search function isn't as far-reaching as its chief rivals. It also tends to steer you toward the Google Play platform, which can be a pain. You can use it like a Chromecast and beam missing apps to it from your smartphone or tablet, but again, native support is always better.
Further complicating things is the Shield's remote, which is more or less a bulky Xbox controller. It works well for what it is, with a built-in headphone jack, volume controls, and microphone, but it isn't a natural form factor for many people. Thankfully, you can pair the Shield with other Bluetooth remotes as needed.
The Shield makes up for all of this, to an extent, with a boatload of bonus features. If you like to game, it has a wide variety of specially made Android games, as well as the ability to stream a handful of PC games from a compatible high-end computer.
If you have a CableCARD tuner, you can hook it up here and stream live TV. The device has built-in USB ports for adding more storage space, too.
And as we noted, it excels as a local-media streamer. Whether you're going through a client like Plex or your own flash drive, there's little the Shield isn't able to play. It'll run 4K files, if you have any, and it serves everything up with great speed. If that's a priority and you're willing to accept its flaws, the Shield TV is as close to a luxury set-top box as there is.
- Super-fast interface
- Streams in 4K
- Tons of features
- Android TV interface is lacking
- Default remote is big and clunky
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Source : http://www.businessinsider.com/best-media-streaming-devices-buying-guide-2015-9