When it comes to home entertainment, the best streaming devices provide some of the most fundamental components. The best streaming devices are here to ensure you can access HBO Max and other specialized streaming services like Shudder and Criterion Channel, even if your TV doesn’t have them built in.
Streaming devices can be challenging, but we put them through their paces in testing. It’s possible to compare streaming devices that cost $50 or more by watching movies and TV shows.
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K, which improves upon its predecessor in both performance and the inclusion of Dolby Vision, is our current top pick for the best streaming device overall. Roku’s streamlined app-first OS is just one reason why it’s our top pick. In addition, one of our editors recently added a Roku Voice Remote Pro, and he thinks it’s a great addition.
The following are currently the top-tier media players on the market.
Roku Streaming Stick 4K Plus
For a long time, users preferred Streaming Stick Plus. Now, people prefer the Streaming Stick 4K Plus. This updated model of the Roku Streaming Stick is faster and comes with a longer-range wireless receiver; it also plugs right into your TV’s HDMI port, so you won’t see it dangling. In addition, Roku has the most user-friendly interface, and it supports all the most popular streaming services.
The Plus model comes with a brand-new wireless remote control. When activated, a switch on the remote side enables two-way communication between the remote and the user from across the room. With the addition of HBO Max support, all you have to do is tell your Roku to start playing Succession. I misplaced the remote on the couch. Activating a beep is as easy as asking Roku where it is. Even though I don’t like charging the remote, I appreciate not having to buy new batteries as often.
Chromecast With Google TV
The latest Chromecast is an excellent streaming device; WIRED gives it an 8 out of 10. Thanks to the included remote and Google TV (formerly Android TV), you can watch TV without ever touching your phone again.
A newer version of Google TV has a more aesthetically pleasing interface than Roku. You can search for a title or browse for comedies on multiple platforms. Find something to watch in record time. Google Assistant, a voice search engine, can manage smart home gadgets and provide answers to questions.
Just one little problem: Due to its limited capacity, you may find yourself in a bind if you accumulate too many belongings. Having to clear the cache at regular intervals manually can be a pain.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max
The Fire Stick 4K Max improves upon the 4K Stick by adding features like Wi-Fi 6 compatibility and a picture-in-picture mode for viewing a live feed from a security camera alongside your TV program. Compared to the 4K, the Max has twice as much memory (4GB vs. 1.5GB) and is twice as fast (and eight gigs of storage). Vudu is now accessible as well.
The content available on the home screen of a Fire Stick is naturally geared toward Amazon Prime. However, there are also apps for other streaming services, and a list of recently used apps is conveniently placed at the very top. So you should look elsewhere if Amazon Prime still needs to be one of your go-to streaming services.
Unfortunately, the included USB cable couldn’t get enough juice from my TV, so I had to plug it into an outlet instead. Even though this is the norm, the Roku 4K Plus Stick demonstrated above appropriately worked when connected directly to the HDMI and USB ports on the television.
3rd Generation – Apple 4K TV
Apple TVs are costly, but if you own an iPhone and regularly purchase content from Apple’s iTunes store, they are well worth the investment (or subscribe to Apple TV Plus). The newest version has some seriously cool features, such as playing sounds on two sets of AirPods with no sound in the room or watching movies with a friend over Facetime, and the interface is sleeker than that of Roku and Google. In addition, HDR10+ is included in the newest version, allowing for the most realistic colors.
The USB-C charging port on the included remote makes recharging it every few months a breeze. One has Wi-Fi and 64 gigabytes of memory, while the other has Ethernet and 128 gigabytes for an additional $20. If it were me, I’d spring for the larger size.
How does a VPN connect to media players?
Connecting your smart TV to a VPN or a media streaming device to one has many advantages. A virtual private network, as always, allows you to watch TV and movies privately and unimpeded by your ISP. With a worthy virtual private network (VPN), you can access geo-blocked content from anywhere in the world and switch your virtual location to any of the different countries offered by a provider.
For example, the ExpressVPN app can be downloaded directly onto smart TVs and streaming media devices running Android TV software (including Fire TV Stick) for instant VPN security. Even if your smart TV, Apple TV, Roku, or gaming console doesn’t support VPN software, you can still use ExpressVPN’s MediaStreamer or a simple router connection to stream content securely.
How helpful are 4K, HDR10+, and Wi-Fi 6 with streaming media devices?
Though individual experiences will vary, the options above represent the cutting edge of current technology (you’ll notice that Fire Stick and Roku offer cheaper HD alternatives).
Their prevalence is only expected to grow. HDR10+ (and Dolby Vision) are the best formats for improved contrast and brightness, and they are growing in popularity, although 4K is already reasonably standard for TVs. The Apple TV 4K and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max are the only streaming devices that support Wi-Fi 6, which is significantly quicker than Wi-Fi 5. However, it is still not widely accessible.