We’ve come a long way from the days of poring over a TV schedule and blocking out chunks of time to catch our favorite shows. Now we subscribe to Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime and other services, and stream our movies and series on our own schedules. And for that, we turn to a must-have gadget: a media streaming device.
There’s a lot of competition among media streamers, with offerings from Amazon, Roku, Apple and Google all vying to deliver your programs to your home television. Prices range from as low as $35 all the way up to $199.
Most streaming devices can deliver all the major entertainment services, so choosing one comes down to what companies you’re comfortable with, which streaming services you favor, and whether or not you need the ability to stream in 4K.
We’ve got some suggestions that will help you pick the right streaming box for your needs.
Best for Apple fans: Apple TV 4K, $179, Amazon
Apple’s media streaming device starts at $179, putting in on the high end of the price scale for these gadgets. What you’re paying for is the Apple design and interface experience along with smooth integration with iTunes and Apple Music. Apple fans will enjoy using the Siri voice controls to access their favorite entertainment. If you have a lot of purchased content on iTunes, then this is the easiest way to watch it on your television.
Best for Android fans: Google Chromecast, $35
While Apple TV is a perfect fit for dedicated Apple users, Google fans can get their fix with the extremely affordable $35 Chromecast. The Chromecast slots in nicely with an existing Google ecosystem, making it a smart streaming addition if you already use Android devices and Google Home smart speakers. The heart of Google’s device is the ability to “cast” media from a phone, tablet, or laptop onto your TV screen, which gives you a lot of flexibility to watch your favorite shows and movies or cast the Chrome browser to a bigger display.
If you have invested in a 4K television and want to access the small but growing amount of 4K content out there, then consider throwing the extra bucks at the $69 Google Chromecast Ultra. If 4K isn’t on your radar, then you’ll be fine with the regular Chromecast.
Best for gadget lovers: Amazon Fire TV Cube, $119.99, Amazon
The $119.99 Amazon Fire TV Cube is more than just a streaming video device. It includes Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant for searching and controlling content. It comes with a built-in speaker, so it acts a lot like an Echo when your TV is off. Gadget lovers will enjoy using the Fire TV Cube to control compatible sounds bars, receivers, cable and satellite boxes, and televisions.
Best for budget buyers: Amazon Fire TV Stick, $39.99, Amazon
Amazon fans on a budget can pick up the Fire TV Stick for just $40. It doesn’t have 4K support, but it gives you easy access to your streaming video services at a low price. The TV stick comes with an Alexa Voice Remote for voice control, which is a fun bonus. Keep an eye out for sale prices and deals on the Fire TV Stick that make it even more affordable. A current Amazon promotion offers up two of the devices for just $50.
Best all-purpose 4K streamer: Roku Streaming Stick+, $59.99, Amazon
Even if you don’t yet have a 4K television, you can prepare for the future with the $60 Roku Streaming Stick+. The Roku’s long-range wireless receiver makes it a smart choice to reach a TV in a room that’s far from your router. The interface isn’t flashy, but it’s easy to navigate to get your favorite streaming content. The affordable price tag is a nice bonus for this very capable streaming device.
The streaming stick you choose will really come down to your personal preferences and budget. If you're a hard-core Apple user, then the Apple TV 4K makes sense. If you like the idea of casting from your Android device, then check into Chromecast. If you're looking for an easy, all-purpose streamer, then check out Amazon and Roku's offerings.
Considering how affordable many of these gadgets are, you might even choose to have more than one hooked up to your TV.
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