* An economical alternative to cable TV
* Our top pick provides a fast, smooth viewing experience
* Some streaming boxes double as a gaming platform
Best Streaming Devices
Editor’s Choice: Roku Ultra
Bottom Line: The Roku Ultra’s quad-core processor makes the viewing experience fast and smooth. Furthermore, the 802.11ac wireless lets you stream 4K content without lagging out the rest of the devices in your home at a great value.
Editor’s Notes: The Roku Ultra is a great entry-level 4K streaming box that delivers outstanding picture quality, top-notch performance, and support for high-dynamic range (HDR10).
Choice: Apple TV
Bottom Line: Apple TV is great for people who prefer Apple’s closed content ecosystem, and it offers their trademark “it just works” experience for TV watching.
Editor’s Notes: For people already invested in Apple’s iTunes and App ecosystem, the Apple TV is a must. Using an Apple Watch as a remote with Siri feels like a futuristic luxury.
Best Value: Roku Express+ (Model 3910RW)
Bottom Line: The Roku Express+ strikes an impressive balance of speed and cost, and its small size makes it essential if portability is important to you.
Editor’s Notes: Roku devices are among the easiest to set up, and they all have the ability to mirror or cast from an Android phone or tablet. Many owners complain that Roku remotes aren’t very durable.
Buying Guide for Streaming Devices
Cable TV bills can get expensive quickly, and more and more people—often referred to as “cord cutters”—are abandoning their cable providers in favor of online video. Streaming devices bring online video content to your big screen by connecting directly to your TV and streaming it from the Internet.
There are two major categories of streaming devices: boxes and sticks. Streaming boxes typically include powerful hardware that delivers a lightning-fast user experience. Those high-end components get put to work when doing intensive tasks like gaming or streaming 4K video. If you’re looking to do more than just stream basic HD video, a streaming box can become the center of your living room entertainment experience.
Streaming sticks offer a more streamlined experience tailored to users who only want to watch online video content with their device. While streaming sticks will lag or buffer occasionally, they still do a decent job with standard HD video and are exceptionally portable. If you’re looking for a plug-and-play solution for adding streaming video to your TV set, a streaming stick is a good value.
Q. Which streaming devices play movies and shows I’ve purchased from Google Play?
A. All Roku devices can play back any movies, TV shows, or music you’ve purchased or rented from the Google Play store. The Apple TV only supports purchased content from Apple via iTunes. Both devices support all the major streaming services like Amazon Video, Hulu Plus, and Netflix.
Q. Do I have to pay a monthly subscription fee to use a streaming device?
A. No subscriptions are required to use an Apple TV or a Roku. You will need an existing subscription for any streaming services you use like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Video.
Q. Do I need to buy any extra equipment to use a streaming box?
A. To use your streaming box, you’ll need to have a TV with an HDMI input, an HDMI cable, and access to WiFi.
Q. Can I watch my cable TV channels through my streaming box?
A. Streaming boxes don’t support live television from an antenna or a satellite/cable provider by default, although some cable providers offer their own apps for subscribers. Check with your satellite or cable company to see if they have a Roku or Apple TV app. In some cases, specific networks will allow you to stream their content to a cable box if you have a valid login from your cable provider.
This guide is brought to you by BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review website that reviews and tests products purchased with their own funds in order to provide consumers with completely unbiased advice.