X

Best streaming media players for the holidays

Give the gift of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and more on a big TV this year.

David_Katzmaier.jpg
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

See full bio

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

02-roku-express
1 of 12 Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku Express: $24

Roku is our favorite streaming system and the Express is the perfect starter Roku: cheap, simple with just the features any streaming fan needs. Thousands of apps, great search and an intuitive, equal-opportunity menu system help the Express shine.

28-amazon-fire-tv-with-tv-control-alexa-voice-remote
2 of 12 Sarah Tew/CNET

Amazon Fire TV Stick: $40

Pay a bit more for Amazon's Stick -- or not, because it always seems to be on sale -- and you'll get two features the Roku Express is missing: TV volume and power controls on the remote, and access to Alexa by pressing down the voice button. The menus aren't as simple or equal-opportunity (this is an Amazon gadget after all) but this Stick is still super capable.

002-chromecast-2018
3 of 12 Sarah Tew/CNET

Google Chromecast: $35

What's missing from this picture that you saw on the previous two? A remote. Google's cheap streamer instead relies on your phone to control the apps, making video play on the TV. It's a slick system for phone-centric users, but many people will prefer an actual remote control and menu system.

Roku Streaming Stick Plus
4 of 12 Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku Streaming Stick Plus: $50

Now we're getting to the good stuff. The Streaming Stick Plus is our favorite streamer overall, with Roku's excellent system and a couple of key features: the ability to stream in 4K HDR and, yes, those headphone and volume buttons and voice option on the remote.

01-amazon-fire-tv-stick-4k
5 of 12 Sarah Tew/CNET

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K: $50

Amazon's answer to that Roku costs the same and (stop us if this is getting familiar) adds the ability to talk to Alexa from the remote. It also handles Dolby Vision HDR, if your gift recipient wants that, but overall we like the Roku better because of its simpler menus.

03-roku-2019
6 of 12 Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku Ultra: $83

Roku's best streamer is all about convenience. The remote has a headphone jack with volume control (also available on a $60 Roku Streaming Stick) and an extra unique to any streamer: programmable shortcut keys you can bind to any voice command, from "launch YouTube TV" to "turn on closed captions." They're neat tricks, for sure, but the Streaming Stick Plus is a better value at half the price.

51-apple-tv-4k-2017
7 of 12 Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple TV 4K: $170

Speaking of the best value, this isn't it. Apple's take on streamers has step-up extras like a touchpad remote (which people either love or hate) Dolby Vision and Atmos support and a streaming experience that's well, kinda luxurious. Add in Apple Arcade and the best version of the TV app and you have one of the most full-featured boxes around. With a price to match.

amazon-fire-tv-cube-ifa-2019-2
8 of 12 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Amazon Fire TV Cube: $120

Weird? Yes. Unique? Certainly. "Feels like magic?" That's what we said in our review of the original Fire TV Cube, a mashup between a universal remote, the Fire TV 4K and an Echo Dot speaker. It's always listening for the Alexa wake word and you can command it to stream stuff or turn on your TV. The new 2019 version features faster response times for some voice commands.

08-nvidia-shield-tv-2019
9 of 12 Sarah Tew/CNET

Nvidia Shield TV: $150

Speaking of weird, this streamer is shaped like a cylinder and looks like nothing so much as a cigar. The latest Shield is jam-packed with geek-friendly streaming goodness, including fancy upscaling said to improve video quality, all the 4K HDR bells and whistles, access to three different gaming ecosystems and the Google Android TV operating system complete with Google Assistant.

17-nvidia-shield-tv-2019
10 of 12 Sarah Tew/CNET

Nvidia Shield TV Pro: $200

With its more conventional shape the Pro has every feature of the less-expensive standard version and adds even more geeky goodness: more RAM and storage, a pair of USB ports and Plex Media Server capability. If you don't know about that stuff, don't ask.

08-tcl-s325-s425-series
11 of 12 Sarah Tew/CNET

TCL 4-Series Roku TV: $230 and up

Although it's a TV, not a streamer, this TCL's built-in Roku TV system is basically just like those Roku streamers from previous slides we like so much. No, it's not a picture quality champ, but it's probably "good enough" for most viewers.

41-toshiba-insignia-amazon-fire-tv-edition
12 of 12 Sarah Tew/CNET

Toshiba Amazon Fire TV Edition TV: $200 and up

And as you may have come to expect, Amazon also builds its Fire TV system into TVs. This Toshiba has all the same stuff as Amazon's sticks and a similar bargain price to that TCL Roku TV.

Originally published last month.

More Galleries

2022's Best TV Shows You Can't Miss on Netflix, HBO, Disney Plus and More

More Galleries

2022's Best TV Shows You Can't Miss on Netflix, HBO, Disney Plus and More

94 Photos
2023 Honda CR-V Is Coming This Summer

More Galleries

2023 Honda CR-V Is Coming This Summer

4 Photos
The 40 Best Games on Nintendo Switch

More Galleries

The 40 Best Games on Nintendo Switch

41 Photos
'Stranger Things' Stars Then and Now: Wow, They've Really Grown Up

More Galleries

'Stranger Things' Stars Then and Now: Wow, They've Really Grown Up

40 Photos
Movies Coming in 2022 From Marvel, Netflix, DC and More

More Galleries

Movies Coming in 2022 From Marvel, Netflix, DC and More

80 Photos
2023 Acura Integra Is a New Age Sport Compact

More Galleries

2023 Acura Integra Is a New Age Sport Compact

56 Photos
Maserati MC20 Cielo Is a Gorgeous Italian Spyder

More Galleries

Maserati MC20 Cielo Is a Gorgeous Italian Spyder

70 Photos