After months of staying at home, chances are you've streamed your share of TV shows and movies. And maybe you've noticed a thing or two about whatever you're using. Maybe Netflix doesn't load as quickly as you'd like, maybe the remote is a pain to operate, maybe that old tablet is slowing to a crawl. In short, maybe it's time to invest in a new device to watch your shows on.
We've reviewed every major streaming media player available, brands such as Roku, Amazon, Chromecast and Apple TV, as well as numerous smart TVs and tablets like the iPad, which are perfect for watching TV around the house when the TVs themselves are all occupied.
We took into account all kinds of factors, from the remote control and whether a device would respond to a voice command, to streaming speeds and device compatibility. There's more than one streaming player out there, and there's no need to keep using an ancient Fire Stick, iOS device or Roku device if it's no longer performing the way you want it to as you stream your favorite TV episodes. Further, the newer versions of these streaming devices have upgraded features, like 4K streaming and access to live TV. And, if you've already sprung for that 4K Ultra HD TV, you really need to update your TV streaming device as well to take your viewing experience to the next level.
So if your current media streaming device is getting long in the tooth, or you need an extra one to turn your otherwise-fine dumb TV into a smart TV, here are our favorites.
Roku makes our favorite streaming system, with the most streaming apps, the simplest interface, the best search and a content-agnostic platform that doesn't push any one media streaming provider, like Amazon Prime Video or iTunes, over another. The Plus is one of the cheapest streaming TV options with 4K HDR, and even if your current TV doesn't support that format, your next one probably will. Its practical features, like a remote control that can control your TV's volume and power, seal the deal.
Apple's entry-level iPad offers long-lasting battery life and a bigger screen for enjoying TV and movie apps, whether streamed or downloaded. Older processor aside, this is a perfectly good iPad that will handle all your family's streaming needs and more. It does cost more than the competition, however, so it always pays to look for a good deal.
As we mentioned, Roku makes our favorite media streamers for live TV streaming apps like Netflix, and it's even better as a platform baked into a TV. This TCL 4-Series is one of the most affordable Roku TVs on the market, available in a range of sizes and with image quality that's perfectly fine for most people, especially at this price.
Sizes: 43-, 50-, 55-, 65-, 75-inch. (The price shown below is for the 65-inch size.)
Soundbars with onboard streaming may be a relatively recent development, but Roku's Smart Soundbar came fully formed out of the gate. With excellent sound, the Roku interface users know and love and an affordable price, this a great option for a media streamer in a bedroom or holiday house.
The Fire HD 10 Kids Edition is the kid-friendly version of the Amazon Fire HD 10, with the largest display in the lineup of Amazon tablets. Just like its 7- and 8-inch siblings, the tablet features a ton of parental control options and a rubberized bumper case to protect the device against drops. This 10-inch tablet also includes a two-year "no questions asked" replacement warranty and a one-year subscription to FreeTime Unlimited, a content library that gives kids access to plenty of age-appropriate videos, books, games and apps.
For the price of a Blu-ray Disc, you can get a whole media streamer, which comes with plenty of free content. The Express delivers all of the goodness of Roku's platform, and it includes a remote, an HDMI cable and a little sticker to keep it in place.
The perfect foil to the Roku Streaming Stick Plus, the Apple TV costs over $100 more but is the better choice for people who can appreciate its advantages. Those include compatibility with Dolby Vision HDR, flexible upconversion, superior voice control features, a better remote and a smoother, slicker user interface. The Apple TV 4K is so good for media streaming, it even makes sense if you're not an "Apple person."
At $100, this is the most expensive Roku, but if you must have it all then the Roku Ultra has it all to offer. While in terms of image quality and operating system it's indistinguishable from the Streaming Stick Plus, the Ultra is especially handy for the forgetful among us. The Ultra offers both a remote finder and two extra customizable shortcut buttons for your favorite services.
With Alexa, Amazon has done more than any other company to integrate voice commands into the ways we consume media. The Fire TV Stick 4K bakes Alexa right into the remote, and you can use voice control to search for Gremlins or turn on your Christmas tree. Or both at the same time. Throw in a massive selection of content with an easy-to-use menu and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K represents excellent value for money when it comes to streaming media.
Sure, it's an expensive media streamer at $150 -- and that's before adding a game controller -- but if you want a jack-of-all-trades video media player, the Shield is it. In addition to being a streaming media player in 4K and HDR, it offers a robust library of games, both console-level and Android, Steam Link, built-in Google Assistant complete with smart home control, NAS access, Plex server capability, HDHomeRun integration and much more.
The Chromecast is one of the cheapest ways to get video to stream on your TV, but unlike the other streamers listed here it doesn't come with a remote. Instead it works in combination with a phone or Google Assistant for voice control and voice search. The latter method is great for calling up shows on Netflix or Disney Plus.