Figuring out the best streaming devices to get is a surprisingly difficult question. It really comes down to details. Do you want the most powerful? Or do you want the most affordable? (For our money, it's worth splurging. This is something you're going to use every single day.) Do you want Apple? Or Android? Or Amazon? Or Roku?
And even then, which model do you get? There's a plethora of streaming devices out there, and more features and specs to confuse matters.
Here, we boil things down to just four models. The best streaming hardware you can buy. We've got two premium options that are the best of the best, and we've got a couple budget options that also get the job done very well — just not as good as the more expensive pieces.
We'll continue to update this list as new devices are released. Good luck, and happy streaming.
The best overall: Apple TV 4K
The best streaming hardware you can buy
If you want the beast streaming hardware you can get and aren't all that concerned with the cost, you want Apple TV 4K. You don't even have to be a complete Apple fan to benefit from Apple TV 4K. (But you'll be able to take advantage of more features if you're using an iPhone, iPad or Mac — like the ability to use your phone or iPad for on-screen typing, or AirPlay to stream content not immediately available on Apple TV itself.)
That said, Apple TV 4K is a few years old now, having been introduced in the fall of 2017. Be on the lookout for a new model any time. Christmas 2020 rumors didn't pan out, but we'd be surprised if we didn't see a new model in 2021. (Possibly with a new Apple-produced processor in tow?)
Apple TV 4K hits all the specs you want in modern streaming hardware. It handles 4K resolution. It supports Dolby Vision HDR, and Dolby Atmos audio. (The former requires a display that also supports Dolby Vision, and the latter requires an audio setup that supports Dolby Atmos.) Not once in years of ownership have I thought "This thing is slooooooow." And Apple continues to update the software in line with hits other products. (In fact, it wasn't until 2020 that Apple's second- and third-generation Apple TV products — dating all the way back to 2010 — started losing developer support.)
Apple's content library is still as good (or better) than the others, and it has every streaming service you could want available for download. And it's building out "Apple TV Channels," which allow you to subscribe to services using your Apple TV account, instead of having to create separate logins and billing structures.
The biggest downsides to Apple TV 4K are the remote control (the included remote is just too small and skinny to be used comfortably), and the fact that you can get other streaming devices that do 4K resolution and Dolby Vision and Atmos for much, much cheaper.
They're just not as good is all.
Android TV: NVIDIA Shield
The only Android TV box you should consider
If none of the above fits your wishes — or if you're all about all things Android — you'll definitely want to consider NVIDIA Shield. It's right up there with Apple TV in terms of hardware and longevity. This latest iteration was released in 2019, but the original 2015 NVIDIA Shield is still better than anything else you'll see on the rest of this list.
The 2019 refresh brought a couple new features. First is that the remote control got a complete overhaul, moving from something that (like Apple TV's remote) was too small and too skinny. The new version doesn't get lost as easily — and if it does, it's got a find-my-remote feature.
Second is that Shield now has some excellent AI-enhanced 4K upscaling. For content that isn't natively presented in 4K resolution, Shield will use its powerful processing to sharpen and enhance the picture in real time. It's very cool to see in action.
Elsewhere, NVIDIA's track record for software updates rivals Apple, which is saying something. Android TV has nearly every streaming service you want (save for AT&T TV Now and Apple TV+, has Chromecast built in for those hard-to-reach services, and Google Assistant is front and center. Plus can double as a media server, and it's an excellent option for gamers. (And if you're really into AAA game titles, upgrade to the Shield Pro for even more processing and gaming power.)
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
The best streaming device for those who want to save
"Best for everyone" is a pretty hard choice between Roku players and Amazon Fire TV. Both are inexpensive. Both hit the same specs at the same relative price points. And both have recently found themselves on the losing end of the content wars missing out on services like HBO Max and Peacock.
What sets Amazon Fire TV Stick 4Kapart from Roku, however, are features like Alexa, and accessories like Amazon Fire TV Recast, which (while not inexpensive) lets you add over-the-air channels directly into your Fire TV home screen feed. Fire TV Stick 4K also supports both Dolby Vision for HDR, and Dolby Atmos for audio. (Roku only has Atmos.)
Fire TV has a pretty good remote control, making it easy to navigate the busy home screens. (There's a lot going on, but I tend to think it's done pretty well.) It has nearly all the apps you want, and probably some you didn't realize you needed. It has easy access to Amazon Photos and Amazon Music. You get a ton of free video included out of the box with an Amazon Prime Video subscription. (You can watch that on other manufacturers devices, too, but Amazon presents it front and center, without needing a separate app.)
And Amazon updates its software pretty regularly.
Roku Streaming Stick+
Roku Streaming Stick+
The other best streaming hardware for everyone
Don't overlook Roku Streaming Stick+. If you're not going to shell out the extra money for Roku Ultra (which is really is the Roku we recommend), this is the one to look for. It's $10 more than Roku Premiere, but that extra cash gets you better wireless specifications — and that's important when you're talking about streaming video.
Roku Streaming Stick+ also handles 4K resolution just fine, and it does HDR 10 and Dolby Atmos for audio. But doesn't have Dolby Vision, which is the better HDR standard.
Like Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, Roku is missing HBO Max and Peacock, so take that into consideration. It does have an above-average remote control, and the user interface is extremely easy to use.
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