Best Streaming Players: Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV & More

There are lots of ways to stream online content directly to your TV, including simple set-top boxes, compact streaming sticks and powerful game consoles. For the largest selection with minimum fuss, the Roku 3 ($100) is the way to go. This unassuming little box features more than 2,000 channels, a remote control, a headphone jack and a powerful search feature that can help you pinpoint your favorite content in no time.

If your tastes skew minimalist, you can also check out the Google Chromecast (about $30), which matches a streamlined feature set with a low price tag. At the other end of the spectrum, an Xbox One ($400) costs a pretty penny, but gives you access to plenty of streaming services, plus blockbuster video games and Blu-ray discs.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you own a smart TV and stick to the big streaming channels (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, etc.), you probably do not need a separate streaming device. Smart TVs tend to have these channels built in.

How We Test Streaming Devices

Testing streaming players is usually a simple process that prioritizes content over performance. Any streaming player worth its salt can play video well, but only a good one possesses straightforward navigation, robust search features and a wide variety of content to suit all tastes.

The first thing we evaluate is the setup, to see how quick and simple it is. From there, we take the user interface for a spin to see what content gets highlighted, what gets hidden, and how easy it is to navigate to our favorite channels. We'll also watch a few different shows on a variety of channels to gauge the quality of the video and audio.

After that, it's onto the extra features, like gaming, voice search and screen mirroring. These factors don't weigh quite as heavily toward the final score, but they're nice to have if they work well, and extremely distracting if they don't.

MORE: Top 10 Online Streaming Video Services





UPDATE: As of July 20, 2015, Slingbox has phased out the M1 and replaced it with the M2. This update makes Slingplayer apps free on any device, as well as adding live installation assistance for non-tech-savvy customers. Tom's Guide will update this listing once we've fully reviewed the new device.

MORE: How to Stream Video from a Mobile Device or Computer to a TV



MORE: PS4 vs. Xbox One: Which Console Is Right for You?

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About the author
Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior writer for Tom's Guide, covering gaming hardware, security and streaming video. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi. Contact him at mhonorof@tomsguide.com.

10 comments
  • With the exception of the "G-Box Midnight MX2," which is outdated right now, what the author does not tell you is that he is not being too specific about these media form factor devices that are on the market right now. That is either because the author is unfamiliar with this, or because he chooses not to be clear about it, or because he thinks that if it is not paid video watching it is not worth it. What he should have called the article is : "The best paid video content media players." There is a whole new market for media streaming boxes that can not only act as second choice desktops but do media streaming and much more as part of their function. These are boxes such as the Probox2 EX, the MINIX Neo X8, the Rikomagic MK902II ,etc. These type of media streamers are much more powerful then this restricted, low functionality, low power boxes in the article. The form factor that I am talking about will become even more powerful once they start using google's new mobile operating system Lollipop.

    What the boxes such as Apple, Roku boxes excel at is streaming paid video and not much more while the media boxes that I mentioned offer you the use of unrestricted applications use, the streaming of media through applications such as XBMC (KODI) ,and a lot more interaction with your media.

    Many of these boxes have quad-core processors and powerful video processors that put Apple and Roku boxes to shame in terms function and even usability.

    So, tech reviewers will soon be forced to make a distinction between specialized video
    watch boxes and real media streaming boxes.
    0
  • ROKU 3 is problematic to a small degree.. But the worst part of ROKU is that there is NO real CARING Customer support... For example... Failure to play files which are stated as playable (MKV and MP4 both H.264 Audio - NO Other Formats!!!) MKV if set to 5.1 will have no sound and many newer MP4 files will freeze the unit causing reset.... ROKU's answer.. CONVERT the File and to same format and try again... IN FACT Most questions are about failures to operate correctly are answered via FORM LETTER.
    The Problem ROKU is hardwires the decoder.. NO upgradable Codecs are used.. thus any updates to Converter's Coders can not be upgraded to ROKU, and this unit is already years out of date.. Older files may work, but don't count on downloading newer files and having them work... THIS WILL ONLY GET WORST!
    Next Problem: RESETS.. Seems that ROKU will on occasions.. especially in USB mode.. FREEZE and RESET..... This will drive you crazy.. Again.. Primary software is hardwired and very little update capability was put into this old unit...

    BOTTOM LINE.. The ROKU 3 you by today is IDENTICAL to the units built 4 years ago.. Some minor software is updated as is the software in these older units.. but Major changes CAN NOT BE CORRECTED by software due to design. Considering inexpensive microprocessors and min. memory used. RODU could have used a software system that was fully upgradable also a good Upgradable Decoder COULD HAVE BEEN USED along with CODECS instead of limited hardwired Codes.. This would have allowed for ALL formats to be played and upgraded as changes are made...BASICALLY: They saved a buck in this $99 unit at the consumers COST!

    I FEEL THAT PLACING this old unit at the top of the list is irresponsible of this site.. SIMPLE SELLS NuMBERS does not make the Better Product....
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  • you don't mentioned Fire Tv that its completly wrong in my opinion is one of the best so far.
    1
  • This review is for this media players that they are calling the best are the most basic and waste of money unit the more you use them the more you wish they could do and most of the unit listed can do half of what a good player can do for instance kdlink hd700 hd700 or a200 is listed and the are most definitely in the top 10 so I assuming top ten units you can pick up in Walmart or best buy
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  • Good grief, nothing whatsoever here about devices optimized for file playback.

    Move along... move along...
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  • I cut the satellite cord a month ago and went with the ROKU3. I am loving it !! The only problem that I have encountered was I could only get a fragmented lined homepage a few days ago. I unplugged it from the power source and it reset. We had a power outage in my area that night. I'm not sure if that played a part but I've had no issues since. I'm glad I am no longer under Directv's thumb!!
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  • Any android player with a decent processor can stream any game with the Limelight/Moonlight app as long as you have an Nvidia graphics card. I can stream any game with my Fire TV.
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  • Quote:
    you don't mentioned Fire Tv that its completly wrong in my opinion is one of the best so far.
    0
  • I agree. I am looking at the Fire TV. It looks pretty good. Also, just today I saw a samsung device.
    0
  • what's TOTALLY missing from the market is a simple web browser url locator to view ANYTHING so I can surf the net on my TV without a laptop and view hulu free version!!! Remember the good old days of WebTV?
    0