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Best streaming devices in 2021

Apple TV 4K (2021) review
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The best streaming devices ensure your next movie night or binge-watched show looks and sounds perfectly (provided your TV's up to the task). And speaking of TVs, while smart TVs have some apps, but the right streaming device is often a guarantee that every service is available to you. 

We love the Roku Streaming Stick Plus (it's the best streaming device overall), but we're annoyed to see Roku and Google playing out their latest spat in public — as YouTube TV just got kicked off the Roku store. The latest entry into our list of the best streaming devices is the newly revealed Roku Express 4K Plus (which replaces the Roku Premiere), which has a much better remote than the Premiere.

The new Apple TV 4K (2021) is the latest streaming box to on our list, and though it's not a huge upgrade from the first-gen model, it comes with a much better remote. Even better: tvOS 15 will let you sign into apps using Face ID or Touch ID on your iPhone.

Fire TV Sticks pack a ton of content, but they're still missing Peacock, and that's becoming a problem, as reviews for Girls5Eva are good. That means Fire TV Stick owners who want to see Tina Fey's latest project (or watch WWE) are out of luck. Those looking for a mix of a modern streaming device and the ability to cast your device screen to your TV should get the Chromecast with Google TV, a more complete option than its predecessor.

Some of us at Tom's Guide have multiple entries from this list of the best streaming devices, to see how they evolve over time. While Netflix and Hulu are ubiquitous, across all devices, many other apps are only available on Roku, Fire TV or Apple TV. Oh, and if you want the Apple TV shows and services, but don't want the to pay the higher price for their streaming boxes, good news: the Apple TV app just rolled out to Vizio Smart TVs.

Small touches keep the Roku Ultra 2020 on our list, such as its incrementally faster performance, and smoother streaming on Wi-Fi in larger houses (when it's not near the router). Using all of these devices often shows us the benefits of spending more on your streaming device, as the cheaper Fire TV devices control your whole home screen experience, while the Apple TV has no ads and more customization. Here's everything you need to know about the best streaming devices.

What are the best streaming devices?

We love the Roku Streaming Stick Plus, and recommend it as the best streaming device to friends and colleagues, for two simple reasons. The first is that Roku is the best platform when it comes to streaming media. Practically every app is on the Roku Channel Store, meaning you'll probably never say "my favorite show isn't on here!" 

Trust me, as someone who uses at least one device from every streaming platform, if you can limit yourself to just one device, your entertainment cabinet or counter will look a lot nicer. Oh, and you can rearrange the heck out of the Roku home screen, putting apps in your order of preference, which you can't on Fire TV. 

We also really like the new Chromecast with Google TV. Its remote enables you to put down your phone already and focus on what you're watching. And the new Chromecast also streams in 4K, with HDR and Dolby Vision. On top of that, Android TV app support, via Google TV, means you don't need to worry about missing out on the latest streaming services. It's got 'em all.

And while we like the Apple TV 4K, we're very happy that Apple's replacing the old Siri Remote with a new model that provides an actual clickable D-pad. We look forward to testing it soon.

The best streaming devices you can find today

Best Streaming Device: Roku Streaming Stick Plus

(Image credit: Roku)

1. Roku Streaming Stick+

Best streaming device overall

Specifications
Number of Apps: Thousands
Size: 3.7 x 10 x 1.0 inches
Weight: 0.7 oz
Reasons to buy
+Inexpensive+Full 4K HDR capabilities+Huge app selection
Reasons to avoid
-Remote lacks an audio jack-Search could be deeper

Thanks to the Roku Streaming Stick+, the best streaming device, you no longer have to choose between price and content selection. The Roku Streaming Stick+ costs about $50, and provides access to more than 5,000 channels — including the sometimes-elusive Amazon Video. And it's finally got the streaming service it was lacking HBO Max (which took 7 extra months to get there). It's also got complete 4K HDR compatibility, meaning you're getting a relatively future-proof device at a surprisingly low price. 

It's also pretty powerful, with snappy performance. In our testing, it took 5 seconds at the most for content to stabilize at 1080p and around 10 to 15 seconds for 4K. The device is small and unobtrusive, and thanks to a wireless amplifier, it's easy to get a strong signal from anywhere in your home. Its remote is also really useful, as Roku finally added Power and Volume buttons. On top of that, you get the same customizable interface seen in the Roku Ultra, which is much more capable than the Amazon Fire TV interface.

Read our full Roku Streaming Stick Plus review.

Best Streaming Device: Chromecast with Google TV

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2. Chromecast with Google TV

The best Chromecast streaming device

Specifications
Number of Apps: Over 6,500
Size: 6.4 x 2.4 x 0.5 inches
Ports: HDMI, USB-C
Supported HDR formats: HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision
Supported audio formats: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby Atmos
Reasons to buy
+Sensible layout+Lots of streaming services+Remote included
Reasons to avoid
-General Google searches poorly formatted

A Chromecast with a remote? Yes, Google finally did it, and the Chromecast with Google TV makes the company's traditional streaming device a whole lot more complete. It starts with 4K UHD streaming with support for HDR and Dolby Vision, for excellent picture quality, and Dolby Atmos for immersive sound. Also, it's got Google TV, an interface and operating system that supports the over 6,500 Android TV apps. That means you get everything from HBO Max to Disney Plus to Peacock — plus Netflix. Even Peloton's in there. A lot of other streaming devices can't boast as much.  

While it's not the minimalist streaming device that the Chromecast 3 was, the new Chromecast remote could even replace your TV's remote. It's got the power and volume controls you need to turn on your TV, plus a TV Input button for switching to other devices, such as gaming consoles. On top of that, its $49.99 price makes it more affordable than the Chromecast Ultra, Google's previous 4K streaming device.

Read our full Chromecast with Google TV review

Best Streaming Device: nvidia shield tv 2019

(Image credit: Gia Sergovich/Tom's Guide)

3. Nvidia Shield TV (2019)

Best premium streaming device

Specifications
Number of Channels: 5,000
Size: 6.5 x 1.6 x 1.6 inches
Weight: 4.8 oz
Reasons to buy
+Excellent game-streaming+Quick rendering of UHD content+Lots of great apps
Reasons to avoid
-AI upscaling doesn't add that much-Somewhat expensive

The 2019 Nvidia Shield TV doesn't just look unlike any other streaming device we've ever seen (it's more like a mobile power charger), it's also one of the best streaming devices, period. This tube for your tube is great at speedily spitting out UHD 4K content, and its thousands of apps means you're getting practically everything you could watch. And it's so slight in size that it fill fit discretely into the ever-crowded space around your TV.

This Shield TV also includes a remote control, rather than a game controller. We love this remote because it illuminates when you pick it up in the dark. You won't miss the lack of a packed in controller, thanks to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One controller support. That all adds up to the best streaming device for those willing to spend more. And while you can game with Google Stadia on the Chromecast Ultra (not the regular Chromecast), the Shield TV supports 4K HDR streaming, making it the best streaming device for those looking to game and watch.

Read our full Nvidia Shield TV 2019 review.

Best Streaming Device: Amazon Fire TV Cube

(Image credit: Tom's Guide | Future)

4. Amazon Fire TV Cube

Best voice control in a streaming device

Specifications
Number of Apps: Hundreds
Size: 3.4 x 3.4 x 3.0 inches
Weight: 16.4 oz
Reasons to buy
+Speedier performance+Alexa's cable box controls are great+Great 4K HDR picture quality
Reasons to avoid
-Home screen can't be edited, packs ads-Awkward Ethernet adapter

Did you know Alexa could control your cable box (yes, some of us haven't cut the cord yet)? The Amazon Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen) packs a version of the virtual assistant that offers more entertainment device tricks than most, including switching HDMI inputs and tuning to cable channels. And thanks to a faster processor in this new model, commands happen up to four times as fast. Cutting down the amount of times that voice commands are performed will help people stick with using Alexa commands and stop looking for their (still missing) remote.

This box (it's not technically a cube) streams content in excellent 4K, HDR quality, and its content-first interface seeks to cut down the time it takes for you to hit Play. Trying to master Amazon's cheaper streamer? Check out our how to use the Fire Stick guide.

Read our full Amazon Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen) review.

Best Streaming Device: Roku Ultra (2020)

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

5. Roku Ultra (2020)

Best streaming device for external media

Specifications
Number of Apps: Thousands
Size: 4.9 x 4.9 x 0.9 inches
Weight: 8.0 oz
Reasons to buy
+Great performance+Inventive remote control+Dolby Vision HDR
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Not much has changed since last year's model

The new Roku Ultra is pretty much still the great streaming box it's always been, just with a couple of tweaks — and keeping most of the perks you'd expect for $100 (4K HDR video and fast performance for starters). For example, they've also added Dolby Vision, a must for those streaming high-quality movies and TV shows. Plus, it's still got a USB port which allows for folks to play back their own library of movie files on their TV. Yes, you don't even need to learn what a media server is, or how to set one up. This year's model also offers a faster processor and better wireless streaming. 

The other big boon of this model is that you can program the Roku remote's two customizable buttons to open your favorite channels, in addition to the pre-programmed ones for Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV and Vudu. The included earbud headphones sweeten the deal, as they plug right into the remote control for private listening. This is highly important to those who want to watch TV without disturbing the other person in the room.

Read our full Roku Ultra (2020) review.

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

Apple TV 4K (2021) review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

6. Apple TV 4K (2021)

Best streaming device for Apple device owners

Specifications
Number of Apps: Thousands
Size: 3.9 x 3.9 x 1.4 inches
Weight: 15.0 oz
Reasons to buy
+New, improved remote+High frame rate HDR streaming+Multi-user support
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Not noticeably better than first-gen

The new Apple TV 4K (2021) is great and performs like a dream — yet still may not be worth the upgrade if you already have the previous model. On the outside, the 2nd-gen Apple TV 4K looks identical to its predecessor. The upgrades are all on the inside, notably replacing the A10X chip with an A12 Bionic. Performance seems a few hairs better, plus the Apple TV 4K 2nd-gen supports 4K at 60fps with HDR versus 30fps. Not a ton of apps even offer that level of content right now, mostly sports and other fast-paced action, but it will become more prevalent. 

The best thing about the new Apple TV 4K is the redesigned Siri Remote. Many (myself included) hated the old remote and its frustrating touch interface. The new remote retains touch and gestures, but adds actual buttons as well as an intuitive jog wheel that recalls the old iPods of yore. Once again, though, the biggest drawback is the price.

Read our full Apple TV 4K (2021) review.

Best Streaming Device: Xbox One S

(Image credit: Future)

7. Xbox One S

Best game console for streaming

Specifications
Number of Apps: 50+
Size: 11.6 x 9.1 x 2.5 inches
Weight: 102.4 oz
Reasons to buy
+Can stream 4K content+HDR support for videos and games+Smartly redesigned controller
Reasons to avoid
-Can't play games in 4K

The Xbox One S is only $289, but streams movies and TV in 4K and supports HDR content. It's also going to get Dolby Vision capabilities in the near future, and you can install Kodi on the console, if that's your jam. It also plays 4K Blu-ray movies, unlike any of our other picks.

Oh, and you also get a great video game console with your purchase. The Xbox One S is slimmer than its predecessors, and its black and white design makes for a surprisingly stylish addition to your home entertainment console. Its internal capacity limit of 2TB means you can stop micro-managing the games and other content you download onto the drive. If you can get an Xbox Series X or S, it's definitely a suitable and more future-proof replacement, but its scarcity and lack of innovative features make it far from a must-have.

Read our full Xbox One S review.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide/Henry T. Casey)

8. Roku Express 4K Plus

The best streaming device under $40

Specifications
Size: 3.3 x 1.5 x 0.7 inches
Max Resolution: 3840 x 2160
Ports: None
Remote: Network Voice remote
Device Type: Box
Reasons to buy
+Excellent 4K HDR performance+Decent navigation+Improved remote
Reasons to avoid
-Awkward design-No Dolby Vision or Atmos

So, you want to get 4K streaming at the lowest price possible, but you're worried about cutting too many corners? Check out the new Roku Express 4K Plus, which is the replacement to the flawed Roku Premiere. We like this model a lot mmore because of its improved remote. Previously, you needed a direct line of sight — and to point your remote directly at the Roku — for it to work. This way is a lot better, so you don't need to think when you click the paddle. That, plus UHD image quality and snappy performance means that the Roku Express 4K Plus is the best streaming device for those on a budget. 

We wish it were a little heavier, though, as you may wind up spending a minute fiddling with its HDMI cable to make it sit flat on a surface. The Roku Streaming Stick Plus doesn't have that issue. And if you love A/V standards such as Dolby Vision or Atmos Audio. you may need to look elsewhere. 

Read our full Roku Express 4K Plus review.

Best Streaming Device: TiVo Stream 4K review

(Image credit: TiVo)

9. TiVo Stream 4K

A compelling UHD streamer with Android TV apps

Specifications
Number of Apps: 5,000+
Size: 3 x 2 x 0.6 inches
Ports: HDMI, USB-C, microUSB
Reasons to buy
+Speedy 4K streaming+Supports most if not all services and apps+Remote offers easy access to live TV
Reasons to avoid
-Constrained live TV offering-Poor recommendations

A ton of applications? Check. An affordable price? Check. Support for your own media on external storage too? You bet. The Tivo Stream 4K is a great streamer that deserves a place in this hall of the best streaming devices. And unlike some streaming devices, it has HBO and Peacock. Sling users will appreciate its live TV integration, and the Google Assistant is there to follow through on your voice commands.

We just wish that the Stream 4K had a better interface for its Stream app that aggregates content, and that its recommendations were a little more on the nose. Plus, YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV and Fubo TV don't get the red carpet treatment that Sling gets in the Guide section. If it weren't for the Chromecast with Google TV, the Tivo Stream 4K would be a lot more interesting, but for now it lives in the new Chromecast's long shadow. 

Read our full TiVo Stream 4K review.

Best Streaming Device: Xfinity Flex

(Image credit: Xfinity)

10. Xfinity Flex

Free streaming box for Xfinity internet customers

Specifications
Number of Apps:
Size: 5.1 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
Weight: 8 ounces
Reasons to buy
+It's free!+Cross-app searches+Lets you control xFi products
Reasons to avoid
-Stiff buttons on remote-Limited apps

Free for Comcast Xfinity Internet customers, the Flex is a very cheap way to get access to streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix. Plus, the Flex lets you monitor and control other devices connected to your home network. 

However, the Flex has far fewer services than other streaming devices—there's no Disney+, nor is there Spotify, to name a few—which limits its usefulness. But, almost to make up for any gaps, Flex devices get early access to the latest streaming service, as NBC's Peacock is here well before its official nationwide July 15 debut. Yes, Comcast is giving Peacock Premium to Flex devices (it should arrive soon if it hasn't already) for free (a $4.99 value). Still, because it's free, there's no harm in picking one up and waiting for other streaming services to arrive. 

Read our full Xfinity Flex review.

How to choose the best streaming device for you

Figuring the right streaming device for your needs is pretty easy. While everyone should start with the Roku Streaming Stick+, your mileage may vary. If your budget is tight, the Google Chromecast can bring a lot of content to your TV without adding the clutter of a remote. 

If you own a lot of digital media that you want to watch on your TV, the Roku Ultra makes that process super easy, so you'll never need to think about what a media server is. But if you're a performance first type, and watch a lot of 4K UHD content, the Nvidia Shield TV is where you should start. 

Lastly, folks who already treat Alexa like a member of the family should consider the 2nd Gen Fire TV Cube, which makes controlling your entertainment as easy as talking. That being said, it's quite expensive, and the Roku Streaming Stick+ remote also supports voice commands, you just have to click the microphone button, whereas the Fire TV Cube is hands-free. 

If you like the Amazon ecosystem and want a cheaper device, consider the Fire TV Stick.

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.

  • jmazz
    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.
    Reply
  • morganfj
    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....
    Reply
  • Daniel Muvdi
    you don't mentioned Fire Tv that its completly wrong in my opinion is one of the best so far.
    Reply
  • davesr1980
    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
    Reply
  • lost_n_austin
    Good grief, nothing whatsoever here about devices optimized for file playback.

    Move along... move along...
    Reply
  • KADIEMAC
    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!!
    Reply
  • Dave4321
    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.
    Reply
  • mca10spro
    you don't mentioned Fire Tv that its completly wrong in my opinion is one of the best so far.
    Reply
  • mca10spro
    I agree. I am looking at the Fire TV. It looks pretty good. Also, just today I saw a samsung device.
    Reply
  • svexec
    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?
    Reply