The best streaming devices offer some of the most essential elements of a proper home entertainment system, especially as everything moves to streaming. Not all TVs have all the top streaming apps, so the best streaming devices are here to make sure you can watch the likes of HBO Max, as well as niche services such as Shudder and Criterion Channel.
Selecting a streaming device can get pretty tricky, though. That's why we test the heck out of these devices. Not just by watching movies and shows on them, but by timing how long it takes to open apps across the many of the $50 and up streaming devices. And we're already hunting for early Black Friday deals on some of our favorites.
Our current pick for very best streaming device overall is the Roku Streaming Stick 4K which adds faster performance and Dolby Vision on top of its predecessor. It's our top pick for many reasons, and Roku's streamlined app-first OS is one of them. One of our editors just upgraded it with the Roku Voice Remote Pro, which he says is a must-have.
Some of us at Tom's Guide own multiple entries from this list of the best streaming devices, to see how they evolve over time. Not only do we spend hours and hours watching shows and movies from the top streaming services on these devices, but we compare them against those with similar prices, to help you figure out which is best for your budget.
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.
The best streaming devices you can find today
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The Roku Streaming Stick 4K is a small, but noteworthy, upgrade over the Streaming Stick Plus it replaces. The king stays the king, though, because little changed — and only improvements came with. Most notably, we've finally got Dolby Vision on this Roku stick, so your favorite streaming shows will have the right color balance and contrast (provided your TV supports it, too). Otherwise, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K is a perfect balance of price and performance, costing $50 and providing snappy navigation and smooth streaming. It's got all the apps you could need, too. All of this adds up to make a locked-in pick for the best streaming device in the 2022 Tom's Guide Awards.
When we tested the Streaming Stick 4K, we saw content crispness jump to 1080p and then 4K in short amounts of time. We also noticed app loading that's comparable to the Chromecast with Google TV. Roku wins overall though thanks to its perfect streamlined interface, which puts apps above content. And if you need to listen to your shows without disturbing anybody, improved performance on private listening through the Roku app and wireless headphones is a welcome boon. But the Roku Streaming Stick 4's dominance isn't by the widest of margins, as evidenced by our tightly contested Roku Streaming Stick 4K vs. Chromecast with Google TV face-off. We also recommend this Roku streaming stick for travel, as it's a perfect addition to your next hotel or Airbnb room's TV, while taking up minimal space in your bag.
Read our full Roku Streaming Stick 4K review.
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. Want something cheaper? Our Roku Express (2022) review dives deep on its performance gains.
Read our full Roku Express 4K Plus review.(opens in new tab)
The Chromecast with Google TV 4K 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. An update has added Dolby Vision support to the Chromecast with Google TV (opens in new tab) for even better picture quality. 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. Also, we really like the feel and build quality of the Chromecast remote, as it fits nicely in the palm of the hand and the buttons have a good click. Also, there are minimal branded app buttons, with just Netflix and YouTube. The Roku and Fire TV remotes offer too many, and should take notes.
On top of that, its $49.99 price makes it more affordable than the Chromecast Ultra. This is easily one of the best streaming devices available. That said, you can make it a little better on your own, with our tip for the first thing every Chromecast with Google TV owner should do. If you don't need 4K, though, and you're looking to spend a lot less, but still want the Chromecast experience, Google has a new Chromecast with Google TV HD (which is on this list below).
Read our full Chromecast with Google TV 4K review.(opens in new tab)
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, so we're not only relying on remembering where buttons are and what shape they are. 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 (opens in new tab).(opens in new tab)
We absolutely love the Apple TV 4K (2022) at $129, which is $50 lower than before. Yes, that price is still a bit high for the industry — the above $50 picks stream in 4K too. But this price drop makes one of the best streaming devices (especially for Apple users) even more accessible.
But that's just the beginning. Apple's super-charged the Apple TV 4K with the new A15 Bionic system-on-chip, delivering some of the fastest load times we've seen on any streaming device. For example, it beats the latest Fire TV Cube and Roku Ultra on loading Netflix, YouTube, Disney Plus and Spotify.
On top of that, HDR10+ finally arrives (if your TV supports it), and the remote finally charges over USB-C and not Lightning. Smart home enthusiasts will be excited for the inclusion of the Thread support for Matter, and some may be annoyed you need to spend $20 more for an Ethernet port. The Roku Ultra, for example, includes one by default at $99. That said, one of the best reasons to get the Apple TV 4K is tvOS, which is still the cleanest interface out there.
Read our full Apple TV 4K (2022) review.(opens in new tab)
We haven't had a Fire TV Stick on this list in a while, so the Fire TV Stick 4K Max's inclusion is noteworthy in that alone. In our testing we saw that Amazon improved the speed issues that have dogged Amazon's sticks for a while, mostly in every-day navigation and especially in load times for certain apps. It also supports Wi-Fi 6, which is great ... if you have a Wi-Fi 6 router. Also, the Live TV button on the remote makes it easy for you to jump right into the TV Guide for your cord-cutter app of choice.
The Fire TV Stick 4K Max, otherwise, is a very standard streamer. It has all the apps you need, it's a utilitarian matte black dongle and it's got Dolby Atmos sound, Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HDR10+. We just wish it were replacing the existing Fire TV Stick 4K, and at that same price, not $5 more. Still, those who want an Amazon Fire TV streaming device should go with this model. It may cost a little more, but it's worth it.
Read our full Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max review.
The Chromecast with Google TV HD is a streaming device that sort of explains itself. It's just like the recent 4K Chromecast, but it's not outputting video in 4K. Instead, it tops out at 1080p. These days, that means you're primarily buying it to smarten up a 'dumb' TV or display, or because you'd rather save $20 than stream in 4K.
That means it still has the same great new Chromecast design, and the new Chromecast remote. The Chromecast with Google TV HD is no slouch, either, as it still packs HDR (high dynamic range) support for better contrast — which the Roku Express does not. Performance-wise, it's comparable to all the other devices at its price range. Speaking of which, we prefer the Chromecast with Google TV HD over the $29 Amazon Fire TV Lite (which also has HDR) because the Chromecast's home screen packs fewer ads. So, if you want a $29 streaming device, we'd push you in this direction. It also packs Nest support for controlling smart home devices.
Read our full Chromecast with Google TV HD review.(opens in new tab)
So what if you want the best streaming device with the best remote Roku makes? Then you can save $10 with this bundle, which takes the Roku Streaming Stick 4K and pairs it with the Roku Voice Remote Pro. The remote's big perks include — as its name implies — always-on voice commands, so you can control your TV even if you can't find your remote. It just needs to be within a shout's distance. Also, this remote is rechargeable, reducing the need for batteries. Plus, it's got a headphone jack for private listening over wired headphones, and programmable buttons so you're not stuck with just the four branded app buttons on the remote.
And as we said with the regular Streaming Stick 4K, this is a fantastic streaming device by itself already. You've got Roku's simple, customizable interface, snappy performance and a ton of apps (everything you could ask for, though YouTube TV is buried in YouTube at the moment). The big upgrade on this model is Dolby Vision, which will have your content looking as it should.
Read our full Roku Streaming Stick 4K Plus review.
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.
Recently, Roku finally added the Voice Remote Pro to the Roku Ultra.
Read our full Roku Ultra (2020) review.(opens in new tab)
Amazon's Fire TV Cube just got smarter, partially through a new octa-core processor that makes it one of the fastest streaming devices on the market. In our testing, that improved speed has it neck and neck with the Roku Ultra (2020) and Apple TV 4K (2021). But this streaming device is more about its voice commands, as it's also an Alexa speaker. Not only does it let you control a cable box (or a live TV service if you cut the cord), but it's also able to control your TV volume and inputs.
This year's model is also better because it offers an HDMI-IN port for those of us juggling all the devices, and puts a USB-A port and Ethernet inside as well, so no adapters are necessary for webcam connections or more stable streaming. That said, don't expect Amazon's new Super Resolution Upscaling feature to remaster your content, as it's more about proving smaller upgrades to non-4K content.
Read our full Amazon Fire TV Cube (2022) review.(opens in new tab)
The excellent (and actually available) Xbox Series S is $299, and is probably the best console that's also a streaming device (that you can find without dedicating your life to hunting it down). While it can't render games in 4K, it can run streaming media apps such as Netflix, Disney Plus and more. If you know what Kodi is, you'll be happy to know you can put it on the Xbox Series S. The rest of us will be happy to know that it also supports Dolby Atmos, Dolby Vision HDR and Movies Anywhere.
But since the Xbox Series S is the same price as six Chromecast with Google TVs, it's good that it also comes with a fantastic console. Capable of outputting games at 1440p, and running the gamut of all the goodies on Xbox Game Pass, the Xbox Series S is seen as a solid alternative to the much-more expensive Xbox Series X. Its only major drawback aside from not hitting 4K gaming is its 512 GB SSD, which can fill up fast with major games, causing you to uninstall titles often.
Read our full Xbox Series S review.
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, Hulu with Live TV and Fubo TV don't get the red carpet treatment that Sling and YouTube TV get.
Read our full TiVo Stream 4K review.
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 4K, 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 4K Plus 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
We testing streaming players by looking at both the content they can provide (most are very similar at this point) and how they deliver said content. Any streaming player worth its salt can load a HD stream, 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. As live TV service integration becomes a bigger feature in streaming devices, we look at how these sticks and boxes can place your favorites within closer touch.
We'll also watch a few different shows on a variety of channels to gauge the quality of the video and audio, to make sure they look good regardless of if you have one of the best TVs or not. That said? Check out our guide to the best cheap TV deals if you need a discount.
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.