1. The list in brief
2. Best overall
3. Best value
4. Best for live TV
5. Best for Apple users
6. Best for Android TV
7. Best Fire Stick
8. How to choose
9. How we test
The best streaming devices serve as successors to the cable and satellite boxes of the past, as we cut the cord and get rid of cable. And while many TVs have some of the top streaming apps, most of the best streaming devices have all of them. The other reason to buy one is because not all Smart TVs have great interfaces, as Roku OS and Apple's tvOS offer definite improvements. Plus, Apple's finally offering quad-box multiview.
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. That said, the latest compelling streaming device we're testing offers 4K for just $20 — it's the Onn. 4K Google TV Streaming Box. Clearly they're passing on the savings from a lack of work on deciding on a name.
Our current pick for very best streaming device overall is the Roku Streaming Stick 4K. This model added faster performance and Dolby Vision on top of its predecessor. Oh, and Roku (and any device that can get The Roku Channel, which includes Fire TV sticks), just got big HBO shows such as Westworld, for free (with ads).
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 quick list
Here's a quick overview of the best budget streaming devices you can buy right now based on our testing and reviews. And keep up on scrolling if you want to see our in-depth analysis of all the top streaming devices for every user and budget.
The best streaming device
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K does a lot for a $50 streaming device. Not only does it provide snappy performance and a clean interface, but its Wi-Fi range extender will be valued and its Dolby Vision upgrade is long overdue.
The best budget streaming device
For just $10 less, though, you can still stream in 4K — and keep Roku's straightforward interface. And this model upgrades yesteryear's remote so you don't need a line of sight to your TV.
Best for Live TV
The best for live TV
Another strong $50 4K streaming device, the Chromecast with Google TV sets itself apart with its interface that leans towards surfacing live TV. Its support for paid cable alternatives is limited to YouTube TV, Sling TV and Philo.
Best for Apple users
The fastest streaming device
Our testing has shown that the Apple TV 4K opens most apps faster than all of the competition. iPhone users will love the it, as it fits right into the Apple app ecosystem and its Remote app can be opened from the lock screen.
The best Android TV streaming device
The Nvidia Shield TV may look like a phone charger, but it packs a ton of streaming smarts — plus gaming capabilities. Our testing also showed rapid 4K load times, and we appreciate its glow-in-the-dark remote at night.
Best Fire TV
The best Fire TV Stick
Yes, you can always find a deal on a cheap Fire stick, but we recommend you wait until you see a deal on the Fire TV Stick 4K Max. Its faster than the rest of Amazon's sticks, which makes its ad-heavy interface easier to manage. It's also a solid pick if you use Alexa a lot.
The best streaming devices you can find today
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. Since Roku is a pretty great platform, the only reasons to consider spending any more are for hard-wired Ethernet (if your living space demands it), which is available in the Roku Ultra and Apple TV 4K.
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. 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.
The best value streaming device
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.
The best Live TV streaming device
The Chromecast with Google TV 4K makes the company's traditional streaming device a whole lot more complete. It also features excellent live TV integration, with a whole section for free TV and select paid live TV streaming services (YouTube TV, Sling and Philo). It also packs with 4K UHD streaming with support for HDR and Dolby Vision, for excellent picture quality, and Dolby Atmos for immersive sound. And Google TV means an interface and operating system that supports the over 6,500 Android TV apps.
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.
The only thing to ding this Chromecast for is that its menus can sometimes be a little slow to navigate - though they're trying to fix that with updates. And, thanks to a new deal, the Chromecast with Google TV now features over 800 free TV channels. 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.
The best streaming device for iPhone users
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. But as much as I love the Apple TV remote, I've recently come into a weird problem where it stops being able to use my TV's volume controls. Check out our guide on how to fix an Apple TV for how I solve it.
Also, Apple TV Plus-broadcasted sports for MLS and MLB games will — on the Apple TV 4K — now allow you to watch up to four streams at once. Look for the grid icon button in the interface to add multiple streams.
Read our full Apple TV 4K (2022) review.
The best Android TV streaming device
The 2019 Nvidia Shield TV is a power user's Android TV device. But it 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.
Read our full Nvidia Shield TV 2019 review.
The best Amazon Fire TV streaming device
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the best streaming devices
We test 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 4K 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.
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.
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....
Move along... move along...