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 Ultra ($130) is the way to go. This 4K-compatible device features more than 3,500 channels, a remote control with a headphone jack and a powerful search feature that trawls multiple services to help you pinpoint your favorite content.
If your tastes skew minimalist, you can also check out the newly redesigned Google Chromecast ($35), which matches a streamlined feature set with a low price tag. (There's also a 4K option, the Google Chromecast Ultra, for $70.) At the other end of the spectrum, an Xbox One ($300) 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, Amazon Video, etc.), you probably do not need a separate streaming device. Smart TVs tend to have these channels built in and are compatible with services like SlingTV, so you won't need to buy a new device to see Marvel's upcoming Defenders series on Netflix or the new season of the critically-acclaimed Difficult People on Hulu.
Streaming Device News
Update August 7: Apple is rumored to be launching an Apple TV this fall that supports 4K and HDR content. So we strongly suggest holding off on purchasing the current Apple TV.
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.
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