It’s an excellent time to buy a media streaming device, whether you’ve just cut the cable cord or you’re looking to supplement your TV package with an online video service like Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV+, or Disney+. Compared to the typical smart TV, standalone streamers tend to have bigger app selections, speedier performance, and more features. And with so much competition between device makers, the hardware is becoming faster, more capable, and more affordable.
Here are our picks for the best streaming boxes and sticks. We constantly test all the latest devices, including Roku players, Fire TV devices, Android TV devices, Apple TV, and Chromecast. We review each new generation of hardware and constantly revisit the software and app selection so we can help you determine which platform is right for you. Our recommendations will change over time as new products come to market.
Updated May 3, 2023 with a link to our news story about a recent performance-boosting update for Google TV devices.
Best media streaming players for every budget
Roku Streaming Stick 4K — Best media streamer for most people
- Fast, fluid performance with dependable Wi-Fi connectivity
- Easy-to-operate interface with powerful voice control features
- Full of nice touches that other cheap streamers lack, such as AirPlay and a Replay button
- Discovering and tracking shows could be a lot easier
- No Dolby Atmos support or IR control for external sound systems
- Only supports wireless connections
If you want to buy a streaming player without overthinking it, just get the Roku Streaming Stick 4K. Not only is this $50 streaming player fast, fluid, and easy to use, it boasts support for both Dolby Vision and HDR10+. The Streaming Stick 4K also includes an improved W-Fi receiver compared to its predecessor, the Streaming Stick+. While the Streaming Stick 4K lacks the power and smart home features of the Apple TV 4K, it’s also a heck of a lot cheaper, and it offers a far calmer experience than Amazon’s too-busy Fire TV menus.
Chromecast with Google TV (HD) — Best budget-priced media streamer
- Home screen helps you figure out what to watch
- Cheapest streamer with TV volume and power controls.
- Plays nicely with Google Photos, Nest speakers, and Google Home devices.
- Some apps don’t fully integrate with the home screen
- Too many apps can lead to storage headaches
- 4K streamers are often on sale at a similar price
If you don’t have a 4K television, the Chromecast with Google TV (HD) is tough to beat. Unlike the low-end Roku Express and Fire TV Stick Lite, Google’s budget streamer includes TV volume and power controls on its remote, and it has a smart interface that helps make sense of your streaming options.
For 4K TV owners intrigued by the Google TV’s universal streaming guide, the Chromecast with Google TV (4K) is a solid upgrade at $50.
Walmart Onn UHD Streaming Device — Best budget-priced media streamer, runner-up
- Feature-packed remote
- Supports private headphone listening, dual-band Wi-Fi, and Chromecast
- Android TV helps find things to watch without making apps hard to reach
- Remote may have TV control issues
- No Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, or HDR10+
- Android TV could be better at aggregating live TV and free content
You might not expect one of the best budget streaming players to come from Walmart, but it’s true. This 4K player runs Android TV, which offers a slick streaming menu, powerful voice search, and the ability to cast video from your phone. It also has a feature-rich remote that lets you flip through live TV channels, switch inputs, and control your A/V gear. Best of all, it only costs $30, undercutting comparable players from Roku, Amazon, and Google itself. Just note that if you need Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, or HDR10+, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Amazon Fire TV Cube (3rd Gen) — best media streamer with voice control
- Unparalleled voice control features
- Powerful remote; the “Recents” button is a revelation
- Super-fast app load times
- The home screen is a disaster
- Upscaling isn’t a major improvement
- Costs more than most other high-end streaming boxes
While we have some longstanding complaints about Amazon’s Fire TV interface, voice control remains a hallmark of Amazon’s streamers, and the Fire TV Cube is the best of the bunch. The entire menu system can be controlled hands-free, and you can use Alexa voice commands to launch movies, TV shows, and even live channels in supported apps. If you’re proficient enough with Alexa, you can bypass Amazon’s clunky home screen entirely.
Apple TV 4K (2022) (64GB) — Best high-end media streamer
- Uncluttered, ad-free interface
- Performance is speedier than ever
- AirPlay, AirPods, and iCloud integration are nice to have
- No remote-finder function
- Dual home screens can be confusing
- Remote gesture controls, while useful, might confound some users
Apple’s new streaming box gets a lower price without losing what made previous versions great. As great as the improvements in this new model are, they aren’t so tremendous as to justify replacing the 2021 model if you already own one. And if you can find a 2021 model at a substantial discount (while supplies last), that would be the better value. Read our Apple TV 4K (2021) review.
What to look for in a media streaming device
Still trying to decide between those options? Here are some additional factors to consider when making your decision.
Performance: In general, set-top boxes are faster than streaming sticks, and the amount you spend correlates pretty strongly with the loading speeds and smoothness you’ll get.
Playback quality and resolution: If you have a 4K or 4K HDR television, you’ll probably want a streaming box that takes full advantage of those capabilities, including Dolby Vision and HDR10+. But these days, you won’t find any modern devices that don’t at least support 1080p resolution (HD).
App selection: Traditionally, this has been the most important factor in choosing a streaming device, but over time app selection has started to look pretty similar no matter which device you choose, at least among major streaming services. Our app showdown chart will help you any particular service you’re interested in.
Ecosystem tie-ins: Apple apps and services (such as Apple Arcade and Fitness+) are generally only available through Apple TV, although the Apple TV app (good for access to Apple TV+ content as well as purchased or rented videos from iTunes ) has been making its way across a variety of platforms. Meanwhile, Fire TV devices are the most convenient way to watch Amazon Prime video, and Google’s video and music services are generally best accessed via Chromecast or Android TV. Roku is more of a neutral party, offering apps for Amazon, Google Play Movies & TV, and several other competing video services, but it lacks the sophisticated virtual assistants and smart home controls you’ll get with other platforms.
Content discovery features: Media-streaming devices are starting to evolve beyond a static list of apps. Features like Roku Feed and the Apple TV’s “TV” app help you keep track of new arrivals, while Amazon includes recommendations directly on the Fire TV home screen. Read up on these approaches to decide which one sounds most appealing.
Private listening options: Many devices support Bluetooth headphones for when you don’t want to disturb your spouse or kids. Roku players also support wired headphones through the Roku mobile app, and through the remote control on its pricier set-top boxes.
Captive portal support: If you plan to take your streaming device on the road, you might run into Wi-Fi networks that require a web browser for logging in. This is known as a “captive portal,” and not all streaming devices support it.
Remote control features: Some remote controls are loaded with buttons for fast forward, rewind, and other special functions, while others take a more minimalist approach. Some remotes can control your television’s volume, and some include microphones for voice commands. No remote is perfect, however, so take a look at the ones that are included with each box to decide what’s most important to you.
Audio codec support: An increasing number of streaming services are supporting object-based soundtracks, such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, which add height cues to surround sound. If your home audio system can also take advantage of it—and even many of today’s soundbars can—you’ll want to hear it.
Connectivity: Do you plan on connecting a USB storage device, ethernet cable, or sound system via an analog or digital optical audio cable? Make sure your streaming box has the appropriate connections. You’ll also want a device with 802.11ax Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi 6) or better if you’re worried about bandwidth on an overcrowded home network.
Media streamers that didn’t make the cut
Cooler than a Roku and much cheaper than an Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K Max boasts speedy hardware, Dolby Vision and HDR10+ support, plus powerful Alexa controls for finding and launching content, while the Live TV button and guide make for a great way to see what’s on right now. But while the Fire TV Stick 4K Max’s voice controls are fantastic, Amazon’s bloated on-screen menu system is an absolute mess, cluttered with ads and self-promotion. The same could be said for the older, step-down Fire TV Stick 4K.
The Roku Ultra (2022) features the same strong hardware that it launched with in 2020, but it now has an even better remote control. Features include a remote-finder function, hands-free voice control, Bluetooth audio, and hardwired ethernet connectivity. It also supports both Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos soundtracks. All that said, other streaming players still provide better ways to figure out what to watch, and among high-end streamers in particular, the Apple TV 4K stands above for offering faster performance, better A/V gear integration, and fewer annoying ads.
The Roku Express is the least-expensive streaming player Roku sells, but its also its least impressive, mostly because its remote lacks volume and power buttons, TV controls that are now standard on every other streaming player.
The TiVo Stream 4K is a break from how most other streaming devices work. Rather than serving up a big list of apps to launch, TiVo funnels programming from several popular apps into one big TV guide, so you don’t have to bounce aimlessly between sources. For now, however, the TiVo Stream 4K only supports a handful of services, making it more a proof of concept than a killer consumer product.
The AirTV Player + Adapter streaming box makes cutting cable less intimidating by bringing Sling TV and over-the-air channels together, but it’s hobbled by a cumbersome channel guide and a lack of DVR support.