Update, 10/14/21: We’ve reviewed our recommendations and are confident these are still the best streaming devices you can buy. We’ve replaced our previous best overall pick with the new 2021 Roku Streaming Stick 4K.
How to Shop for a Streaming Device in 2021
If you have an older TV but it works just fine, it can be hard to justify the price of upgrading to a smart TV. Even if you are upgrading, there are some issues with smart TVs to consider, from poor update support to the apps and services you use most potentially missing from the TV manufacturer’s supported app lineup.
Streaming devices and sticks are a straightforward way to get all of your streaming services to the most important place—your TV. All of the streaming devices we recommended have all of the major streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max available from the get-go (even if sometimes finding the show you want is a little difficult) without all the hassle of dealing with a Smart TV’s UI.
One key factor to keep in mind with streaming players is that, while all of these devices will have the most popular streaming services on them, when it comes to less popular or more niche services (such as Viki or Philo), you’ll want to make sure the streaming device supports it. The interfaces for some of these devices can vary, but in general, they all work the same.
Almost all of our streaming device recommendations are 4K streaming devices. These devices are in the same price range (and sometimes even less) as their HD counterparts, while still allowing for HDR and 1080p streaming. Even if you don’t yet have a 4K TV, if you upgrade to a 4K TV in the future, you’ll be able to use your streaming device without a graphical downgrade.
Now, let’s get into the best streaming devices today.
- ✓ Simple setup for an easy streaming experience
- ✓ Remote control can also be used for TV
- ✓ Small stick is easy to install anywhere
- ✓ Offers Dolby Vision and HDR10+
- ✗ No way to play your own content
When most people get a streaming device, they tend to get a Roku, and it’s easy to see why. Roku provides a variety of options at a really great price, and generally, they don’t skimp on what’s most important.
So, it’s no surprise that the best streaming device is a Roku, specifically the new Roku Streaming Stick 4K. For just $50, you’ll have access to all of the popular streaming services and then some, all on one device. Setup is a breeze (like all Roku devices) and you’ll get HDR10+ and Dolby Vision-compatible content on your TV in a snap.
Roku’s remote control can also be programmed to work with your TV, making it so that you can control the volume and turn your TV on and off just with the Roku remote. What this remote doesn’t have, however, are programmable streaming service buttons or the ability to find it via voice—you’ll need to pay the premium of the Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ to get those features.
Other than a few remote features missing, the only other downside to the Streaming Stick 4K is that you can’t play your own content from the device. While that isn’t a concern for most, if you want to be able to play your personal collection of shows and movies from a storage device, our best Roku streaming device pick will be a better choice.
For everyone else, though, you can’t beat the price and functionality of the Streaming Stick 4K.
Best Streaming Device Overall
Roku Streaming Stick 4K (2021)
For just an MSRP of $50, you get a fantastic streaming device with Dolby Vision and HDR10+ support. The Roku remote can also control your TV!
- ✓ Extremely affordable, with a $30 MSRP
- ✓ Works with Alexa
- ✗ Not much cheaper than other, more robust options
- ✗ No 4K streaming
- ✗ No TV controls on the remote
If you’re looking to spend as little money as possible on a streaming stick, the Fire Stick TV Lite will be an alright bet. This streaming stick will plug effortlessly into your TV. All you need to do is turn everything on, and you’ll have your streaming services all in one place.
The Fire TV Stick Lite is only $30 at full price, making it the lowest price of the picks on our list. However, most of the other picks are only a little more expensive (our favorite of the bunch, the Roku Express 4K+, is only $40) and offer a variety of additional features. The Fire Stick TV Lite does not have 4K streaming capabilities, nor does the Alexa-enabled remote have TV controls on it.
Even Amazon itself recommends some of the other Fire Sticks on the product’s store page! Given the small price difference between the Fire Stick TV Lite and some of our other picks, we recommend giving some of the other listings a read first.
But, if you’re looking to spend as little as possible and know you’re not upgrading to 4K anytime soon, the Fire Stick TV Lite will get the job done.
Best Budget Streaming Device
Fire TV Stick Lite (2020)
Inexpensive, discrete, and providing plenty of streaming options, the Fire Stick TV Lite is a good way to upgrade a non-Smart TV without much fuss.
- ✓ USB port allows you to play all your content
- ✓ Can plug earbuds into the remote for silent watching
- ✓ Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos compatible
- ✗ Expensive for a streaming device
- ✗ Not a streaming stick, so you need the space to set it down
Do you want a streaming device that does practically everything? The Roku Ultra is the choice for you. This 4K streaming device is capable of a lot, and this feature-rich device will do everything you need it to, and then some.
First, the Roku Ultra provides 4K Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos compatible content. You’ll also be able to plug in a set of headphones into the remote’s headphone jack and listen to your shows through there—perfect for family households when some may be in bed.
Lose the remote often? There’s a button on the Roku Ultra that will make the remote play a sound so you can find it. You won’t want to lose it either, with its ability to control your TV, as well as two programmable buttons that will let you pick your favorite services to go alongside the normal Roku choices.
You’ll also have the ability to plug in an Ethernet cable, so if your Wi-Fi is spotty, you won’t have any issues watching your favorite shows. You can even plug in a USB device to play your own downloaded content.
With all of this praise, you may wonder why the Roku Ultra isn’t the best overall pick. The Roku Ultra is one of the more expensive picks on this list, with the $100 MSRP. For streaming devices, the price can be prohibitive, although the Ultra is not the most expensive on the list. In addition, while all of these features are really neat for tech-oriented users, many of these extras will go to waste for most people.
If you want the best of the best of Roku, though, you’ll want to grab the Ultra.
Best Roku Streaming Device
Roku Ultra (2020)
The impressive Roku Ultra has everything you’d want from a streaming device, with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos providing quality 4K picture and sound. You also plug in your own USB device to watch anything you’d like, straight from the Ultra.
- ✓ 4K, Dolby Vision compatible picture
- ✓ Discrete stick lets you plug it in without needing shelf space
- ✓ Fantastic price for the features
- ✗ 2018 model means there might be a new model that makes this outdated soon
- ✗ Amazon-focused UI skips on some popular movie rental services
Fire TVs are a popular choice for many, and if you enjoy Amazon’s layout for its streaming services, you’ll want to grab the Fire TV Stick 4K.
For not much more than the Fire Stick Lite, you get a Fire TV Stick that’s 4K capable, as well as a voice-controlled remote that has dedicated TV controls. You’ll get all the other benefits from Fire TV, including access to all of the major streaming services and easy access to Amazon Prime Video.
The downfall with the Fire TV Stick, and the Fire TV UI itself, comes with streaming movie rental services. Amazon Prime Video lets you rent a movie for a few days or buy it outright and have it added to your library without hoping it’s on a streaming service you have already. It’s a great concept, but Amazon Prime Video isn’t the only one that does it.
If you’re on a Fire TV UI, though, you’d think they were. The Fire TV Sticks don’t include other popular rental options like Google Play or Vudu, which will make the Fire TV Stick 4K less than ideal for those who enjoy renting.
There are some ways around this, but given the competitive pricing of other streaming devices, it might be better to go with another option if you’re a movie renter. If you’re looking for just streaming, though, the Fire TV Stick 4K is still a great choice.
Best Fire TV Device
Fire TV Stick 4K (2018)
For just a little more money than the Fire Stick TV Lite, you can get the Fire Stick TV 4K, which offers a Dolby Vision upgrade and TV controls on the Alexa remote. With 4K streaming, it’s much more futureproof.
- ✓ Google TV interface makes it easy to find where to steam your favorite stuff
- ✓ Has a huge variety of streaming services, even niche ones
- ✓ Puts streaming options and movie rental options side by side
- ✗ Pretty slow on bootup
- ✗ Your show list on Google TV is currently difficult to use
In 2020, Google decided to take the minimal Chromecast to the next level with the Chromecast with Google TV. This new Chromecast is actually a streaming device instead of older models simply casting your PC or phone screen onto the TV, so it’s a lot better for those who want a hassle-free, 4K streaming experience.
Google TV is a modified version of Android TV and comes with a few unique features. First, you can make a watchlist of everything you want to watch across all of your streaming platforms. This theoretically makes it easier to find what you want to watch.
However, currently, there are no ways to organize the list you’ve made. While that’s no different than most streaming services, when you have a huge list of shows to watch from every service, what’s originally an annoyance turns into something more frustrating.
But, it’s still easy to hop into any of your services and find what you want, and if you search via the Google TV UI or with Google Assistant, you’ll easily be able to figure out where the show or movie you want to watch is streaming or where it can be rented, without omitting competitor options. You can even find some niche options on Google TV, so you can stream everything you’ll want to watch without issues or side-loading (though you still can).
One thing to note about the Chromecast with Google TV is that it’s slow. The interface loads pretty slowly, which can be annoying to deal with when you just want to watch something. This isn’t a Wi-Fi issue, either, but instead an issue with the minimal RAM built into the Chromecast itself.
Depending on what you’re looking for, a Roku device might be better for you regarding speed and what features you’re actually going to use. But take a look at the services available at the Google TV website and see if the Chromecast’s huge line of available apps makes it a more palatable choice for a similar price point.
- ✓ AI Upscaling makes every picture, regardless of quality, look great
- ✓ GeForce Now allows for great game streaming
- ✓ Connects to smart home hubs for remote-free control
- ✗ Very expensive
- ✗ No pressing reason to go with Android TV over other platforms
Do you want it all, and do you need it all on Android TV, specifically? There are admittedly not a lot of good options for Android TV streaming devices with Google TV taking over the market, but one of the few will do a lot. The NVIDIA Shield Android TV Pro will give you beautiful Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision in 4K.
Not only that, but if you’re a gamer, GeForce Now will allow you to stream and play games on the NVIDIA Shield TV. If you’re just looking for something to watch movies and shows with, that won’t matter much, but for those looking to try game streaming a try, this is pretty neat.
The problem is that the NVIDIA Shield Pro is expensive for a streaming device. Very expensive. With a $200 MSRP, this is the most expensive pick on our list. It’s even more expensive than the Apple TV 4K!
In addition, this is a 2019 device, and while that means it doesn’t work as well as newer devices, it does mean that we might see an update soon. A new NVIDIA Shield TV may not be cheaper, but will likely have updated tech and just be better overall, so it becomes difficult to recommend a $200 purchase when this may be an issue.
On top of that, there’s no actual reason to go with Android TV over Google TV. Google TV is effectively a makeover of Android TV with Google’s name on it. Despite Google TV’s shortcomings, it will probably be supported in the coming months over Android TV.
But, if you truly want an Android TV streaming device that also gives you a bunch of great features you didn’t know you needed, you can’t go wrong with the NVIDIA Shield Android TV 4K Pro.
Best Android TV Device
NVIDIA SHIELD Pro (2019)
There aren’t many big-name streaming devices that offer Android TV, but if that is your service of choice, you will want to go with the NVIDIA Shield Android TV Pro. This device will upscale all video to 4K in Dolby Vision, the ability to play your own content (also upscaled), and even play games via GeForce Now.
- ✓ A12 bionic chip ensures a smooth experience for streaming and browsing
- ✓ Access to some Apple TV only apps
- ✓ Private listening with AirPods help when you need quiet watching
- ✗ Expensive compared to most competitors
- ✗ Apple TV+ is available on other devices, too
- ✗ Apple’s ecosystem is as closed as ever
Sometimes, you just want an Apple device. If you’re already invested in the Apple ecosystem, picking up an Apple streaming device makes sense, since you know it’ll work with everything you already have. Released this year, the Apple TV 4K is the device you’ll want to go for.
This generation of the Apple TV 4K comes with a new and improved Siri Remote that can control your TV and the box easily. The A12 Bionic chip ensures a smooth experience in the UI and within apps, while Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 provides fantastic audio.
You’ll also get access to some Apple-exclusive apps, such as Apple Fitness+ and Apple Arcade, allowing you to use all of your Apple services in one place. Apple TV+ is available on other devices like Rokus, however, so if this is your only Apple subscription, you might want to consider a cheaper option because this is one of the more expensive streaming devices around.
You can also AirPlay from a Mac, iPhone, or iPad—although your smart TV may already have AirPlay built-in.
Overall, the Apple TV 4K is a solid streaming box, but unless you’re fully invested in the Apple ecosystem, it’s difficult to justify the $179 MSRP for a 32GB model. If you’re looking to save a few dollars, the fifth-generation Apple TV HD is $149, but you lose out on the 4K capabilities and risk needing to replace the device when you get a 4K TV set.
Best Apple TV Device
Apple TV 4K (2021)
If you want the Apple experience, you’ll want to get the Apple TV 4K. You’ll get the full Apple experience with the A12 chip providing great hardware for all of your streaming apps—and access to Apple apps not available on other devices, too.
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