Looking for a new TV gadget to stream all of your favorite entertainment? The selection has never been better, and the prices are only growing more affordable. Our top overall pick, the Apple TV 4K, now comes at a lower price. And you can spend as little as $50 on a quality streaming stick from Amazon or Roku that’s fully capable of delivering crisp 4K resolution, Dolby Vision HDR, and immersive Dolby Atmos surround sound.
Pretty much any 4K TV you buy today will come with a batch of built-in streaming apps. But they won’t always have everything. So a dedicated streaming device is the best way to guarantee you’ll be able to watch that show or movie everyone’s been talking about. And they might be more pleasant to use and have a better interface than your TV’s own software.
Each of the picks below has its own strengths, whether it’s a snazzier interface, better voice controls, or a more comprehensive universal search for digging through all of your services.
The best overall streaming player
The latest Apple TV 4K offers improved performance and support for HDR 10 Plus, but the most important thing is that it’s now offered at a lower $129 starting price. That’s still more expensive than streaming sticks from competitors, but Apple’s device provides the best overall streaming experience — without ads littered across its software like Roku, Amazon, and Google.
The Apple TV 4K’s interface remains simple and easy to use. The device supports Dolby Vision and Atmos across a wide variety of services, has all of the important streaming apps checked off, and also gives you add-ons like Apple Arcade and Apple Fitness Plus (if you pay for them) that you won’t find on other streaming devices.
Apps often work smoother on Apple TV and are generally better about taking advantage of everything the box can do. Another benefit of the Apple TV is privacy. Apple itself isn’t obsessed with tracking your viewing data in the same way as companies that offer bargain bin devices. I generally think consumers aren’t particularly averse to sharing their streaming habits, but Apple’s privacy practices might matter to you.
Even with AirPlay now on other platforms, the Apple TV still wins out for people deeply invested in Apple’s ecosystem. You can use HomePods as speakers or connect up to two sets of AirPods for private listening with audio sharing. The Apple TV still makes it easy to tap into content on a Mac in your home, and services like Apple Music and iCloud Photo Library are right there in easy reach on the TV screen.
For home theater enthusiasts, we recommend buying the step-up Apple TV 4K with ethernet and more storage. Aside from gaining wired connectivity, you also get full support for Thread and will be future proofed for upcoming Matter-compatible smart home products. Those perks will easily be worth $20 for some.
A great streaming device for less money
Google has done the best job figuring out what the home screen on a streaming stick should look like. That’s really the long and short of why the Chromecast with Google TV (4K) has taken the crown of best streaming player. With its new Google TV software, the company has taken a content-first approach that feels more focused and refined than what Amazon and Apple have managed in their own attempts to aggregate popular shows and movies.
On a Roku or Fire TV, my instinct is always to head right for the app where I want to watch something. But with the Chromecast, I’m equally happy browsing through Google’s rows of recommendations. The Google TV software clearly shows where content is coming from (you can pick which streaming apps get prioritized in these recs) and it also provides helpful information like Rotten Tomatoes ratings at the surface level when you’re hunting for that night’s entertainment.
In terms of app selection, Google’s got all of the main players covered. Like like previous Chromecasts, you can still cast content to the TV from your phone or laptop, and Google Assistant voice searches consistently work well and showcase Google’s accurate voice recognition.
Everything about Google TV feels tasteful, from the fonts to the way the background color subtly shifts to match the artwork of whatever content is highlighted. And the universal Watchlist, which lets you create a list of stuff you’re interested in from various streaming services, is super convenient; you can even add to it from the web or your phone.
But not everything about the Chromecast with Google TV is perfect. The software can feel slow and gets bogged down more often than I’d like, and it can be buggy at times. And the universal Watchlist has limited appeal since some services like Netflix don’t allow their content to be included. Again, that’s something Google has no control over, but it does lessen the feature’s usefulness.
The Chromecast with Google TV introduces a dedicated remote and new software. It brings together recommendations from all of your streaming services and supports 4K HDR content with Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HDR10 Plus.
The streaming stick that’s easiest to use
It’s hard to really complain about a Roku. The company’s streaming devices are about as simple and straightforward as they come. All of your apps are laid out in a big grid and easily accessible. Roku has tried to touch up and modernize the home screen a bit with new sections like “Featured Free” to highlight content you can stream without any subscriptions, and in recent years the company has also added support for Apple’s AirPlay 2 and, if you have a smart speaker, compatibility with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
Roku has pretty much all of the entertainment you could want, but has a history of getting into spats with streaming services. For example, it’s possible that YouTube will be dropped from the platform in early December as Google and Roku remain unable to reach a new deal.
Roku’s neutral universal search remains one of the best aspects of the platform, ranking your existing subscriptions and free-to-stream options over purchases and rentals. And the company’s Roku Channel has grown into a legitimate streaming app of its own, offering a mix of ad-sponsored movies, TV shows, and live news for those days when you’re burned out on combing through Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.
The Streaming Stick 4K, introduced in 2021, is now the best overall pick among Roku’s hardware when you weigh price and performance. It takes everything that was great about the popular Streaming Stick Plus and beefs up performance a bit, adds support for Dolby Vision HDR, and comes with the latest Roku voice remote.
If there’s one area where Roku falls flat, it’s probably voice search. Your voice queries for specific shows or movies should work well enough, but Roku lags Amazon and Google when it comes to natural language interactions. (And forget about using your voice to control smart home gadgets or look up entertainment-related facts.)
The best streamers for voice commands
Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K Max is yet another excellent pick in that $50-ish range of streaming gadgets. The upgraded hardware offers speedier navigation, adds support for Wi-Fi 6, and maintains the vast selection of entertainment as Amazon’s other streamers. And if you’re familiar with the company’s Alexa voice assistant, you’ll feel right at home.
The Fire TV Stick 4K Max’s software is similar to the Chromecast in that the home screen takes a content-forward approach instead of just throwing a grid of apps at you. Amazon tends to showcase (and advertise) its own Prime Video content more prominently than shows and movies from other services, which can get annoying at times.
Alexa voice commands with the remote work very reliably, whether you’re saying “open Netflix” or asking to dim the smart lights in your living room. And those voice capabilities can be deeper-reaching than competitors; you can say “turn to ESPN on Sling TV” and it’ll pull off that request without missing a beat.
There’s also the Fire TV Cube to consider. It’s essentially a hybrid streaming device and smart speaker that offers the advantages of both — and the fastest performance of any Fire TV product. Rather than make you press and hold a button to speak to Alexa like with the Stick 4K Max, the Cube takes a hands-free approach and has beam-forming mics that respond to “Alexa” prompts from across the room just like an Echo speaker would.
The Fire TV Cube also now features an HDMI input, letting you run a cable box, Blu-ray player, or other content source through it. When you do so, Alexa’s responses will be shown as a visual overlay atop whatever you’re watching, which makes the experience that much nicer. Plus, you can just leave everything set to the same HDMI input for simplicity.
When it comes to their streaming capabilities, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max and Fire TV Cube are on equal footing, but it’s the hands-free voice element that really sets the Cube apart from the pack.
The best streaming player for gaming
Home theater enthusiasts, gamers, and people who like to tinker with their streaming devices have loyally stuck with Nvidia’s Shield TV and Shield TV Pro for a reason. They can serve as excellent players like any of our other picks, but you can also go more advanced and use them for cloud gaming or set up a Plex media library (in the case of the Pro). GeForce Now and Steam Link probably do more to sell gamers on the Shield lineup versus something like Apple Arcade on the Apple TV.
The Nvidia Shield runs Android TV and hasn’t been upgraded to the same Google TV experience as what’s on the Chromecast, but it’s got a similar interface. Nvidia’s AI-powered upscaling can eke out some extra detail from the shows and movies you stream, and I’d rate the included remote control (with backlit buttons, even) as the most ergonomic of them all.
But like with the Apple TV, the main hurdle here is the price. The Nvidia Shield TV costs $150, so you’re looking at spending $100 more than devices that offer most of the same core entertainment functionality. You get Ethernet and a very powerful streaming device for the added premium, and you can push the Shield TV farther and make it do more than just about any of its competitors.