Since you might just be working from home right now—if you’re lucky, and your company is sane—why not give yourself a much-needed productivity break with a little Netflix? Or Hulu? Or some HBO? Heck, why not watch all three? Not at once, of course; you don’t have the attention for that, nor are you paying that many…Read more...
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A media streaming device can transform your so-called dumb TV into a smart one that plays shows...A media streaming device can transform your so-called dumb TV into a smart one that plays shows and movies from Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Prime Video, and other streaming services. The best of the bunch is the Roku Ultra with its easy-to-use interface, 4K video streaming, voice control, and simple remote. The world is changing. Gone are the days when a cable subscription was necessary to watch all the latest and greatest TV shows. These days, the best TV shows are coming out on streaming platforms like Disney Plus, ESPN+, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. Of course, the best way to take advantage of services like Netflix is by streaming shows straight to your TV. There are plenty of streaming devices out there to help you connect the latest and greatest video streaming services to your TV, and they're not all created equal. Before buying, you'll want to consider a few different things. For starters, you'll want to think about whether you want a fully-fledged streaming box, which comes complete with its own operating system and allows you to download and install apps. The alternative is a device like the Google Chromecast, which basically streams content from your phone or computer (called casting); instead of installing Netflix on the TV-connected device, you'll install it on your phone or computer and then stream from your phone, which is plugged into your TV's HDMI port. Next up you'll want to keep in mind the specs of your TV. Not all streaming sticks and boxes are able to handle 4K content, so if you have a 4K TV, you'll want to get one that can stream 4K videos; the reverse is also true, as a non-4K TV won't be able to display 4K content. Last but not least, it might be worth considering the ecosystem you're most plugged into. For example, Android users might be able to get more use from an Android TV device, while those using an iPhone and Mac might prefer the Apple TV. We've done the research and testing to find the best streaming sticks and boxes to turn your dumb TV into a smart one that can access videos from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, and more. Note: Nearly all of these products require access to the internet over Wi-Fi or Ethernet. Products that support casting require a smartphone or tablet. Here are our top picks for the best streaming boxes and sticks: Best streaming box overall: Roku Ultra Best affordable streaming stick: Roku Streaming Stick Best streaming box for Apple users: Apple TV 4K Best streaming stick for Google users: Google Chromecast Ultra Best streaming stick for Alexa users: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Best streaming box for gamers: NVIDIA Shield Updated on 11/22/2019 by Lisa Sabatini: Updated prices, links, and formatting. Replaced outdated model of Roku Ultra.SEE ALSO: The best HDTV indoor antennas you can buy The best streaming box overall The Roku Ultra streams in 4K and HDR, has voice search, and comes with a remote control that has programmable shortcut buttons. Roku's Ultra is more streaming box than most people need. It supports 4K video at 60 frames per second and HDR content. If you have a 4K TV, this is the streaming device you want. Roku doesn't require a Google or Apple account to use (you will need to register for Roku account, however), but it can still connect to all the streaming services you enjoy. You'll be able to install Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, and more using Roku's operating system. Just connect the box to your TV via the HDMI port, and connect all your favorite streaming services to get started. As mentioned, the device also supports HDR, which basically means that it'll show richer colors and better contrast, which is always a good thing for TV lovers (note: your TV must be HDR-enabled to support this feature). The device even supports 4K video at 60 frames per second, which is something most media streaming devices don't currently support. Of course, to take advantage of that 4K content, you'll need a decent connection. The device can connect to your internet through Ethernet or over Wi-Fi, so choose the method that's fastest and most convenient. We tested the 2018 model and were deeply impressed by the quality. The 2019 Ultra featured here got upgrades to the processor and the remote control. TechRadar reported a 17% increase in channel-launching speed compared to last year's model and rated it 4/5. The Ultra also comes with a remote control so you can adjust the volume, turn on your TV, and search for content with your voice. What's new are the two programmable shortcut buttons. If you're watching at night, you can plug in a set of headphones to the remote to not disturb others — a pair of JBL earbuds are included. Roku also has a companion app that makes navigation and searches even more robust, which is what he prefers to use most of the time. The Roku Ultra is perfect for most people with a 4K TV, and we like that it's the most universal of the products. Expert reviewers give the Ultra high marks. Pros: 4K and HDR streaming, affordable, good remote, lots of apps, improved Wi-Fi connection, Ethernet, microSD port Cons: Pricey The best budget streaming stick The Roku Streaming Stick offers a great interface and is super easy to use, and the Stick+ even has 4K for a little bit more money. The Chromecast Ultra may be inexpensive, but there's a streaming device that's even cheaper — the Roku Streaming Stick. Not only that but for the money, you're getting a capable streaming stick with a built-in user interface and remote. Perhaps the best thing about the Roku Streaming Stick is how easy it is to use. The entire device plugs into a TV's HDMI port, and you can power it using a USB wall adapter or the USB port in select TVs. The interface is well-designed and extremely easy to navigate. Since it uses a built-in operating system, you can install apps like Netflix without having to stream from your phone or computer (you will need to register for a Roku account, if you don't have one already). A remote control is included for navigation, but you can also use the Roku app. Of course, there are downsides to the Roku Streaming Stick. For example, it does not offer 4K streaming or HDR. If, however, your TV doesn't offer those features anyway, it won't be such a big deal. The Streaming Stick+ costs a bit more, but it does support 4K and it goes on sale sometimes. Also, unlike the Roku Ultra that is our overall favorite, there's no internal memory in the Roku Streaming Stick, which means it won't recall any of the apps you used or where you left off. Most reviewers, including Tom's Guide, argue this is among the best streaming devices out there. We agree, having tested it ourselves. Guides Editor Malarie Gokey uses it with a 1080p BenQ projector in her home. The Roku Express and Express+ are even more basic and affordable, but still good. Guide Editor Les Shu uses the Express+ when he travels because it also works with analog TVs that don't have HDMI ports. Pros: Cheap, easy-to-use, built-in OS Cons: No 4K or HDR The best for Apple users The Apple TV 4K is well-designed, easy to use, and integrates well with the rest of your Apple products. If you're looking for a device to better integrate with your iTunes account, iPhone, and other Apple devices, then you'll want to look into getting an Apple TV. The new Apple TV 4K boasts a number of great features, but as the name suggests, this version streams in 4K, which is great for those of you who have 4K TVs. As you would expect from an Apple device, it's well-designed and will look right at home amongst your other home entertainment devices, even the more premium ones. On the back of the device, you'll get a power input, HDMI port, and an Ethernet port. That way, you can have a more stable internet connection for streaming 4K video. One of the best things about the Apple TV is Apple's tvOS operating system, which is super easy to use, especially with the included remote (called the Siri Remote). As mentioned, it can stream in 4K and has HDR support, too. You can watch your favorite content with great contrast and bright colors. And with Siri, you can use your voice to search for hundreds of content. Plus, you can access music, podcasts, games, and hundreds of apps, or cast or mirror content from an iOS or macOS device using AirPlay wireless technology. The Siri Remote connects to the Apple TV via Bluetooth, so no line of sight is required. While the remote is elegant and the touch-capability makes navigation easier, it's so slim that it can be easy to lose or slip out of your hand. An alternative is to use the Apple TV Remote app on an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, which handles the same functions but makes things like typing much simpler. Engadget called it "almost perfect," while CNET called it the most high-end 4K streaming experience. However, it was universally acknowledged that the Apple TV is for hardcore Apple fans who can afford it, and most people will be more than happy with the Roku Premiere+ instead. Guides Editor Les Shu disagrees somewhat. He uses both the Roku Ultra and Roku Express+ and Apple TV, and finds the Apple TV experience much smoother and more pleasant than the Roku Ultra — not to mention the easier set-up process. While he acknowledges the price premium and that the Roku Ultra has its advantages, from a pure entertainment experience, he believes the Apple TV is the stronger product, and that it isn't just for Apple fans with money. We don't think you can go wrong with either — the deciding factor comes down to budget and the ecosystem — but the money spent on an Apple TV is well worth it. Pros: Well-designed, great interface, 4K and HDR support Cons: A little pricey The best for Google users The Google Chromecast Ultra is quick to set up, easy-to-use and works great, but best of all, it's very reasonably priced. The Google Chromecast Ultra operates differently than most of the devices on this list, largely because it's built solely to stream content from your phone, tablet, or computer to your TV. That means there's no user interface and no apps to install — it's more of a bridge than a standalone device, and your phone is the remote. Just find the content on your phone and hit the "Cast" button, and the content is either streamed directly to the Chromecast Ultra or, with apps like Netflix and Spotify, streams the content from the internet. Chromecast was first introduced in 2013, and it has gone through a couple of updates since then. Now, the flagship Chromecast is the Chromecast Ultra, which sets itself apart from other Chromecasts with its ability to handle 4K streaming. You'll need a good internet connection, though. One of the great things about the Chromecast Ultra is that it interacts with your other Google devices. For example, you can tell a Google Home speaker to search for videos on YouTube or play music on your TV through the Chromecast. Then there's the affordable price, which many reviewers, including us, love. TechRadar gave the Chromecast Ultra 4 out of 5 stars, while Pocket-Lint gave it a Recommended award. Pros: Inexpensive, easy-to-use, works with smart speakers Cons: No interface might frustrate some The best Amazon Fire TV The new Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K streams video in 4K straight to your TV. Amazon's Fire TV Stick 4K comes with 4K Ultra HD and HDR support. Like the Roku Streaming Stick, this slim dongle plugs into the HDMI port on the back of your TV and comes with a remote control for easy access to play, pause, stop, volume up/down, and more. Fire TV works with Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube, Hulu, HBO, and many other video streaming apps. You can download all your favorite apps on it to play shows on SlingTV, PBS, and more. Since it's part of Amazon's ecosystem, Fire TV works with Alexa voice controls. You can tell Alexa to play "Game of Thrones" without lifting a finger. If you don't use Alexa or an Amazon user, you may be better off with the other options. The streaming stick has a fast processor and 802.11ac Wi-Fi to ensure smooth streaming on your TV. So long as your Wi-Fi is good, you shouldn't have a problem. Expert reviewers more or less agreed that Alexa voice search works well and it's very affordable for a 4K streaming stick. The potential downside is the current lack of 4K content on Amazon's platform (although growing), but if that's what you're really looking for, you'll have to pay more and grab a Roku Ultra, Google Chromecast Ultra, or Apple TV. Pros: 4K streaming, Alexa voice control, affordable, easy to use Cons: Pricier than budget sticks The best for gamers and Android TV The NVIDIA Shield doesn't just run Google's Android TV, it also supports 4K streaming and even has a controller for Android gaming. If you're more plugged into the Android ecosystem, you might want something that comes preloaded with Google's Android TV. If so, there's no better device than the NVIDIA Shield, which was first launched a few years ago and has been updated a few times since then. Like our top pick, this media streamer supports 4K content, including videos from Google Play Movies and TV, which is great news for Android users. On top of that, NVIDIA announced that it will soon be getting integration with Google Assistant for voice control. Unlike Chromecast, this is a standalone product that doesn't require a phone. The Shield is also the best device for gamers. Not only does it have a standard TV remote control, it comes with a gaming controller for playing games from the Google Play Store. The downside here is that the controller probably wouldn't be considered console-quality. As an Android TV device, this streamer relies heavily on the likes of YouTube, but you'll also be able to install Netflix, Hulu, and all your other favorite media streaming services. TechRadar gave it 4.5/5 stars, while Trusted Reviews and PCMag both gave it 4/5 stars. The main drawback? The fact that it's a little expensive, coming in at just under two hundred dollars. Pros: 4K support, gaming controller, Android TV operating system Cons: Expensive
Reelgood, the site that tells you which shows and movies are on which streaming services, has...Reelgood, the site that tells you which shows and movies are on which streaming services, has a new annual report on which is the best bang for your buck: Hulu, Netflix, or Prime Video. And this year, Netflix is losing ground.Read more...