A streaming media player device is a simple, relatively inexpensive way to give any TV internet capability. If you own a smart TV, you probably don’t need a streaming player to get Netflix or other web-based services. But some people find that these add-on devices are more convenient to use, work with more streaming services, or have added features, such as voice search, that they like. Suggestion: First choose among the four main platforms (Roku, Apple, etc.), then drill down to specific models.
Amazon Fire TV With 4K Ultra HD and Alexa Voice Remote Media Player
This updated Fire TV model is a diamond-shaped dongle that works with Alexa, Amazon’s digital voice assistant. You can use an Echo smart speaker to control it. The device can play 4K videos with high dynamic range (HDR), and it supports Dolby Atmos, an immersive sound technology. It can’t access as many services as Roku devices, though, and it will push Amazon Prime content ahead of offerings from other streaming services.
Amazon Fire TV Stick With Alexa Voice Remote
Amazon’s entry-level stickstyle streaming device works with Alexa, and it’s among the least expensive models you can buy. It lacks some of the features you’ll find on its pricier sibling (left), such as support for 4K HDR video and Dolby Atmos sound. But it’s a solid, lower-priced performer that lets you access a decent amount of content.
Apple TV 4K (32GB version)
Apple TV is best for those who live in Apple’s world. You can ask Siri to search for content by genre, cast members, director, date, or age group. The device supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR, and is adding Dolby Atmos sound. In an improvement from the past, Apple TV 4K now works with Amazon Prime videos. Apple sweetens the deal by upgrading your iTunes purchases to 4K for free.
Google Chromecast Ultra
Chromecast streaming devices don’t come with a remote control; you use a phone or tablet loaded with the Google Home app to find content, then “cast” it to your TV. Some consumers might find that inconvenient. The 4K Chromecast Ultra supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR. A new Chromecast app offers improved search and content discovery.
Google Chromecast (2nd Gen.)
Chromecast, Google’s regular high-definition model, is an inexpensive but worthy option for adding streaming services to a TV. It works like the Chromecast Ultra. You use a smartphone or tablet loaded with the Google Home app to find and “cast” content to your TV.
Roku’s flagship 4K streaming device – our top-rated model – offers great performance plus the wide assortment of apps and the convenient interface all Rokus share. Two reasons to spring for this set-top box instead of the cheaper Roku Streaming Stick+, a button on the device that makes the remote beep if you misplace it, and a headphone jack on the remote control for private listening.
Roku Streaming Stick+
If you want a 4K Roku but not another set-top box in your home entertainment system, this 4K model is for you. It has an unobtrusive stick-style design that can barely be seen when it’s plugged into an HDMI port on the set. Like the Roku Ultra, the Streaming Stick+ lets you mirror the screen of an Android device on your television.
The Roku Express packs all the content you get with other Roku boxes into a very small set-top box. This is Roku’s most basic model, so you don’t get the voice-enabled remote control or 4K video. (You can use a phone or tablet loaded with the Roku app to do voice searches.) For older TVs lacking an HDMI input, the $35 Roku Express+sold exclusively at Walmart stores—has composite video connections.