Best streamer of 2021: Roku, Apple TV 4K, Fire Stick, Chromecast with Google TV and more compared
So you need a new device to connect to your TV and stream video, but you’re not sure which one? We’ve got you covered. This guide will help you find the best streaming device that connects to your TV and streams video — something you’ll likely use every day for hours at a time to watch movies and TV. We’ve reviewed every major smart TV system and most Amazon, Roku, Chromecast and Apple TV. With the exception of smart TVs that actually run streaming software from Amazon, Google or Roku, these add-on streaming have more apps, simpler remotes, better search and more frequent updates than the smarts built into your set.devices on the market today, including
If you’re looking for the best streaming device to go with that newHDR TV, or if your current media streaming device is getting long in the tooth, chances are you’ll be more than happy with one of these.
Roku is our favorite streaming system, with the most streaming app options (now with HBO Max), the simplest interface and the best search. It also has a content-agnostic platform that doesn’t push any one media streaming service provider, like Amazon Prime Video or Apple, over another. The Plus is one of the cheapest streaming TV options with 4K HDR, and even if your current TV doesn’t support those formats, your next one probably will. And with the AirPlay update, this Roku device is one of the least expensive ways to connect your iPhone or other Apple device to your TV. The Plus might be three years old, but it’s still our top pick.
The Chromecast with Google TV isn’t quite as good as the Roku Streaming Stick Plus, but this TV streaming device comes closer than any other device on the market. It outdoes the Streaming Stick Plus by adding Dolby Vision compatibility — to get that in Roku TV, you’ll need the $100 Ultra — but its biggest strength is Google Assistant voice search, which works well for finding stuff to watch. We also like the impressive integration with other Google services such as Google Photos and YouTube TV. The interface is more evolved-looking than Roku, but ultimately we prefer Roku’s simpler approach and no-nonsense search results. That said, the new Chromecast is a better choice for those already living in Google’s world.
The perfect foil to the two $50 streamers above, the Apple TV still costs $180 but is the better choice for people who want to check every feature box — or who just want an Apple device to use Apple Arcade for gaming or take full advantage of their Apple One subscription bundles. Video purists will appreciate its flexible HDR while Siri fans will dig its voice extras. For most people, however, Apple’s venerable streamer just isn’t worth the money, especially now that Roku has all the major apps, AirPlay and the Roku Ultra has Dolby Vision at almost half the price.
Let’s get this out of the way first: If you prefer the simplicity of Roku’s app-based menus like I do, you might like the Roku Express better (see below). But the Lite trounces the Express in features-for-the-money. This Fire TV device’s biggest advantage is a remote with built-in voice search and control (the cheapest Roku with a voice remote is the Streaming Stick Plus) thanks to Alexa. The Fire Stick’s remote also doesn’t need line of sight to work. If you can’t step up to a $50 player, the Lite is your best bet.
Roku’s most expensive streamer is twice the price of the Streaming Stick Plus, but maybe you’ll appreciate its extra features enough to want the upgrade. It offers more conveniences, including a headphone jack and programmable shortcut keys on the remote as well as our favorite feature, a remote finder in case you lose the clicker in the couch cushions. It also delivers Dolby Vision video, faster responses, improved Wi-Fi and a wired Ethernet port — particularly welcome if your home Wi-Fi is overloaded.
We don’t like it quite as much as the Fire TV Lite, but it is a Roku. Roku Express delivers all of the goodness of Roku’s platform, and it includes a remote, an HDMI port and Micro USB port, an HDMI cable and a little sticker to keep it in place. And it’s often on sale for less than $30.
I don’t like it as much as the two other $50 streamers on this list, but Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K makes a lot of sense for people knee-deep in Amazon devices already. Like the Lite, it bakes Alexa right into the remote control. You can use voice control to search for video on Amazon or turn on your Christmas tree. Or both at the same time. Throw in a massive selection of Amazon content as well as Dolby Vision HDR and the Stick 4K is still an excellent choice.
Soundbars with streaming onboard may be a relatively recent development, but Roku’s new Streambar nails it. It has the Roku interface we know and love, complete with 4K HDR with improved sound for any TV, especially dialog. It’s smaller and more affordable than its predecessor, the Roku Smart Soundbar, but we think the new Streambar makes more sense for most people.