2018’s Best Streaming Devices
The Best Equipment to Power Your Next Netflix Marathon
Cable may still be king, but the future is streaming. One in five American households has cut the cord and set their TV boxes free, pivoting to embrace streaming providers like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Streaming devices have evolved to meet increasing demand, with smaller, faster models equipped with dazzling new features that put most standard DVRs to shame. We’ll look at the newest crop of streaming boxes and make some recommendations about which models will work best for your next Netflix-and-chill moment.
Our Top 5 Picks for Streaming Devices
|Device||Amazon Rating||Price||4K||Compatible Apps|
|Best Overall||Apple TV 4K||4.2/5||$$$$$||Yes||Amazon Video, Hulu, ESPN, and Netflix|
|Best Value||Amazon Fire TV||3.8/5||$$||Yes||Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, HBO®, SHOWTIME®, STARZ®, and more|
|Best for Gamers||NVIDIA SHIELD TV||4.1/5||$$$$$||Yes||Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, VUDU, Google Play, Sling TV, and PlayStation Vue|
|Best Streaming Stick||Roku Streaming Stick+||4.4/5||$$||Yes||Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, VUDU, Sling TV, and PBS KIDS|
|Best of the Rest||Google Chromecast Ultra||5/5 (Google Rating)||$$||Yes||Netflix, HBO NOW, Google Play, YouTube, Plex, Spotify|
|Device||Apple TV 4K|
|Compatible Apps||Amazon Video, Hulu, ESPN, and Netflix|
|Device||Amazon Fire TV|
|Compatible Apps||Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, HBO®, SHOWTIME®, STARZ®, and more|
|Best for Gamers|
|Device||NVIDIA SHIELD TV|
|Compatible Apps||Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, VUDU, Google Play, Sling TV, and PlayStation Vue|
|Best Streaming Stick|
|Device||Roku Streaming Stick+|
|Compatible Apps||Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, VUDU, Sling TV, and PBS KIDS|
|Best of the Rest|
|Device||Google Chromecast Ultra|
|Amazon Rating||5/5 (Google Rating)|
|Compatible Apps||Netflix, HBO NOW, Google Play, YouTube, Plex, Spotify|
*Data effective as of 1/9/2018
We’ll get to the details on these snazzy streaming devices soon, but first let’s chat about considerations. What features are important when choosing a streaming box? Our answers will help you identify the device you’ve been looking for.
What should I consider when choosing a streaming device?
Box vs. Stick
Streaming devices fall in two basic categories: small and smaller. Your choices are either a larger streaming box that’ll probably fit in the palm of your hand or a smaller streaming stick, which is comparable in size to a USB memory stick. While sticks lack some of the processing power and port options of a streaming box, these tiny memory-stick devices are cheap and portable. If, however, you’re interested in streaming 4K HD or you have a full theater setup that utilizes Dolby Audio, you’ll want to stick (pun intended) with a streaming box instead.
While you can download most streaming apps onto any device, there are some clear advantages to using a box that integrates your favorite streaming content provider. For example, if your favorite shows are available on Amazon Video, you may want to consider the Amazon Fire TV rather than the Google Chromecast because the latter is geared toward Netflix and Google Play. When it comes down to it, the ease of use and the ability to find content quickly will outweigh any potential cost differences.
4K Ultra HD
Got a fancy new 4K Ultra HDTV? Then you need a streaming device that will allow you to stream 4K programming. All the devices we recommend support 4K streaming so you can make the most of the magnificence of your sixty-inch TV screen.
If you’re investing in streaming technology to cut the cord with your cable provider, internet speed should be part of your calculations. How much speed do you need to stream effectively? It depends on the number of your devices, what type of content you are streaming, and how much of it. To get a better idea of the internet speeds we suggest for your connected household, use our How Much Speed Do You Need? tool.
For a speedy, seamless streaming experience, you want to pay attention to things like how many bands your device supports and the Wi-Fi protocol it’s using. Optimally, you want 802.11 ac protocol and a dual-band device that utilizes MIMO to optimize your signal performance. Not sure what all that tech speak actually means? Learn more about internet protocols in our router equipment guides.
Additionally, if you have a home theater, make sure the device you select has all the ports you’ll need. Many of the less expensive streaming boxes do not support sophisticated audio outputs.
If you’re living your life in the cloud, storage capacity may not be an issue for you. A few streaming devices offer some storage capacity, so you can have content at your fingertips without worrying about connectivity. While even the largest storage capacity on a streaming device is still vastly smaller than the average DVR, if you want more, opt for a device that has a USB port so you can connect external storage.
Top 5 Streaming Devices
Compatible Apps: Amazon Video, Hulu, ESPN, Netflix, and more
4K HD: Yes
Connections: HDMI 2.0a, Gigabit Ethernet, IR Receiver, Wi-Fi
Storage: 32 GB, 64 GB
If you want the best picture possible on a streaming device, Apple TV 4K is the way to go. It’s more expensive that most of the other devices on this list, but if you want the best, you have to pay for it. Apple TV 4K comes in two varieties: 32 GB and 64 GB. We recommend opting for the 64 GB version because it gives you twice the storage capacity for only about 10% more money.
Compatible Apps: Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, HBO®, SHOWTIME®, STARZ®, and more
4K HD: Yes
Connection: HDMI output, micro USB for power or optional Amazon Ethernet Adapter, Wi-Fi
Storage: 8 GB
While the Amazon Fire TV doesn’t have the same storage capacity as the Apple TV 4K, it’s less than half the price and still delivers a 4K HD picture. Along with being a great bargain, it also includes an Alexa Voice Remote that lets you control your TV experience with spoken commands. The Amazon Fire TV even has a version that includes an HD antenna so you can watch and record shows broadcast over the air. However, the built-in antenna will increase the price by about 20%.
Type: Box, gaming system
Compatible Apps: Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, VUDU, Google Play, Sling TV, and PlayStation Vue
4K HD: Yes
Band: Dual (2.4 GHz only)
Connection: Ethernet, HDMI, 2 USB, Wi-Fi
Storage: 16 GB
Don’t be scared off by the larger price tag! NVIDIA SHIELD TV gives you so much more functionality than most streaming devices. NVIDIA SHIELD TV integrates with Google products and more. You can use it to play games from cloud storage, cast games from your PC to your TV, and even control your Nest system for home automation. It does all that and more, while still delivering amazing picture quality.
Compatible Apps: Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, VUDU, Sling TV, and PBS KIDS
4K HD: Yes
Connection: USB, Ethernet, Wi-Fi
Storage: External (microSD)
If you’re not worried about storage and want a more “stream”-lined device, the Roku Streaming Stick+ is for you. It’s compatible with the major streaming services, and the newest version has 4K HD capability to keep your picture super clear. It’s also less expensive than the bigger boxes, so you might be able to afford subscribing to more streaming services.
Compatible Apps: Netflix, HBO NOW, Google Play, YouTube, Plex, Spotify
4K HD: Yes
Connection: Wi-Fi, Ethernet, HDMI
Storage: External (microSD)
The Chromecast Ultra is proof that great things can come in small packages. While it may be small, the Ultra packs plenty under the hood with the ability to stream in 4K and support for HDR. While it’s a little pricier than the base model, if you’re a cord-cutter looking for HD content, the Chromecast Ultra is the best way to keep you supplied with a steady stream at a budget price.
4K HD requires more bandwidth than standard HD
All the streaming devices we recommend in this article are 4K HD compatible. Higher-resolution images, like those you get with 4K HD, require more digital information to keep the image sharp. To get the most out of your streaming device without causing a noticeable slowdown in your internet speed, you’ll need an internet connection with more bandwidth to accommodate that extra data.
With 4K HD becoming the new standard for top-quality streaming, many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer higher-bandwidth connections. To find ISPs in your area and see the speeds (bandwidth) they offer, enter your zip below.
Author - John Dilley
With over five years writing about the internet industry, John has developed a deep knowledge of internet providers and technology. Prior to writing professionally, John graduated with a degree in strategic communication from the University of Utah. His education and experience make his writing easy to understand, even when covering complex topics. John’s work has been cited by Xfinity.com, PCMag, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and more.