Cut the Cord
There are many ways to watch online content on your TV. Your television itself might have apps, or you might have a Blu-ray player or game system connected with built-in streaming services. If neither case applies, or if your TV, Blu-ray player, or game system doesn't have the exact media features you want, you can get a dedicated media streaming hub. Most media streamers allow you to set up your TV with any online or local media streaming services you need for well under $100.
Among the media streamers currently available, five platforms stand out: Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Cast, and Roku. All of these platforms except Google Cast have on-screen menu systems and dedicated remotes so you can view whatever you want from the couch, without a mobile device to control everything. Google Cast is a bit different, as it relies on a smartphone, tablet, or PC with Cast-compatible apps to stream content. No matter which you choose, they each give you access to many of the most popular music and video streaming services available.
Resolution is another big factor to consider. All of the platforms mentioned aside from Apple have options for ultra high-definition (4K) and HDR content. In the list above you'll find the top-rated media streamers we've tested. Below is a closer looking at the top media streaming platforms.
Amazon Fire TV
Amazon's Fire TV platform is built around FireOS, a modified version of Android designed with Amazon's content in mind. Fire TV devices are focused heavily on Amazon Prime content, with Amazon Instant Video and Amazon Prime Music built prominently into the menu system. There are plenty of other content services available through Fire TV as individual apps, like Hulu Plus, Netflix, and YouTube, but the big advantage of Fire TV is having all of your Prime content right at your fingertips.
Amazon has equipped its Fire TV platform with Alexa, the same voice assistant used on the Amazon Echo speaker. It's basically Amazon's version of Siri, and it's a useful tool to use with the voice remote included with the current Fire TV and Fire TV Stick. The newest Fire TV supports 4K video, and the newest Fire TV Stick features a lower price and includes a voice remote by default.
Google Cast is the least visually obtrusive and physically complicated media streaming platform; you take a Chromecast or Chromecast Audio, plug it into a power source, plug it into your TV or sound system, and control everything through your mobile device. There are no remotes, no on-screen interfaces, and no app stores to separately navigate. You just connect your Chromecast to your home network and stream whatever you're watching (from a Google Cast-compatible app, of which there are many) on your smartphone or tablet. It's easy to use and economical, since both the Chromecast and audio-only Chromecast Audio are the least expensive media streamers on this list at $35 each, and the Chromecast Ultra is the least expensive 4K media streamer at $69.
Roku calls the services and apps available on its devices Channels, and currently offers thousands of choices on the Roku Channel Store. All of the big streaming media names are available, including Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Sling TV, and Twitch, along with many smaller, niche apps and services for movies, sports, weather, news, and international content. Roku's current lineup is its largest, with a total of six models across a wide range of prices and features. The Roku Streaming Stick and Premiere+ stand out as the top choices, for respectively offering an affordable package with a point-anywhere remote and 4K capability.
Roku has also pushed into the television market with its Roku TV platform. The company doesn't make TVs itself, but it offers its technology to manufacturers to incorproate into their screens. This has allowed many more budget-priced televisions to include connected features they couldn't use a few years ago, while keeping prices low. Roku TVs work just like Roku media streamers, only they're built directly into the TVs themselves. Now many Roku TVs natively support 4K as well.
Android TV is Google's dedicated Android-based media streamer menu system, different from the heavily modified version of Android used in Amazon's Fire TV products. On paper, it offers a more powerful and feature-rich interface than Apple TV or Roku, but we've yet to be truly impressed by it. It feels clunky, and its app store is tiny compared with Google's conventional Android app store, as well as the Apple TV, Fire TV, and Roku stores. However, Android TV was the first platform to offer Netflix 4K content outside of a TV with the Netflix 4K app built-in, and it remains a powerful system, especially when paired with powerful hardware like in the Nvidia Shield TV. Android TV devices are also all Google Cast compatible, so you can use your smartphone or tablet to stream content to it just as if you had a Chromecast.
The latest Apple TV got some long-anticipated upgrades, but it hasn't gone far enough to keep up with the competition. The new Apple TV now has its own App Store, greatly expanding the software and services available on the device. It's also equipped with a voice control remote, and you can use Siri with it just like you can with your iOS phone or tablet. It's still very Apple-centric, with music services focusing more on Apple Music than third-party apps, and unlike Android TV, Fire TV, and Roku, it doesn't support 4K. Combined with being one of the more expensive media streamers out there, it doesn't make the cut for this list. Still, its iOS integration is very appealing for dedicated Apple users who want to take advantage of features like AirPlay in addition to the usual media streaming options.
Any of the devices here are a great choice for bringing online content to your TV. For even more options, check out our media streamer product guide
Featured in This Roundup
Amazon Fire TV (2015)
%displayPrice% at %seller% The new Fire TV adds 4K video support and Amazon's Alexa voice assistant to make the already-excellent $100 media streamer even more powerful. Read the full review
Amazon Fire TV Stick With Alexa Voice Remote
%displayPrice% at %seller% Amazon's new Fire TV Stick is faster and less expensive than ever, and comes with an Alexa-enabled voice remote out of the box, making it the best budget-friendly media streamer you can buy. Read the full review
Google Chromecast Audio
%displayPrice% at %seller% With the simple, focused mission of making any speaker wireless, Google Chromecast Audio succeeds admirably and affordably. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Roku Premiere+ combines 4K HDR support, fast performance, and ease of use with a headphone jack-equipped remote, making it our top pick for 4K media streamers. Read the full review
Roku Streaming Stick
%displayPrice% at %seller% Roku's latest Streaming Stick is a tiny, fast, full-featured media streamer that adds some interesting new features thanks to a companion mobile app. Read the full review
Google Chromecast (2015)
%displayPrice% at %seller% The new Google Chromecast doesn't make any big changes from the original media streamer, but it's a bit quicker and every bit as handy, for the same very reasonable $35. Read the full review
Google Chromecast Ultra
%displayPrice% at %seller% Google's 4K-capable Chromecast Ultra is the least expensive UHD media streamer available, but you still need a smartphone, tablet, or computer to control it. Read the full review
Nvidia Shield TV (2017)
%displayPrice% at %seller% The new Shield TV is basically the same Android TV media streamer-microconsole hybrid as the original, but with a few new tricks. More than a year of software enhancements from Nvidia don't hurt either. Read the full review