The 12 Best Devices to Buy in 2018 for Streaming TV

Cut cords with the cable companies and stream your content to your TV

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

The Rundown

  • Best Overall: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K at Amazon, “Access millions of websites as well as music streaming services, podcasts, and live radio stations.”
  • Runner-Up, Best Overall: Roku Ultra at Amazon, “A fantastic choice for streaming fans looking for the best-featured option.”
  • Best Value: Roku Stick at Amazon, “Platform agnostic and wants to give its customers all the options and it does so with gusto.”
  • Best Budget: Roku Express (2017 model) at Amazon, “The latest generation corrects many of the inconveniences of earlier models, making it truly the best budget option out there.”
  • Best Apple Device: Apple TV 4 at Best Buy, “Supports many of the same services as the Roku but adds the ability to play back content from your iTunes library.”
  • Best Smart Home Compatibility: Amazon Fire TV Cube at Amazon, "A smart home and entertainment hub that follows your every voice command."
  • Best Smart Home DVR: Fire TV Recast at Amazon, "Watch live TV or record your favorite shows using Fire TV, Echo Show, or compatible mobile devices."
  • Best for Smartphones: Chromecast Ultra at Best Buy, “Maybe the easiest and best-designed streaming service around.”
  • Runner-Up, Best for Smartphones: Google Chromecast (Newest Model) at Best Buy, “The Google Home functionality lets you control this device with your voice.”
  • Best for 4K: Roku 4K at Amazon, “The addition of 2,500+ streaming channels, 4x the resolution of 1080p HD and advanced up-scaling for 720p HD TVs.”
  • Best Streaming Device with Antenna DVR: TiVO Bolt OTA at Amazon, “It allows you to record shows over the air and play them back at your convenience.”
  • Best for Gamers: NVIDIA Shield at Amazon, “All the streaming TV options are just icing on the cake as the real prize is the gaming.”

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

4.8

The new Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K wants to upgrade your tried-and-true entertainment experience with its new streaming stick. Select from over 500,000 movies and TV shows from providers like Hulu, Netflix, STARZ, SHOWTIME, HBO, and Prime Video, and catch live TV if you have subscriptions like Playstation Vue, Sling TV, and Hulu. Users can access millions of websites like Facebook and YouTube, as well as music streaming services, podcasts, and live radio stations such as Amazon Music and Spotify. For the ultimate visual and audio experience, the stick is compatible with 4K Ultra HD, HDR, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision.

The Fire TV Stick’s latest iteration also features Amazon Alexa, which is capable of everything from helping you select what new show you should watch to controlling the lights, checking live camera feeds, and monitoring the weather. The stick features a powerful 1.7 GHz processor for rapid loading times and the addition of physical volume controls and power buttons, meaning you no longer have to deal with multiple remotes to control one device.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Roku Ultra

Roku Ultra
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Roku’s new flagship, the Ultra is a fantastic choice for streaming fans looking for the best-featured option. At 4.9 x 4.9 x .8 inches, the square-ish Ultra is capable of supporting both 4K and HDR picture quality with a powerful quad-core processor. The 4K Ultra HD streaming is handled at 60fps, or four times the resolution of 1080p HD, and, thanks to a new design, runs without fans. There’s an HDMI port, Ethernet port (plus 802.11 a/c), digital output, microSD slot for additional storage and a USB port. Unfortunately, there’s no HDMI cable included, which is a strange omission.

Thanks to a powerful processor, navigating Roku’s already friendly menu system is a cinch. Channel selection is front and center and shows apps that have been downloaded. The Ultra, like a number of other Roku devices, offers voice search, which works fairly well overall. Speak the name of the show, actor, director or app into the remote control or mobile app (Android and iOS) and voila, your results will pop up. The remote is standard Roku fashion with the colorful Purple direction pad and a slew of shortcuts to big name apps and other controlling functions.

There is a 4K spotlight app that highlights UHD content across a variety of services. Night mode is a welcome addition that tones down big explosions and highlights dialogue so you can let the rest of the house sleep while you watch late at night. The combination of the new processor, 4K and HDR streaming, plus one of the most expansive channel selections, means the Ultra won't disappoint.

Best Value: Roku Stick

Roku Stick
Courtesy of Amazon.com

The Roku stick has a powerful quad-core processor and dual-band wireless that provides up to 8x more processing power than ever before. The usual suspects are here with Netflix, VUDU, Amazon, Google Play and more.

Unlike Chromecast and Apple TV, Roku is platform agnostic and wants to give its customers all the options and it does so with gusto. We’d love to see 4K support, but that’s a sacrifice we can make thanks to the superb IR-ready remote control, excellent companion app for Android and iOS and hundreds of apps and services. In fact, the only big name missing here is iTunes and unsurprisingly, you won’t find iTunes anywhere other than an Apple-manufactured product. You might miss out on expandable storage but, again, aspects like best-in-class search allows us to overlook some of the Roku Stick drawbacks.

There are some additional downsides, like the fact that not every included streaming app is up to date with its most recent UX changes or that its HDMI-only which is bad news for older TV owners. Also, we’d love to see Roku do something about an average 2 minute and 52 second startup time. However, thanks to its selection of streaming content, a fast and incredibly responsive interface and cross-service search, the Roku Stick is an easy choice for one of our favorite streaming TV devices.

Best Budget: Roku Premiere

While the Roku Ultra is the current king of streaming devices, the Roku Premiere does nearly everything its big brother does but costs less than half the price, making it an especially good deal. The Roku Premiere wants to be the center of your entertainment universe, capable of streaming more than 1,000 “channels” like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Amazon Video, Sling TV, and YouTube. And on top of being the unit that delivers HD shows and movies, the Roku Premiere is powerful enough to show you brilliant 4K and HDR content that will light up any 4K HDTV. The Premiere also has a 4K Spotlight channel if you want to easily find 4K movies and shows. If you want to control the box from your phone instead of the included remote, you can do that with the Roku mobile app for iOS or Android. One final and underrated thing that makes the Premiere such a good deal is the inclusion of a free HDMI cable, something people often have to buy separately.

Best Apple Device: Apple TV 4

Apple TV 4
Courtesy of BestBuy.com

Apple TV 4 is a smaller, more expensive unit but retains the polished interface that has made Apple’s products some of the best-selling devices. The 1.66-ounce unit features incredible voice search from Siri, an excellent selection of apps and AirPlay for unsupported apps. Apple TV supports many of the same services as the Roku but adds the ability to play back content from your iTunes library. Throw in mirroring from your iPhone, iPad or Macbook through AirPlay and you’ve got a whole lot of possibilities.

Still, not everything is perfect as anyone not tied into Apple’s ecosystem won’t see the full value of the Apple TV. Given the cost, there’s little question this streaming TV device is only good for those completely sold on Apple’s closed ecosystem. Of 6,000+ native apps on the Apple TV now, 1,300 are for streaming video. Siri voice search does well, but its app limitation is an annoyance given how well Roku has performed this function at a cheaper cost. One particular note is that most buyers should be more than satisfied with the less expensive 32GB model rather than the 64GB model. Unless you’re looking to use the Apple TV as a heavy gaming machine, the smaller memory learns how to free up space on its own to allow for the introduction of new apps.

The lack of first-run content from other sources like Google Play is a notable omission, but hardly a surprise in today’s Apple vs Android world. Considering that most first-run content is available on each platform (save for some exclusives), it’s not a deal breaker.

Best Smart Home Compatibility: Amazon Fire TV Cube

Amazon’s Fire TV Cube hopes to replace the TV remote entirely. A combination of the Echo speaker and Fire TV stick, it will be your new smart home and entertainment hub that follows your every voice command. And as with most of Amazon's other branded devices, you can use the Alexa assistant to control your TV, cable box, soundbar or other audio equipment. If you want to turn on the TV, just say “Alexa, turn on the TV.” Ask it to play your favorite shows or music, too. Even the volume can be controlled through voice commands.

Amazon's Fire entertainment hub gives you instant access to all your favorite streaming services like Prime Video, Netflix, HBO, Showtime and more. All totaled, there are more than 500,00 movies and TV episodes. That includes a large number of 4K Ultra HD-ready content that streams at a super-smooth 60fps. The Fire TV Cube also gives you direct access to YouTube, Facebook, and more with two built-in web browsers.

Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best Amazon devices.

Best Smart Home DVR: Fire TV Recast

With the Fire TV Recast, you’re able to watch live TV or record your favorite shows using Fire TV, Echo Show, or compatible mobile devices. Amazon’s first step into the future of entertainment, the Recast gives you access to over-the-air (OTA) channels, works with Prime Videos, and provides access to premium subscription services like HBO, Starz, and Showtime. Though a separate HD antenna is necessary to access OTA channels, the Fire TV mobile app helps you set it up in a spot with the best possible reception.

The entry-level, two-tuner Recast lets you record and watch up to two programs at once, and is able to store up to 75 hours of HD DVR recordings. Upgrading to the four-tuner, 1TB model will introduce the option to store up to 150 hours. Pair the Recast with an Alexa-enabled device to search for shows, change channels, browse, or schedule recordings, all with just a voice command.

Best for Smartphones: Chromecast Ultra

Google Chromecast
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Google’s taking the “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” saying and throwing it right out the window by taking the already impressive Google Chromecast and making it even better. The Chromecast Ultra now offers streaming in 4K Ultra HD and HDR with additional speed boosts to handle the more intense quality. Like its predecessors, the Chromecast Ultra plugs right into your TV’s HDMI port and works with the iPhone, iPad, Android devices and laptops with thousands of Cast-enabled apps.

Google’s Chromecast supports more than 200,000 TV shows and movies, plus 30 million songs, radio, sports, games and more. While it’s arguable that options like the Roku are more feature-rich, Google’s Chromecast Ultra may be the easiest and best-designed streaming service around.

The inclusion of an Ethernet adapter will assist homes and Internet connections that might not already be optimized and ready to take advantage of 4K streaming. Chromecast users will find the ability to mirror websites right on the TV, as well as mirror their smartphone. Power is supported through a microUSB connection that can go right into any power outlet, while HDMI plugs right into the TV.

Runner-Up, Best for Smartphones: Google Chromecast (Newest Model)

Google Chromecast

 Courtesy of Best Buy

If you’ve used a Chromecast before, you know basically what you’re getting into: a dongle-like device that plugs into your display or TV to which you can “beam” content from your smartphone using the Google Home app. Ostensibly, new generations of Chromecast basically just step up quality of use for the most part. The latest generation comes in either chalk or charcoal, so you can choose the one that best blends into your home entertainment setup. The resolution on the latest unit is 1080p at 60fps, which should do just fine for most modern displays — it is important to note that if you’re looking for a higher 4K resolution, you’ll need to look at the Chromecast Ultra.

This unit supports Wi-Fi at the 802.11ac (2.4GHz or 5 GHz), with that second band being a bit of an upgrade from a lot of low-level wireless devices. There is also improved Google Home functionality, letting you control this device with your voice and other Google integrations if you already have a Google Home Mini.

Best for 4K: Roku 4K

Roku 4
Courtesy of Amazon.com

Unlike most of its competition that strive for 1080p quality, the Roku 4 truly takes quality to another level. The addition of 2,500+ streaming channels, 4x the resolution of 1080p HD and advanced up-scaling for 720p HD TVs all seal the Roku 4’s place as a winner in our book. Capable of working with any TV with an HDMI connection, 4K streaming is limited to TVs that are already 4K UHD ready which isn’t as popular as 1080p models but expect that to change dramatically in the next few years.

One notable drawback is that the Roku 4 only supports HDMI 2.0, not HDMI 2.0a, which might not seem like a big detail today, but it could be in the future when additional support for high-dynamic streaming content is added. The Roku 4 matches its Stick companion in responsiveness and ease-of-use and we love the addition of quick-access buttons for both Netflix and Sling. All the major players are available through Roku including Netflix, Twitch, YouTube, Amazon, and Hulu. Want to stream photos, music and videos stored on your smartphone directly to the Roku 4? You’re just one app download away from yet another wonderful benefit of owning a Roku.

Best Streaming Device with Antenna DVR: TiVO Bolt OTA

If you’ve “cut the cord” on your cable service and switched over to streaming services only, you may realize you miss some of the programming from over-the-air channels like ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS, and The CW — there are a lot of great shows and sporting events on these channels that you can watch for free. TiVO has provided a solution for this. If you purchase a digital antenna and a TiVO Bolt OTA, you can record shows over the air and play them back at your convenience.

The TiVO Bolt OTA acts as a digital DVR for all the shows you watch from free channels. It has 1 TB of memory and can record up to 150 hours of HD content. The Bolt OTA can also stream shows from services like Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, and YouTube if you feel like using only one device for everything. Unlike most other boxes in this category, the Bolt OTA requires you to buy the box for $250 and then pay for the TiVO service to get the most out of it. This will run you $7 a month, $70 annually, or a one-time payment of $250. This pricing is a little steep, but if you love network shows and live sports, it very well may be worth it to supplement your other streaming services.

Best for Gamers: NVIDIA Shield

NVIDIA Shield
Courtesy of Amazon.com

If it’s gaming you really want, the NVIDIA Shield is your Android TV streamer of choice. Rather than the more expansive and feature-rich options like the Xbox One or Playstation 4, the Shield is a happy medium between a gaming device and full TV streamer. While it’s pricey, it does come with 16GB of internal storage and performance that’s 3x faster than the Apple TV, 10x faster than the Roku 4 and 4x faster than the Fire TV. There’s no shortage of entertainment prospects here including Netflix, HULU, YouTube, ESPN, Showtime, Disney, Kodi, HBO, etc. Pick up the additional remote and say things like “Oscar-winning movies” or “Launch Netflix” and Google’s advanced voice commands will find exactly what you’re looking for. Although one notably absent service is Amazon’s Prime Video.

All the streaming TV options are just icing on the cake as the real prize is the gaming. Capable of streaming new and classic PC games from the cloud via GeForce NOW alongside a host of Android and SHIELD-exclusive gaming options, there’s everything from family favorites, indie hits to the biggest names in mobile gaming. Realistically, it’ll run gaming circles around the Apple TV or Amazon’s Fire TV but it’s still not a dedicated replacement for a game console. Included is a game controller which also functions as the main way to search.

Setup is relatively easy with Android TV and the Shield is no exception. Choose a language, WiFi password, account log-in and you’re off. The Shield handles all OS and app updates behind the scenes leaving you to enjoy the fruits of technology.

Tested by

How We Tested

Our reviewers spent 12 hours testing our readers’ top-rated streaming device. To get the most comprehensive results, they were asked to connect and watch programs from multiple streaming apps. We asked our testers to consider the most important features when using this device from its ease of use to the display quality. We've outlined the key points so that you, too, know what to look for when shopping.

What to Look for in a Device for Streaming TV

4K resolution - If you have a 4K television, and a fast internet connection, then a television streaming device that supports 4K is the perfect way to watch ultra-high-definition content. If you don’t have a 4K television yet, then getting a streaming device with 4K resolution will future proof your setup.

Ethernet connectivity - Streaming devices typically connect to the internet via Wi-Fi, but plugging in a physical Ethernet cable is much more dependable. If you want to avoid annoyances like buffering, make sure that you have the option to use Ethernet when you really need it. Some TV streaming devices have an optional Ethernet adapter for just this reason.

App availability - Most TV-streaming devices support most video streaming services, but don’t take it for granted that this will always be the case. If you already subscribe to any streaming services, make sure that the streaming device you choose actually has apps for them.

Test Results: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K (Best Overall)

4.8

What We Like

  • Great picture quality

  • Easy setup

  • Superb Alexa voice control capabilities

What We Don't Like

  • Remote doesn’t light up

  • Apps don’t come pre-loaded

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
Amazon Fire TV
Amazon Fire TV Stick
Amazon Fire TV
Amazon Stick 4K

Our testers loved that the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4 is easy to use, has a variety of apps, and can connect with Alexa and other smart home devices. One reviewer noted, “It's also great to be able to ask Alexa to play a video or show and it will grab items from all of your streaming areas.” Other pluses, according to our testers, were the “quick and easy” setup, “super clear” picture quality and “easy to navigate” menu.