One perk of cutting the cord is not having to pay rental fees for your cable provider’s set-top box anymore. Streaming services give you the flexibility to pick a device that works for your needs and your budget. The only trick is figuring out which device is right for you.
Lucky you, though—we’re here to give you the scoop on all the top streaming devices.
Here’s how they stack up.
|Device||Why we like it||Starting price||Get it now|
|#1||The Roku platform is content agnostic, so you get more compatible apps—ideal for cord-cutters who want to maximize their entertainment.||$99.99||Check Price|
|#2||Get the most out of your streaming experience with the most affordable device, the Roku Express streaming stick.||$29.99||Check Price|
|#3||The Apple TV 4K delivers top-notch picture quality, tons of streaming service compatibility, and complete integration with your Apple ecosystem. It just costs a bit extra.||$179||Check Price|
|#4||If you have Amazon Prime (or just use Amazon Video to buy and redeem your digital movies), the Amazon Fire TV is a clear frontrunner.||$69.99||Check Price|
|#5||Compatible with the most streaming services, the Roku TV is a TV set and streaming device, all in one. Just be prepared to pay the full cost of a TV.||$129.99+||Check Price|
Ultimately, the best streaming device for you will depend on your household and needs. In general, though, these tend to be the best streaming devices:
#1 Roku Ultra: Best overall streaming device
What we like: Compatible with tons of streaming apps
Drawbacks: Not our favorite aesthetic
Who it’s perfect for: Cord-cutters who use or want to try lots of services
The Roku Ultra is a pretty clear choice for our number-one spot on this list. It offers 4K for considerably less than Apple TV, it’s user-friendly, and it’s easy to set up (just plug it in and use your remote to walk through the steps on your TV screen).
Most importantly, though, the Roku isn’t owned by a big corporation. In the ongoing war between tech giants like Google, Amazon, and Apple, Roku is basically Switzerland.
Ultimately, that gives Roku the flexibility to offer virtually every streaming service’s app on its platform, rather than denying users access to competitors’ apps.
Access to more apps means you don’t have to buy a new device for every app you want. That’s what we call “winning.”
One of the things we like best about Roku devices is the fact that they’re content neutral. In other words, Roku isn’t biased in the content it recommends.
Just compare that to the Amazon Fire TV. Amazon Fire TVs use Amazon’s operating system, which means Amazon Fire TV users get a lot of recommendations for new Amazon Prime Video shows, even when those shows don’t line up with those users’ interests.
That may be good for Amazon, but it’s pretty obnoxious if you’re not interested in watching the latest Amazon-produced shows.
Fortunately, that’s not a problem with Roku. As a content-agnostic platform, Roku doesn’t push content from one provider over another. And since most people don’t like to feel bullied by their devices, we can’t help but think that’s a good thing—even if some of those other, more biased devices are available with a couple extra apps.
The Roku Ultra features a remarkably easy-to-use interface.
All your apps are consolidated under the “My Channels” tab, and if you want to download something new, you can easily search for it. Or, if you’re just browsing for something new, you can check out the Roku Channel Store to see the most popular apps. That’s pretty much all there is to it.
The device’s easy interface makes the Roku Ultra a great choice for anyone new to streaming or anyone who doesn’t want to deal with the hassle of learning a confusing new system.
At $99.99, the Roku Ultra certainly isn’t the cheapest streaming device on the market. If you’re all about getting the most apps for the lowest price, you may fare better with the Roku Express (though you’ll miss out on 4K resolution). Or, if you’re really into 4K picture, you may find the more affordable Chromecast Ultra to be a better fit, even if it is compatible with fewer apps.
Ultimately, though, we think the Roku Ultra stikes a pretty good balance between affordability, high-quality picture resolution, and app compatibility. So even though it costs a little extra, it’s still a pretty good deal.
Preset remote buttons
Roku Ultra remotes include a few preset app buttons, which take you directly to specific apps without you having to navigate the TV’s menu. Convenient, right?
Maybe. But maybe not if you don’t use the apps on the remote very often, especially since there’s no option to switch out the buttons for apps you do use.
In other words, if the button features an Amazon button and you don’t have a Prime membership, that button is essentially worthless to you.
#2 Roku Express: Best budget buy
What we like: Low price tag and lots of apps
Drawbacks: No 4K
Who it’s perfect for: First-time cord-cutters on a budget
The Roku Express is an easy pick for our budget-buy category, as it’s the cheapest device on the market. But don’t get the wrong idea—we’re not just into the Roku Express for the money.
The Roku Express uses the same platform as the Roku Ultra, so it has a lot of the same benefits, including content neutrality, an intuitive interface, and tons of app compatibility.
The difference is it’s a plug-and-play streaming stick, so if you’re attracted to the idea of a Roku Ultra but want to spend a little less, the Roku Express could be a good solution for you.
The Roku Express rings up for just $29.99, making it not only the cheapest Roku device but also the cheapest streaming device period. So if you’re thinking of cutting the cord and want to try it out without committing too much cash to the venture, the Roku Express is probably your best bet.
The Roku Express’s low price is also beneficial for households with multiple TVs. Because it’s only $30 or so, you can buy enough for your living room, bedroom, and kid’s room for less than you’d spend on other devices (like a single Apple TV).
The Roku Express is a small streaming stick, just a bit bigger than a portable flash drive. That gives you a couple of benefits other devices can’t offer.
For one, it makes for easy setup. All you have to do is plug the device in, switch over to the right input, and follow the on-screen prompts.
Once the device is up and running, it’s unobtrusive and sleek—perfect if you’re using a wall-mounted TV and want to avoid extra wires and devices hanging out.
The Roku Express is also easily portable. So theoretically, you could take your device with you on vacation and use it to watch Netflix from your hotel TV. You wouldn’t even have to take it out of your bag at airport security.
Unfortunately, Roku Express doesn’t offer 4K resolution, even if you plug it into a 4K TV. The best you can get is 1080p. That’s still HD, and there’s a good chance that your 4K TV will enhance whatever videos you stream, though it probably won’t be quite as high-quality as pure 4K picture.
If 4K is really important to you, though, we’d recommend checking out the Roku Streaming Stick+ or the Roku Ultra on Amazon. They tend to be more expensive, but who knows? Maybe you’ll find a killer deal.
One complaint we’ve heard from Roku Express users is the device tends to overheat, especially after you’ve used it for a while. That’s not terribly surprising considering most Roku devices feature an advanced quad-core processor, which has a reputation for overheating.
Overheating slows down your Roku, so you’ll have to wait longer for your show to stop after you repeatedly mash the pause button. So if you tend to leave your TV on 24/7, the Roku Express may not be the best device for you.
The Chromecast 2 doesn’t offer as many streaming apps as the Roku Express, but it does offer the convenience of Google device integration. Users with Android phones and tablets can quickly and easily cast video from their devices to the Chromecast. And if you use Google Home or other smart Google appliances, you can control them all from your TV. Not bad for just $35.
#3 Apple TV 4K: The best option for Apple users
What we like: Crisp 4K picture and Apple device integration
Drawbacks: More expensive
Who it’s perfect for: Cord-cutters who already have a lot of Apple devices
One of Apple’s big selling points is interconnectivity between devices. This interconnectivity allows for greater convenience (like being able to start a movie on your phone and finish it on your TV). And then there’s the fact that it fits in perfectly with Apple’s sleek aesthetic.
Long story short, if you’ve bought into the Apple ecosystem, an Apple TV is likely the most logical choice for your streaming needs.
The Apple TV 4K also offers some benefits that the older Apple TV models don’t. For starters, it’s the first Apple TV device to feature 4K picture quality (as you might’ve been able to tell from the name), so if you’re invested in getting the best possible resolution on your TV and movies, an Apple TV 4K is a no-brainer. The 4K model also features the latest technology from The Fruit, so it’s faster and smoother than previous generations.
Finally, the Apple TV 4K offers compatibility with tons of streaming services, including most TV Everywhere apps, a number of free streaming services, and most paid subscription TV services. That gives you more flexibility to watch what and when you want.
Integration with other Apple devices
The Apple TV 4K is a great addition to your home, especially if you’ve bought into the Apple ecosystem.
For starters, the Apple TV easily syncs with your iPhone, iPad, Macbook, and Apple Watch. So if you come across a video on Twitter you just have to share with the room at large, you can just airplay it directly to your Apple TV so everyone can see it on the big screen.
The Apple TV is also one of only a few iOS devices that can be used as a home hub to manage your Apple HomeKit devices, which include everything from lights and thermostats to cameras, speakers, and windows.the automation of your smart home devices.
Translation: you can automate your entire home, right down to programming your hall light to turn on and your speakers to play soft jazz music as soon as you get home—all through your Apple TV. Smooth.
Easy access to iTunes libraries
We know most Apple users don’t use iTunes anymore, but if you’re one of the holdouts or just want access to any music or movies you’ve already bought on iTunes, the Apple TV provides the easiest access to your library.
Better yet, Apple offers a convenient home sharing system, which allows you to access not just your own iTunes library from any device, but also the libraries of a select number of friends and family members. That way, you can get free access to even more movies and TV shows.
A lot of Apple users tell us they really like the familiar iOS interface when streaming. If you’re a longtime Apple user, the layout of the Apple TV is familiar, so there’s not a steep learning curve after you get the device.
Voice control on remote
One thing we love about the latest Apple TV models is the remote’s voice control feature. Now you don’t have to scroll over and click every single letter when you’re searching for an app or a show. Instead, you just hold down the microphone button, say what you’re looking for, and Siri will pull up the show or movie in question (and show you where you can stream or buy it). You can also use the voice control to enter usernames and passwords. Talk about convenient.
One of the biggest barriers to the Apple TV 4K is the sheer price of the device. The 32 GB version typically costs $179 (check current price on Amazon), and if you want more storage space for apps, you’ll pay a whopping $199 (though, again, you’ll want to check the current price on Amazon). That’s a hard sell when both Roku and Chromecast offer devices under $40.
The Apple TV 4K remote has a lot to love, but it can also be incredibly frustrating.
The remote features a touchpad, which allows you to fast-forward, rewind, and scroll between apps rather than clicking a button every time you want to move up, down, left, or right. That sounds like it’d be a breeze, but the touchpad is so sensitive it often requires more work to actually get to the app or selection you want.
Seriously—if you want to actually make it to the newest episode of Rick and Morty, for instance, you’ve got to be very still, concentrate, and pray to the Elder gods that you won’t overshoot and click on the next episode of Paw Patrol. And heaven help you if you lose your remote between the couch cushions. You could wind up rewinding, fast-forwarding, or performing a jump to an alternate reality—all before you even have the chance to find the tiny thing.
That all being said, not everyone thinks it is the literal worst, and the other benefits of the Apple TV 4K may well outweigh the drawbacks of its remote for your household.
Streaming on a mobile device or computer
You get a new phone or tablet out of the deal, and you can always cast, airplay, or connect via HDMI if you need a bigger screen. Problem solved.
#4 Amazon Fire TV: Best for Amazon users
What we like: Cheap 4K compatability
Drawbacks: Fewer apps available for streaming
Who it’s perfect for: Amazon Prime subscribers (or anyone who uses Amazon Video for their digital library)
Our research has shown us that roughly two out of three cord-cutters use Amazon Video to buy and redeem digital movies. And when you consider that over 100 million people currently subscribe to Amazon Prime1 (and its attached video streaming service), it’s clear that finding a streaming device that pairs well with Amazon Video is a priority for a lot of users.
Enter the Amazon Fire TV.
The Amazon Fire TV is relatively inexpensive (you can check it out on Amazon to see current prices), but it packs a punch with 4K content. Best of all, it’s designed with Amazon Video users in mind.
One thing to keep in mind: the Amazon Fire TV isn’t compatible with every TV streaming service, so be sure to check app compatibility before you buy.
Optimization for Amazon users
The Amazon Fire TV was made specifically with Amazon users in mind. It tends to prioritize Amazon content, which is great if Amazon is your go-to streaming source.
A cheap way to stream 4K content
If you’re looking for a way to stream 4K video on the cheap, the Amazon Fire TV is a pretty solid choice. Retailing for $69.99 (or less, depending on its current Amazon price), it’s technically just a bit more expensive than the Chromecast Ultra, but only by about a dollar.
One of the Fire TV’s greatest strengths is also one of its greatest weaknesses.
Because the Amazon Fire TV is so geared toward Amazon users, it does have a tendency to shove Amazon Prime originals and Amazon product ads down your throat.
Just take this screenshot of the Amazon Fire TV home screen. Not only does the entire first row of content consist of Amazon Prime originals, it also features a huge banner showcasing the service’s latest show.
And just to drive home the point that you’re using an Amazon product, you also get a nice little ad for the Amazon Echo across the top. Subtle.
The Fire TV’s Amazon focus also means the device offers less compatibility than most major streaming devices. Specifically, you can’t get YouTube TV—one of the leading live TV streaming services on the market. But if you already know that Amazon is your streaming provider of choice, you really can’t top the Amazon Fire TV.
What about the Amazon Fire TV Cube?
Amazon just released a new device: the Amazon Fire TV Cube. It’s basically the same as the regular Amazon Fire TV, except it incorporates microphones and IR blasters on every side.
Translation: it can hear you from any direction, and it can operate as a voice-controlled universal remote for every device you own. It even comes with an IR extender, so you can control devices behind your cabinet.
We love this device—but we ended up putting the regular Amazon Fire TV on our list over the Amazon Fire TV Cube because the Cube costs almost twice as much ($119.99 on Amazon). For some people, the extra cost may be worth it, but we think it’s a little steep considering it doesn’t offer better picture quality or more service compatibility than the plain old Amazon Fire TV.
Really love your Amazon Prime?
#5 Roku TV: An all-in-one streaming solution
What we like: Uncomplicated and compatible with lots of services
Drawbacks: Understandably higher price compared to other options
Who it’s perfect for: Cord-cutters looking to upgrade their TV
Who wants to deal with setting up multiple devices just to watch their favorite shows? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
That’s why we love Roku TVs.
As smart TVs, they connect to the internet wirelessly and allow you to download your favorite channel and streaming service apps. That means you don’t have to buy and set up any extra devices to get access to the shows you like.
But what really sets Roku TVs apart from other smart TV models is the fact that they use the Roku platform, meaning you get access to tons of streaming services.
Ease of use
According to Roku users, one of the biggest perks of a Roku TV is how easy it is to use, and we have to say we agree. The Roku interface is simple, which makes it easy to navigate.
On Roku TVs, you can easily jump between inputs (Blu-ray player, game console, digital antenna, etc.) and streaming services (like PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, or DIRECTV NOW).The best part, though, is that you don’t need to have a bunch of different devices plugged in.
Roku TVs allow you to download the streaming apps you need right to your TV, so you don’t need multiple inputs, power cords, and HDMI cables to get the shows you need. It doesn’t get any easier than that.
Roku TVs basically work like Windows laptops—different brands make the hardware (the TV or the computer), but they all use the same operating system.
Right now, there are eight brands that produce Roku TVs: Insignia, TCL, Hisense, Sharp, RCA, Hitachi, Philips, and Element. Each of these manufacturers offers 4K resolution, so if that’s important to you, it is available.
Conversely, if you want the all-in-one capabilities of the Roku TV but don’t want to pay more for 4K, there are regular HD options available too. You can also pick and choose between models that offer different screen sizes, HDR, and more. That gives you a lot of flexibility to choose the device that best suits your needs and budget.
Keep in mind, though, that the eight brands listed above make lots of different smart TVs, not just Roku TVs. Other types of smart TVs are good, too, but given all the perks of the Roku platform, we strongly suggest checking to make sure you’re getting a TV with Roku built in.
Roku TVs can get a little pricey. After all, you’re getting a whole TV, not just a little stick designed just for streaming.
The cheapest Roku TV we could find was about $120 for a 24” HD screen, which certainly makes it more expensive than the Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, and other Roku devices. The price goes up if you want a bigger screen or better picture quality. In fact, Roku TVs can get all the way up to around $1,599.99 for a 75” 4K HDR model.
Of course, if you’re looking to upgrade your TV anyway, a Roku TV could still be a cost-saving solution, as it spares you from having to buy an extra device. And we certainly like that you can pick and choose features to stay within your price range. But if you’re looking for the cheapest possible streaming option, you might be better off with our budget pick, the Roku Express (available on Amazon).
Other smart TV options
Virtually every TV manufacturer offers multiple smart TVs, each featuring different features, screen sizes, and resolutions. If you’ve got a lot of smart Google home devices, you may want to consider a smart TV equipped with the Android TV platform (like this one on Amazon). Or you can choose a Samsung smart TV and get gorgeous picture quality, along with a healthy number of streaming apps. The options are virtually limitless.
WILD CARD Chromecast Ultra: Best for Android users
What we like: Easy integration with Android devices and cheap 4K
Drawbacks: Fewer compatible streaming services
Who it’s perfect for: Android users who don’t subscribe to Amazon Prime
Just as the Apple TV is often the most logical choice for Apple users, the Chromecast Ultra is the clear winner for Android users.
The Chromecast Ultra offers interconnectivity among your Google devices, making it easy to cast videos from your tablet to your TV. It also works with Google Home, so you can control it using just your voice. And since it’s a streaming stick, it plugs into your TV inconspicuously without any need for extra space or cords.
One of the biggest benefits of the Chromecast Ultra, though, is its picture quality for the price. It’s the cheapest device to offer 4K, so it’s ideal for cord-cutters set on upgrading.
The downside is the Chromecast Ultra isn’t compatible with as many services as Roku devices or the Apple TV.
- Android device integration
Easy casting to your TV; pairs with other smart home devices (both Google and third-party).
- Affordability ($69)
The cheapest device to offer 4K.
- Fewer compatible streaming apps
No Amazon Video because of corporate feuding. Real mature, guys.
- No remote control
Control exclusively via your phone or tablet.
- Requires casting device
You have to cast from a mobile device, so you’ll have to deal with delays.
WILD CARD Xbox One: The most versatile option for gamers
What we like: Compatible with lots of streaming services
Drawbacks: Xbox controller makes for a crummy remote control
Who it’s perfect for: Gamers who already own an Xbox and don’t want to buy another device
If you’re a big gamer, we recommend using the Xbox One for streaming TV. While the PlayStation 4 is a big competitor in the game console category, we tend to prefer the Xbox One simply because it’s compatible with more apps:
That being said, the Xbox One is still limited in terms of compatible services. It’s missing some of the big names in streaming, like DIRECTV NOW, PlayStation Vue, ESPN+, fuboTV, and Philo. But if you’re a heavy gamer and want a console that can double up as a streaming device, the Xbox One is the way to go.
It can be used for streaming, video games, playing Blu-rays, Skyping, and more.
- More streaming app compatibility than other game consoles
Microsoft doesn’t have a streaming service, so it’s happy to allow users to stream via multiple sources.
- Game controller that doubles as remote
The stick can be overly sensitive. Consider us triggered.
- Ads for Xbox products
It’s content neutral, but definitely not neutral about pushing Xbox games and equipment.
- Cost ($256.99 or current Amazon price)
It’s moderately priced for a video game console, but expensive compared to other streaming devices.
Learn more about your options
We’ve just barely scratched the surface on all the streaming devices available, so if you’re not sold on any of the options we’ve mentioned above (or don’t see your favorite device listed), be sure to check out our comprehensive device reviews. You can see all of the streaming devices available and get detailed info on each one. That way, you can make the most informed decision possible. We’ve got your back.