Best Streaming Devices 2020

Need something to watch SlingTV and other streaming services? We rounded up the best media players in the game.
  • Best for Most
    Works with multiple platforms
    Simple setup
  • Best Features
    Everything in one unit
    Works with multiple platforms
  • Best Budget Device
    Inexpensive for what you get
    Voice control
  • Best for Prime Members
    Simple and intuitive interface
  • Best for Apple Fans
    Sleek design and interface
    More expensive

If you don’t have a smart TV or want a way to watch SlingTV, Hulu, or YouTubeTV on your big screen, you want a streaming device. It’s the best way to get all your shows, movies, apps, and games in one place—along with saving you a buck or two on your cable bill. All you need is an HDMI port and you’re good to go.

The biggest names in the streaming arena are Amazon Fire TV, NVIDIA SHIELD, Chromecast, Roku, and Apple TV. We’ll see which one makes sense for you.

Best streaming device comparison
DevicePriceMax resolutionInternal storageLearn more
Roku Streaming Stick Plus$48.994K Ultra HD + HDR256 MBView on Amazon
Roku Ultra$81.954K HDRN/A—Expandable USB storageView on Amazon
NVIDIA SHIELD$142.49–$4004K HDR16 GBView on Amazon
Google Chromecast$35.001080p2 GBView on Best Buy
Amazon Fire TV Cube$69.994K Ultra HD + HDR16 GBView on Amazon
Amazon Fire TV Stick$49.994K + HDR10+8 GBView on Amazon
Apple TV 4K$179.994K HDR32 GB–64 GBView on Best Buy

Data effective 12/6/19.

Our media player picks all have Wi-Fi, but we like having the option for Ethernet, too. Each device has up to 4K HD resolution (more pixels per square inch), and some include HDR video (better colors and details).

Info Box icon
What’s the difference between 1080p, 4K, and HDR?
It comes down to the number of pixels per square inch of your screen. The more pixels, the better your image quality—so 1080p is good, but 4K has more pixels, so it’s a crisper image.

HDR means “High Dynamic Range,” which means you get more contrast between brights and darks. Basically, things stand out better.

With these streaming devices, you can talk to Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant for voice control, or use your smartphone or tablet as a remote controller and screen. Apple will integrate easily your iStuff, Amazon Prime Members can get Prime Video with the Fire TV, and so on.

Heads Up icon
Pro tip: Keep a laptop handy
Using your computer or smartphone keyboard to create accounts and enter password info is waaaay faster than letter-by-letter selection with a remote control.

We’ve highlighted who we think each pick is best for based on connectivity, picture quality, and voice control.

Roku Streaming Stick+: Best for most

Roku doesn’t put you into a single platform, so you can find the cheapest option for all of your content, not just Amazon’s or Apple’s.

Rocku Streaming Stick+ Box

Tech specs

  • 4K HDR
  • 256 MB storage
  • HDR10 support
  • Voice remote with TV power and volume buttons
  • USB powered
  • HDMI
  • Wi-Fi antenna in power cable

What we like

All the content, not just a single platform

Roku’s interface makes searching content across all platforms easier. With some of our other picks, you’re likely to get frustrated finding workarounds or transporting stuff you’ve already purchased from other companies. Plus, you can see prices for every platform where Die Hard 3 is available.

Great for wall-mounted TVs and portability

Since Roku Streaming Stick plugs into a USB port on your TV or computer, it doesn’t require plugging in a power adapter or HDMI cable, so you avoid cable clutter or cleanup.

Available in all sizes and styles

Roku comes in a wide variety of systems, not just the stick. If you want a set-top box with Ethernet, MicroSD, or USB inputs for storage, you can upgrade to the Roku Ultra version.

Roku’s remote performs the following functions:

  • TV power on/off
  • Volume control
  • Voice control

What we don’t like

Lack of iTunes migration

Roku doesn’t play literally every format (yet!). It does support the Apple TV app, but unfortunately, your iTunes movies and music aren’t coming with you—at least not without workarounds that don’t seem entirely legit.

Apple fans will have to dish out a bit more for the Apple TV 4K than for the Roku, but the Apple TV will sync up with your stuff easier.

Voice search needs Alexa’s help

No voice search is perfect, and Roku’s system isn’t quite up to Alexa’s capabilities. Buuut thanks to a recent update, now you can use both with an Alexa Roku skill. This eliminated a major difference between Roku and Amazon Fire TV.

NVIDIA SHIELD: Best features

Stream videos, play video games, use voice control, and do just about everything with the SHIELD.

NVIDIA Shield Gaming Edition box, remote, and controller

Tech specs

Includes two remote controllers

  • 4K HDR
  • Dolby Atmos and DTS-X surround sound
  • Fast processor with 3 GB of Ram
  • Built-in Android 8.0 (Oreo)
  • 16 GB expandable storage
  • Built-in Google Assistant
  • Amazon Echo compatible
  • Wi-Fi and Ethernet
  • Two USB 3.0 ports
  • HDMI

What we like

NVIDIA SHIELD includes Chromecast with Google Assistant, making it a hub for pretty much anything you want to do with your TV, internet, and linking to smart home devices.

One price to rule them all

At half the cost of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One X, NVIDIA SHIELD wins big points for gaming. It’s got plenty of current games like Fortnite and Tomb Raider, and you get access to gaming libraries like GeForce NOW and Steam.

And again, for the price, you won’t have to pick up an extra streaming device or smart home assistant because it has Chromecast built in.
Built-in Chromecast with Google Assistant

NVIDIA SHIELD works with Google Assistant, and voice control is available on both included remote controllers. You can use the SHIELD like a hub for watching YouTube TV or Hulu, play games like XCOM 2 and Bioshock, and control your smart devices linked to Google.

And NVIDIA SHIELD has an Alexa skill, so you’re covered there, too.

What we don’t like

A little expensive for just streaming

If you just wanna Netflix and chill, the NVIDIA SHIELD is two or three times more expensive than the average streaming device. Granted, you get a lot for that price, but it’s just not the most practical purchase for turning on SlingTV and forgetting the rest.

Buy a keyboard

On top of the original price, you’ll want to get a keyboard to use with the NVIDIA SHIELD. A lot of gaming will require more text input, especially if you want to chat with your friends without using a microphone.

After verifying multiple emails and accounts (and forgotten passwords), it can feel tedious to use the joystick, D-pad, or remote arrows. Granted, this isn’t just a downfall for NVIDIA SHIELD. All streaming devices have this problem. It just stands out a bit more on this platform. Always see what accounts you can link from the computer instead.

Google Chromecast: Best budget streaming

Chromecast is cheap and still gives you access to basically everything.

Google Chromecast 3rd Generation

Tech specs

  • HDMI
  • USB powered
  • Google Assistant via mobile devices
  • Requires a mobile device

What we like

If you’re looking to cut through everything else and get your streaming services up on the big screen, there’s no cheaper alternative that we’d recommend over the Chromecast.

Just connect it to your device via USB, and if you’re part of the Google Home ecosystem, voice commands are easy. There’s not much wrong with the Chromecast as a simple streaming device, but don’t expect it to wow you in the same ways the other devices do.

What we don’t like

Using a phone or tablet for everything can be a little wack. Especially if you like to surf Twitter to keep up with fan theories while Game of Thrones is on. Although, with the Chromecast you can also use it with a laptop or desktop computer, eliminating the need for an additional device.

Amazon Fire TV Cube: Best for Amazon users

The latest Fire TV device has built-in speaker and microphones for hands-free control.

FireTV Cube

Tech specs

  • 4K Ultra HD (up to 60 fps)
  • Easy integration with Amazon products
  • 16 GB storage
  • Wi-Fi dual-band (802.11a/b/g/n/ac)
  • Bluetooth
  • Ethernet
  • Micro USB
  • HDMI 2.0a
  • Dolby Atmos, 7.1 surround sound, 2ch stereo, HDMI passthrough up to 5.1

What we like

If you want to keep things simple, and you’re a Prime member, Amazon’s Fire TV works as a hub for everything you want to do from your TV and around the home.

The system is responsive (others we tested lagged and had longer download times for apps and updates). Plus, this system integrated with our favorites like YouTube and Netflix without a problem.

Fire TV apps

  • Netflix
  • Prime Video
  • Hulu
  • HBO
  • NBC
  • And more

Amazon Alexa integration

If you’re already deep into the Amazon ecosystem, you’ll be right at home with Fire TV. You’ll be able to treat your big screen like you do your desktop, phone, and tables, with Alexa skills and Prime video access through the voice remote.
Amazon Fire TV comes in stick form too.

If you want something smaller, more portable, or otherwise less visible, then you should check out the Amazon Fire TV stick. It’s a much lower price, and while it lacks many of the things that make the Cube stand out, it still packs a powerful punch. You still get Alexa voice control and all your apps, just without the bulk.

What we don’t like

No volume control

You’ll need to keep your TV or speaker system remote handy: Alexa can’t help you control the volume. That’s a bummer for those of us with hungry remote-eating couches and a lack of night vision for seeing black remotes in the dark.

Limited gaming

The Cube isn’t geared toward gamers, but you can always add a gaming controller. You’ll have access to games that are fun for kids, parties, and passing the time, but you won’t find advanced games like Fortnite or Tomb Raider. Not a big deal if you’re looking to stream TV, movies, and music.

Apple TV 4K: Best for Apple users

A great streaming option, but it comes with a big Apple price.

Apple TV 4K and Remote

Tech specs

  • Siri voice control
  • Dolby Vision and Atmos
  • HDR10
  • Ultra HD 4K
  • Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 surround sound
  • iTunes integration
  • HDMI 2.0a
  • 802.11ac Wi‑Fi with MIMO
  • Ethernet

What we like

Built for the Apple ecosystem

If you’re already bought into the iWorld of things, it makes perfect sense to go for the classic appeal of Apple: sleek design, intuitive user interface, and easy syncing between devices. Plus, if you have a ton of movies and music on iTunes, this is the only streaming device that makes it effortless to integrate.

Easy and fast

Apple stuff usually works pretty smoothly and without problems. Siri is a quick-acting companion and handled our commands well.

Big options for storage

  • 32 GB
  • 64 GB
  • iCloud

What we don’t like

Pricey for just streaming

It’s expensive. It costs twice as much as some of our other picks, and it’s more expensive by far than just picking up a Chromecast. While we figure Apple fans are used to higher prices, that doesn’t make it right.

If you’re willing to spend that much, we prefer the NVIDIA SHIELD. That way, you also have the ability to play high-quality games.

Siri requires the remote

Part of the appeal of Alexa integration is that you can have any Amazon speaker product nearby and use voice control, but with Apple’s voice system, you need to keep your remote in hand.

Best streaming devices recap

You can find a plethora of ways to get your streaming services up on the big screen, but depending on your needs and budget, finding the perfect one should be easy with a few considerations.

  • Roku has platform agnostic devices ranging from portable streaming sticks to high-performance set-top boxes. This is the best option for most people.
  • NVIDIA SHIELD is perfect for streamers who want to game without buying separate units.
  • Google Chromecast is the cheapest streaming device that still allows you to do a lot from your mobile device or laptop.
  • Amazon Fire TV is a contender for our best pick, but it leans too much into the not-as-fleshed-out Amazon ecosystem, making it a pain to link everything under one roof.
  • Apple TV 4K is a bit pricey for what it is, but if you’re in the Apple ecosystem, it just makes sense.

What’s your favorite streaming device? What would you like to see more of in the streaming world? Let us know in the comments, folks.

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