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Best media streamers 2021: The best TV streaming devices

Best Media Streamers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best media streamers you can buy in 2021.

No Disney Plus on your smart TV platform? You need to get yourself a media streamer. The best media streamers will provide a total and endless supply of TV shows, films and music through all the major video and music streaming services you can think of, as well as a whole load you never knew existed.

Whether it's Netflix, Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play Movies & TV, a service dedicated to skateboarding or free 1970s kung fu films, it's a media streamer's job to deliver them.

Few smart TVs cover all the apps and a media streamer will put that right without you having to spend big. It's a media streamer's raison d'etre to make sure that they're stacked with services. With more competition in the market than ever, prices are low, standards are high and any gaps in their app offerings could be a killer weakness.

TV streaming devices are pretty much foolproof too. All you do is plug them into your flatscreen, connect them wirelessly to your home wi-fi network and get watching. Despite their ease of use, though, there is quite some difference in how much they cost. More advanced models that offer 4K, HDR and voice controls will charge more, but there are plenty of simple streaming sticks for those on tight budgets too.

Before you chose, bear in mind that to enjoy HD and 4K content, you'll need a fast broadband connection. Netflix recommends a steady connection of 25Mbps or higher for 4K video, for example.

You should also check which services each device offers, especially as exclusive, original TV shows and films are all the rage. So whether you want to use Apple's library or Google's, watch the latest Netflix, Disney Plus or Amazon Prime Video TV show, independent films on MUBI, or live sport courtesy of Now TV, our round-up of the best media streamers has got you covered.

Best media streamers: The best TV streaming devices

(Image credit: Google)

1. Chromecast with Google TV

Google's cracked it this time.

SPECIFICATIONS

Max resolution: 4K | Audio: Dolby Atmos | Output: HDMI | HDR: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, Dolby Vision | Dimensions (HWD): 12.5 x 6 x 16cm

Reasons to Buy

Lots of apps
Excellent HDR picture
Dolby Vision and Atmos

Reasons to Avoid

No Apple content available
Rivals sound more dynamic

Google was in Amazon's media streaming shadow until the arrival of the most recent  Chromecast and, specifically, the Google TV user-interface that comes with it. While this streamer and the Fire TV Stick 4K are an even match for performance, it's Google's superior operating system that wins the day.

Google TV is the successor to Android TV and is beginning its roll-out across smart TVs from 2021. It's better looking, more intuitive, more searchable and, crucially, excellent at making suggestions of what to watch next.

That's best underlined in the way that it presents search results with an even hand. Top suggestions will always be from streaming services to which you already subscribe, and in top quality where possible, rather than Google trying to sell you content to which you already have access.

While, natively, it doesn't have quite as many apps as some rivals, you can make up for that by casting anything it doesn't have from your mobile or tablet instead. The only caveat is that it won't bring access to Apple TV or Apple Music. If you need those, then try Amazon or the more expensive Apple TV 4K instead.

Read the full Chromecast with Google TV review

Best media streamers: The best TV streaming devices

2. Amazon Fire TV 4K

Amazon's excellent streaming stick is amazing value.

SPECIFICATIONS

Max resolution: 4K | Audio: Dolby Atmos | Output: USB, HDMI | HDR: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, Dolby Vision | Dimensions (HWD): 9.9x3x1.4cm

Reasons to Buy

Supports all current HDR formats
Dolby Atmos
Impressive performance

Reasons to Avoid

Big and awkward for a stick
Limited 4K HDR film selection

Amazon's 4K streaming stick is as worthy a no.2 as you'll find. It offers unbeatable value, 4K streaming, support for multiple HDR formats and all with the Alexa voice-activated personal assistant.

Amazon Prime Video comes as standard (of course), alongside Netflix, the terrestrial catch-up services (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5), Now TV, BT Sport, Apple TV, Disney Plus and the bonus of music services Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music and Tidal. The only minor omissions are an official Rakuten app and Google Play Movies & TV.

The main reason that this device doesn't score quite as well as the Chromecast above is because its operating system isn't as good. It's too Amazon-focused doesn't  perform quite as well for suggestions. That said, it's worth noting that Amazon's latest Fire TV OS will arrive on the Fire TV Stick 4K in the coming months and that could be a game-changer for usability. Watch this space or, specifically, the one just above.

Read the full review: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

Best media streamers: The best TV streaming devices

3. Apple TV 4K

Not cheap, but up there with the best streaming devices around.

SPECIFICATIONS

Max resolution: 4K | Audio: Dolby Atmos | Output: HDMI | HDR: HDR10, Dolby Vision | Dimensions (HWD): 3.5x9.8x9.8cm

Reasons to Buy

Lots of 4K HDR content
Strong picture and sound
Loads of apps

Reasons to Avoid

Pricier than stick alternatives

This box of tricks offers the typically slick experience we've come to expect from Apple. Voice controls come courtesy of Siri - Apple's personal assistant - while 4K and HDR are all part and parcel of the package. There's plenty to watch too, thanks to Apple's extensive catalogue of 4K and HDR content.

And with the arrival of the Apple TV+ streaming service that's only got better. Netflix, iPlayer and Amazon Prime Video are offered with Now TV and All 4 both present now too. It's not cheap - it's positively exorbitant compared to some on this list - but if you're happy with life in the Apple ecosystem and you can afford it, it's money well spent for the home streaming enthusiast.

Read the full review: Apple TV 4K

Best media streamers: The best TV streaming devices

4. Google Chromecast (2018)

A cheap, quick and convenient media streamer.

SPECIFICATIONS

Max resolution: 1080p | Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 | Output: HDMI | HDR: n/a | Dimensions (HWD): 5.2x1.38x1.38cm

Reasons to Buy

Affordable
Casting is neat
Good video and sound

Reasons to Avoid

Little new of note
No dedicated remote

At just £30/$30, this is one of the cheapest video streaming devices around. Chromecast is a decent little device and if you don't have a 4K TV, its 1080p resolution is all you need. You can 'cast' Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All 4, My5 and Now TV, along with Google Play Movies and YouTube TV. On the music front, Spotify, TuneIn and Tidal are all catered for. Amazon Prime Video is now included too.

You have to control Google Chromecast from your phone or tablet, so it's a different proposition from most of the streamers here. But it does what it does very well indeed.

Read the full review: Google Chromecast (2018)

Best media streamers: The best TV streaming devices

5. Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa

This sophisticated streaming device is a joy to use.

SPECIFICATIONS

Max resolution: 1080p | Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 | Output: HDMI | HDR: n/a | Dimensions (HWD): 3x8.6x1.3cm

Reasons to Buy

Alexa voice control
Responsive UI
Multiple streaming services

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing of note

Amazon's cheaper streaming stick loses the 4K and HDR, but retains the Alexa personal assistant for voice control. All the major streaming services are supported, apart from Now TV, and the sound quality is impressive for such a cheap device. If you're looking for a cheap and easy way to start streaming, this might be the one for you.

Read the full review: Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa

Best media streamers: The best TV streaming devices

6. Roku Streaming Stick+

An excellent, all-round video streamer with a tempting price tag.

SPECIFICATIONS

Max resolution: 4K | Audio: Dolby Atmos | Output: HDMI | HDR: HDR10 | Dimensions (HWD): 2x9.4x1.2cm

Reasons to Buy

Stable 4K picture
Great app selection
Easy-to-use interface

Reasons to Avoid

No ethernet connection
No Dolby Vision

Roku might not be as well known in some parts, but it's a big global player in the streaming market and this device is a solid bet. It's affordable, boasts 4K and HDR (albeit limited formats for the latter) and doesn't need mains power to run. Because Roku doesn't make its own shows, there's no hard sell as to what to watch, as there is with Amazon devices, and all the major streaming services are supported, including Now TV (which you won't find on an Amazon device).

Read the full review: Roku Streaming Stick+

Best media streamers: The best TV streaming devices

7. Now TV Smart Stick

Sky content streamed via a stick, without the subscription.

SPECIFICATIONS

Max resolution: 1080p | Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 and 7.1 | Output: HDMI | HDR: n/a | Dimensions (HWD): 8.4x2.3x1.3cm

Reasons to Buy

Inexpensive
Easy-to-use interface
No contract or dish

Reasons to Avoid

Limited app selection
Sky content limited to 720p

At under £20, this is one of the cheapest ways to turn your old TV into a smart TV. Most of the main streaming services are here, except for Amazon Prime Video, and as you'd expect, it gently nudges you towards Sky's Now TV streaming service at every turn. While it can stream in 1080p, Now TV tops out at 720p. If you can put up with these limitations, it's a bargain, and a great way to get Sky TV without a subscription.

Read the full review: Now TV Smart Stick

MORE:

30 of the best TV shows to watch on Netflix

21 of the best TV shows to watch on Amazon Prime Video

Best video streaming services

  • robinl59
    If you are sport mad and want the cheapest option (so excluding Apple TV) the only media streamer which allows BT Sport, NowTV and Amazon Prime for football is the Google Chromecast
    Reply
  • Luis Santos
    The best, which is Chromecast Ultra, is not listed.
    Reply
  • Lubje
    No NVIDIA SHIELD TV (Pro)?
    Seriously?

    View comparison
    Reply