The best media streamers have all the apps and that's exactly why we buy them, because most other AV devices simply don't. No BritBox, HBO Max or ExpressVPN? You need to get yourself a media streamer.
But not all media streamers are created equal. Here we'll help you pick the streaming wheat from the chaff with our selection of the best media streamers around.
How to choose the best media streamer for you
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The best media steamers will provide a total and endless supply of TV shows, films and music but there are performance differences too. Some look and sound better than others.
Few smart TVs cover all the apps and a media streamer will put that right. 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, our round-up of the best media streamers has got you covered.
- Our pick of the best video streaming services
The Apple TV 4K has been our favourite streamer and an Award-winner since its release in 2021. The newest model boasts more power, smaller casework, usability upgrades and it's cheaper than the previous generation. Madness.
These changes aren't evident to look at it. In fact, it's nigh-on identical to the second-gen model, with the same boxy design and matte and glossy black combo finish. Though it is a bit smaller. The pricier model has an Ethernet port too, alongside the standard HDMI 2.1 connection. And the remote control has a USB-C charging port in place of the Lightning of yore.
The A15 Bionic chip partners with 4GB of RAM to make it significantly faster than the previous-gen model. And visually, it's stunning: colours are bold yet balanced, skin tones look warm yet lively, while the contrast adds a sense of depth, making the picture more immersive. Add to that the warm, expressive audio performance, and you've got the best media streamer around right now.
Read the full Apple TV 4K (2022) review
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 has been rolling-out to smart TVs since 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 addition of Apple TV and Apple TV+ has been a particularly important update when it comes to improving the 4K HDR PAYG film and TV options. There's still no Apple Music app, though. If you need that, then try Amazon Fire Sticks or the more expensive Apple TV 4K instead.
Read the full Chromecast with Google TV review
Amazon's 4K streaming stick is as worthy a number three 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, BT Sport, Apple TV, Disney Plus and the bonus of music services Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music and Tidal. The only minor omission is an official Rakuten app.
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, and so doesn't perform quite as well for suggestions, even with the latest version of Fire TV OS onboard. But anyone in the Amazon ecosystem will find plenty to enjoy.
Read the full Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K review
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, 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 Google Chromecast (2018) review
This is the top-of-the-range Fire TV Stick, with 8GB of internal storage, 2GB of RAM (up from the 1.5GB of the standard Fire TV Stick 4K), and a quad-core CPU running at 1.8GHz with a 750MHz GPU. It's 40 per cent faster than the regular 4K model, and offers Wi-Fi 6. There's an extra accessory in the form of the Alexa Voice Remote Pro, which costs £35 / $35 / AU$59.
The 4K Max has the same boring looks as the other Fire TV Sticks, but as it'll be plugged around the back of your TV out of sight, that's no problem. All the usual apps are supported, as are the HDR formats, while Dolby Atmos is onboard for virtual surround sound. The FireOS is easy to navigate.
Watching it, we're impressed by the sharp, detailed picture. Colours are handled well, with plenty of pop, while black depth and detail are strong. Though it is edged by streamers further up this list.
The audio is good enough for movies and TV shows, but we wouldn't use it for music. It just lacks the drive and soul we expect from anything on audio duties. Shame.
Read the full Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max review
There's very little not to like about this budget streaming stick apart from the price. Don't get us wrong, it's very cheap and offers some pretty decent value in isolation. The trouble is that the 4K and Dolby Vision-enabled version of the same device is only a tiny bit more expensive. Why wouldn't you opt for its bigger brother, even just for the sake of future proofing?
If, for whatever reason, you would rather save the pennies, then you certainly won't be disappointed with what you find here. Ok, so there's no 4K or Dolby Vision but there's still Atmos and HDR in all the other formats, even if the resolution maxes out at 1080p. Nonetheless, the HDR performance is typically excellent and brings an enjoyable punch to lower-res material.
Equally, it makes for a very easy listen with the kind of focus on clarity that ensures you'll appreciate high levels of detail when watching films and a decent rhythmic presentation to music.
Like all current Fire TV devices, Alexa is along for the ride too and makes an easy way to navigate around the OS. The six user profiles per household – each with its own preferences, apps, permissions, watchlists and settings – are also very handy.
Read the full Amazon Fire TV Stick (3rd Generation) review
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max vs Google Chromecast with Google TV: which is better?
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max vs Fire TV Cube: which Amazon streamer is for you?
And finally the best TVs to accompany your new streaming stick