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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.

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 or HBO Max? You need to get yourself a media streamer, but not all media streamers are the same. 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.

Whether it's Netflix, Prime Video, Apple TV, Disney+, 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.

Chromecast with Google TV

(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 2021 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 Fire TV 4K

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 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 doesn't perform quite as well for suggestions, even with the latest version of Fire TV OS onboard.

Read the full review: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

Best media streamers 2021: The best TV streaming devices

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Apple TV 4K (2021)

A mild upgrade is enough to keep the Apple TV 4K on top.

Specifications
Max resolution: 4K HDR, 60fps
Audio: Dolby Atmos
Output: HDMI
HDR: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
Dimensions (HWD): 3.5 x 10 x 10cm
Reasons to buy
+Excellent picture and sound+Abundance of apps+Great usability
Reasons to avoid
-Only a small upgrade-Pricier than alternatives-No bundled HDMI cable

It took four years to get a new one but this is the latest Apple media streamer. The remote control has been updated but there's very little difference to the physical design otherwise.

The other significant upgrade is the processor: Apple has swapped the A10X Fusion chip of the old model for the A12 Bionic, claiming “more realistic games, more lifelike videos, and more immersive sound”. There's also a new HDMI 2.1 socket, to add support for 4K HDR content in frame rates of up to 60fps, and compatibility with Apple's spatial audio via AirPods Pro and AirPods Max headphones too.

In terms of performance, the differences are small. There's marginally more contrast on offer. The blackest blacks are just a little bit blacker, and there's a little extra brightness and vibrancy at the other end. There’s a small but noticeable uptick on the audio side too with Dolby Atmos soundtracks and music in terms of weight, spaciousness and cohesion to the soundstage.

It’s not worth upgrading if you have the previous model, but if you’re simply looking for the best premium video streamer out there, this is it.

Read the full Apple TV 4K (2021) review

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. 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

6. Amazon Fire TV Stick (3rd Generation)

The middle child of the Amazon streaming stick family.

Specifications
Max resolution: 1080p
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Plus 7.1, Dolby Atmos
Output: HDMI
HDR: HDR10, HDR10+, HLG
Dimensions (HWD): 13 x 30 x 86mm
Reasons to buy
+Strong app offering+Improved UI+Excellent HDR performance
Reasons to avoid
-SDR picture could be more subtle-4K model only costs a little more

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, above, 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 review: Amazon Fire TV Stick (3rd Generation)

Best media streamers: The best TV streaming devices

7. 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

8. 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 £30, 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