Best streaming device for your TV in 2021

Looking for the best streaming device in 2021? You’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll walk you through the latest and greatest models – be they streaming sticks, dongles or dedicated media players.

Given that streaming devices are constantly being upgraded, there’s more choice than ever, but that also makes pinning down the right product for you a more difficult process.

You can now get HBO Max on Roku streamers, for instance, and Dolby Vision support seems just around the corner for the Roku Premiere. But Amazon’s Fire TV range also recently received a major OS update, which added improvements like new user profiles, simplified menus and the ability to pin your favorite apps.

The point being, there’s never been a better time to grab yourself a streaming device, especially when many of the below models are available to buy as part of deals that tie-in to subscription services like Disney Plus and Netflix.

We’ve tested each model on this list, so we know which products – whether from Amazon, Apple, Roku and Nvidia – work best for which use cases, and you’ll soon be on your way to upgrading your home viewing experience.

While you’re here, you might want to check out our guides to the best routers and best Wi-Fi extenders, too, to ensure a less-than-speedy network connection doesn’t interrupt your viewing experience.

Best streaming devices

(Image credit: Future)

Best 4K streaming device: Nvidia Shield TV / Pro

Thanks to killer AI upscaling, the Shield and Shield Pro are the best streaming devices on the market

Reasons to buy
+AI Upscaling+Google Assistant built in

Reasons to avoid
No Apple TV appNo USB ports for extra storage

At three times the cost of entry-level 4K HDR streaming players, the Nvidia Shield TV isn’t cheap, but it’s an incredibly powerful streaming player thanks to its cutting-edge AI upscaling tech and its support for both HDR10 and Dolby Vision content.

With it, you’ll also get the revamped Shield remote and the latest version of Android TV, which serves as a gateway to Nvidia’s game-streaming service, Geforce Now.

But the feature that puts it miles ahead of the competition is Nvidia’s new AI upscaling feature – it’s one of the coolest features in any streaming device right now. It’s powered by a neural network that has been ‘trained’ using thousands of hours of footage and which can hugely sharpen content, making HD content from the last 20 years look like it was shot earlier this year with a 4K video camera. It’s wild.

It has a few limitations – notably it doesn’t offer Apple TV, and it costs a bit more than a Roku Streaming Stick – but you get what you pay for here. The Pro model adds an additional 1GB of added RAM and a larger hard drive, too, though you’re be forking out a bit more cash for the premium model.

Read our full review: Nvidia Shield (2019) / Nvidia Shield TV Pro

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Best iOS streaming device: Apple TV 4K (2021)

The latest iteration of Apple’s 4K HDR streaming box

Reasons to buy
+High-frame-rate HDR support+Redesigned Siri remote

Reasons to avoid
ExpensiveDoesn’t work with Android

We finally have an upgrade to the 2017 Apple TV 4K, and it’s well worth a look for those of you in the iOS ecosystem.

The Apple TV 4K (2021) is a slick streaming device, which can play 4K video in HDR and Dolby Vision, and supports high-frame-rate HDR to make fast action and sports look smooth and clear. The new A12 processor definitely ups Apple’s game here, with improved pictures and power for TV and games alike (great for Apple Arcade subscribers who like playing in their living room).

The revamped Siri remote is a pleasure to use, and there are plenty of small but handy features, such as multi-user support and the ability to tweak your TV’s color balance automatically.

There’s no denying it’s expensive, but it’s more than just a way to watch movies and TV shows, doubling up a smart hub with Thread smart home technology that enables your smart home gadgets from different manufacturers to work together more seamlessly.

The Apple TV 4K 2021 doesn’t do a lot different compared to the previous model, and if you’re still sporting the 2017 iteration, there’s not much impetus to upgrade. The only game-changing difference is the new Siri Remote, though it’s available to buy separately, meaning you don’t need to get a whole hardware refresh to get the benefit.

Read the full review: Apple TV 4K (2021)

(Image credit: Amazon)

Best budget streaming device: Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite

For Amazon and Netflix content, this stick’s user interface is a dream

Reasons to buy
+60fps and HDR+Good value

Reasons to avoid
Only HD streamingPersistent adsNo volume controls

The Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite is a smart buy for those on a budget, if you’re willing to accept some of its compromises compared to the Fire TV Stick (2020) or Fire TV Stick 4K.

This HD streamer won’t offer sparkling 4K detail, but you do get the basics of HDR / HDR10+ support, as well as 60fps playback for smooth action in a movie blockbuster or sports match. The Quad-core 1.7 GHz processor is a step up from the 1.3 GHz processor used in the 2nd-generation Fire TV Stick too.

You are sacrificing volume controls and AV controls on the remote, though this isn’t irregular for streamers at this price.

Less forgivable is the at-times domineering presence of Amazon-owned or Amazon-affiliated content across the Fire TV operating system, including ads for Audible subscriptions on every menu pane – but if you’re a Prime subscriber this should be less of an issue for you.

Read the full review: Amazon Fire TV Stick

(Image credit: Google)

Best all-rounder: Chromecast with Google TV

Chromecast remains one of the best value products in streaming video

Reasons to buy
+4K HDR with Dolby Vision+Google Assistant built in+Comes with a remote

Reasons to avoid
Slow to load at startupGoogle TV UI is uninspiredNo Google Stadia support

Google’s Chromecast with Google TV (2020) is a revelation – it fixes something that wasn’t broken, and improves a nearly perfect technology in a tangible way. And it’s all thanks to the remote and Google’s ‘new’ software, Google TV.

Combined, the two offer a massive uptick in usability over previous Chromecasts that required you to use your phone or tablet to Cast content rather than giving you an on-screen interface to interact with.

But now that Google has added a dedicated TV interface that you control with a remote, you have instant access to most of the major streaming services, including Disney Plus, HBO Max and even the streaming app of its biggest competitor, Amazon Prime Video. On top of that, there are a number of apps that have been carried over from Android TV, Google TV’s predecessor, that bring games and productivity apps to the streamer.

The result is a retooled streaming device that might resemble its predecessors, but which offers a whole new experience that’s more user-friendly for folks who are used to using a remote control and an easily navigable interface. The classic Google Cast functionality is always straightforward and simple to use, too, and works across literally thousands of apps.

Read the full review: Chromecast with Google TV

(Image credit: Future)

Best HD streaming device: Roku Express

A low-cost streaming stick powered by Roku TV – what’s not to love?

Reasons to buy
+Roku TV interface+Great app support+Super cheap

Reasons to avoid
Basic IR remoteCan’t stream 4K HDR contentSuper short HDMI cable

The Roku Express is a marvel of a streaming stick. While it’s capped at Full HD streaming, it still packs in a huge range of streaming apps on the excellent Roku platform at an incredibly inexpensive price.

The Roku remote is quite iconic these days: nowhere near as sleek as the Alexa Voice Remote that ships with the Fire TV Stick, but pleasingly straightforward in its own way, featuring chunky and highly visible buttons. The Roku remote was featuring dedicated shortcuts to key apps long before Amazon, too.

We can’t stress enough how simple it is to navigate the Roku OS, too – there’s a reason it’s been ported over to TCL Roku TVs and Hisense Roku TVs alike, with well-organised tile icons for easy browsing, as well as a free ad-supported Roku Channel platform.

For a quick, cheap and easy-to-use dongle to get you started in the world of streaming, you can’t go wrong with the Roku Express.

Of course, if you like the look of the Roku Express but can’t bear to settle for HD streaming on your 4K TV, you can check out the Roku Streaming Stick+, or the upcoming Roku Express 4K+ complete with a rechargeable remote that finally ditches disposable batteries.

Read the full review: Roku Express (2019)

(Image credit: Amazon)

Best Alexa streaming device: Amazon Fire TV Cube (2019)

The Amazon Echo streaming player hybrid is back and better than ever

Reasons to buy
+Voice Control+Built-in Alexa

Reasons to avoid
Panders to Amazon PrimeNo HDMI cable in the box

While it can’t match the AI upscaling of the Nvidia Shield or the usability of the Apple TV 4K, the second-generation Fire TV Cube is, by far, our favorite Amazon streaming device – it’s better in so many ways than the Amazon Fire TV Cube that was released in 2017, and every single Amazon Fire TV box before it.

By packing in the smart functionality and speakers of an Amazon Echo, it’s a versatile smart speaker as well as competent media player and streamer. For the 2019 version of the Cube, the processor upgrade and inclusion of Dolby Vision are great new additions and, in spite of a few shortcomings, help to solidify the Cube’s spot as one of the best streaming players to be released this year.

Yes, technically speaking you could do almost everything the Fire TV Cube does with an Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, but the hexacore processor-powered box moves faster and creates fewer frustrations. It’s a cliche to say it, but the Fire TV Cube is greater than the sum of its parts.

Read the full review: Amazon Fire TV Cube (2019)

FAQ

What is a streaming device and how does it work?

Essentially, a streaming device (or streaming stick) allows you to stream (i.e. play) entertainment content – be it movies, TV shows, music, photos or sports – straight to your TV from a third-party provider, typically through a HDMI port.

Which apps you’ll gain access to of course depends on the streamer, and it’s also worth noting that support for a particular service doesn’t mean a subscription is thrown in by default – if you want to watch Netflix, for instance, you’ll still have to pay for it separately (though as mentioned above, some products come with deals on certain streaming services).

What is the point of a streaming stick if you have a smart TV?

While it’s true that many of today’s smart TVs come pre-installed with a wide variety of entertainment apps, external streaming devices will almost always improve the user interface of a given app.

Amazon’s Fire Stick, for instance, gives users access to more content with more control than the standard Amazon TV app, with other products in the Amazon line even coming equipped with Alexa – giving you the extra option of controlling your TV with your voice.

It’s also rare that a smart TV will come loaded with access to every streaming service out there. Apple TV Plus, for instance, seldom comes as a pre-installed app on standard smart TVs, hence the need for Apple’s 4K HDR streaming box, while Panasonic TVs don’t support Disney Plus.

What are the best streaming device apps?

As for the best TV streaming service, it depends on your region, though the main players like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus still sit at the top of the pile when it comes to their selection of movies and TV shows.

Still, burgeoning platforms like Apple TV Plus are improving month-by-month, with new series – like Ted Lasso and Mythic Quest – proving must-sees, while YouTube mustn’t be forgotten as an ever-excellent source of entertainment.

Today’s best streaming device deals

  • Fire TV vs Roku: which streaming stick range is better?
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