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While Netflix wasn’t the first video streaming service, it certainly helped popularize the concept. Since its inception, video streaming expanded to the likes of Amazon, Hulu, and Vudu. Specialized services range from dedicated anime providers such as Crunchyroll and Funimation to cable channels with standalone packages like HBO Go. Even audiophiles have streaming options such as Pandora and Spotify.

The trend is clear: streaming offers something for everyone. Chances are you subscribe to at least a few of these. With services like DirecTV Now, Sling, and PlayStation Vue making streaming a viable solution for cord cutters, you want a capable media player. For those looking for the best media streaming device of 2016, we’ve rounded up the best streaming device for four categories: budget, mid-range, high-end, and do-it-yourself (DIY).

Budget Conscious Media Streaming Players

Smart TVs tend to come with a higher price tag than “dumb” TVs. Thankfully, simply hooking up a media streaming player transforms any TV into a smart TV. While this might lead to the assumption that streaming media players are pricey, there are quite a few at affordable tiers.

Roku Streaming Stick (UK)

roku streaming stick

Don’t underestimate the Roku Streaming Stick based on its size. With a remote larger than the actual set-top box, the Roku Streaming Stick packs quite a wallop considering its minuscule footprint. Featuring a quad-core processor, the Roku Streaming Stick plugs into an HDMI input and is powered by a USB cable. It boasts a point-anywhere RF remote and handles 720p and 1080p video. (Which Roku device should you buy? Which Roku Media Streamer Should You Buy? Which Roku Media Streamer Should You Buy? The current offering is split into five products – the Roku Streaming Stick, and the Roku 1, 2, 3, and 4. This article looks at what each product can offer, and tries to ascertain which... Read More )

For audiophiles, the Roku Streaming Stick tackles DTS Digital Surround pass through. For wireless, it uses 802.11 b/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi How Dual-Band Routers Can Solve Your Wireless Woes How Dual-Band Routers Can Solve Your Wireless Woes Using a router that supports the dual-band standard can significantly boost your Wi-Fi speeds in many circumstances. Read More . Unlike other models, there’s no Ethernet, and the Streaming Stick lacks 4K support (difference between 4K and HD What's the Difference Between 4K and Ultra HD? What's the Difference Between 4K and Ultra HD? Thinking of buying a new TV or monitor but feeling lost with all of the terminology like 4K and Ultra HD? Here's everything you need to know about it. Read More ). But for those lacking 4K monitors who want a low-power (the Roku Stick uses less than 3W) solution, consider a Streaming Stick. Plus, there are loads of apps from premium services like Netflix and Pandora, to free services like Crackle.

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Pros

  • Small footprint.
  • Up to 1080p.
  • Point-anywhere RF remote.
  • Typically less than 3W power consumption when streaming HD content.
  • Lots of apps.

Cons

  • No ethernet.
  • No 4K support.

Amazon Fire TV Stick (UK)

media streaming device amazon fire tv stick

Considering Amazon’s vast video library, the Fire TV comes as no surprise. And it’s dead-simple to use. The Fire TV Stick plugs into a standard HDMI input. Hook up the power cable, and you’re ready to go. Like the Roku Stick, the Fire TV Stick is a stellar option for decluttering your entertainment center.

The new Fire TV Stick boasts a quad-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, and 8 GB of internal memory. The included remote features Alexa voice support, meaning you can talk to it. Gamers may add a gamepad. However, the Fire TV Stick is more suited to casual games than hardcore gaming. 802.11ac Wi-Fi means you’ll stay connected at the latest wireless connectivity standard. But be warned that there’s no Ethernet, 4K, or expandable memory support.

Pros

  • Small footprint.
  • 1080p compatible.
  • Alexa voice search.
  • Over 7,000 apps.

Cons

  • No 4K support.
  • No ethernet support.
  • No expandable memory.

Google Chromecast (2015)

new features chromecast

Google dominates when it comes to internet search. Its Android phones, like the Pixel XL Google Pixel XL Review and Giveaway Google Pixel XL Review and Giveaway Google's first branded device delivers one of the best devices in the Android ecosystem: the $770 Pixel XL. The XL launched with similar specs as the $500 Nexus 6P, but is it worth $770? Read More , aren’t too shabby either. So why not get into the streaming game? Enter the Chromecast. The Google Chromecast is a cheap yet powerful little streaming media player. Compatible apps include Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, and HBO Now. You can cast from your Android or Apple phone or tablet, or a PC. Its tiny size makes it easy to hide in a media center.

Unfortunately, the Chromecast lacks a dedicated remote. Similarly, there are no physical buttons on the device. CNET notes that the Chromecast offers solid performance for streaming from mobile devices. Yet a few dollars more gets you a remote and a more conventional streaming experience à la the Fire TV Stick or Roku Stick. We recommend a stick over a Chromecast Thinking of Buying a Chromecast? Buy a Stick PC Instead Thinking of Buying a Chromecast? Buy a Stick PC Instead The Chromecast is a wonderful little gadget. However, it has some issues that could mean it's not the right choice for you. True geeks should consider buying a stick PC instead. Read More , in fact.

Pros

  • Small footprint.
  • 5 GHz Wi-Fi.
  • 1080p support.

Cons

  • No remote.
  • Must cast from an external device (i.e. phone, tablet, PC).
  • Amazon Video better via other streaming players.

Mid-Range Media Streaming Players

Xiaomi Mi Box

mi box

The Xiaomi Mi Box may be on the higher end insofar as budget devices. Clocking in around $70 ($120 from Amazon), it’s pricier than the competition. However, features like 4K support position the Mi Box as one of the most appealing mid-range streaming media players. In addition to 4K, the Mi Box sports HDR support and Google Cast. Plus, there’s Google Voice Search. On top of that, the Mi Box is compatible with your favorite apps like Netflix, HBO, Vudu, and Showtime.

With premium features rivaling high-end streaming media players like top-tier Rokus, the Mi Box is a fantastic option. Further, the Xiaomi Mi Box includes a Bluetooth remote complete with voice search. Running Android 6.0, the Mi Box grants access to loads of apps. Yet it’s not as out of the way as smaller players like the Roku Stick, Fire TV Stick, and Chromecast. Still, the Mi Box comes in an elegant design that looks gorgeous placed by any TV.

Pros

  • Lots of apps via Android 6.0.
  • 4K support.
  • HDR support.
  • Bluetooth remote with voice search.

Cons

  • Larger footprint.
  • Pricer than other budget players.

Google Chromecast Ultra

chromecast ultra

Like the Roku Ultra, the Google Chromecast Ultra boasts premium features. Also as with the Roku Ultra, the Chromecast Ultra delivers these features at a cost. Notably, the Chromecast Ultra is 4K and HDR compatible, but at twice the price of a standard Chromecast. There’s still no remote, and there’s no Amazon Instant Video support. However, the addition of Ethernet is a worthy inclusion.

Is the Chromecast Ultra a step up? Most certainly. But there are better options out there, including the Mi Box.

Pros

  • 4K support.
  • HDR support.
  • Ethernet port.

Cons

  • No remote.
  • Lack of Amazon Instant Video.
  • Twice as expensive as standard Chromecast.

High-End Media Streaming Players

Roku Ultra/Premiere+ (UK)

roku ultra promo

The Roku Ultra doesn’t have “ultra” in its name for nothing. Delivering 4K and HDR, the Roku Ultra sports 802.11ac wireless. A remote with voice search and a headphone jack comes standard. Ironically, while Apple dropped headphone jacks, the Roku remote still includes it. Of particular note, the Roku Ultra offers Ethernet, in addition to wireless, internet connectivity. A wired connection offers better compatibility with streaming 4K videos. What’s more, it’s also got a microSD slot for expandable memory.

Stepping down a tier, the Premiere+ lowers the price to around $100. But this sacrifices the remote finder, USB port, digital optical output, and gaming buttons. Still, if you don’t need those features, the Premiere+ does include both Ethernet and microSD ports. If you need a 4K player, these two are much better than the Roku Premiere. As the Premiere (no plus) lacks Ethernet, it’s tough to it recommend for 4K.

Pros

  • 4K support.
  • HDR support.
  • Ethernet port.
  • MicroSD card slot.

Cons

  • Premium price tag.

Apple TV

apple tv hero

Apple tends to dominate with tech. Last year’s 2015 Apple TV is no exception. Apple took its cutting-edge streaming media player and refreshed its remote and voice features. There’s access to third-party apps like Netflix, HBO, Hulu, and YouTube. Plus, a major draw is access to video from the iTunes store and streaming from iOS devices via AirPlay.

Unfortunately, the Apple TV doesn’t support 4K. Furthermore, devices like the Roku still boast more apps. However, what the Apple TV lacks in apps it more than makes up for with hardware. With 2 GB of RAM, an A8 processor, and 32 GB or 64 GB of storage, you’re paying a premium but for premium hardware. (Apple TV vs. Chromecast Apple TV vs. Chromecast: Which Streaming Solution Is Right For You? Apple TV vs. Chromecast: Which Streaming Solution Is Right For You? You know you want either an Apple TV or a Chromecast. The problem is, you're not sure which… Read More )

Ultimately, as with many Apple devices, the decision to opt for an Apple TV over a competing device comes down to what you’re using. If you’re already ingrained in the Apple ecosystem, it’s a solid device, but there are cheaper alternatives with more features.

Pros

  • Powerful hardware.
  • Up to 64 GB of storage.
  • Access to iTunes content.

Cons

  • Expensive.
  • Fewer apps than competing devices.
  • Limited to Apple ecosystem.

Gaming Media Streaming Players

For gamers, there are lots of options. Sure, these devices are totally fine for non-gaming, but they are more gaming-centric with more powerful hardware and standard gamepads.

Nvidia SHIELD TV

nvidia shield tv retina quality

The Nvidia SHIELD TV is a powerhouse NVIDIA Shield TV Review NVIDIA Shield TV Review The proposition is simple: Pack some of today’s best performing mobile hardware into a sandwich shaped box – for streaming video and media, and playing mobile games. That’s why you need to pay $200-300. Read More . With resolutions up to 4K, HDR support, and up to 500 GB, it’s among the most powerful set-top boxes available. Sporting a Tegra X1 processor, it’s sure to handle your casual Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu, and general media needs like a champ. The Android device is admittedly gaming centric, with features like a standard gamepad and the ability to stream games from your PC.

However, the SHIELD TV is not cheap. A refurb via Amazon costs around $170. That’s not a bad deal when you consider that it’s just $20 more than the Apple TV, and it’s much better hardware. You can get it for around $200, but the Pro is about $350 (£380). Still, it’s multi-functional and can run Plex.

Pros

  • Dolby 7.1 compatible.
  • 4K support.
  • HDR support.
  • Premium gaming experience.
  • Can run a Plex server.

Cons

  • Pricey.
  • Not built for casual viewers.

Mad Catz M.O.J.O. (UK)

mad catz mojo console review

The Mad Catz M.O.J.O. walks the fine line between gaming and casual streaming. The M.O.J.O. is undeniably crafted for gamers with its gamepad and console aesthetic. Yet the Android-powered set-top box is simply a powerful little device NVIDIA Shield TV Review NVIDIA Shield TV Review The proposition is simple: Pack some of today’s best performing mobile hardware into a sandwich shaped box – for streaming video and media, and playing mobile games. That’s why you need to pay $200-300. Read More . Since it’s been out a while, you can get one for around $100. That’s a pretty good deal.

If you don’t need 4K and HDR, the M.O.J.O. is actually a pleasant pick for non-gamers as well. The USB ports mean you can plug in an external hard drive, there’s Bluetooth standard, and the processor is pretty capable.

Pros

  • Superb price per performance ratio.
  • Gamepad included.
  • Android ecosystem.
  • 16 GB storage.

Cons

  • No 4K.
  • No HDR.

Amazon Fire TV Gaming Edition

amazon fire tv

The Fire TV Gaming Edition is a pretty powerful piece of hardware. Amazon makes the Fire TV Gaming Edition even more enticing with a free controller, two games, and a 32 GB microSD card standard with the device. It’s 4K compatible and boasts access to the entire Amazon app store. Alexa voice search further adds to the slew of awesome features.

While the Amazon Fire TV Gaming Edition is powered by a 2 GHz quad-core processor and dedicated GPU with 2 GB of memory, it’s a bit pricier. But that $130 is cheaper that an Apple TV. There’s no Google Play access, but many of the same apps are offered on the Amazon app store.

Pros

  • Beefy hardware.
  • Gamepad included.
  • 4K support.
  • Alexa voice search.

Cons

  • Expensive.
  • No Google Play.

DIY? There’s a Streaming Device for That

Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi (UK)

If you’re willing to do a bit of work, you may already own a perfectly good streaming media player. For DIYers, there’s the option of setting up a Raspberry Pi (UK). The Pi mainboard itself costs about $35. The Pi kit costs only a bit more. Simply set it up as a media center 3 Ways to Set Up Your Raspberry Pi as a Media Server 3 Ways to Set Up Your Raspberry Pi as a Media Server Which media center application should you install on your Raspberry Pi? Several options are on offer, and we're going to walk you through them now, looking at the features, advantages, and disadvantages of each. Read More by installing OSMC, Kodi, or even RetroPie (which includes Kodi as a “port”) and you’re good to go. There are tons of apps, including Plex, Crunchyroll, NBC, and ABC. However, this may take some tweaking and you’re on your own for troubleshooting.

Your Old Computer Lying Around

Do you have an old PC lying around? That’s also a solid streaming solution. It’s pretty customizable and you can access content via apps or via web browser. If you’ve got a phone or tablet, there’s a possibility that could serve as a streaming media player. My Samsung Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition both sport video out capability with an added dongle.

Depending on your the GPU of your device performance will vary though. I noticed some lag when outputting 720p video from my Note 10.1 streaming a video with Plex to a 40-inch television. Granted, my server did have to transcode the video, but I suspect the lag was due to the Note’s GPU as Plex on my PlayStation 3 and Roku 2 XS showed no performance issues.

What’s the Best Streaming Device?

It depends on your needs. So, what are your favorite media streaming devices? Chime in below and comment with your top picks!

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  1. Jerry
    December 14, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    What ever happed to the WD Live box? that was a good device and it had USB and plays all sorts of formats. I have one and it works great.

  2. Jim Eustice
    December 14, 2016 at 2:28 am

    I've used several devices including Roku and Chromecast. Now use a Jide Remix Mini and it runs rings around the half a dozen or so others I've tried. Looking forward to trying Jide's new version soon. Give it a go and see what you think.

  3. Andy
    December 8, 2016 at 2:52 am

    We got a Roku stick free with SlingTV and I was shocked at how snappy it is. I can't feel any difference between it and our Roku 3s. Great deal

    • likefunbutnot
      December 8, 2016 at 11:36 am

      Conversely, I feel that the Roku Ui lags even on its fastest hardware, and I dislike the extra effort required to view locally stored content on them.

      I don't know why the writer of this piece focused on the gaming edition Fire TV. The standard model has a better remote but no SD card or game pad, but it's also $40 - $50 cheaper.

      The Xiaomi is questionable in its ability to play 4k, whether It's authorized or not. The Apple TV won't play it at all and neither will a Pi. The Pi only sort of runs Kodi; they're unbearably slow, won't play files other Kodi implementations will and they crash a lot. To top it off, they're just low spec Linux devices and have minimal access to streaming services outside constantly breaking Kodi add-ons. By the time users add a case and input device, they're also more expensive than entry level Fire and Roku hardware.

      Using a PC for streaming means giving up 4k Netflix and Amazon, even if you have a GPU good enough to handle them (probably not, if you're using an "old" PC), and even a purpose built low energy desktop with something like an i3 6100T is still going to use far more power to keep on than a set top box.

      The Fire TV will miss out on easy access to Google Play content, though most Android apps can be side loaded. I actually like Amazon's YouTube client better than Google's anyway. Even the Fire Stick has a more responsive UI than the premium Roku box. I also think the Carousel interface used by Amazon is probably one of the best on an STB.

      The Shield is expensive and I don't like its UI or remote as well, but it's the happy medium. It does Amazon and Google and 4k everything. If you have a desktop with an nVidia GPU, it will also stream games to your box, even if that PC is on a different network. The Shield is also a box that can act as a transcoding Plex server for other clients, a capability that no other ARM based device has at the moment. Finally, the Shield is the target for development of SPMC, an Android-centric offshoot of Kodi. If you're only buying one thing, there's a reason it's worth the money.