The internet gives us access to a lot of great content—television shows, movies, online games, podcasts, sports, music, and more. If you’re a binge watcher, listener, gamer, or reader, adding the best media streaming device feeds your entertainment needs. You can watch a show on your own using your smartphone or computer, as well as port the content wirelessly to your TV and watch it with others.
Media streaming devices broaden your entertainment experience by connecting your TV or home theater to the internet. These devices typically come pre-loaded with a library of popular streaming channels, but you can find many more with a simple search. When you turn on your device, these channels are fully configured, making media streaming convenient so you can start using it right away.
Read on to learn about choosing this technology for your home, and find out why the media streaming devices listed below are some of the best.
- BEST OVERALL: Fire TV 4K Essentials Bundle
- BEST BUDGET: Roku Express HD Streaming Media Player
- BEST PREMIUM: Roku Ultra | Streaming Media Player
- BEST FOR ITUNES USERS: Apple TV 4K 32 GB
- BEST FOR GOOGLE TV: NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV 4K HDR
In general, all streaming devices work the same way: you set them up and they give your TV access to the internet so you can enjoy various media in comfort. The best media streaming device handles the amount of streaming done in your household, enabling you to avoid buffering interruptions and slow service. Choosing the best media streaming device for your needs depends on a variety of factors outlined below.
The right internet speed and a reliable connection are vital for smooth streaming. The standard broadband measurement for internet speed is in megabits per second (MBPS), which is the time it takes for information to be downloaded or uploaded to the internet. Not sure what you need? Here are recommendations for streaming in standard definition, high definition, high dynamic range (HDR), and 4K:
- Standard Definition (SD) should use at least 3 MBPS. By modern standards, SD is a bit outdated, so it’s better to upgrade to HD speed.
- High Definition (HD) needs at least 5 MBPS.
- High Dynamic Range (HDR) and 4K both require a minimum of 25 MBPS.
The number of MBPS you need goes up higher if more than one device is connected at a time. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommends internet speeds of 12 to 25 MBPS. In general, more MBPS is better, especially if you have heavy streaming use or are a family with multiple internet users in the same home.
The resolution is the number of pixels that fit on your television screen, which is measured by width multiplied by height in pixels (p). The more pixels that make up the screen, the clearer the picture. Around 2009, most TV manufacturers moved away from SD, so these TVs are no longer produced. Some media streaming devices work with SD TVs, but check the hardware input to be sure.
You’re likely to stream on devices that are high definition or ultra high definition/4K:
- High Definition (HD) has a basic resolution of 1,280×720. Most TVs fall into this category. For full HD you want a resolution of 1,920×1080 to stream all HD content.
- Ultra High Definition (UHD) or 4K offers the best picture money can buy, giving you high-tech resolution and picture quality. The resolution in these TVs is 3,840×2,160.
Functions and Programming
Your purchase decision depends on which streaming media services you’re interested in using. Ask yourself about the content you consume most: YouTube, music, online games, certain television channels?
Streaming services give you a vast range of content options, so narrowing down the scope of your must-haves helps you choose the right media streaming device. Streaming devices give you free content to explore, with the option to search and access different channels and live streaming services. Some channels, such as Netflix, require a paid subscription, meaning these services aren’t included with the device.
For gamers, there are free gaming apps available, or you can access your online subscription gaming accounts and play through the media streaming device (if it has this functionality). You can even put your TV on your gaming desk as a monitor. Some consoles, such as Sony PS3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii, can also stream media, but some streaming services may require additional membership fees to access them.
The remote control may seem like it’s a sidekick to the media streaming device, but it’s a large part of your experience—and likely the part of the setup you use the most. You may appreciate a remote that integrates with your television functions so you don’t need a second remote to adjust the volume or turn on the power. Or maybe it’s important to you to have shortcut buttons, customizable settings, or voice control to enhance your experience.
Some remotes use IR (Infrared light) technology to operate audio, video, and other electronic equipment using light signals. Higher quality IR remotes have multiple IR transmitters to provide several signals at different angles to accurately pick up each button press.
Some media streaming devices use a casting device instead of a remote, allowing you to play your media through a gadget like your phone or computer. The casting device transmits the media through your Wi-Fi connection and displays it on your TV.
Connectivity and Smart Technology
Connecting to your media streaming device should be straightforward using either Wi-Fi for a wireless connection or an Ethernet cable for wired connectivity.
Older SD TVs may not have HDMI ports to connect to a media streaming device, but with some diligent searching, you may find a streaming device that has the white, red, and yellow composite jacks to connect. You can also purchase an HDMI to RCA adapter to convert your older TV so you can use essentially any streaming device you like. Most HD TVs these days have an HDMI port, so users don’t require a Smart TV to get the content they want.
A Smart TV is essentially a television that connects to the internet directly. These TVs have streaming channels and other media apps built-in. If you own a Smart TV, you likely won’t need a separate remote or added streaming device since it’s all contained within the Smart TV. Some media streaming devices can also be connected to smart home systems.
Most media streaming devices are simple to set up, but each one may have its own specific instructions. In general, there are four steps to follow:
- Connect the device to your TV with an HDMI cable, or insert the device directly into the HDMI port.
- Connect your new device to your Wi-Fi or through your modem using an Ethernet cable. If connecting via Wi-Fi, make sure you have your internet network and password information ready to use.
- Switch your TV to the correct input, based on the manufacturer’s instructions, and use the remote (if applicable) to follow the setup instructions on the screen to get to your home page.
- Download and sign in to your existing streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime (again, have your login details ready) or find other media to stream using the search function.
Our Top Picks
The best media streaming device is different for each individual. The streaming needs of a single person watching are different from a household where each member streams their content simultaneously. Taking the criteria outlined above into consideration, these top picks include some of the best media streaming device options available.
This Fire TV 4K Essentials Bundle includes the powerful Fire TV Stick 4K, remote cover, and mission cable USB power cable. This tiny rectangle, about the size of a thumb drive, connects to your TV with simple installation, allowing you to stream media in 4K Ultra HD, Dolby Vision, HDR, and HDR10+.
The Fire TV Stick 4K requires a constant connection to a wall outlet since the TV cannot supply sufficient power on its own, even when using USB ports. The remote has dedicated power, volume, and mute buttons. Use this remote to turn on your TV, receiver, and Fire Stick, and automatically switch inputs rather than use multiple remotes.
With full Alexa integration, you can use the remote with your voice. After setting up the system, you can start using Alexa to check the weather, get traffic updates, and update your to-do list. If you have an Amazon Echo speaker, you can connect Alexa to your other to control things like lights, locks, thermostats, as well as indoor and security cameras.
The Roku Express HD Streaming Media Player is a budget-friendly option that’s a great choice for first-time streamers and can cut back on the cost of your cable bill. This device allows you to only buy content you actually consume instead of paying for a cable package. The Roku Express lets you stream free, live, and premium TV over the internet at a low cost, and offers plenty of content to stream with no extra fees.
With content that’s available fast and in high definition, all you need is a compatible television. Setup is easy: You only need to plug it into power and connect to the internet using the included high-speed HDMI cable. No need to think about software updates either, as this device automatically updates the latest features as they come out.
This streaming device includes an easy-to-use remote, instant replay, and channel shortcuts that make it quick to find what you’re looking for and catch moments you may have missed. For those on the go, you can download the free Roku mobile app to turn your iOS or Android device into a casting device to make streaming even more convenient.
Heavy streamers, this one’s for you. The Roku Ultra Streaming Media Player connects with dual-band wireless for a strong connection, or you can use the Ethernet port for wired streaming. The device enables you to stream free, live, and premium content through the internet to your television. To elevate your premium streaming experience, add wireless surround sound for complete immersion.
A quad-core processor and a strong wireless connection make it a terrific option for heavy streaming in HD, 4K, and HDR. The result is a picture that’s optimized for your television, giving it sharp resolution and vivid color. This streaming device gives you automatic software updates, so you’re using the best the service has to offer any time you use it. With the Roku mobile app as a casting device, you’re set for easy streaming no matter how you do it.
With the included remote, you get instant replay and channel shortcut buttons, can set up personal shortcuts, and plug into the headphone jack if you need to keep quiet. Use the voice button to search across channels, launch channels, set up shortcuts, turn on captions, and more. For those who have a tendency to misplace household items: this device also includes a lost remote finder so you can locate a remote that’s ended up somewhere it doesn’t belong.
The Apple TV streaming device brings you crystal clear content in 4K HDR and incorporates the expansive sound of Dolby Atmos for an all-encompassing streaming experience. If you’re an Apple user, the device has the familiar Apple feel. With internal storage of 32 gigabytes, you have room for lots of media.
Get content from your favorite apps, use AirPlay to watch videos, view photos from your existing Apple devices, and get access to Apple Arcade if you enjoy gaming online. If you already use Apple iOS, easily turn your iPhone, iPad, or MacBook into a casting device. This streaming device includes a trackpad remote that is a little tricky to master, but enables you to flip through menus quickly. Alternatively, you can use Siri and find what you need with voice commands instead.
The Apple TV 4K system is battery powered; simply charge it via USB when the battery gets low. Connect to the streaming device wirelessly and follow the setup instructions and intuitive navigation to start viewing right away.
The NVIDIA SHIELD streaming device gives you premium viewing in 4K HDR. The picture is crisp and clear with Dolby Vision HDR, while Dolby Atmos surround sound envelops you in high-quality audio. You can enhance your HD video in real-time to 4K for crisper visuals thanks to AI upscaling.
The NVIDIA SHIELD connects quickly with gigabit Ethernet or dual-band AC Wi-Fi, has a built-in power supply, and gives you the option for storage expansion with a micro SD card slot. Powered by the NVIDIA Tegra X1+ processor, this device gives you up to 25 percent faster streaming than the previous generation. Send streaming to your phone using the built-in Chromecast 4K device.
The included remote has a triangle shape that fits comfortably in your hand and enables you to customize your streaming experience. This system has voice control and can integrate with Alexa. Can’t find the remote? There is a built-in lost remote locator that means you spend less time searching and more time streaming. The control uses IR technology, has motion-activated backlit buttons, and comes with the batteries you need to use the remote once setup is complete.
Media streaming devices may seem simple, but if you’re unfamiliar or have purchased your very first streaming device, you may still have questions.
These devices bring entertainment easily into your life and give you the ability to move your content to the big screen of your home television. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about how to use your new media streaming device.
Q. What does a media streaming device do?
These devices enable you to stream online shows, movies, games, music, or other media through the internet to your television. They plug into your TV and take up hardly any space on your TV stand.
Q. Do streaming devices require internet access?
Yes. Instead of getting your media content through traditional cable or satellite, you get your content through the internet.
Q. Does a smart TV need a streaming service?
No. Smart TVs can access the internet themselves. Streaming services enable regular TVs to act like smart TVs.