Most Popular Streaming Players
Roku Premiere - Reviews, Prices, Specs and Alternatives
Media streamers come in two types: TV sticks or TV boxes. Generally speaking, there are a few main differences between the two. The most obvious one is size. TV sticks are much more unobtrusive because they plug into the back of your TV. Boxes need to sit on a shelf or on top of the TV. Second, sticks are generally less expensive than boxes. On the other hand, they usually do not have the same advanced capabilities as boxes, both in speed and in available content. That’s the trade off. Finally, boxes tend to come with more connections and better remotes, though the differences here only matter for specific situations, such as a desire to plug your TV box directly into your AV receiver through an optical audio output. If you don’t use an AV receiver or can use the receiver’s HDMI connection, this won’t matter to you.Hide
4K or Ultra-HD is the latest (and highest) screen resolution for TV sets. If you have a 4K TV, you must have a 4K capable TV box or stick in order to stream at the maximum resolution. For reference, 4K is about 4 times the resolution of 1080p. It’s also important to note that a 4K streaming experience is impacted by a lot more than just your TV and media streamer. You must also have a fast enough internet speed to stream at this quality, an HD or 4K subscription to your favorite apps (which is typically more expensive than a standard plan), and an approved media player for 4K by the app/company. For example, Netflix only allows 4K streaming from certain manufacturers. If you can check all of these boxes, you’ll be able to enjoy 4K viewing from your TV box or stick.Hide
- Amazon Prime or Instant Video
Some media devices offer the opportunity to download content (rather than stream it) for a quicker experience uninterrupted by buffering. An example of this is Apple TV, which allows users to download TV shows and movies from iTunes to store on the device. This feature usually only comes on TV boxes, partially because it requires a larger storage capacity. You can choose from a library of movies and TV shows to download, which can take a while depending on your internet speed. However, if you want to watch movies in 4K but have a slow internet connection, downloading the content first is a way around this. Keep in mind that 4K files are extremely large, so plan ahead for downloading.Hide
Some media streamers will come with a web browser that allows you to search the internet on your TV, in addition to the myriad of apps available for download. While an interesting feature, the experience is often clunky and slow if you do not have an advanced remote—think typing a web address using the arrow buttons and on-screen keyboard. That can take forever! Still, some users may find this useful for searching quick information, checking email, browsing social media or other sites, or other simply internet activities. You may also be able to purchase a special remote or controller to streamline web browsing.Hide
A TV box or stick that connect to broadcast is key for those who want to watch live TV. Oftentimes, you can pay for a subscription to a TV network’s app (HBO, Starz, CBS, etc.), but this can add up financially. You might be better off purchasing a satellite or cable subscription, which you can use a live-broadcast-capable media streamer to watch. Or, if you’re not particular about watching live programs, you can wait for the show or movie to release on Netflix and skip the hassle of a TV box or stick that connects to live TV.Hide
If the TV box can connect to broadcast TV, you may be able to record live programs and replay past programs within a certain time period. This means no more missing your favorite shows! Set the box to record shows or movies ahead of time, or browse the guide for shows you may have missed, all within one device. Note that this feature will require a larger storage capacity to hold your various recorded programs.Hide
While watching live TV, you may want to pause the program or rewind a part you missed. Some media streamers are limited in how far you can rewind, such as 30 minutes. Also, if you pause the program for a certain amount of time, it may start playing automatically when it reaches that limit. Still, it can be convenient to pause TV while you use the restroom, check on your dinner that’s cooking, or do a quick chore.Hide
If the TV box or stick comes with a remote, it may also double as a microphone or contain a headphone jack for private listening. Microphones are useful in remotes because they allow you to use your voice to control your TV, like searching for programs, changing channels and apps, turning volume up or down, turning power on or off, updating settings and more. The headphone jack or auxiliary port allows you to plug headphones into your remote, so you can listen to your TV without disturbing other members of your household.Hide
A microphone—whether in the remote or on the box/stick—allows the user to control the TV using their voice. You can search for programs, change channels and apps, turn volume up or down, turn power on or off, update settings, and more, all without pressing a single button (besides the one to activate the microphone). However, your device must come equipped with a microphone for this work. Keep in mind that a microphone on the remote, which can be held very close to your mouth for clarity, will be much more effective than yelling at the microphone on your TV box or stick.
For the companies that have their own proprietary voice program, such as Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, the TV boxes and sticks from those companies come equipped with these voices. So, if you have an Amazon Fire TV or Fire TV Stick, you can use all of the Alexa capabilities through it.Hide
Some media streamers allow you to control your TV with your smartphone or tablet by downloading an app on your device. The Google Chromcast is one example of a media streamer that does not use a remote, and instead relies on an app on your smartphone or tablet to push content to your TV. You may like this if you find yourself losing remotes often, or if you prefer to browse content on your phone rather than your TV.Hide
If you plan to use your media streamer for gaming, you’ll need a controller. Some TV boxes and sticks use the remote as a controller, which is sufficient for basic games and kids play. You may also receive a special gaming pad included with your device, or have the opportunity to purchase one, for a more advancing gaming experience. Finally, a smartphone is another gaming controller alternative, if the device allows you to connect with your phone or tablet (likely through an app). The level of gaming you wish to do will depend on what controller you need.Hide
The different network connections available for media streamers includes Ethernet, wireless/Wi-FI, Bluetooth, satellite, aerial/cable, and AirPlay. Most all media streamers will have Wi-Fi. If you have high speed Wi-Fi wherever you plan to use the device, this will suffice. However, a more reliable connection option would be Ethernet directly to your router. For that, you would need a TV box. AirPlay is another option for streaming content, but it only works on Apple devices. AirPlay allows you to push video and audio to your TV from another AirPlay device (smartphone, tablet, computer, etc.) if you have an Apple TV.
Finally, some media streamers (usually TV boxes) come with the ability to connect to your cable or satellite services and stream content over broadband, though most people purchase TV boxes and sticks because they want to get rid of cable/satellite. Still, if you want one device to rule your entire TV experience, a TV box with this capability will do the trick.Hide
The different outputs or device connections include HDMI, digital optical audio output, USB, SD or microSD. TV sticks will connect to your TV through HDMI, but won’t contain any outputs (except for power to the wall or the TV’s USB input). TV boxes can come with several other outputs, such as a digital optical audio output for connecting directly to your AV receiver for sound output. It may also have a USB connection for plugging in your own media. And, there may be slots for SD or microSD cards to expand the total storage of your device. This comes in handy if you plan to store music, recorded programs or downloaded content (e.g., movies and TV shows) on the device.Hide
- Smartphone remote controlled
- Voice search
- Internet radio playback
- Internet video playback
- Perfect for HD and 4K Ultra HD TVs, features fast quad-core processor and 802.11ac dual-band wireless.
- 4K Ultra HD with four times the resolution of 1080p HD, delivers crisp detail and brilliant, life-like images.
- Easy access to 450,000+ movies and TV episodes across 4,500+ paid or free channels, including Netflix, Video, Hulu, and PBS KIDS.
- Unbiased search across top channels. Find where it's free or cheapest to watch.
- Free Roku mobile app on your iOS or Android phone for handy voice search, sharing photos, private listening with headphones, and more.
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