How to Cut the (Cable) Cord
There are many ways to watch online content on your TV. Your television itself might have apps, or you might have a Blu-ray player or game system connected with built-in streaming services. If neither case applies, or if your TV, Blu-ray player, or game system doesn't have the exact media features you want, you can get a dedicated media streaming hub. Most media streamers allow you to set up your TV with any online or local media streaming services you need for well under $100.
Among the media streamers currently available, five platforms stand out: Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Cast, and Roku. All of these platforms except Google Cast have on-screen menu systems and dedicated remotes so you can view whatever you want from the couch, without a mobile device to control everything. Google Cast is a bit different, as it relies on a PC, smartphone, or tablet, with Cast-compatible apps to stream content. No matter which you choose, they each give you access to many of the most popular music and video streaming services available.
Resolution is another big factor to consider. All of the platforms mentioned have options for ultra high-definition (4K) and HDR content. In the list above you'll find the top-rated media streamers we've tested. Below is a closer looking at the top media streaming platforms.
What about 8K, you might be wondering? Don't worry about it. Seriously, there's no consumer 8K streaming service, or even consumer 8K media, available. 8K TVs have only started to trickle out, and they won't be much more than novelties for early adopters for at least two more years.
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Amazon Fire TV
Amazon's Fire TV platform a modified version of Android designed with Amazon's content in mind. Fire TV devices are focused heavily on Amazon Prime media, with Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Prime Music built prominently into the menu system. There are plenty of other content services available through Fire TV as individual apps, like Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube, but the big advantage of Fire TV is having all of your Prime content right at your fingertips.
Amazon has equipped Fire TV with Alexa, the same voice assistant used in the company's Echo speakers. It's a useful tool to use with the voice remote included with the current Fire TV Sticks. If you want hands-free Alexa with your Fire TV, the Fire TV Cube features a far-field microphone array that can pick up your commands just like an Echo, without needing to use the remote.
The Fire TV Stick 4K recently replaced the Fire TV as the "standard" Fire TV device. It's a budget-friendly $50 stick that supports 4K media streaming with both HDR10 and Dolby Vision (the Fire TV Cube curiously only supports HDR10). If you haven't made the jump to 4K yet, you can save a few bucks with the basic $40 Fire TV Stick, which is now the only non-4K Fire TV streamer.
If you still want to watch broadcast television even after you cut the cord, and enjoy a local DVR instead of relying on a streaming live TV service, Amazon's Fire TV Recast has you covered. It's a Fire TV-powered OTA tuner with a DVR, letting you watch local programming and record it at your leisure, and stream both live TV and DVR recordings to any Fire TV device in your home or any mobile device over the internet. It isn't a replacement for a Fire TV; it has no on-screen interface or remote on its own. You connect it to your home network and access it through a Fire TV to manage recordings and watch live cable. Fire TV also supports most streaming live TV services as well, including AT&T TV Now, Hulu, and Sling TV.
Android TV is Google's dedicated Android-based media streamer menu system, different from the heavily modified version of Android used in Amazon's Fire TV products. The original Android TV-powered Nvidia Shield TV was the first platform to offer Netflix 4K content outside of a TV with the Netflix 4K app built in, and its most recent version is just as powerful a device in a smaller and more affordable package. It also features Google Assistant, putting it on the same footing as the Fire TV with Alexa and the Apple TV with Siri.
Android TV devices are also all Google Cast compatible, so you can use your smartphone or tablet to stream content to them just as if you had a Chromecast. If you're looking for better sound for your TV, the JBL Link Bar offers Android TV built into a soundbar, with hands-free Google Assistant.
Google hasn't made a first-party Android TV media streamer yet, instead focusing on Chromecast devices and leaving Android TV to other companies. Thanks to far-field microphones, some Android TV devices like the Nvidia Shield Controller and Sony's high-end TVs even offer hands-free Google Assistant, letting you control them entirely with your voice without picking up a remote.
The Apple TV as a media streamer is likely on its way out. The announcement of the Apple TV app, Apple TV+, and the availability of both (along with AirPlay 2) on various smart TV and media streaming platforms leads up to believe that Apple is planning to eventually phase out the Apple TV itself and rely on other companies' hardware for accessing its content stores and libraries.
If you simply want to access iTunes content on your TV and already have an iPhone or iPad, your TV might be able to do just that without a media streamer. Several 2017, 2018, and 2019 LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio TVs are getting or have gotten Apple AirPlay 2 support, which lets you stream media from your iOS device directly to your TV over Apple's own platform. Those platforms, along with Fire TV and Roku, will also be getting the Apple TV app in May, and will be able to access Apple TV+ when it launches this fall.
The Apple TV 4K is still available, though it's expensive compared with nearly every other alternative out there. For the price, you get a remote that lets you talk to Siri, lots of streaming compatibility with your iOS and macOS devices, and a decent handful of apps via the Apple TV app store. However, with AirPlay 2 and the Apple TV app coming to other, much more affordable media streamers, we can't find much of a reason to recommend the Apple TV 4K much longer, even if you're a dedicated iOS user.
Google Cast is the least visually obtrusive and physically complicated media streaming platform; you take a Chromecast, plug it into a power source, plug it into your TV or sound system, and control everything through your mobile device. There are no remotes, no on-screen interfaces, and no app stores to separately navigate. You just connect your Chromecast to your home network and stream whatever you're watching (from a Google Cast-compatible app, of which there are many) on your smartphone or tablet.
It's easy to use and economical. And Chromecast devices connect with Google Assistant smart speakers, so you can issue voice commands for what you want to watch, and even see supplemental information related to voice searches (such as your Google Calendar).
Roku calls the services and apps available on its devices Channels, and currently offers thousands of choices in the Roku Channel Store. All of the big streaming media names are available, including Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix, Sling TV, and Twitch, along with many smaller, niche apps and services for movies, sports, weather, news, and international content.
Roku's current lineup is its largest, with a total of six models across a wide range of prices and features. The Roku Streaming Stick+ and Ultra stand out as our top choices, both offering 4K video with HDR10 support. The Ultra is more expensive and larger than the Streaming Stick+, but it offers benefits like wired connection options and a remote with a headphone jack.
For less expensive alternatives, the Roku Premiere and Premiere+ are 4K-capable streamers available for $40 and $50, with the Walmart-exclusive Premiere+ featuring a voice remote and the standard Premiere relying on an infrared remote with no microphone. The Roku Express and Express+ are viable streamers for anyone who hasn't yet upgraded to 4K, with the Express+ providing legacy SD video support through composite video.
On top of dedicated media streamers, Roku also offers a soundbar with media streaming functions, the Roku Smart Soundbar. As a media hub it's expensive at $180, but that price is more than reasonable for a modest stereo soundbar with the added benefit of streaming 4K video.
Roku has also pushed into the television market with its Roku TV platform. The company doesn't make TVs itself, but it offers its technology to manufacturers to incorporate into their screens. This has allowed many more budget-priced televisions to include connected features they couldn't use a few years ago, while keeping prices low. Roku TVs work just like Roku media streamers, only they're built directly into the sets themselves. Now the majority of Roku TVs natively support 4K as well, and some support Dolby Vision HDR while no standalone Roku streamers currently handle it (though the 4K-capable devices are compatible with HDR10).
Ultimately, any device here is a great choice for bringing online content to your TV. For even more options, check out our media streamer product guide.
Where To Buy
The Best For Hands-free home theater controlAmazon Fire TV Cube (2019)$119.99 at Amazon
The Best For Overall valueAmazon Fire TV Stick 4K$49.99 at Amazon
The Best For Budget-minded Amazon fansAmazon Fire TV Stick With Alexa Voice Remote$39.99 at Best Buy
The Best For Roku valueRoku Premiere+ (2018)$49.00 at Walmart
The Best For Apple fansApple TV 4K$169.00 at Walmart
The Best For Android usersGoogle Chromecast Ultra$69.00 at Walmart
The Best For GamersNvidia Shield TV (2019)$149.82 at Amazon
The Best For 1080p TVsRoku Express (2019)$29.00 at Walmart
The Best For Privately listening to TVRoku Ultra (2019)$90.45 at Amazon