T3’s roundup of the best media streamers available now
Media streamers are all about making your dumb TV smart: getting content from the web up on the big screen. They can transform the capabilities of older sets and usually offer more options and better features than the software built into more modern smart TVs. We think the is currently the cream of the crop, but there are plenty of alternatives.
How to choose the best media streamer for you
The best media streamer for your neighbour’s home cinema setup may not be the best media streamer for you. You need to weigh up the sort of content you want it to work with, whether that’s videos from the web or a local library stored on a hard drive, and the other devices and software it needs to be compatible with – the works much better with an iPhone than a , for instance.
It’s also important to bear in mind where you’ve invested all your money – Netflix? iTunes movies? Movies on Google Play? You can’t get all of these films on all of these streamers, so if you know at the outset what services need to be supported, your choice of devices can get narrowed down very quickly.
Without further ado, these are the five best media streamers you can buy today.
The 5 best media streamers you can buy today
1. Google Chromecast
Super cheap, super powerful
First of all, versatility. At this point it’s easier to list the apps that don’t work with a Chromecast, because Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, iPlayer, Spotify, and many more all work seamlessly on Android or iOS. You can’t stream iTunes content though, or Amazon Video except via a web browser.
The Chromecast is simple to set up on any TV, costs much less than any other media streamer out there, and supports 4K on the latest model too. It’s not perfect, but it makes media streaming as simple as it should be.
2. Roku Ultra
Versatile box of tricks
The recently revamped Roku series features the broadest range of content out there: Netflix, Google Play Movies & TV, Amazon Video, iPlayer and much more… just about anything except Apple’s digital libraries.
The Ultra box offers HDR, 4K and a powerful quad-core processor as well, though if you want to save yourself some money you can opt for a cheaper model. Everything connects up via HDMI and there’s a clever remote included too with voice search – you can even plug headphones into the remote to listen privately.
So why do we prefer the Chromecast? Google’s dongle is more portable and significantly cheaper, though there’s not much in it in terms of supported services.
3. Apple TV
Perfect for Apple fans
If you absolutely have to watch content from Apple’s digital stores then the is pretty much the best media streamer out there. It’s not just for iTunes though – there are apps for Netflix, catch-up TV and Plex, and you can watch Google Play Movies and TV content through the YouTube app, though it’s a bit of a clunky workaround.
There’s no Spotify app and no app for Amazon Video, so you miss out there, but – this being Apple – the interface is polished and professional, and you get a whole host of other apps, from games to photo managers.
An Apple TV only really makes sense if you’re already invested heavily in iPhones, Macs, and iTunes – and then it makes a lot of sense, which is why it’s right in the middle spot in our media streamer rundown.
4. Amazon Fire TV
For those in Amazon’s ecosystem
Amazon doesn’t like making its video streaming service available on other streamers, so the Amazon Fire TV is a solid choice if you’ve signed up for Amazon Video and want to watch it on the big screen. The latest model is 4K compatible too, and you can even play games on it.
Big name apps like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, TV catch-up apps and Plex are here, but there’s no support for Google Play Movies & TV or Apple’s iTunes, so it’s not a streamer to go for if you’ve bought a lot of content from the big two digital stores.
It’s respectably priced too, though if you want to save some money you can go for the cheaper and less powerful Fire TV Stick, which comes with Alexa on board.
Read the full review: Amazon Fire TV
5. Now TV Smart Box
You don’t get everything you could possibly wish for – there’s no Netflix and no 4K support – but at £40 this is still cracking value. If you can live without freeview and pausing and rewinding live TV, you can get the basic Now TV box for just £14.99, though bear in mind Sky Movies and Sky Sports subscriptions for both these devices cost extra (check the Sky website for the latest deals).
As you would expect from something made by Roku, these boxes are smartly finished and simple to set up. It’s basically Sky and Freeview, without a dish, on the cheap.
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