If you’re a cord-cutter – or you plan on becoming one in the future – a streaming device to watch shows and movies and stream music is a must-have. For folks with older smart TVs and anyone who wants a reliable way to stream, you just can’t beat the value, performance and convenience of a streaming device.
Now, admittedly, the term ‘streaming device’ is pretty nebulous. These days, laptops, desktops, phones, tablets, consoles and, well, pretty much every internet-connected device is capable of getting to YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and more – but what sets streaming devices like the Roku Ultra, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV apart is that they are dedicated streaming players. Their jobs are to bring you content.
To that end, we believe the best streaming devices are the ones that have the best user interfaces with little or no lag time, capable of playing video from pretty much every major streaming service and staying up to date when a new service comes out.
We’re here to help you make that next buying decision the best one possible by ranking the best set-top boxes in two categories – for 4K TVs and for Full HD TVs – and tell you which one will best fit your home entertainment center.
Best streaming devices for 4K TVs
In years past, it incredibly easy to pick out the best 4K streaming device. That’s because, well, there were only like two of them on the market.
These days are a TON of 4K streaming devices out there. And while each and every one of them are capable of pushing millions of pixels worth of data to your TV, they’re not exactly the same in terms of their content libraries and format support. That’s why we looked at the amount of content available on the system – not only the number of apps available, but the quality, too – as well as its feature-set, usability and potential to grow in the coming year.
Unfortunately, with so many new streamers to choose from, however, some excellent 4K streaming boxes have been squeezed out of our top picks. The super-talented Google Chromecast Ultra just misses out on the podium, as do the Roku Ultra and even the Xbox One S. However, it’s clear that our remaining trio are the best streaming boxes for 4K and HDR content.
WINNERS: Nvidia Shield and Nvidia Shield Pro (2019)
Thanks to some killer AI upscaling, the Shield and Shield Pro are the best streaming devices on the market
Google Assistant built-in
No Apple TV app
No USB ports for extra storage
At three times the cost of entry-level 4K HDR streaming players, the Nvidia Shield (2019) isn’t cheap, but it’s an incredibly powerful streaming player thanks to its cutting-edge AI upscaling tech and its support for both HDR10 and Dolby Vision content. With it, you’ll also get the newly redesigned Shield remote that has been revamped to be more user-friendly and the latest version of Android TV, which serves as a gateway to Nvidia’s game-streaming service, Geforce Now.
But the feature that puts it miles ahead of the…