Best TV Streaming Device 2019 – Buyer’s Guide

Gone are the days of Freeview or set-top boxes being the only way to get more than five channels on your television.

If your TV isn’t a Smart model with built-in apps and catch-up services, doesn’t have the particular apps you’re after, has no aerial or you don’t watch live telly, then a Smart stick or Smart hub is the perfect answer.

They are also perfect for wire-free setups, or anyone who doesn’t want to bother with cluttered television cabinets and shelving. There are only a few names out there in this market, but they are all wildly different. None offer all the same things, which makes the decision harder.

There will be one out there which is perfect for you, but to help you decide, we have reviewed all the best media streaming devices and included a handy buying guide to let you know what you should be looking for.

The Best TV Streaming Sticks and Boxes – Our Top Picks

IMAGE PRODUCT DETAILS
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Ultra HD
  • Streaming Quality: 4K
  • Monthly Costs: Subscriptions Optional
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi
Click for Best Price
Apple TV 4K 64GB
  • Streaming Quality: 4K
  • Monthly Costs: Subscriptions/In-App Purchases Optional
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth
Click for Best Price
Google Chromecast Ultra
  • Streaming Quality: 4K HDR
  • Monthly Costs: N/A
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Ethernet
Click for Best Price

Best Streaming Sticks

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Ultra HD

There have been several updates to the original Fire Stick over the past few years, and this one combines the revolutionary voice-controlled remote with top-notch viewing quality.

You can enjoy all of your favourite streaming and catch up services, such as Prime Video, BBC, Netflix, ITV, All 4, Disney and Curzon Cinema in 4K Ultra HD, Dolby Vision, HDR, and HDR10+ quality.

There are thousands of other apps and channels too, such as news channels, music streaming services and internet browsers. Some of the services will require a subscription, but there are plenty of free-to-view options too.

The buttons on the new remote can also control your compatible television, soundbar and speakers. Because it is smart, the Alexa Voice Remote can also work alongside your smart lighting, thermostat, plugs and other devices. You don’t just have to own Amazon products either – Samsung SmartThings, TP-Link, Ring and Hue all apply.

To set it all up, just pop the stick into the HDMI port at the back of your HDTV, plug it into the mains, connect it to the internet and you’re good to go. It can connect to the Wi-Fi, or you can purchase a separate dedicated Ethernet Adaptor for a more reliable wired connection.

Even though it is 4K, you don’t need a 4K telly to enjoy it. It will work with HD Ready (720p) and Full HD (1080p) TVs, but your programmes will only be shown in the format your television supports – it won’t actually make your telly 4K.

This model is a lot quicker to process data than previous models, so even though you may not get the video quality it can provide, you will notice a difference in speed. So, we would say it is still worth it for the little jump in price.

Specifications

  • Streaming Quality: 4K
  • Monthly Costs: Subscriptions Optional
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi

+ Downloads

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Ultra HD with all-new Alexa Voice Remote User Manual

Download

We like

  • Remote can control television
  • Voice technology
  • Can be used alongside Amazon Echo
  • Smooth performance

We dislike

  • Batteries are hard to fit at first as cover is awkward

Final Verdict

Fire Sticks are arguably the leading streaming devices and indeed led the way with the technology. A wide number of services are available, and it is a good price with plenty on offer even without the Prime Subscription

Roku Streaming Stick+

Seen by many as the option which offers the most variety, Roku may not be the first name you think of when you are considering a media streaming kit in a world of Firesticks and Smart TVs, but it should be. A little bit of bonus info, too – Roku actually powers Sky-made NOW TV sticks, so they know what they’re doing.

An advanced wireless receiver will pick up the signal even if it is on the weak side, so streaming will never be patchy. Perfect if you want to watch telly in the back bedroom, nowhere near the router. You can also point the remote anywhere, and the stick will pick up your commands, which is ideal for those lazy Sundays where you don’t want to move too much.

This player is also available in a Box form for a lower price, but if you want the highest quality picture, then this 4K stick is the way forward. There are 150,000+ TV programmes and movies on offer, so you’ll never have another night in where you spend hours flicking through what to watch.

There are 2000 free and paid channels to enjoy, so whether you want to try and cut down on your monthly subscriptions and only pay for what you watch, or want an entirely cost-free experience, the choice is in your hands. Both Amazon Prime and Netflix are available, so whether you have a favourite or you love both, you aren’t restricted once you buy the subscriptions. You also get all of the main channel catch-up services, as well as YouTube, TuneIn radio and the TV Player app.

As a bonus, you can also get NOW TV on the Roku Stick. So if you have your eye on this rival, but are a little miffed at the limited selection of catch-up services, this is the solution. It may be more expensive but is relative to how much more it offers in our opinion.

Regarding what it doesn’t offer though; there is no internet browser option, but we think this is something you can probably do without in a world of smartphones. There’s also no UKTV Play app which may put a few people off who like channels such as Dave or Drama. There is no BT Sport, but it could come at a later date through NOW TV. It doesn’t have voice control either, but again not the end of the world. There are tablet and smartphone apps which will allow you to control the basics, too.

Specifications

  • Streaming Quality: 4K
  • Monthly Costs: Subscriptions Optional
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi

We like

  • Choice of channels
  • Great Wi-Fi signal
  • Small and neat

We dislike

  • A few missing options

Final Verdict

By far the one which offers you the most overall, and lets you cater your experience. A very comprehensive 4K experience

NOW TV Smart Stick with HD & Voice Search

If you want to (legally) be able to access channels which otherwise only come as part of an expensive pay-monthly package, then NOW TV had you in mind when they launched their services.

The basic premise is that you can buy passes which last a day, week or a month, that allow you to access those channels for one fixed price. For instance, the Entertainment Pass unlocks over 300 Box Sets and 11 live channels, a lot of which are Sky-centric. Not overly surprising seeing it is a product launched by Sky.

With this particular item, you get two months included for free, so you can test the waters and decide whether you want to buy. Or maybe you just want to watch Game Of Thrones without taking out an entire 12-month contract…

You can add additional Passes too, such as Sky Cinema with over 1000 movies, 10 Sky Sports channels, and a selection of kids shows. You can also watch catch-up TV on apps like BBC iPlayer, or stream films and boxsets on Netflix.

NOW TV only streams in 720p, but if another service is in full HD, then 1080p is possible. Every package is priced differently depending on what you get and how long for, and they automatically renew unless cancelled. If you want to go subscription-free, there are enough free features to meet your requirements, although not quite as many as the Firestick.

The interface isn’t the easiest of all of those we have tried and definitely takes a little getting used to. The whole startup process is also slow, with you having to put in your details on a separate device and wait for it to load. For under £20, it is worth a shot even if you only use it once in a blue moon.

Specifications

  • Streaming Quality: 720p/1080p
  • Monthly Costs: Entertainment Passes Optional
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi

We like

  • Easy way to pay for Sky Movies/Sports every once in a while
  • Plenty of free pass options available
  • Addition of voice control

We dislike

  • Some big names are omitted such as Amazon Prime streaming
  • Can be a little slow to respond

Final Verdict

The ability to pay-on-demand for Sky is a selling point alone for thousands of people out there, and the price means that any subscriptions as extra won’t sting too much

Fire TV Stick with all-new Alexa Voice Remote

The original Fire Stick, but with the Alexa Voice Remote included for a much more seamless experience.

The remote can launch, control and change content with just your voice, which is perfect if you’ve got so used to letting your smart speakers turn your lights on and off, or adjust the thermostat. You need to press and hold the button, which is actually a nice touch to avoid any accidental commands being picked up.

There are all of the usual apps available, such as Netflix and Hayu or catch-up services like All 4 or My 5. You can also browse the internet on Firefox or Silk, listen to music on YouTube or TuneIn, or just ask Alexa to check the weather or the score of the Chelsea match.

Amazon Skills allow you to control other aspects of your home with compatible linked devices, such as lighting or security cameras. As with all of the Fire Sticks (and general Amazon products really), it is better if you have a Prime Membership as you’ll have access to further services such as Prime Video, but it isn’t a must.

You can watch live television if you don’t have a satellite in place too, through apps such as BBC Sport or the ITV Hub, although additional fees and licences may apply. A Prime Membership will allow you to just pay for what you download and use.

The Stick just needs plugging into your HDMI port, into the mains and connecting to the Wi-Fi. You’re good to go straight away. Because there isn’t much to it, you could take it to hotels, on holiday or even just transfer it to your television upstairs if you fancy an early night. You just need Wi-Fi.

Specifications

  • Streaming Quality: 1080p
  • Monthly Costs: Subscriptions Optional
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi

We like

  • Good Wi-Fi connection
  • Simple to set up
  • Good interface to control

We dislike

  • Can be a bit slow to respond to some commands

Final Verdict

It is a fabulous price for what you get, and the interface is nice and easy to use. The on-screen instructions are simple to follow, and there is plenty of choice

Best Smart TV Box

Apple TV 4K 64GB

Some people out there are Apple through and through. The thought of owning anything by another brand sends shivers down their spine. Other computers, phones, tablets and headphones just don’t match up.

Whether this is you, or you have not yet seen something which has caught your eye and need us to up our reviewing game, then you’ll be pleased to hear this is a package which offers a huge amount.

There are over 60 video services, and while this is undeniable not as many as the thousands offered by Roku and Amazon, you can get access to the hottest films and shows quicker than from streaming sites. You can rent or buy individual films and boxsets straight from iTunes, and 4K quality costs the same as standard quality.

You can watch live television through the TV Player app, and Netflix and Amazon Video are there too (Apple and Amazon obviously hugged and made up at some point as it was once a glaring omission). Just link them up, and you’re good to go. The Apple TV Home Screen acts as a search place essentially. NOW TV is also available, although we will warn you that the app is nowhere near as clear and concise as on the dedicated box/stick.

The Apple TV app is available on phones and tablets from the same brand as standard, so you can watch on the go too. This is a feature a lot of other services lack, as they’re restricted just to the TV they’re plugged into.

Siri gives you voice control ability, and the glass Touch surface on the remote means free control over menus and options as opposed to being crammed with buttons. An A10X Fusion chip also gives you enough power to download games from the app store and play through the TV, and AirPlay allows you to view photos which are on your phone.

There is no denying it is one which appeals mostly to those already with experience of Apple products. But it offers one of the sleekest experiences, and some apps which are just incredibly different for those who are yet to make the move too – Streaks Workout will help you get fit, TV Maps can help you see the world from your sofa and TED talks will help you get your brain working. Basically like having a phone in your TV. It is more than just a streaming device, and the definition of Smart.

Specifications

  • Streaming Quality: 4K
  • Monthly Costs: Subscriptions/In-App Purchases Optional
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth

We like

  • NOW TV built-in
  • Option of buying and renting from iTunes Store
  • Intuitive remote control and Siri

We dislike

  • Pricier than alternatives

Final Verdict

Streaming services and NOW TV gives you a great amount of freedom, and it may seem to not offer as many options as some others, but we like to say it is just a more streamlined and realistic offering

NOW TV Smart Box with 4K & Voice Search

The latest media player offered by the Sky subsidiary, which is very popular amongst those who like to have full control over what they pay to watch.

What is the difference between the NOW TV Stick and the NOW TV Box, you may be asking? Well in truth, there isn’t a glaring amount of difference (apart from the price). The stick is meant to be tucked away out of sight, but the box does have a few more features thanks to the boost in size and power. The ability to connect it straight to an Ethernet cable as opposed to having to rely on Wi-Fi will be a big factor that appeals to some.

Then there is the difference between the ordinary box and Smart box. Why is this Smart one better? Well, you get the Voice Control and 4K ability, supported up to 60p. There is also microSD storage, live pause technology and ‘Night Mode’. The latter reduces loud sounds so you can safely binge your favourite shows at night without waking everybody up. And, there is support for Netflix and Prime which was until recently omitted.

The older model is being phased out, so this is the one you want for future proofing your purchase. However, NOW TV still only operates in 720p itself which is disappointing. Although it has promised this will get to 1080p ASAP.

The box did use to have an inbuilt Freeview tuner so you could connect an aerial to it and use it to watch Freeview channels, but this feature has been discontinued unfortunately so beware before you buy as some of the other info out there is confusing depending on which model it refers to.

Apart from this though, it is still a strong option for anyone who likes a flexible choice. A couple of extras features compared to the stick may sway people, but whichever you plump for, welcome to the world of satellite TV without the hefty long-term subscription.

Specifications

  • Streaming Quality: 4K
  • Monthly Costs: Subscriptions Optional
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Ethernet

We like

  • Voice search
  • Good choice of extras
  • Nice clean interface

We dislike

  • Slow to setup and need another device

Final Verdict

Still as revolutionary as it was at the time of release, but now with a load of extra jazz. One for those who love sport and movies but in their own time

Nvidia SHIELD TV 16GB with Remote and Controller

Another one which throws something a little different into the mix, just like Sky.

You have been able to get some streaming services through games consoles for a while now. The Nintendo Wii had a BBC iPlayer app – that is how long this technology has been around. But the Nvidia Shield takes it to a new level.

Firstly, it is one of the most capable 4K HDR-enabled media streamers we tested. Quality is superb, and all the essential apps are there such as Netflix and Amazon Video. In fact, there are thousands of apps on offer; BBC iPlayer, Spotify, Plex and Kodi are just some available.

The interface is nice and clear so you won’t get swamped in a never-ending circle trying to find a particular app or programme. As a bonus, you get a powerful remote control with in-built Google Assistant, the technology of which can find what you are after in seconds. There is a separate gaming controller too, which gives you something more dedicated when you’re not watching the telly.

The fact it is Android and Google Play-based is going to appeal to some people, especially if you have strong opinions on the Android vs Apple argument. It also means that it will be regularly updated, so while the others may need to be entirely replaced with the release of the next model, this system will be pretty time-proof.

There isn’t just give you on-demand telly, though. It is also an on-demand PC game streaming service. Yes, some other sticks and boxes give you games, but they aren’t really games for ‘gamers’, more to pass the time. You can play exclusive Android games or cast your PC game library from your GeForce® GTX-powered rig. The ability to view it all in 4K will certainly enhance the experience.

There is integrated Chromecast so you can share from your smartphone straight to the TV. You could even bring up a film or video to see it clearer. If you have NOW TV or want to watch something on All4, even though you can’t watch it directly through the device, Chromecast will allow mirroring. Your options are unlimited.

It is surprisingly small for what you get, and if the price is putting you off, then the value is definitely earned back in terms of ability and the choice of free games. It is still cheaper than Apple TV, after all. Few people know about this streaming solution compared to all of the other options on this list, but it is very worth checking out.

The hard-drive is 16GB, so if you are an avid gamer this will soon be taken up. You can add extra USB for storage though. It also plays from additional USBs quickly and efficiently, and we never once faced buffering issues.

Specifications

  • Streaming Quality: 4K
  • Monthly Costs: Subscriptions Optional
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi

+ Downloads

Nvidia SHIELD TV 16GB with Remote and Controller User Manual

Download

We like

  • Massive choice of what to watch
  • Good for both gamers and TV buffs
  • Incredibly smooth and easy to use
  • Choice of free games

We dislike

  • Can’t support anything more than stereo sound

Final Verdict

If you’re wondering which Android box to get, then this is a clear winner. Perfect for gamers and those serious about TV alike

Best Casting Devices

Google Chromecast Ultra

The original Chromecast was a fab product for anyone who could access and control all of their TV and films on their smartphone or laptop but wanted to stream it to a big screen occasionally.

The Ultra is an update for those with top-notch televisions, though. You can stream 4K and HDR picture quality over your WiFi network, so you view everything in the best possible manner. Because there are no extra parts involved, what you see on the laptop screen is what you get on the screen, with no lagging or buffering.

You can also use the Backdrop function to show your photos, social media posts and the news headlines. It isn’t just one for those with 4K TV’s though, as if your telly is Ultra HD it will automatically optimise to suit. Don’t panic if you have weak Wi-Fi either, as there is an Ethernet port to allow for wired connections.

The actual device fits into your HDMI port so is unobtrusive and compact. You just need a power socket, and you’re good to go. Once you have downloaded the Chromecast app on your Android or iOS device, you can open a compatible app and tap the Cast button. It is as simple as that. When it isn’t streaming content, it will display photos until it is told to do otherwise too.

Don’t think it completely renders your phone as unusable while you all watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, though. Because it just takes the URL from the streaming location once you tap the ‘Cast’ button, you are free to use your phone at the same time without disturbing the picture. There is support for apps including BT Sport, NowTV, Napster, BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport, but nothing for Prime Video yet which could put some off.

Obviously, as it is only a cast, there is no remote or interface. You have to rely heavily on your phone or tablet. While we’d love an update and the ability to access some basic apps through the actual device, we guess this isn’t really the aim of it. It is also not one for the casual gamers out there – support is poor. Other than these little niggles? A great item which doesn’t require any extras to make the most out of it (except the phone/tablet/laptop of course).

Specifications

  • Streaming Quality: 4K HDR
  • Monthly Costs: N/A
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Ethernet

+ Downloads

GOOGLE Chromecast Ultra User Manual

Download

We like

  • Ethernet port addition
  • Smooth and fast
  • Can link to Google Home for voice control

We dislike

  • Gets quite warm when being used

Final Verdict

Not a control hub, but makes mirroring to the TV much easier than using cables etc. One for those who want something nice, affordable and simple with no extra remotes or faff

Google Chromecast Third Generation

A nice easy way to make your TV smart. It is the older version of the Google Chromecast Ultra, but that isn’t to say it is any less worthy of a place in your home.

It misses a few things in comparison, such as the HDMI port or 4K quality. But apart from this, it is still the fabulous plug in and play dongle which brings your programmes to the big screen in a wireless fashion.

Once you have your device in your hands, you can stream from it. This makes it ideal for all the family to use. Perhaps you are all showing your favourite YouTube Videos, or want to stream Netflix from the computer. No need for logging in or passwords.

Google Home can also be incorporated. Just say “OK Google, play Orange Is The New Black from Netflix on the Living Room TV”, and it will do as you say. If you’re used to the Smart hands-free luxury of appliance control, then it is the perfect solution.

You can also listen to Spotify playlists or stream NOW TV through it, so there is a great choice. Some offerings require a subscription if you want, but they are worth it. Because you can’t access them directly through the Chromecast though, you will need a phone or tablet to access the content.

It works with iPhones, iPads, Androids, Macs, Windows devices or Chromebooks though, so whichever you have, you should be safe.

Specifications

  • Streaming Quality: 1080p
  • Monthly Costs: N/A
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi

We like

  • Quick
  • Compact
  • Can be moved to different TVs - portable

We dislike

  • Battery life does drop on device when casting
  • Can go out of sync after a few hours of use

Final Verdict

Not as jazzy as the Ultra, but at half the price and for pretty much all the same things, it is still a great alternative for getting the content to the telly

Help and Resources

Streaming Device Buying Guide

How To Find The Best Streaming Device For You

There are a couple of things to think about:

Which services and platforms do you already use? Are there any you would like to start subscribing to? Do you want the ability to watch Sky Sports for a day every so often? Do you also want to be able to listen to Spotify? Maybe you only want to mirror what you can get on your laptop?

Try and narrow the list down to just include the ones which offer your chosen platforms. Most have Netflix for instance, but only a few have NOW TV. Then look at other issues such as price, connectivity, size and bonus offerings such as whether they support gaming if this is important.

What To Look For

Performance

Ethernet ability will give you a stronger internet connection than Wi-Fi unless yours is super-fast. You have to expect a little bit of lagging with all devices such as these, but some are better than others

Resolution

Have a 4K TV? You will need a 4K capable device to get the most out of it. Do remember that not all programmes/platforms are 4K ready yet though and if your television is only Full HD, but you want a 4K stick, it will be optimised as opposed to unable to work so you’re still safe

Discovery

The interface is a big issue for some. Think about the home screen and remote control here, as you want to be able to have a good level of control and usability. You may wish to get a voice controlled device, but do be aware they aren’t always as clever as they’d seem and there could be some confusion

Portability

The majority of streaming dongles and boxes are portable as they just require an HDMI port, Wi-Fi connection and a power socket. If you want something you can take to a holiday home or move from telly to telly, take into account size and the wiring required

Audio Codec Support

It isn’t just the resolution which makes your viewing experience. The majority of shows are now shown with Dolby Atmos-quality sound, so you want a device which can support this. It will also allow you to get the most out of soundbars and 5.1 cinema systems if applicable

Restrictions

It is worth bearing in mind that if you buy a stick or box from a brand which offers their own streaming service, then they are going to favour it over the other options on the market. For instance, the Firestick doesn’t offer Google or NOW TV and primarily focuses on Prime content over Netflix in search results, especially when using voice control.

Apple TV is only available on Apple’s own devices as an exclusive, and Chrome Casting Dongles only show you what is displayed through another device.

This is why the Roku options appeal so much to people, as they are pretty much third-party with no allegiances (despite being run by Sky). Again, they still miss some things though. But which is best for you depends on the streaming services you use and favour.

FAQs

What Are The Main Streaming Platforms?

Many people are subscribed to or part of a streaming service nowadays, whether it be pay monthly or on-demand. Gone are the days we only had around 30 channels to choose from, all huddled around the TV at 9pm for the latest shows, or had to pay an astounding amount of money for a satellite package which you only used 1% of.

You may even have a couple of services on the go at any one time as they all offer varying things. As long as you have an internet connection, you’re good to go.

  • Netflix

The massive subscription service which pretty much every streaming device offers. NOW TV didn’t use to, but Sky and Netflix must have come to some sort of agreement in the past year or so – which just shows how much of a must-have it is. If you want to watch on a 4K-able device, you may have to upgrade your plan.

  • Amazon Prime Video

Another big subscription service, and although this is slightly more limited in availability as they have their own sticks, you will find it on most options. You can purchase separately, or it can be included in your Prime delivery subscription.

  • NOW TV

A pay-on-demand service. You can get Sky packages for a month as opposed to taking out a contract, and also Sky Sports for a single day or week. This isn’t just found on NOW TV boxes, however, as some other services such as Roku (also owned by Sky) also offer it.

  • Apple TV

Primarily found on Apple devices. While you can link other apps like iPlayer, you can also buy or rent individual films or shows. This could work for anyone who doesn’t want to be tied down by contracts. They are also often earlier on the new release front. There are some other services available through the device.

There are loads of other ways to access these systems other than through a streaming stick or box too, such as through a Smart TV or through a set-top box such as TalkTalk’s YouView. But sticks often offer more flexibility and choice.

Which Is The Best Streaming Device For Kodi?

Kodi is a hugely popular free open-source content platform. It describes itself as the “ultimate entertainment center software”, through which you can access movies, music, photos and even record live TV.

There is no content provided directly by Kodi, so the main selling point is all of the user created Add-ons. These include radio stations from around the world, games and some downright strange unique stuff.

We would say the latest Amazon Firestick is the best for Kodi support and use, even though it isn’t available through the official store and you have to sideload and install it.

Do I Need A Device If I Already have An Xbox/Set-Top Box/Smart TV?

Not necessarily. These offer a host of apps, catch-up and live TV options already, but they are a lot more restricted than a dedicated stick or box. If you’re missing a few sources, it could be worth getting a main device and using your existing option as a backup.

Can I Use These With An Older TV?

They are perfect for older, non-Smart TVs. As long as you have an HDMI port and good Wi-Fi, you’re good to go.

What Internet Speed Do I Need For Streaming?

Netflix says that a standard definition video will use about 300MB for every hour of streaming. This will increase with better quality pictures – you could need up to 3GB for HD. Also bear in mind that the more devices you have on the go, the more it will have to share the output. Wi-Fi boosters can help, as can wired connections.