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We won’t leave you to your own devices.
The average adult now spends nearly five hours a day watching television, according to Statista — and government data show that watching TV was the leisure activity that adults spent the most time doing in 2018. And increasingly we’re watching that TV using streaming devices: A survey from this year by ExpressVPN and Propeller Insight revealed that 83% of Americans said they use streaming video services.
When considering a streaming device, first look at its interface, says Ian Andes, a 24-year veteran of the content creation and distribution industry. “You want everything where you expect it to be, logically and intuitively, and if you’re just two clicks away from doing what you want to do, that’s what makes it great.” But with so many devices and networks offering streaming subscriptions, it can be hard to pinpoint which might be the best for your needs. That’s why MarketWatch tapped a tech expert to break down the top streaming devices.
This is the most popular streaming device on the market — Statista reports that there are more than 29.1 million active Roku
users as of June 2019 — and with good reason: You can use it to stream more than 500,000 movies and TV shows right to your TV in 1080p HD picture format, and Roku is compatible with Netflix
Sling TV and more. It comes with an HDMI cable that you plug into your TV for easy setup, and you can operate it through the simple-to-use free Roku mobile app, as well as a remote. Read more about the Roku Express here.
Pros: Affordable, can be controlled using a smartphone or the included remote
Cons: Unable to record content, only supports up to 1080p HD picture quality
Who this works best for: This is the best version “if you want it in the bedroom or somewhere else for an older non-4K TV, or you want to save $9 from the premiere player” [see below], says Chris Heinonen, senior staff writer and tech expert for Wirecutter, a product-review site owned by the New York Times.
This Roku offers all the perks of the Roku Express but also offers content in 4K. Users love this device too, giving it 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon with more than 2,200 customer reviews. Read more about the Roku Premiere here. “If you had to choose one device, the Roku is your best bet because they have more apps and channels than any other device,” says Tom Samiljan, tech contributor for Men’s Journal.
Pros: 4K picture quality, ease of streaming from multiple services
Cons: “The biggest cons are that the main page has an ad you can’t remove, the interface isn’t as flashy as others and it doesn’t do gaming like some Android or Apple TV devices can,” says Heinonan.
Who this works best for: Anyone who wants a simple platform with access to multiple streaming services.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick’s biggest selling points are that it has more storage for apps and games than any other streaming media stick and it is voice controlled so you can ask Alexa to change the show you’re watching. Plus, Amazon Prime members get unlimited access to thousands of movies and TV episodes and ad-free listening to songs with Prime Music. Consumer Reports gives the Fire TV Stick a thumbs-up, with an overall score of 81 out of 100, and it has garnered 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon with more than 30,000 customer reviews. Additionally, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos audio bring Prime Video shows to life with improved clarity and sound. “Dolby Vision is a special video processing that provides richer colors and more realistic, warmer tones. Content optimized for Dolby Vision features blacks and contrasts that are more defined and overall better picture quality,” says Samiljan. Read more about the Fire TV Stick here.
Pros: 8G of storage, voice control capability
Cons: “It heavily pushes Amazon content over everything else and the interface is more confusing than Apple TV
and Roku for most users,” says Heinonen.
Who this works best for: Amazon Prime subscribers
Consumer Reports gives this device a score of 77 out of 100 and Wirecutter points out that Apple’s interface is clean, easy-to-use and customizable, giving it the best overall user experience of any media streamer. As an added bonus, any prior iTunes purchases are upgraded to 4K versions when available, but if you’re a Spotify
or Pandora user, you’ll need a different device to stream music. “It has a great interface, supports Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos for the highest-end AV experience, but it’s more expensive than the competition,” says Heinonen.
Pros: Easy-to-use interface, iTunes purchases are automatically upgraded to 4K when available
Cons: More costly than other devices, doesn’t come with an HDMI cable, not compatible with Spotify or Pandora
Who this works best for: Die-hard Apple fans
Consumer Reports gives this Google
device a score of 80 out of 100 and recommends it for tech-savvy users who are comfortable using their phone to play, pause and control the volume on shows, movies, live TV, YouTube and Pandora. Chromecast Ultra streams 4K Ultra HD picture quality and is compatible with iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac or Windows laptops and Chromebooks. Heinonen says, “There’s almost no learning curve because you start content from the apps on your phone, tablet or computer and then they just play on the TV.” That said, there’s no remote for this device, so all selections must take place from a phone with a Wi-Fi connection. Samiljan adds, “One of the best things this device does is turn any TV into something you can stream content to with your Android device. You can watch home videos, web content and it syncs up with Google Home devices so you can see who is at your door on TV.”
Pros: Compatible with iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac or Windows laptops and Chromebooks
Cons: No remote
Who this works best for: Tech-savvy crowd who are comfortable using a separate device to control their TV