From affordable 4K sticks to comprehensive home entertainment hubs, the best streaming devices give you instant access to an arsenal of arresting telly. Just plug-in, sit back and prepare to please your peepers.
See, binge-watching has come on a long way from the days of Blu-ray box sets. Between gripping Netflix originals and remastered classics on Amazon Prime, entertaining yourself has never been easier. But with so many streams to pick between, what’s the best way to get fresh shows on your screen?
Whether you want a simple stick for easy 4K streaming or a top-notch content box with voice control smarts, the list below features our pick of the best streaming kit – all comprehensively tested from the comfort of the Stuff sofa.
Our guide to the best streaming sticks and boxes to buy today
Best all-round streaming device: Chromecast with Google TV
Google’s Chromecast has gone from a passive receiver to a full-fat streaming hub. You can still ‘cast’ video from thousands of compatible Android and iOS apps, but the latest version also allows you to select shows straight from Google TV’s home screen.
Bringing together content from your favourite platforms on a single page, you’ll see personalised recommendations from different subscription services – although it can take some time for the recommendations to actually match your tastes. Shows are displayed with a helpful Rotten Tomatoes score, as well as platform and rental info.
The interface is pretty slick, even if there’s sometimes a delay after pressing the home button. And with more than 6500 apps supported, you’ll rarely come up short for content. Navigation is easier than ever, thanks to the remote that now comes bundled in. Dedicated buttons for YouTube and Netflix make it easy to dive right in, while the Google Assistant shortcut puts voice control just a press away.
Streaming quality is slick, with no buffering and impressively sharp 4K HDR at up to 60fps. Despite its plug-and-play simplicity, support for Dolby Atmos, as well as Dolby Vision and HDR10+, means the Chromecast has the skills to suit any cinema room.
Stuff says: ★★★★★
With a real-life remote and slick TV interface, this is the best Chromecast so far, complete with full 4K and HDR support
Max resolution: 4K • HDR: HDR10/10+, Dolby Vision • Dolby Atmos: Yes • Voice assistant: Google Assistant • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth • Ports: HDMI, USB-C • Internal storage: 8GB • Dimensions: 162x61x12.5mm • Weight: 55g
Read our full Chromecast with Google TV review
Best value 4K streaming stick: Roku Streaming Stick 4K
Roku’s latest streaming device doesn’t reinvent the formula: it’s a plastic stick that slots into an HDMI port on your telly, connects to your Wi-Fi and gives you access to a catalogue of content services. But it is slicker and more powerful than any Roku before it, at a very accessible price tag.
It scores top marks for usability: the voice control remote is straightforward, with handy shortcuts for mainstream platforms, plus the option to request shows via the built-in mic. It’s not exactly premium, but it’s well-built and gets the job done. You can also use the tidy Roku app for easier typing.
Setup is a cinch: just stick it in, connect to the Wi-Fi and you’re away. And Wi-Fi is one of the key improvements, courtesy of upgraded hardware. Roku promises longer range and faster connectivity – and we didn’t have any buffering issues.
You won’t struggle for entertainment either. As with other Roku devices, just about all the major video streaming apps are covered – from Prime Video to BritBox to BT Sport – plus a number of lesser-known names.
Picture quality will ultimately depend on your TV, but the Streaming Stick 4K trumps its predecessors Dolby Vision support, alongside HLG and HDR10/10+, plus DTS Digital Surround. If you’ve got a proper home cinema setup, this stick will help you make the most of it.
Stuff says: ★★★★☆
With enhanced Wi-Fi, Dolby Vision on-board and straightforward support for every major streaming platform, Roku’s latest stick is easily its best to date
Max resolution: 4K • HDR: HDR10/10+, HLG, Dolby Vision • Dolby Atmos: Yes • Voice assistant: Works with Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri • Connectivity: Wi-Fi • Ports: HDMI, micro-USB • Internal storage: N/A • Dimensions: 94.5×21.1×11.5mm • Weight: 26g
Read our full Roku Streaming Stick 4K review
Best streaming stick for Prime customers: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max
Amazon’s streaming dongles are known for being affordable, reliable and versatile. The Fire TV Stick 4K Max continues that tradition, offering faster performance, improved Wi-Fi and a few more buttons on the remote – all for a price that remains the right side of reasonable.
Styled like the Fire TV Stick 4K that came before it, Amazon’s streamer won’t win design awards. But given that it lives behind your TV, it doesn’t need to. The remote is still a functional plastic number, albeit with the addition of four new shortcut buttons for Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Music.
Setup is straightforward, with an easy on-screen walkthrough. Once you’re online and signed in, you’ll find the Fire TV Stick 4K Max features a zippy interface, helped by additional RAM and processing power. The service selection is properly comprehensive, including Apple TV+, NowTV and even a full YouTube app. Prime Video is still given top priority, although the home screen can be rearranged pretty easily.
With good content to work with, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max delivers: besides 4K, there’s support for Dolby Vision, HLG and HDR10/10+, as well as Dolby Atmos audio. Wi-Fi 6 also ensures speedy connectivity with supported routers, so you can enjoy your home cinema without stuttering. Alexa’s still around as well, improving all the while. Besides using your voice to locate content across all your apps (which you’ll sometimes need to specify), the digital helper can also be used to control connected smart home kit.
Stuff says: ★★★★☆
A little bit slicker and a little bit faster than Amazon’s previous sticks, this feature-packed 4K streamer is excellent value for Prime customers
Max resolution: 4K • HDR: HDR10/10+, HLG, Dolby Vision • Dolby Atmos: Yes • Voice assistant: Alexa • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth • Ports: HDMI, microUSB • Internal storage: 8GB • Dimensions: 99x30x14 mm • Weight: 48g
Read our full Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max review
Best power streamer for games and video: Nvidia Shield TV
Nvidia’s aluminium streaming cylinder sits quietly beneath your TV. More distinctive is its Toblerone remote, with a triangular design that stands apart from other plasticky zappers. It feels good in the hand and features all the physical buttons you could need – although the absence of a 3.5mm headphone port is a shame.
Powerful processor specs make streaming 4K content a stutter-free experience. Support for HDR10, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos means the Shield TV plays nice with swanky home cinema systems, serving up stunningly detailed content. It doesn’t work with HLG though, so 4K HDR from BBC iPlayer poses problems.
Feed in 1080p content from a variety of sources – such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or YouTube – and the Shield TV will use AI to enhance the detail in a scene. It’s very effective at boosting quality for high-res displays, though you may need to tweak sensitivity to avoid over-sharpening.
It also does a cracking job as a gaming machine. Thanks to its Android TV interface, you can play Android games natively on the Shield itself, but you can also bring your rig into the mix. Streaming from Steam works well, though results vary depending on your network speed and graphics card.
If all you need is easy streaming, the Shield TV is overkill. But if you have the TV and audio setup to take advantage of its Dolby Vision and Atmos support – plus a decent PC and internet connection for gaming – Nvidia’s plug-in stick is a compellingly versatile streaming solution.
Stuff says: ★★★★☆
More than just a streaming device, the Shield TV has the power to handle your premium video needs – with clever gaming smarts to boot
Max resolution: 4K • HDR: HDR10, Dolby Vision • Dolby Atmos: Yes • Voice assistant: Alexa, Google Assistant • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth • Ports: HDMI, ethernet, power, microSD • Internal storage: 8GB (expandable) • Dimensions: 40x40x165mm • Weight: 137g
Read our full Nvidia Shield TV review
Best streaming device for Apple TV+: Apple TV 4K (2021)
Apple’s updated 4K TV box is only an incremental improvement over the original, but that still makes it one of the best streamers you can buy. Its A12 Bionic chip is zippy, while an HDMI 2.1 port boosts 4K HDR frame rates to a slicker 60fps. Wi-Fi 6 improves connectivity too, with a noticeable bump in speed and stability.
The refreshed Siri Remote is beefier than before, but remains a polished controller, complete with a universal power button that can zap both your TV and your home cinema.
When it comes to content, all your favourite apps are there – from Netflix to Prime Video to Disney+. And they all support 4K HDR, Dolby Vision and Atmos. Apple Music’s Spatial Audio also works well, and means watchers with AirPods (3rd generation), AirPods Pro or AirPods Max can enjoy Atmos content with dynamic head tracking.
Picture quality is invariably excellent, even in definitions lower than 4K. Full HD shows get help from HDR processing, while the Colour Balance feature uses your iPhone’s camera and light sensor to optimise your screen’s saturation against ‘industry standards’. It’s not Dolby Vision, but it’s neat.
The Apple TV 4K is undeniably pricier than most streaming devices. But Apple fans won’t find a more convenient 4K media hub: from Apple Arcade to iTunes to AirPlay, the box brings it all together seamlessly.
Stuff says: ★★★★☆
A minor update, but still one of the best – and best-looking – 4K streaming hubs you can stick next to your telly
Max resolution: 4K • HDR: HDR10, Dolby Vision • Dolby Atmos: Yes • Voice assistant: Siri • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0 • Ports: HDMI 2.1, Ethernet, power • Internal storage: 32/64GB • Dimensions: 98x98x35mm • Weight: 425g
Read our full Apple TV 4K (2021) review here
Best smart streaming hub: Amazon Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen)
Technically a cuboid, Amazon’s binge-watching box is a winner for high-res telly addicts. Twice as powerful and four times faster than the first edition, the second-gen Fire TV Cube feels noticeably quicker than other Fire TV Sticks when it comes to pulling up and buffering content. As with every Fire device, Amazon material is put front and centre – but the third-party app selection is comprehensive.
When you press play, content shines. It might not match the level of detail you’d get from 4K Blu-ray, but material streamed from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video looks stunning. Support for Dolby Vision and HDR10+ means you get the very latest visuals, too – as long as your Wi-Fi is quick enough.
Forever losing the remote? With Alexa built into the box, one vocal request is all it takes to load up a show, navigate apps and even control your smart home. Certain functions won’t work with every set – such as input-switching with a Philips TV – and Alexa can’t dig out content from the likes of BBC iPlayer. All the same, the ability to control the telly with your voice transforms the experience and makes the Fire TV Cube into a true entertainment hub.
Stuff says: ★★★★★
Alexa smarts and speedy streaming make Amazon’s Fire TV Cube a clever hub for your home cinema – and your smart home
Max resolution: 4K • Dolby Atmos: Yes • Voice assistant: Works with Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri • Connectivity: Wi-Fi • Ports: HDMI, micro-USB • Internal storage: N/A • Dimensions: 20.8×86.3×39.3mm • Weight: 44.6g
Read our full Amazon Fire TV Cube review here
Best budget 4K streamer: Roku Express 4K
For a tenner less than Roku’s Streaming Stick 4K, the Express 4K is an impressive yet accessible way to consume 4K content. It’s feature-packed, yet undercuts every 4K streamer in this list.
Not one to hide behind your box, the dinky domed receiver goes beneath your TV. While its plastic finish reflects the price tag, setup is a cinch: Roku OS 10’s tile-based interface is clean and responsive, with a wealth of watching options. The app list is comprehensive, featuring every major streaming platform, including Netflix, Prime Video, Apple TV, Disney+ and more. All that’s missing is a proper content hub. While ‘My Feed’ allows you to follow your favourite shows, it doesn’t pull together suggestions as seamlessly as some rivals.
Navigation is straightforward with the simple remote, which features four channel shortcuts. What UK users don’t get is a volume rocker. Nor does it have a built-in microphone for voice control, unlike the zapper shipped with the Streaming Stick 4K. That said, you can talk to your Roku via the free smartphone app. Voice functionality isn’t as smart as the likes of Alexa, but it’s useful for swiftly loading shows.
Provided your TV has an HDMI 2.2 port, the Express 4K can serve up 4K HDR video at 60fps. It also plays nice with HDR10/10+ and HLG for maximum streaming compatibility. Quality is reliably excellent: vibrant, detailed and lag-free. With Apple AirPlay compatibility and Dolby Atmos passthrough for cinematic sound, the Roku Express 4K delivers outstanding bang for buck.
Stuff says: ★★★★★
Compellingly versatile yet surprisingly affordable, Roku’s Express 4K is arguably the best value streaming device you can buy right now.
Max resolution: 4K • HDR: HDR10/10+, HLG • Dolby Atmos: Yes • Voice assistant: Works with Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri • Connectivity: Wi-Fi • Ports: HDMI, micro-USB • Internal storage: N/A • Dimensions: 20.8×86.3×39.3mm • Weight: 44.6g
Best value Full HD streaming stick: Amazon Fire TV Stick
Whether your Wi-Fi is fettered or your TV tops out at 1080p, not everyone needs a 4K streamer. And for Full HD streaming, Amazon’s standard Fire TV Stick is a stellar all-rounder. It’s not the cheapest stick in the Fire TV family: that honour goes to the Lite version, which costs £10 less. But the extra tenner gets you TV controls and Dolby Atmos support, which make the Fire TV Stick Amazon’s Goldilocks option.
Slightly smaller than the 4K-flavoured version, the Fire TV Stick is likewise a plug-and-play streamer which belongs in one of your TV’s HDMI ports. It’s 50% faster than the previous generation – and 50% more power efficient.
The familiar interface is neat and easy to navigate, albeit dominated by Amazon content – not necessarily a bad thing, provided you’re a Prime subscriber. You also get access to all of the usual apps, including Netflix and Disney+, although there’s no Now TV.
Alexa integration is better than ever, with voice control proving a genuine time-saver. The updated remote also features four platform shortcuts, plus a clearer Alexa button and an additional layer of dedicated controls for powering on and adjusting the volume of compatible A/V equipment.
4K might be off the menu, but Full HD streaming looks lovely. Pictures are ace at 60fps, with no lag or buffering issues. HDR support is a nice touch, boosting colour and contrast for a more realistic picture, while Dolby Atmos will be a welcome bonus for streamers with a home cinema setup.
Stuff says: ★★★★★
The Lite version might be cheaper, but with Dolby Atmos audio, TV controls and a 50% boost in power, the standard Amazon Fire TV Stick is a solid HD streamer.
Max resolution: 1080p • HDR: HDR10/10+, HLG • Dolby Atmos: Yes • Voice assistant: Alexa • Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth • Ports: HDMI, micro-USB • Internal storage: 8GB • Dimensions: 86x30x13mm • Weight: 32g
Read our full Amazon Fire TV Stick review here