The best streaming sticks and boxes you can buy

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The Insider Pick:

A media streaming device can transform your so-called dumb TV into a smart one that plays shows and movies from Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, Prime Video, and other streaming services.

The best of the bunch is the Roku Ultra with its easy-to-use interface, 4K video streaming, voice control, and simple remote.

Amazon Prime Day 2018 will begin at 3 p.m. ET on Monday, July 16 and will run through Tuesday, July 17. Many of our picks may be on sale. Sign up for a 30-day free trial of Prime here to access the deals.

The world is changing. Gone are the days when a cable subscription was necessary to watch all the latest and greatest TV shows. These days, the best TV shows are coming out on streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. Of course, the best way to take advantage of services like Netflix is by streaming shows straight to your TV.

There are plenty of streaming devices out there to help you connect the latest and greatest video streaming services to your TV, and they’re not all created equal. Before buying, you’ll want to consider a few different things.

For starters, you’ll want to think about whether you want a fully-fledged streaming box, which comes complete with its own operating system and allows you to download and install apps. The alternative is a device like the Google Chromecast, which basically streams content from your phone or computer. With a streaming stick, instead of installing Netflix on your TV-connected device, you’ll install it on your phone or computer and then stream from your phone to the streaming stick, which is plugged into your TV’s HDMI port.

Next up you’ll want to keep in mind the specs of your TV. Not all streaming sticks and boxes are able to handle 4K content, so if you have a 4K TV, you’ll want to get one that can stream 4K videos. Last but not least, it might be worth considering the ecosystem you’re most plugged into. For example, Android users might be able to get more use from an Android TV device, while those using an iPhone and Mac might prefer the Apple TV.

We’ve done the research to find the best streaming sticks and boxes to turn your dumb TV into a smart one that can access videos from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, and more. 

Here are our top picks for the best streaming sticks:

Best overall: Roku Ultra
Best for gamers: NVIDIA Shield
Best for Apple fans: Apple TV 4K
Best for Google fans: Google Chromecast Ultra
Best affordable Roku: Roku Streaming Stick
Best Fire TV: new Amazon Fire TV

Updated on 07/13/2018 by Malarie Gokey: Added notes on Amazon’s other Fire TV options as well as Roku’s lineup. Updated prices and formatting.

Read on in the slides below to check out our top picks.The best streaming box overall
Roku

Why you’ll love it: The Roku Ultra streams in 4K and HDR, has voice search, comes with a remote control, and costs just $70.

Roku’s Ultra is more streaming box than most people need. It supports 4K video at 60 frames per second and HDR content for just $99. If you have a 4K TV, this is the streaming device you want. We tested it and were deeply impressed by the quality.

Roku may not necessarily be linked to your Google or Apple account, but it can still connect to all the streaming services you enjoy. You’ll be able to install Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, and more using Roku’s operating system. Just connect the box to your TV via the HDMI port, and connect all your favorite streaming services to get started.

As mentioned, the device also supports HDR, which basically means that it’ll show richer colors and better contrast, which is always a good thing for TV lovers. The device even supports 4K video at 60 frames per second, which is something most media streaming devices don’t currently support.

Of course, to take advantage of that 4K content, you’ll need a decent connection. Thankfully the device can connect to your internet through Ethernet or over Wi-Fi.

The Ultra also comes with a remote control so you can adjust the volume, turn on your TV, and search for content with your voice. 

The Roku Ultra is perfect for most people with a 4K TV. And for $70, it’s a steal. Expert reviewers give the Ultra high marks.

Pros: 4K and HDR streaming, affordable, good remote, lots of apps, improved Wi-Fi connection, Ethernet, microSD port

Cons: Pricey

Buy the Roku Ultra on Amazon for $89

The best Chromecast
Google

Why you’ll love it: The Google Chromecast Ultra is quick to set up, easy-to-use and works great, but best of all, it costs just $50.

The Google Chromecast is arguably the original streaming stick, and it’s loved around the world for its simplicity and excellent price. The Chromecast Ultra is different than many of the other devices on this list, largely because it’s built solely to stream content from your phone or computer to your TV. That means there’s no user interface, no apps to install — nothing. Just find the content on your phone and hit the “Cast” button.

Chromecast was first introduced a few years back, and it has gone through a couple of updates since then. Now, the flagship Chromecast is the Chromecast Ultra, which sets itself apart from other Chromecasts with its ability to handle 4K streaming, which is a pretty big deal. You’ll need a good internet connection, though.

One of the great things about the Chromecast Ultra is that it interacts with your other Google devices. For example, you can tell a Google Home speaker to search videos on YouTube or play music on your TV through the Chromecast.

Then there’s the affordable price. The Chromecast Ultra costs just $50 (originally $70) — a price many reviewers, including us, love. TechRadar gave the Chromecast Ultra 4/5, while Pocket-Lint went a step further with a 4.5/5 star review.

Pros: Inexpensive, easy-to-use, works with smart speakers

Cons: No interface might frustrate some

Buy the Google Chromecast Ultra at Walmart for $49 (originally $69.00)

The best Amazon Fire TV
Amazon

Why you’ll love it: The new Amazon Fire TV streams video in 4K straight to your TV for $70.

Amazon recently launched a brand-new Fire TV with 4K Ultra HD and HDR support. This slim dongle plugs into the HDMI port in the back of your TV and comes with a remote control for easy access to play, pause, stop, volume up/down, and more.

Fire TV works with Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube, Hulu, HBO, and many other video streaming apps. You can download all your favorite apps on it to play shows on SlingTV, PBS, and more. Since it’s part of Amazon’s ecosystem, Fire TV works with Alexa voice controls. You can tell your TV to play “Game of Thrones” without lifting a finger.

The streaming stick has a faster processor and 802.11ac Wi-Fi to ensure smooth streaming on your TV without any annoying glitches. So long as your Wi-Fi is good, you shouldn’t have a problem.

If you’re a Prime subscriber and an Echo fan who needs a streaming stick, it’s a great buy.  Expert reviewers from The Verge, CNET, TechRadar, and Engadget gave it high marks as an affordable, 4K streaming option.

All of the reviewers more or less agreed that Alexa voice search works well and it’s very affordable for a 4K streaming stick. The only downside is the current lack of 4K content, but if that’s what you’re really looking for, you’ll have to pay more and grab an Apple TV.

The Fire TV Stick is a good option that costs even less at $40, but it doesn’t support 4K or HDR 10. Amazon’s new Fire TV Cube is the most expensive of the bunch, coming in at $119.99. It uses voice control, has more storage onboard, and includes a small speaker.

Pros: 4K streaming, Alexa voice control, affordable, easy to use

Cons: Pricier than budget sticks

Buy the Amazon Fire TV on Amazon for $69.99

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