Best media streaming devices 2021: Reviews and buying advice


It’s an excellent time to buy a media streaming device, whether you’ve just cut the cable cord or you’re looking to supplement your TV package with an online video service like Netflix, Hulu, or a newcomer like Apple TV+ or Disney+. Compared to the typical smart TV, standalone streamers such as the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and the all-new Nvidia Shield TV tend to have bigger app selections, faster performance, and more features. And with so much competition between device makers, the hardware is becoming faster, more capable, and more affordable.

We constantly test all the latest devices, including Roku players, Fire TV devices, Android TV devices, Apple TV, and Chromecast. We review each new generation of hardware and constantly revisit the software and app selection so we can help you determine which platform is right for you. Here are our picks for the best streaming boxes and sticks, along with all of our most current product reviews. Our recommendations will change over time as new products come to market.  

Updated June 4, 2021 to add our Apple TV 4K (2021) review. The second generation of Apple’s 4K streamer is pricey to be sure, but it earns its price tag by offering features, polish, and privacy protections you won’t find on anything else in its class. All that said, we’re naming it our runner-up in this category, because the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K costs a fraction of what Apple wants for its device.

Best 4K HDR streaming device

Amazon got pretty much everything right with its latest streaming stick. The Amazon Fire TV 4K of course supports 4K streaming, but it also delivers all the HDR formats you could want (including HDR10+ and Dolby Vision), it supports Dolby Atmos soundtracks for truly immersive audio, and it includes hardware-accelerated MPEG-2 video decoding for cord cutters who want to stream live TV over their home networks. 

You’ll find Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant onboard, too, and the new remote can control your TV’s power and volume—including a mute function. It’s not absolutely perfect—YouTube TV subscribers will be disappointed to hear they’ve been ignored—but it is the best deal in media streaming hardware you can buy today.

Runner-up

If the second-generation Apple TV 4K didn’t cost $179, it would have been our hands-down top pick in this category. It is a fabulous piece of hardware with a feature set that no competitor can come close to, and its aluminum-wrapped remote control is as classy as the competition’s is plasticky. And while our review focuses on its media-streaming abilities, it should also be mentioned that it can also serve as a HomeKit smart-home hub and a Thread border router. Finally, Apple is unique in its efforts to protect its users’ privacy. But you’ll have to pay to play.

Best voice-controlled media streamer 

Voice control is the future of the smart home, and Amazon comes closest to delivering it in the living room with its second-generation Amazon Fire TV Cube. Could it be even better? For sure, and our review points how the areas where it still falls short. But nothing else comes close—yet. 

Other options to consider

The Apple TV HD is very expensive at $149, even if it does come with the same new remote that ships with the even more expensive Apple TV 4K. This 1080p streamer is a good choice for folks who’ve devoted themselves to the Apple ecosystem—including the Apple TV+ streaming service (you can read our review of Apple TV+ here)—but can’t pull the trigger on the  $179 second-gen Apple TV 4K (or who don’t have a 4K TV to take advantage of it.



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