Guide to the Best Streaming Devices
For many years we’ve dreamed of becoming cable cutters. We’d become the first in a long generation of consumers who cut the cord from cable or satellite TV and now choose how we will consume content and how we will pay for it. But what are the alternatives to cable TV and what type of device would allow us to pull this off?
Enter the Streaming Video Device
Similar to HD Antennas, there is a growing number of streaming devices on the market and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Whether you want to watch the latest TV show distributed on Netflix, Hulu, or any other online content provider, a streaming device (and high speed wireless connection) is the only thing you need to transform your life into a portable home entertainment center.
Meet the streaming video device…Meet your new alternative to cable TV.
However, deciding what streaming video device is right for you, may feel a bit daunting. You may be new to the TV without cable scene and everybody and their mother now sells streaming devices. Which one is the right one for you?
Have no fear. The FTR crew has all the answers for you in our streaming device guide.
Top Streaming Device Guide – Alternatives to Cable TV
The following is a curated guide to some of the best streaming devices on the market. By the end of this guide, you will:
- Learn the difference between set top, mobile and other types of streaming devices
- Explore the pros and cons of each device
- Review the major brands in the streaming device space
- Understand the importance of internet speed on your device
- Identify the streaming device that meets your needs
So you’re ready to go. You need to buy a streaming device, but don’t know what is the best device for you. That’s why your here. But before we can figure out the best streaming device for you, we need to understand the content you’re interested in watching.
We strongly recommend you start with our Understanding Your New Content strategy, as we’ll help you understand the different types of content packages available. This is an important first step, as some content is easier to get on some devices…
…Ok, now that you understand what content you need access to, let’s proceed with our streaming device guide.
SET TOP STREAMING DEVICES
Set top Streaming devices are the closest thing to those big ugly cable and satellite TV boxes. Of course, the key difference is they don’t have that big nasty coaxial cable that has to plug into a cable or satellite line, because they’re wireless (yes, you can also connect via ethernet cord). Most streaming devices area also much smaller in size, though they’re normally built for one television and aren’t super easy to move from room to room.
Below we’ve identified three of the more popular set top streaming options on the market today. We’ve also provided our favorite out of the three that we reviewed.
Enjoying great popularity in the market right now, the Apple TV is on par with all other Apple products in the Apple ecosystem. As a streaming device, it seems to have it all, and its small size makes it easy to accommodate in any home entertainment center setup. Apple TV may be a bit more restrictive in the content they currently offer, but this is an ever-changing dynamic.
- 512 MB of Memory
- Single-core processor
- Streams HD programming and video content from TV shows, Netflix, iTunes, YouTube and others
- Works directly with iCloud, making it easy to watch any movies stored in the cloud
- Stream music, photos and videos from a PC or a Mac
- Wireless connectivity is available, as well as via Ethernet cable
- HDMI and Optical output available
- Exclusive access to HBO Now
- Great connectivity with iCloud, iTunes, your iPhone, or your iPad
- Good price for an Apple product
- Superior video quality
- Simple interface
- Remote needs line of site to work
- HDMI cable not included
- iTunes is required for network sharing
- No access to Amazon Video
- No games
To maximize the benefits of Apple TV, you really need to have other Apple device/products, as the majority of the benefits are tied around the larger Apple ecosystem. Since Apple TV helps to bring out the best of your other Apple products/services, those that do not currently own Apple products probably want to look elsewhere. If you have multiple Apple products already, this is a natural fit to help tie together more of your overall content footprint.
Amazon made its move in the streaming device market with its very own Fire TV. While many questioned Amazon’s jump into the device market, the truth is this, Amazon’s Fire TV is one of the best set top boxes on the market right now. Put this head to head with Apple and Roku and Fire TV comes out on top in our eyes.
- 2 GB of Memory
- Quad-core processor
- Voice search
- Over 500 games
- Access to Amazon Instant Video library (over 200k titles)
- Sleek design
- Voice search is dependable
- Powerful gaming capabilities
- Simple, easy to navigate
- Free 30 day trial to Amazon Prime
- Game controller is bare bones
- No apps are supplied from the get go
- Need to be Amazon Prime to leverage all the benefits
Amazon is used to trying to thwart the competition by offering more in both terms of quantity and quality. The processing power for Fire TV is 3 times higher than what you can see in competing products, and the amount of available content is unbeatable. Similar to Apple TV, to get the most out of the device you need to be part of the Amazon ecosystem (mainly Amazon Prime).
Prime members get free access to Amazon Instant video which has a tremendous library of content. While they may not have all the content that Netflix does, they continue to expand their portfolio and our developing their own internal content (think House of Cards on Netflix). If your a current Amazon Prime customer, than this device is a no-brainer. If your not, this might be the time to switch.
Roku 3 is considered by many critics to be the uncrowned king of all set top streaming devices. Their self-branded as the standard in streaming, and the most recent Roku device doesn’t disappoint. Unique features like private listening and one-stop search, pair with an extensive list of content options, to make the Roku 3 a praiseworthy gadget.
- 512 MB of memory
- Dual-core processor
- The remote comes with a headphone jack
- One stop search
- Streaming for photos, videos and music from your phone or tablet
- Motion control for games
- Great selection of online channels
- Fast processor
- Private listening is unique feature
- Search function is reliable
- Simple interface
- No access to Amazon Instant video
- Fair amount of software/hardware issues reported in user forums
With full 1080p support and good connectivity options – Ethernet, HDMI and USB, Roku 3 is ideal for those looking for a streaming device that has it all. Some recent technical issues with a small group of users for Roku 3 aside, the Roku box has long been the most mature on the market. Nonetheless, for the price, this is a faster, simpler and more efficient device than most others on the market.
Our Favorite Set Top Streaming TV Device
While not as mature as its peers, Amazon's breakthrough streaming product has more power, speed and memory than either the Apple TV or Roku streaming device. If you also have Amazon Prime, which we do, the Amazon Fire TV gives you instant free access to a large (and mostly relevant) library of TV show and movie content.
One of the coolest developments in the streaming space is the creation of portable streaming devices. These devices allow you to take your streaming anywhere in your house or on the road. All you need is a television with an HDMI connection and access to wireless internet. This is one of the largest differences (and advancements) from the old cable or satellite TV boxes. We’re strong believers that this type of device represents where this industry is going.
Below we’ve identified three of the most popular portable streaming options on the market today. We’ve also provided our favorite out of the three that we reviewed.
Streaming sticks are quite popular with consumers because of their small size, mobility, and ease of use. Amazon Fire Stick is just more proof that Amazon is always trying to crush the competition when coming up with a new product. The Fire Stick has twice the memory and four times the storage power of Google Chromecast or Roku Streaming Stick, and enjoys an overwhelming number of positive reviews.
- Dual core processor
- 1 GB memory
- 8 GB flash storage
- Voice search
- Miracast Certified
- Easy to use
- Good connectivity and dependable wireless streaming
- Access to Amazon Instant Video (for Prime customers)
- Over 300 games
- HDMI extender included
- Some compatibility issues with older devices working on Android
- Need to be Amazon Prime customer to realize all benefits of device
For the price, Fire TV Stick is a very good deal. Offering all the advantages of a mobile streaming device, it comes with access to a plethora of videos and movies, the ability to play games and a dependable remote. In addition to the normal suite of features, the voice search functionality is a unique aspect of the Amazon Fire TV stick. Great power packed in a small device, Amazon Fire Stick deserves its place at the top among other competitive mobile streaming devices. Those who are already members of Amazon Prime, will realize the greatest benefit to this device.
Google Chromecast sets the trend for cheap, yet effective mobile streaming devices, but pricing is not its only forte. Remarkable through easy setup and enhanced functionality, the Chromecast is the stick to purchase if you want great connectivity with a wide array of devices.
- Single-core processor
- 512 MB SDRAM
- 2 GB flash storage
- 1080p resolution output
- USB and HDMI extender cables included
- Great pricing
- Works with most important streaming services
- Easy setup
- Developer friendly
- Iffy playback controls
- Number of channels still limited compared to competitors
Sporting a design that set the standards for how streaming sticks should look like, Google Chromecast HDMI Streaming Media Player is highly appreciated by consumers and critics alike. The one majority complexity with Chromecast is your actually streaming content from your smartphone, tablet or computer to your television. The Amazon and Roku portable devices cut out out the need for the third device. Nonetheless, the lower price point and friendly user experience make Chromecast a very affordable option for those who don’t mind this additional step.
Roku Streaming StickRoku Streaming Stick (3600R)
Roku 3 is one of the most appreciated set top boxes and its younger sibling, Roku Streaming Stick has its own place among mobile streaming devices with a rather large following. More than 1,500 apps to stream content from are readily available, and the included remote makes it a fine choice for anyone interested in watching content from a wide variety of streaming services.
- Single-core processor
- 512 MB memory
- 256 MB flash storage
- Over 1,500 apps available
- Works with mobile devices, such as phones and tablets
- The remote is easy to use
- More convenient than Roku 3 in both size and price
- Great selection of apps
- Great connectivity
- Long boot up time for several apps
- Limited flash memory
- No access to Amazon Instant Video
There are not many bad things consumers say about Roku 3500R Streaming Stick (HDMI), except, perhaps, that it is a downsized version of Roku 3. Since some compromises are to be expected, the Roku streaming stick is a bit less competitive compared to it’s peers. Nonetheless, the great variety of content available, the price, and the brand reputation make it one of the best mobile streaming devices you can purchase.
Our Favorite Portable Streaming TV Device
While Amazon is a new entrant to the streaming market, they've developed a top of the line product that outperforms its peers. The speed of the device, low entry price and range of content available on the platform, make the Amazon Fire TV stick the clear winner in the portable streaming device space.
STAND ALONE DEVICES
This category is more of a catch all for other types of streaming devices. The major brands in the DVD player market (Panasonic, Sony, LG) are developing their own line of streaming devices with other bells and whistles (like Blue-Ray DVD players). The big gaming console manufacturers (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo) also offer streaming capabilities through their flagship gaming consoles.
While we appreciate the benefits of these devices, we tend to not purchase this type of device just for streaming content. However, if you have one of these devices, you should definitely leverage the streaming capabilities before purchasing another device.
Below we have highlighted three specific examples, however, we have not provided our preferred selection (as we would recommend one of the stand alone or portable).
The newest device from the Playstation franchise, the Playstation 4 is one of the top gaming consoles on the market. Not just a gaming device, the Playstation 4 has built in Blu-ray and streaming video players.
- Ultra fast processor
- 8 GB memory
- AI software to learn your content preferences
- Remote play
- Fast streaming
- Great audio quality
- Streaming and gaming capabilities
- Much higher price point for a streaming device
This is a great gaming device that allows you to stream content, however, we wouldn’t purchase it just for its streaming capabilities. If your looking for a streaming device AND a gaming console, then the PlayStation 4 may just be up your alley.
It’s a good basic Blu-Ray and streaming device. It performs as expected, but won’t ever blow your socks off. Don’t expect too many frills, and be aware that older Android devices may not work with it. Nonetheless, for its non-assuming looks and dependable performance, this Panasonic device will deliver what you expect.
- Miracast – a special service allowing you to stream content from your Android powered phone or tablet
- Proprietary web browser
- VIERA Connect – for accessing online content
- Energy Star certified
- 3D viewing enabled
- Great audio playback
- Low energy consumption
- You can watch content straight from your HDD
- This device just doesn’t “wow” us
The DMP-MST60 may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but it gets the job done and it offers decent access to a wide range of content via the Internet. Its sleek design and 3D features make it worth considering the device, if you’re looking for a Blu-Ray DVD player AND a streaming device. For those looking just for a streaming device, this wouldn’t be our recommended product.
Similar to the Panasonic device, this LG Blu-ray DVD player also doubles as a streaming video device. For years LG has consistently produced solid DVD devices and this product is no exception to that.
- 1080p HD picture quality
- USB 2.0
- Two products in one
- Good Blu-Ray quality
- Fair price
- Doesn’t blow us away
The LG Electronics BP340 Blu-Ray Disc Player with Built-in Wi-Fi is a decent Blu-Ray and streaming combo device. LG produces quality products at a fair price and this device is a good solution for those who are searching for a streaming device and Blu-Ray DVD player. For those just looking for a streaming device, this wouldn’t be our top choice.
Let’s Wrap This One Up
Wow, that was a lot of information. I hope your not feeling overwhelmed with all the options out there. If you are, don’t be. The good news is that we have alternatives to cable TV. Regarding the perfect device to stream your new content, any of the devices in our Set Top or Portable categories are great products. For those that are constantly wavering and need a bit more direction, we would recommend the following:
- If you have Amazon Prime (or are interested in checking it out) try the Amazon Fire TV or the Fire TV Stick. The price is right and the additional content library available to you through Amazon Instant Video makes this an easy choice
- If you have other Apple Devices and/or are an Apple fanatic, go with the Apple TV Streaming Media Player (Latest Model) Bundle including DeOrz High-Speed 3 Foot HDMI Cable. You truly get more out of your Apple products as you introduce more Apple products into your ecosystem.
- If you don’t have either and just want a top of the line player, go with the Roku 3 Streaming Media Player or the Roku 3500R Streaming Stick (HDMI). Roku has set the standard in the streaming device market and no one makes a mistake purchasing a Roku device.
Make sure to check back frequently, as we’ll continue to update our list of alternatives to cable tv, as new devices hit the market.
By the way, how are you accessing your local broadcast channels? Do you need a HD antenna? Check out our HD antenna guide and make sure you get the right device to meet your needs!