Best Streaming Media Players

Last Updated: Nov 21, 2019

The stranglehold that cable TV companies, such as  Comcast Xfinity in the US, have over consumers is coming to an end. In the past, cable service availability for any geographic region was often monopolized by one company, and so without competition, consumers were stuck with high bills and greedy, regular increases. Enter streaming TV over the internet.

With just a good internet connection, high-definition video of live channels and on-demand TV shows and movies can be streamed to a TV to provide a similar viewing experience to cable at a relatively low subscription cost. To use this service, two selections need to be made: streaming TV service provider(s) and media player. The landscape of service providers is presently highly competitive with some of the most popular including: Sling TV, YouTube TV, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Philo TV, fuboTV, and AT&T TV. One of the main differentiators is the exact makeup of the content bundle (live TV channels, sports, on-demand series, original shows, etc.), which is more a personal preference. Some also offer DVR recording and simultaneous streaming for multiple TVs. Most importantly, there are no contracts and so users can switch arbitrarily.

A streaming media player is the other piece of the puzzle and connects to the home network to enable the user to navigate and play the provided content. The best quality and capable media players are listed below. Considerations include reliability, video resolution, supported service providers, user interface and ease of use, and other features such as DVR and voice control.

I recently escaped the Apple ecosystem and have been happier since, but for those not so lucky, the Apple TV 4K player is an excellent quality streaming device, albeit expensive. It supports Ultra-High-Definition (4K), High Dynamic Range (HDR) picture, Dolby Atmos sound and an extensive list of service providers like Sling TV, YouTube TV, Netflix, iTunes, Hulu and others via the Apple App Store. It also comes with a Siri voice-controlled remote. Importantly, there is an optional Gigabit Ethernet connection in case WiFi is slow or unreliable.

1. Apple TV 4K

Price: $$$$

The NVIDIA Shield TV player is one of the best streaming products you can buy and offers a a similar array of features to the Apple TV 4K player (above), except that the service provider apps are from the Google Play Store and the voice-controlled remote uses Google Assistant. Additionally, it has a faster processor, expandable storage memory and better gaming options.

2. NVIDIA Shield TV

Price: $$$$

The Roku Ultra at around the $100 mark is unbeatable. It supports 4K, HDR, and has both dual-band WiFi and Ethernet connectivity. Some great features include a remote control finder (press a button on the player and the remote plays a sound) and the ability to connect headphones to the remote for private listening.

 

As a company, Roku is a relatively neutral party in this market and supports a comprehensive list of media providers such as Sling TV, YouTube TV, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, ESPN, Vudu, Philo TV, Spotify Music, etc.

3. Roku Ultra

Price: $$$$

Google Chromecast uses a different approach to navigating and playing media on-screen. Instead of a remote control and menus, the user needs to launch a Google Cast compatible app on a smartphone, tablet or PC and then click the Cast button within the app to play.  The Chromecast Ultra player supports 4K and has an optional Ethernet connection for hardwired streaming. If 4K is unnecessary, there's a cheaper alternative that's highly reviewed.

4. Google Chromecast Ultra

Price: $$$$

The Fire TV Stick 4K player is an excellent buy at this price. It features 4K, HDR, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos sound, and comes with an Alexa voice-controlled remote control. It supports most of the common service provides via the Amazon App Store. There are a few exclusions, such as Vudu, perhaps for competitive reasons but workarounds exist (outside the scope of this guide).

There is also a cheaper model without 4K with similarly excellent ratings.

5. Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

Price: $$$$

As a great, cheaper alternative to the Roku Ultra (above), the Streaming Stick+ has 4K, voice remote with TV controls, and dual-band WiFi. Given the high-bandwidth requirements of 4K and the lack of Ethernet connectivity, I caution buyers to consider the other media players if WiFi is slow or unreliable.

6. Roku Streaming Stick+

Price: $$$$

About Jack

I am the chief editor and hold degrees in Computer Science, Electronic Engineering and a Ph.D. in Robotics with over 20 years of experience in the technology space. 

Many hours, days and weeks have been spent critically researching the overwhelming product options to curate these short lists of quality items; many of which I own, use and love.

 

I scrutinize all the marketing bullshit so you don't have to!   

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