Get access to an extensive library of on-demand films, TV shows and music with the best media streaming devices of 2017[Update 21st February 2017: Now includes the all-new Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote. Available to pre-order now]
There are a number of media streaming devices that allow you to access on-demand content from services such as BBC iPlayer, NOW TV, Netflix, Amazon Prime and many others.
While there are also plenty of Smart TVs and games consoles that allow you to do the same thing, dedicated streaming devices often offer a more satisfactory experience in terms of available content, user experience, regular updates and even picture quality.
We’ve assessed the highest rated media streaming devices for 2017, from the Google Chromecast to the NVIDIA Shield TV. They all offer access to the latest and greatest music and video streaming services, though there are differences in price, resolution and available content which we’ll explore below. For those who’ve recently purchased a 4K TV and wish to experience the best true-to-life picture quality, a few of the devices on our list support UHD (Ultra High Definition) streaming.
Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote
It’s the Amazon Fire TV Stick we know and love but with the added bonus of Alexa, the AI that powers the Amazon Echo.
With the Alexa Voice Remote you can launch apps in a jiffy by simply saying commands such as ‘launch Netflix’. If you can’t be bothered sitting through the opening credits of a TV show, just say ‘fast forward a minute’.
The fun doesn’t stop there. Just press the microphone button and ask to play music, place your favourite order from JUST EAT and more. New skills are being added all the time.
The all-new Amazon Fire Stick is the cheapest way to enjoy the Alexa voice assistant in your home and is available to pre-order now.
NOW TV Box
NOW TV is great as it allows you to enjoy the benefits of Sky TV without having to commit to a long-term contract.
There are 3 packages to choose from: Sports, Movies and Entertainment. These largely mirror Sky’s usual satellite offerings of Sky Sports, Sky Cinema and many of the usual entertainment channels you’d expect from a pay TV package, including Sky Atlantic.
The good thing about NOW TV is that you don’t have to purchase a set-top box as there’s an app for every platform out there, including the Google Chromecast, Roku 3 and Apple TV. However, the benefit of buying the box is that you can also get a bundle with discounted content thrown in. You can get the box along with 2 months of Sky Movies for as little as £11.99
The Roku 3 is one of the most complete media streaming devices on the market. It’s small, incredibly easy to set up and has a vast array of offerings.
At the back is a fast ethernet port, microSD card slot and a USB port so you can playback media files off a USB reader. I also comes with a pair of earphones that you can plug into the Roku remote control and listen to music or watch films on the TV without disturbing anyone else.
In terms of available services, the Roku 3 features the usual suspects such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Spotify and NOW TV. The Roku store also offers the Plex app, which makes accessing your own content from a local computer or NAS fairly easily.
Google Chromecast Ultra
The Google Chromecast Ultra allows you to watch content in up to 4K Ultra HD and HDR, from your phone, tablet or laptop straight to your TV.
Chromecast Ultra offers clearer picture and stronger processing power, so you’ll have faster load times and smoother streaming.
As well as offering content from the likes of Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Spotify, the Chromecast Ultra is great if you regularly use Google apps and services such as Google Play Music, Photos, Movies & TV or Chrome.
Amazon Fire TV
The Amazon Fire TV set-top box is a powerful upgrade on the cheap and cheerful Fire TV Stick that brings 4K streaming to your living room.
Not only does it have more processing power (75% more powerful according to Amazon), it also supports High Effieciency Video Coding (HEVC). What this means is that it’s more efficient at encoding video than the current industry standard, which means less bandwidth is needed to deliver high-quality video streams. Even if you don’t own a 4K TV set, you’ll be able to experience even more titles in 1080p.
The Fire TV box has recently been updated with Alexa voice search for Amazon Video. You can use commands like “skip ahead 2 minutes” to jump past the opening credits. If you missed something because you were interrupted you can say “rewind 30 seconds.” You can also jump to the next episode by just saying “next”.
If you own other iOS devices, the Apple TV is ideal.
With AirPlay you can throw content or apps from your phone or tablet to the Apple TV. iCloud also brings all the content from your Apple devices together, so you can create your own slideshows and look at all your photos on a TV using the Photos app.
The latest version of Apple TV comes with Siri and its own app store which gives you access to a massive range of games to play on the big screen, including Guitar Hero, PAC-MAN, Minecraft, Canabalt and many more.
Given the price tag, it’s disappointing that the Apple TV doesn’t support 4K streaming. However, it’s the perfect media streamer for dedicated Apple users.
NVIDIA Shield TV
While it is the most expensive media streaming device on this list, the NVIDIA Shield TV is also the most impressive and offers the complete entertainment package.
If you want a future-proof media streamer, the NVIDIA Shield TV allows 4K HDR video playback. You’ll get access to a great range of streaming services , including Netflix, Amazon Video, BBC iPlayer and Plex.
The Shield TV features NVIDIA Games, a new game streaming service that enables you to play premium PC and Android games on your TV. If you own a decent gaming PC with an Nvidia GeForce graphics card, you’ll also be able to stream any games you own onto your TV. If you plan on using the NVIDIA Shield TV for its gaming capabilities, it comes packaged with a controller as well as a remote control.
The Shield TV also comes with Google Voice Assistant and support for smart home devices such as Nest security cameras. It pretty much doubles as an Amazon Echo style home hub.