The built-in Wi-FI module supports the 802.11ac standard and minimizes the risk of slowdowns even when playing 4K Ultra HD content. An Ethernet Adapter is included to help you set up a wired Internet connection.
The ads on this device are rather annoying.
The Fire TV Cube has amazing functionality. The device not only acts as a TV Box but also allows you to control your smart home system through the built-in voice assistant Alexa. And the box has a stylish look.
RAM: 2 GB
ROM: 16 GB
GPU: ARM Mali G52-MP2
Wi-Fi (802.11ac), Bluetooth, HDMI, microUSB (Ethernet adapter included), Infrared port (IR extender cable included)
Remote with built-in microphone
8.6 x 8.6 x 7.7 cm
Thanks to Bluetooth 5.0 + LE, you can connect wireless speakers, headphones, game controllers, keyboards, and mice (also work on the Bluetooth protocol) to the device. Dolby Atmos support allows you to output 7.1 channel sound.
It gets hot during prolonged use.
This model can significantly expand the functionality of your TV since it provides access to Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video, Disney +, Apple TV, HBO, and more. The high quality of the image will pleasantly surprise even demanding users. On top of that, you are getting access to Prime Music that contains millions of popular music tracks.
RAM: 1.5 GB
ROM: 8 GB
GPU: IMG GE8300
Wi-Fi (802.11ac), Bluetooth, HDMI-male (HDMI extender included), microUSB (for power)
Remote with built-in microphone
3.9" x 1.2" x 0.6"
The set-top box is supplied with a high-quality HDMI cable for outputting images from the player to the TV, as well as a USB cable for powering the Smart set-top box. Automatic software updates do not require user interaction, while providing access to new features.
Wi-Fi does not support the 5 GHz standard.
The Roku Premiere is ideal for people who are not very familiar with modern technology. The Roku OS has an intuitive interface, providing easy navigation. The ergonomic remote makes it easy to control your media player.
Wi-Fi (802.11n), HDMI, microUSB (for power)
Remote without microphone
3.5 x 8.4 x 1.8 cm
The quick response time of this HDMI-based device is achieved thanks to the double-threaded quad-core Cortex A53 processor. Moreover, the processor has a built-in GPU that enables streaming media in 60 FPS 2K resolution directly to your TV.
The UI takes a few moments to switch between menus, which can be annoying.
The Xiaomi Mi TV stick is based on Android TV 9.0, which allows for not only streaming media and music but also installing various apps and games from the Google Play Store. The built-in Chromecast support, on the other hand, will enable you to stream media from mobile gadgets and computers to your TV.
Full HD/60 fps
RAM: 1 GB
ROM: 8 GB
GPU: ARM Mali-450
Wi-Fi (802.11ac), Bluetooth, HDMI-male, microUSB (for power)
Remote with built-in microphone
Android TV 9.0
3 x 9.2 x 1.5 cm
This device features quite a few options that enable tampering with live shows and TV series. Owing to the built-in buffer cache, the appliance is capable of playing live streams with up to a 30-minute delay, an excellent option for users that don't want to miss their favourite shows.
The output resolution is not that great on bigger screens.
By opting for this stick from NOW TV, you are getting access to over than 300 TV channels, thousands of films, and multiple media streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, My5, YouTube and Sky Store, among others. A perfect option for newer monitors and TVs that don't have streaming capabilities.
HD ready/60 fps
Wi-Fi (802.11n), HDMI, microUSB (power)
Remote with built-in microphone
2.1 x 8.3 x 1.1 cm
Amazon Fire TV Cube
A Box With It All
Streaming media players usually serve just one main function: to stream media from various sources. This is mainly what they are made to do, and what they are primarily used for. However, with how much more powerful the hardware inside becomes, the more capabilities can be added to them. The Amazon Fire TV Cube 4K Ultra HD Streaming Media Player is a great example of this. Not only does this streaming box serve its primary purpose well, but it is also powerful enough to act as a central hub for controlling all of the devices in your home.
First off, this is a streaming media box, and it does that job extremely well. Since this box is powered by Amazon's Fire OS, it has many of the capabilities that you will find from other Fire branded devices produced by Amazon. It has a full range of apps pre-installed for most of the major streaming services, including Netflix, YouTube, Disney+, CBS All Access, and of course Amazon Prime Video. Many other streaming services are supported as well, with apps available to install in mere seconds. In all, you have access to over 500,000 films and TV shows through all of the supported streaming services on this device, which is simply more content than most people will ever watch throughout their lives.
Full Integration With Alexa
One of the crowning points of this streaming media player, and what ranks it well above many of the other devices on the market, is the full integration with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant. Using this device, you can fully control your experience using simple voice commands through the built-in microphone on the remote. This lets you browse channels, find films or TV shows, and set playlists for music streaming all with voice commands. It doesn't just stop there, though. With the powerful hardware that this device is packing, coupled with the full integration of Alexa, you can even use this box as the central hub for controlling all of the other devices in the house that supports Alexa.
Yet another shining point of this box is its connectivity options. Bluetooth is fully supported here, which lets you connect all kinds of Bluetooth-enabled devices to the unit, including game controllers, speakers, headphones, and even keyboards and mice. The Wi-Fi connectivity supports the latest wireless protocols and gives you blazing fast streaming speeds, so even streaming 4K content won't be prone to slowdowns or constant buffering. An Ethernet port lets you use a wired connection for the most stable connectivity possible. All told, this powerful cube-shaped streaming box from Amazon stands heads and shoulders over most others.
|Last updated price||£109.99|
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
No Smart TV? No Problem!
Many of the TVs that come out now have smart TV functionality, which in essence is meant to negate the need of having a separate streaming media player. However, many of the smart TVs don't really have quite the selection of different streaming services that a dedicated box has, nor are then usually as robust in overall features. Even still, there are TVs being sold that have no smart TV functionality. This isn't a problem, though, as you can turn any TV into a smart TV with the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Streaming Media Player.
Although we often refer to such devices as streaming media boxes, this device is no box. Instead, it is more of a small dongle that you can plug into the HDMI port of any TV. This device is incredibly small, so finding a place to put it simply won't be an issue. In many cases, it will just fit behind your TV, being virtually unnoticed. In fact, it is so small, that the remote for the device is roughly twice the size of it. For TVs that have their HDMI ports on the back instead of on the side of the unit, this media player comes with a dongle that makes it easier to plug in. One small hiccup with its small design is that the unit does tend to get pretty hot after extended use, but this shouldn't be much of an issue for anyone.
Wireless Connectivity Options
Despite its small size, this streaming media player is loaded with features. First of all, this does an exceptional job at streaming 4K content, with support for almost all of the most popular streaming services, including Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and many others. Also, you'll notice that everything runs and plays smoothly on this device, with no streaming problems even with 4K content, and the interface runs buttery smooth without any slowdown or lag. This is a breath of fresh air for those who have used other devices that tend to get bogged down and run slowly.
A box of this size obviously won't have much in the way of ports, but that isn't much of a problem here. Thanks to the addition of Bluetooth support, you can use a wide array of different Bluetooth devices here, including your typical input methods such as game controllers, mice, and keyboards, as well as Bluetooth speakers for audio output. Speaking of its audio output, this device supports Dolby Atmos for true 7.1 stereo sound, for those who have a high-end home theatre system. At the end of the day, this extremely small streaming box is packed with features and certainly will go a long way towards expanding anyone's home entertainment centre.
|Last updated price||£49.99|
As Easy as It Gets
One of the first companies to bring streaming media boxes to the markets is also one of the best. In the last decade, Roku has really made a name for themselves with the great quality media streaming boxes they have brought to the market. Featuring an extremely intuitive menu along with hundreds of different streaming channels available, Roku has deservedly earned a reputation for creating some of the best streaming boxes available. This extends to the Roku Premiere 4K UHD Streaming Media Player, one of their latest offerings that hold up extremely well against all other set-top boxes.
The main thing that should be notable about a Roku device is that it is easy to set up and use, and nothing is different from this particular box in that regard. This device takes only a couple of minutes to set up and configure, and then you are well on your way to accessing all of your favourite streaming content. You have access to just about every streaming service you can think of, including all of the most popular ones, and the hundreds of different channels available will have you covered no matter what your tastes are. Better yet, finding any particular channel is extremely easy thanks to the intuitive interface that is included in all Roku devices.
Small Form Factor
Another area that Roku has managed to impress many of its customers is in the size of their boxes. Known for their sleek yet compact designs, those who enjoy saving space near the TV have always liked how easy they are to fit anywhere. With this model, though, the device has gotten even smaller than before. If you have seen an older Roku box, then you will understand that this one looks just like one of the older ones was cut in half. This extremely compact size makes it quite easy to place it just about anywhere you want, so finding space for it shouldn't be much of a concern.
Of course, the features this device has to offer don't stop there. This box comes with an HDMI cable, which is a nice addition considering that many other similar devices tend to cheap out and not supply one. Wi-Fi connectivity is included, although it should be noted that it does not support the latest 5 Ghz standard. Software updates on Roku devices are generally frequent, and the automatic update feature ensures that you are always running the latest version of the Roku software. If you are in the market for an extremely easy to use streaming box that will give you access to your favorite content, then you can do no wrong by going with a Roku.
|Last updated price||£29.99|
Brings Your Favourite Shows and Films Without Taking Much Space
The Xiaomi Mi TV is a low-profile streaming media appliance that won’t take much space. Actually, the unit is almost half the size of the remote control that comes together with it, making it one of the most compact and space-saving streaming media players out there.
For a start, the Mi TV stick from Xiaomi features built-in Chromecast support that enables streaming videos and films directly from mobile gadgets like phones and tablets, as well as from other digital appliances, be it laptops or PCs, to TV screens. On top of that, you are getting the integrated Netflix and Prime Video services from Amazon. The actual installation process involves plugging the HDMI stick into your TV and selecting the automatic setup mode, and after a few moments, you will be ready to go.
Service integration out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the actual specifications of the media player. Firstly, the little dongle adapter features a quad-core CPU that enables it to switch between different streaming platforms on a whim. Likewise, if a lot of data is being streamed to your TV at the same time, it will handle it without too much of a problem, owing to the multi-threaded CPU architecture (8 threads in total). Secondly, the appliance has 1 GB of RAM. Though it might not sound too impressive, actually, it will be enough to buffer even some bulkier video formats without lag or stuttering.
A Nice Middle-Ground Solution
As a neat little addition, the device's storage has 8 GB of capacity that allows for pausing the live-streamed media when you need to take a break and just as easily, it enables resuming the show right from the spot where you pressed pause. On top of a decent memory unit, we have an ARM Mali-450 GPU that makes streaming media to your TV in 2K HDR format a breeze. With this little graphics card, the stick can transmit media in Full HD with little to no input lag in 60 FPS, which is not a small feat at all.
One thing we wish Xiaomi could improve is the menu navigation time since it takes a few seconds to switch between settings. Other than that, the remote control is quite intuitive and simple in operation. The design of the IR controller revolves around the media circle on the top side, which allows for removing all the standard keypads and buttons for easier navigation in terms of media setup and selection.
All things considered, the Xiaomi Mi TV stick will be an excellent option for users looking for a small player that streams media in 2K HDR and doesn’t take a lot of space. Easy to set up and use, it is one of the smartest models you can find at this price.
|Last updated price||£32.95|
NOW TV (NTVSE1)
Not Just a Simple Flash Drive
This NOW TV may not look like a full-fledged streaming media box at first sight, however, the first impression can be a bit deceptive. To our surprise, this player, which resembles a regular USB stick, proved to be a powerful tool to stream media on TVs and monitors.
To start off, the appliance is tiny, which makes it an ideal pick for users that don’t want a bulky device residing next to their screen. The actual stick is smaller than a remote control that comes together with it, however, it is not that simple. Underneath its plastic “bonnet”, there are quite a few things going on.
The major one being the compatibility with different streaming platforms. Contrary to most products in the same price range, the NTVSE1 from NOW TV supports a wide variety of internet streaming services including Disney+, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, My5, All4 and Sky Store, with an only exception being Freeview.
Secondly, it’s the performance of the device. Although it is tiny, as we have already mentioned, it flicks through channels and different media platforms at a whim, which is definitely a plus and can be an actual upgrade from in-house TV multimedia software. On the side note, the appliance can only be connected to a monitor or a TV using the HDMI port. Conversely, you can power up the device using a MicroUSB cable.
The only real issue with the player is that its output resolution is not that great. With only a 720p resolution, using it on bigger TVs might not be the best option. However, it is possible to upscale the picture a tiny bit using the TV’s settings, which can be a good compromise for screens that are bigger than 40 inches.
What Else Is in the Box
Specifications out of the way, let’s talk ease of use. Even though the setup process may take a while if you follow the instructions in the user manual, connecting the stick to a new screen won’t be that long. The remote control is simple, featuring only the essential options, which will help you with navigating through the menus fast. Nevertheless, it works flawlessly even in bigger rooms thanks to the high-quality IR sensors on both the main unit and RC.
Finally, this multimedia player from NOW TV is easy to use, smart and can be used with virtually any device that has an HDMI port, which makes it a real steal for the price. The installation is fairly easy too, and compatibility with different media streaming platforms is definitely a plus, especially if you plan to connect the player to an older TV.
|Last updated price||£37.90|
What Is a Streaming Media Player?
An up-to-date media player can turn your TV into a multifunctional digital device and greatly expand your options for viewing high-quality media content, whether you watch it on online or use external storage. Aside from that, it provides access to all and every Internet application available, as well as social networks, video streaming websites and 3D games. The advantage of streaming media players is that they can be used with most modern TV models including some of the oldest, making a great alternative to expensive consoles. So, if buying a new smart TV isn't on your priority list but you'd like to enhance your watching experience, getting a streaming media player can be a solution. In this review, you can find the five most popular streaming media players that can boost the capabilities of your TV and/or bring to life some of the older LCD and LED monitors without multimedia features.
If you are looking for a portable device to fill in for a PC by connecting to a monitor or a TV set, we recommend taking a look at our picks of mini PCs or microPC sticks.
What Features to Compare
Form Factor and Performance
A choice of a streaming media player should start with looking at its form-factor and performance. There are several form-factors nowadays, the most popular among which are desktop players and smart sticks. The latter is usually placed beside the TV and connected to it via a cable. The smart sticks are known to be quite miniature (a little bigger than your average USB flash drive, so you can easily hide it behind your TV) and to have high functionality. The performance parameter includes the data processing speed, the response time, and the options for data storage. An important part here is played by the streaming media player's processor (CPU) as it is responsible for playing out your high-resolution videos and for comfortable gaming. The best streaming media players are those with quad-core processors. Then there is also the RAM capacity. To obtain a device with a good response time, look for the one with larger RAM, 2 GB or more. Talking about memory, remember about the media player's storage space. The larger it is, the more data you will be able to keep there. Up-to-date streaming media players sometimes feature a flash memory capacity of 8 GB and higher, or even an HDD drive of up to 3 TB, and some use external USB drives of various shapes and capacity. Additional modes also affect the performance: alongside a standard online video replay option, they might provide a gaming possibility with a special control, or they can include a DVR mode to record online streaming to the internal or external drive.
Next, pay some of your attention to the functionality. It largely depends on the operating system (OS) as the operating system is what determines the number of supported applications, operation stability, and the availability of additional features like, for example, voice search. A major number of streaming media players are Android-based, and this means you will have a whole world of multimedia entertainment before you, right on your TV screen. Be it simple flipping through pictures or playing 3D video games, the good streaming device will let you enjoy it to the fullest. Today, the smallest resolution for a streaming media player is HD format, but we recommend you to look for at least Full HD device, as it is the resolution the films are released in, mostly. If you have a 4K TV, you will need a device that supports Ultra HD. Note that the bigger display you have, the larger resolution it will require for comfortable watching. As for the screens that support 3D, it will probably benefit you to buy a media streaming device with the same option. The models with an embedded TV-tuner also exist, although they usually only work with digital TV, not analogue. But instead, you will be able to record the shows you want to re-watch later. The great alternative to the tuner will be an IPTV-supporting streaming media player. IPTV is similar to the cable TV, it uses an Internet connection as an incoming signal. IPTV media players will provide you with an opportunity to watch high-quality TV channels in both standard and HD resolution. Among the supported video formats, we'd say, the most widespread would be MPEG 1/2/3/4, AVI, MKV for video, MP3, FLAC, WMA-Pro for audio, and JPEG for images. So choose a device that supports those.
Interfaces and Controls
The last important parameter we'd like to point at in choosing the best streaming device is its interfaces and controls. Almost any up-to-date streaming media player includes an HDMI port for the maximum image quality and great sound. We recommend the HDMI of 1.4 or higher version both in the player and the TV. If you are planning to connect your streaming devices to the older TV models, you will probably need the composite and the component video outputs. At the same time, to play sound via the external acoustic system, you should, probably, consider the number and types of audio outs, which can be either digital optical, or have coaxial connections with analogue stereo outputs. The awesome addition to your best-streaming media player will be the availability of a USB input and a place to put a memory card in. It will make the content transfer a piece of cake. As for the controls, all standard media streaming devices operate on closed systems and go with a classic remote control. More cutting-edge devices might be equipped with a QWERTY-keyboard remote, voice search option, and embedded sensors to determine their position in space (the Air Mouse). About half of modern streaming media players can be controlled via your smartphone or another device using an official application. Sometimes you can connect a keyboard and a mouse to type and use social networks. And for fierce gamers, the gaming remote is surely a must.
Here we have told you the info you can use to make your final choice. Now let us proceed to the best streaming media players on the market as of today.
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2. Lauren Barret Finding the Best Streaming Media Player: Roku vs Chromecast vs Amazon Fire vs Apple TV, Money Under 30. March 23, 2016.
3. Streaming Media Buying Guide, ConsumerReports. Last updated: September 2016.
4. Marshall Honorof How to Buy a Streaming Media Player, Tom's Guide. May 4, 2016.
5. Brittany Hodak RIP VHS: World's Last VCR Will Be Made This Month, Forbes. July 23, 2016.