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Best Streaming Media Players & Devices For TVs (2021 Buying Guide)

We are going to break it down for you on the Best Streaming Media Players & Devices For TVs to hopefully save you some time in making your decision on which media streaming device you are going to buy. The thing is, there are so many choices nowadays that it can be overwhelming to pick something out. One of the top things that might make the decision almost for you is which tech ecosystem you belong to. Are you all about Google services? Maybe you are a big fan of Apple and only buy their devices. Already have Amazon Prime? Maybe an Amazon device is right for you. If you are all-in on one of these tech ecosystems then your choice just got a lot easier…. maybe.

The other thing is, all of these devices have multiple generations in here 2021 and you don’t want to buy an old model that is still being sold in stores like Best Buy, Walmart, or Amazon. Some of these older models don’t have the latest features and that’s really important in some cases. Many of the tech blogs out there with their picks for best media players have links going to players that are years old. Because even a couple of years in tech is going to be considered old. You won’t get that with this article because we throw out our old article and made a brand new one from scratch with all the latest products and links in October 2021. And we will update it as needed.

Quick Media Streaming Device Break Down Top Picks

The Best Media Streaming Devices on the Market – 2021

1. Roku Ultra: Best overall (also the most platform agnostic)

Roku Ultra

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The Roku Ultra has the most platform support of any media player. This means it gives you the most flexibility and options for streaming from your favorite service. Want to watch Apple TV but don’t want to buy Apple’s streaming device? No problem! as of June 2, 2021, you can add Apple to your Roku. Check out the instructions here.

This new Roku Ultra is a significant boost from the previous generation, offering improved image quality and better app support and functionality. Now supporting 4K playback, with HDR support for the crispest image you’ve seen. It is one of the few media devices on our list that can truly replace your DVR and cable subscription – welcome to the world of streaming.

Also, with the powerful voice-enabled remote controller, you can easily program the customizable buttons for quick access to your favorite services. That’s in addition to the stock one-touch buttons that improve your entertainment experience.

This also has a nice feature most streamers don’t. Like if you watch the next episode but maybe you don’t want to wake someone up. Thanks to the integrated 3.5mm headset jack in the remote (and included premium earphones) you can watch the show without anyone else knowing.

Pros

  • Comes with premium JBL Headphones
  • Can mirror your mobile on the TV
  • Includes Ethernet connection for ultra-fast speeds – ideal for 4K streaming
  • Upgrades even “smart TVs” with the Apple TV app
  • Platform agnostic – more streaming services means more choices

Cons

  • The price is really the only con because in 2021, spending $100 on a stream media player feels like a lot of money when you can buy a great one at just $30.

2. Roku Express 4K+ 2021: Cheapest Choice for 4k

Roku Express 4K+ 2021 | Streaming Media Player

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The list price for this is $39 but you can often find it on sale for under $30. That makes this the best and cheapest 4k player that is actually able to deliver a great experience. Just like its big brother, the Roku Ultra, it delivers with the choice of having any streaming service you want..

This super powerful media streaming stick gives you that amazing Roku-powered experience, within a compact and sleek design. Just plug the Stick+ into a spare HDMI port on the back of your TV, connect to your home network and you’ll be watching the hottest shows in literally no time.

Furthermore, the included USB cable boosts the wireless range for the voice-enabled remote controller and helps reduce the size of the Streaming Stick+ itself. Plus, if your TV doesn’t come with USB outlets, they give you a normal power adapter and USB extension cable to ensure you can keep your Roku powered up no matter what.

If you’re one to travel and watch on the go, the super compact design of the Roku Streaming Stick+ means you can just plug it into any TV – especially if you’re in an Airbnb!

Pros

  • Super compact – no cables to deal with
  • Super easy set-up
  • Can mirror your mobile on the TV
  • Platform agnostic – more streaming services means more choices

Cons

  • The only real negative we have seen from some users are some say that it gets warmer than they would like.

3. Apple TV 4K (2nd Gen, Latest Model) – Best for those in the Apple Ecosystem

2021 Apple TV 4K

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If you love Apple products, this is really the best option for you. It’s going to work better and be a more smooth experience watching Apple TV on this Apple streaming device. This Apple TV 4K plays in incredible detail and picture quality, similar to what you would expect from only a 4K television. The device also streams from iTunes and apps like the aforementioned Netflix, Hulu, and ESPN. In addition, it comes with a Siri Remote to help you find what you need, making it easy as ever to flip through media and apps — Apple lovers believe this to be the best TV streaming device on the market.

If you’re reading this on an iPhone or MacBook, wearing an Apple Watch, or have AirPods in your ears, this is a perfect media companion.

Additionally, another major benefit of many of Apple’s products is that it works seamlessly across Apple’s ecosystems. Setup is completed with a single button on your iPhone, and it even becomes your smart home hub, so you can remotely control your home.

Pros

  • 4K HDR content playback – amazing for movie night
  • Included Ethernet connection for stable streaming – Wi-Fi included
  • Beautiful, sleek design (meaning you won’t need to hide this device within your entertainment center)
  • Connect an Xbox or PlayStation controller for enhanced gaming 
  • Can add multiple users – great for Apple Music and Apple TV+ content

Cons

  • Costly – spending $179 is a lot of money when most of the streaming media players are a lot cheaper.
  • Geared heavily towards existing Apple users and Apple streaming services.
  • You’re going to miss out on other streaming services unless you buy a second streaming device.

4. Fire TV Stick 4K with Voice Remote – Best for Amazon fans

Fire TV Stick 4K streaming device

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If you already got Amazon Prime then it might make sense for you to get a Fire TV Stick to stream the Amazon service on any TV you want. This device has currently over  600,000 reviews on Amazon with an avg rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars. With hundreds of thousands of happy users, it’s easy to see why this might be a good choice for you. This has a list price of $49 but Amazon puts this on sale often and you can get one for as low as $40 often. We predict that around Black Friday 2021 and Cyber Monday 2021, this streaming media player will probably hit a $29.99 price point if you wanted it for cheaper.

The Fire TV Stick 4K offers exceptional audio and video playback, all in stunning 4K HDR. All that tech is squeezed into something the size of a large thumb drive (remember those), meaning it can slot in, behind your TV, with no visible cables to ruin your sleek setup.

While there’s no Ethernet connection (sold separately – Amazon Ethernet Adapter), the built-in high-speed wireless connection via MIMO Wi-Fi means you’ll be enjoying buffer-free streaming all day long. Add this with the simple HDMI plug-and-play support means you can simply add it to extra TVs around the house that you don’t use all of the time – like the bedroom or office.

The Fire TV Stick 4K media streaming device provides you with an upgraded TV experience, within a smaller form factor, and at a better price. If you can forego the power and Alexa abilities of the Fire TV Cube, then it’s a no-brainer. You’ll still get all your favorite shows and sports channels, and even have Alexa accessible via the microphone-enabled remote.

Pros

  • 4K resolution with HDR
  • Amazon Alexa integration – from the remote control
  • Access to the latest streaming services including Disney+
  • Can be charged from a USB slot on your TV

Cons

  • Not compatible with all streaming services like Apple TV for example

5. Chromecast with Google TV 4K: Best for Google Home users

Chromecast with Google TV 4K

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The Chromecast with Google TV 4K streaming media player device is great if you are already deep in the Google ecosystem. Maybe you got a Pixel smartphone, Google Nest Mini (2nd Generation) Smart Speaker, Google Wifi Mesh Router, and a ton of other compatible Google Home smart items. If this is you, the Chromecast 4k might be the right choice for you.

An extra you might also consider is Google still throws in a Free YouTube Premium for 3 months (new subscribers only). YouTube Premium costs $11.99 per month, so your basically getting $36 back off the cost of buying the Chromecast 4k. This might help you make the decision to buy it a little easier.

One of the best features of the Chromecast is that it works seamlessly with the Google Smart Assistant. If you’ve got a Nest Home, you can just ask Google to play your shows on the TV, without even touching your phone or remote controller.

Pros

  • 4K HDR content for high-quality videos and media
  • Mirror your android device directly on your TV
  • Cast any Google content with ease
  • Works with Google Assistant – great if you have Google’s Nest Home products
  • Easy to setup

Cons

  • The biggest complaint we’ve seen is that the interface is “workable”, meaning that it just doesn’t offer as smooth an experience as saying the Roku player. That being said, this is something that’s sure to keep getting updates until they get it right.

6. NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV Pro 4K: Best for Games

Nvidia SHIELD TV PRO

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NVIDIA is known for its graphics hardware for computers, but they have also ventured into the world of home streaming media devices – and the NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV Pro 4K is in a league of its own. The only true streaming device aimed at gamers. If you want to play games, this is the media streaming device you want. They have hundreds and hundreds of supported titles. Also, great features like cloud save and cross-play on laptops and desktops, so that you can pick up wherever you left off.

The NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV Pro 4K gives you tons of flexibility with what you want to do with it that the other media players can’t match.

You have a Plex Media Server built-in, 2x USB 3.0 ports for storage expansion, USB cameras, keyboards, controllers. This has all kinds of connectivity including Gigabit Ethernet, dual-band AC Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 5.0. You want apps, no problems there, you will access to thousands of apps and games. Built-in Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa AI makes it a snap to give it voice commands.

This streaming device from NVIDIA is made for an exceptional home TV experience but is also one of the most costly. Coming in at $200, this price is a major consideration you have to make. If you just want something to stream TV shows and movies, this isn’t the right choice for you.  If on the other hand, you want to connect a controller and get to gaming, it’s basically a console that lets you do just that.

Pros

  • Super fast, user-friendly remote
  • Dedicated Netflix button for one-touch content access
  • 4K AAA gaming experience
  • Access to additional cross-platform streaming apps
  • Plex Media Server built-in, 3 GB RAM, and 16 GB storage.
  • Built-in Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa

Cons

  • High price for a streaming device, but gives you superior gaming.

 

7. Newest Amazon Streaming Player: Fire TV Stick 4K Max streaming device, Wi-Fi 6, Alexa Voice Remote (includes TV controls)

Get it 2021 Fire TV Stick 4K Max streaming device

This is the newest streaming player to come into the market from Amazon. This will be released on October 7, 2021, and you can pre-order now. How will this new Fire TV Stick 4K Max streaming device stack up against the competition? We won’t know until we get our hands on it but we will that it’s going to be a good streaming device.

Pros:

  • Amazon says its 40% more powerful than Fire TV Stick 4K
  • Works with next-gen Wi-Fi 6 routers for the fastest speeds
  • Amazon Alexa Voice Remote
  • Dolby Atmos is available on select platforms

Cons

  • This new Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max streaming device is coming in right at $55. This makes it the most pricy streaming stick they have.

 

8. Roku Introduces All-New Roku Streaming Stick 4K+

roku-streaming-stick-4k-plus

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Roku dropped this newest streaming player on us just this month. The New Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ comes out on October 17th, 2021 (MSRP $69.99).

Will this new Roku Streaming Stick 4k+ beat the Roku Streaming Stick 4k? What are the differences?
The new Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ 2021 has the following improvements:

  • Personalized Short Buttons
  • Rechargeable Remote
  • Lost remote finder

~Honorable Mentions~

There are several other streaming media player devices that might meet your needs that we will mention here.

  • Fire TV Stick Lite HD with Alexa Voice Remote Lite – no TV controls
    (This does play 4K like the one we mentioned above but it is cheaper at just $30)
  • Fire TV Cube 4K 2019
    (At this point, this is an older product that cost $120 but it might still be the right item for your setup if you are in the Amazon ecosystem)
  • Roku Express | HD Streaming Media Player
    (It’s hard to make the case for this when its brother is just a few dollars higher and can do 4k. If you are not worried about 4K and just the price, it doesn’t get much cheaper than this. The Roku Express comes in at just $30, on sale its often $25)
  • Roku Streambar 4K/HD/HDR Streaming Media Player
    (This product is an all-in-one product that fits a certain niche but it’s not going to be for everyone. If you already have a soundbar or good speakers this is going to be a pass for you. If you need the sound features, it is certainly worth checking it out. This item cost $129 list but can often be found for right under $100)
  • Google Chromecast 3rd Generation
    (If you are in the Google ecosystem and don’t care about 4k, you can save a little going with this device. It cost around $30)
  • Microsoft Xbox Series S 512 GB All-Digital Console – Disc-free Gaming
    (If you’re looking to buy a gaming console, you might as well use it for streaming media as well. At $300, this is a decent buy to do just that)
  • Sony PlayStation 5 Digital Edition Console – Disc-free Gaming
    (If your buying a console for streaming media but don’t want an Xbox, this would be your next best option. It comes in at $400… if you can find it at all)
  • Amazon Fire TV Recast – over-the-air DVR with 2 tuners, 500 GB, 75 hours
    (If you’re looking to get into over-the-air DVR, this is probably among one of the best options. It comes in at about $230)
  • 4K Smart UHD TVs -2021 models
    (You might be looking for a new TV with all the latest and greatest tech and want streaming abilities built-in. If that’s you, follow our link and check out all the 2021 smart TVs that can do the job.)

— Streaming Media Device Buyers’ Guide & FAQs  —

The most important factor when considering all of your streaming device options is compatibility. Take the Apple TV 4K for example, it’s geared so heavily towards Apple users (iPhones and Macs) that if you have an Android phone, this is not really the product for you. Similarly, the Chromecast Ultra is ideal if you have a Google Nest home product, not great if you don’t.

Additionally, you will also want to ensure that your streaming service is available on the media device you want. The top services (Disney+, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, etc) are all available across the board, but some niche services like FandangoNow aren’t – so be sure to check before you buy.

Finally, the last consideration is whether you need a media streaming hub or a stick. They differ primarily on speed and connection options. Large ‘hub’ streaming devices will give you faster processors, more connections (like Ethernet), whereas sticks tend to be cheaper with a similar experience, but with fewer features. I have found that a good rule of thumb is: Will this streaming device be my primary entertainment device?  If yes: go for the hub; If no: go for a stick.

Question: What’s the difference between 4K and HDR?

Answer: It’s about resolution and quality. 4K deals with the number of pixels you see – and with this the higher the number, the better the resolution of your content. You’ve probably seen it with Netflix that some titles are offered only in HD, and others in Super HD 4K. Opting for the latter is always better (but requires a faster internet connection).
HDR, on the other hand, deals with how good that resolution looks. It improves the contrast of the video, meaning deeper blacks and crisper images. Also, by using some smart technology, it stitches together three different images up to 60 times a second, giving you a superior viewing experience.

Question: Can the remote control also change my volume?

Answer: It’s an important question, as many systems require multiple controllers: one to turn on the TV, one to use the TV streaming device, and another to change the TV volume. It’s not really the sleek setup you were promised, right? Thankfully, many streaming devices will allow you to control the TV’s volume, even without any special setup process. For example, I have an Apple TV 4K and SONOS soundbar connected to my Sony TV – everything works fine except for no volume indicator. In any case, be sure to check the specifications before purchasing to ensure the device will work with your own TV setup.

Question: How much internal memory do I need?

Answer: The beauty of streaming services is that they require very little memory space on the actual streaming box. Because you no longer have to download content, you can get away with a super small storage space on your device. The only exception is with your own content and applications, so if you plan to download all the apps on Earth, perhaps consider boosting your internal memory (either with a memory card or at the time of purchase).

Question: What if I can’t get certain content to stream because it’s region-locked?

Answer: Your best solution is to get a good VPN service. A highly-rated VPN like Surfshark VPN can help you get around regional restrictions. Not only that, but it also keeps your location private and your sensitive data secure.

Question: What is a Streaming Media Device?

Answer: It’s another case of the ‘does what it says on the tin’ situation. It allows you to play your favorite content (media) on your TV – whether that’s your own videos or your guilty Netflix binge shows. They’re also a great way to play music from your home TV surround sound – great for parties.

Question: Why You Need a Streaming Media Device

Answer: While cable certainly still has its place, it’s very restrictive when compared to alternative means of consuming media. We now live in an ‘on-demand world where you get what you want when you want it. The cable is kind of the antithesis of on-demand streaming.

Stop and think for a moment: when is the last time that a friend asked you about a show on cable that they’d seen recently that wasn’t the news? If you’re like me, then it’s probably been a while! But all the current binges on Netflix and Amazon Prime are loved and talked about by everyone, and if you haven’t seen them, you miss out on a huge part of the conversation. Come on, get with the zeitgeist!

Related: How To Get The Most Out Of Your Smart TV

Question: How to Install a Streaming Media Device

Answer: Streaming devices are designed to just plug and play. Most come with companion apps, or simply connect to your existing accounts (like Apple, Amazon, and Google). They’re supposed to be super user-friendly so you can get to watching your content in no time.

Question: How much do streaming media devices cost?

Answer: These devices range in price from around twenty-five dollars to more than a couple hundred dollars.

Question: Why you should trust Ideaing? 

Since 2013, our team at Ideaing spend thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products so you don’t have to. After extensive research on the top streaming media devices available on the market, we are excited to share some of our favorite options for this year.

Do you currently have a media streaming device at home, or are you in the market for one?

Share your feedback with us below – we would love to hear from you! 


Ideaing empowers you to live smarter. Our team researches and recommends only the best smart gadgets, and we may earn a small commission if you buy through our site. Our writers maintain strict editorial independence and integrity. Ideaing is independently owned and the opinions expressed here are our own. Learn more about us.

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