If you bought a TV recently, chances are it’s a smart TV with the ability to stream TV shows and movies, no extra device needed. Today, 63% of all US homes with internet access now have a smart TV, according to research firm Parks Associates.
However, that still leaves plenty of people who need a streaming device to access online streaming services, from Amazon Prime to YouTube TV. Plus, many of us who have smart TVs decide to add a streaming device. In my own house, four of our five smart TVs are connected to an Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, or Roku streaming player.
These add-on devices may override your smart TV’s built-in system, or they may offer features or services that you cannot get from this TV. And if your smart TV is a few years old, you might find that the apps for the streaming services you use are outdated or missing altogether.
What you will find
The market for 4K streaming media devices is dominated by a few software platforms: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Roku. You need to choose a platform as well as a specific model.
Typically, streaming devices are either set-top box models or small stick-style players that plug directly into an HDMI slot on the TV. Prices for the 12 models below range from around $35 to $200, and they fluctuate throughout the year, so it pays to look for deals.
The newest 4K models in our media streaming device ratings support High Dynamic Range (HDR). When done right, HDR boosts a TV’s brightness, contrast, and color, making on-screen images look more lifelike. All of these models support HDR10, and many now also support HLG, which is likely to be used by some “Next Gen TV” broadcasters when they start sending these new over-the-air TV signals. Some models also support Dolby Vision or HDR10+.
Consumer Reports has now added privacy and data security scores to the ratings of all the streaming devices we test, in addition to attributes such as picture quality and ease of use. We assess the different ways brands collect, use and share consumer data; to what extent they protect it; and transparency of companies on their data practices.
We also judge companies on how well they handle security procedures, such as encrypting all user communications by default, enabling automatic security updates, and protecting against known security vulnerabilities. .
Consumer Reports is a nonprofit member organization working to create a fairer and safer marketplace. Like all product tests and CR rates, we source all of our streaming devices from retail outlets, just like you would.
The streaming devices below are listed in alphabetical order.