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Best streaming device in 2021

Best streaming device in 2021

So you need a new device to connect to your TV to stream video, but you’re not sure which one? We’ve got you covered. This guide will help you find the best streaming device — something you’ll likely use every day for hours at a time to watch movies and TV shows. We’ve reviewed every major smart TV system and most streaming devices on the market today, including Amazon, Roku, Google Chromecast and Apple TV. With the exception of smart TVs that actually run streaming software from Amazon, Google or Roku, these add-on streaming devices often have more apps, simpler remotes, better search and more frequent updates than the smarts built into your set.

The biggest name in streaming hardware, Roku, has a new $40 option called the Roku Express 4K Plus that has taken the top spot in our list. It is $10 cheaper than our previous favorite, the Streaming Stick Plus, yet is just as capable. 

At the high end of the market, Apple has a new $179 Apple TV 4K with a couple of slick upgrades including, yes, an all-new Siri remote control (the company is also selling the remote separately for $59). We have initial hands-on impressions of the new Apple TV, and that remote. Stay tuned for the full review, coming soon.

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In the meantime, here’s our favorite streaming devices available now.

Read more: Best streaming service of 2021

Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku is our favorite streaming system, with the most streaming app options, the simplest interface and the best search. It also has a content-agnostic platform that doesn’t push any one media streaming service provider, like Amazon Prime Video or Apple, over another. The new Express 4K Plus is one of the cheapest streaming TV options with 4K HDR. (Even if your current TV doesn’t support those formats, your next one probably will.) Thanks to the AirPlay update, this Roku device is one of the least expensive ways to connect your iPhone or other Apple device to your TV. At $10 cheaper than the company’s Streaming Stick Plus and other 4K HDR streamers, it’s our top pick. 

Read our full review of the Roku Express 4K Plus.


David Katzmaier/CNET

The Chromecast with Google TV isn’t quite as good as the Roku Express 4K Plus, but this TV streaming device comes closer than any other device on the market. It outdoes that device by adding Dolby Vision compatibility — to get that in Roku players you’ll need the $100 Ultra — but its biggest strength is Google Assistant voice search, which works well for finding stuff to watch. We also like the impressive integration with other Google services such as Google Photos and YouTube TV. The interface is more evolved-looking than Roku, but ultimately we prefer Roku’s simpler approach and no-nonsense search results. That said, the new Chromecast is a better choice for those already living in Google’s world.

Read our Chromecast with Google TV review.


Sarah Tew/CNET

The Roku Streaming Stick Plus might be three years old, but it’s still a good choice. Our previous top pick, the device is a bit sleeker than the Express 4K Plus and can more inconspicuously hide behind wall-mounted TVs. Is that worth the $10 difference compared to its new sibling? We don’t think so, but with Roku devices frequently on sale, it’s not a bad option if you can grab it at a discount. 

Read our Roku Streaming Stick Plus review.


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Which Roku is the go-to? We break it down


The perfect foil to the affordable 4K streamers above, the Apple TV still costs $179 but is the better choice for people who want to check every feature box — or who just want an Apple device to use Apple Arcade for gaming or take full advantage of their Apple One subscription bundles. Video purists will appreciate its flexible HDR and TV calibration feature while Siri fans will dig its voice extras. For most people, however, Apple’s venerable streamer just isn’t worth the money, especially now that Roku has all the major apps, AirPlay and the Roku Ultra has Dolby Vision at almost half the price.

As we mentioned above, a new Apple TV 4K is coming available now. It improves on the current version with that new remote as well as support for high frame rate video. Here’s our initial thoughts, with a full review coming soon.

Read our Apple TV 4K review.


Let’s get this out of the way first: If you prefer the simplicity of Roku’s app-based menus, you might like the Roku Express better (see below). But the Lite trounces the Express in features-for-the-money. This Fire TV device’s biggest advantage is a remote with built-in voice search and control (the cheapest Roku with a voice remote is the Streaming Stick Plus) thanks to Alexa. The Fire Stick’s remote also doesn’t need line of sight to work. If you can’t step up to a $50 player, the Lite is your best bet.

Read our Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite review.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Roku’s most expensive streamer is more than twice the price of our top pick, but maybe you’ll appreciate its extra features enough to want the upgrade. It offers more conveniences, including a headphone jack and programmable shortcut keys on the remote as well as our favorite feature, a remote finder in case you lose the clicker in the couch cushions. It also delivers Dolby Vision video, faster responses, improved Wi-Fi and a wired Ethernet port — particularly welcome if your home Wi-Fi is overloaded.

On the other hand you can upgrade any Roku to get an even more tricked-out remote, and the new Express Plus 4K works with wired Ethernet dongles too. Adding both to the Express plus 4K still costs less than an Ultra.

Read our Roku Ultra (2020) review.


Sarah Tew/CNET

We don’t like it quite as much as the Fire TV Lite, but it is a Roku. Roku Express delivers all of the goodness of Roku’s platform, and it includes a remote, an HDMI port and Micro USB port, an HDMI cable and a little sticker to keep it in place. And it’s often on sale for less than $30.

Read our Roku Express (2019) review.


Sarah Tew/CNET

I don’t like it as much as the two other $50 streamers on this list, but Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K makes a lot of sense for people knee-deep in Amazon devices already. Like the Lite, it bakes Alexa right into the remote control. You can use voice control to search for video on Amazon or turn on your lights. Or both at the same time. Throw in a massive selection of Amazon content as well as Dolby Vision HDR and the Stick 4K is still an excellent choice.

Read our Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K review.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Soundbars with streaming onboard may be a relatively recent development, but Roku’s new Streambar nails it. It has the Roku interface we know and love, complete with 4K HDR with improved sound for any TV, especially dialog. It’s smaller and more affordable than its predecessor, the Roku Smart Soundbar, but we think the new Streambar makes more sense for most people.

Read our Roku Streambar review.


Sarah Tew/CNET



Sarah Tew/CNET

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