If you’re still relying on your TV’s built-in streaming platform, you could be missing out. Most of these baked-in offerings feel half-baked with the TV’s already overstretched specs struggling to serve up a smooth experience. Some will even crash frequently, leaving you to reboot and spend minutes figuring out where exactly in Peaky Blinders the fight was kicking off. Bottom line: it’s almost always worth investing in a new streaming device.
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In this article, we’ve rounded up some of the best, each with their strengths and weaknesses, to help you choose your new media wingman:
1. Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K (With Alexa)
Best For: Streaming on the go
– Fast, responsive performance
– Voice assistant that actually works (no more typing)
– No access to Google’s play store
Portability is an important factor to consider when you’re investing in a media player—especially if you’re often on the move. This low-profile, easy-to-setup option from Amazon ticks all the boxes managing to pack 4K visuals into a tiny package.
Stand-out features include Dolby Atmos support and a highly responsive voice assistant in the form of Amazon’s game-changing Alexa. (That’s the same tech you’ll find built into all of their top-end models, too.) The Fire TV Stick is capable of running all your favourite apps including Netflix, HBO Max and Disney+.
2. Xiaomi Mi TV Stick 4K
Best For: Top-end streaming on a low-end budget
– Full access to apps on the Google Play store
– Low-profile design
– No support for 4K
Devices bolstered by the latest Android TV are always an easy purchase. This miniature streaming stick still manages to perform quickly and can connect over either Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or with an HDMI cable. While you won’t get the same smooth browsing experience served up by more heavyweight units, you’re paying a fraction of the cost to get most of the features baked into its more expensive peers.
3. Netogy Nova 4K Ultra HD Android TV Box
Best For: The power streamer
– Fast and responsive
– Android TV
– Great remote
– Easy to cast directly from your phone to your TV
– Only somewhat outperforms some of its cheaper competitors
This relatively unknown streaming box might be our candidate for media player of the year. It performs admirably, is stocked with stand-out features and costs a paltry sum when compared to the big names in the biz. What we like: the remote is intuitive and responsive, making it easy for you to rewind to that jaw-dropping twist you never expected. Plus, it has 2GB of RAM, so you’ll rarely run into periods of sluggish performance.
4. Apple TV
Best For: Rounding out your high-end home cinema setup
– High-def video, 60fps
– Super smooth interface
– Big hard drive for offline streaming
– Apple’s apps work out of the box
– Hefty price tag
When it comes to anything—whether it’s headphones, laptops or phones—Apple products dominate on almost every front. The Apple TV doesn’t buck the company’s trend of building high-quality tech.
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Capable of dishing our 2160p video at 60fps (in other words: those Marvel movies have never looked better) the latest iteration of its streaming device is its best yet. We like that it’s ultra-smooth and responsive, so you’ll rarely encounter lag in the menus, and all the apps are built to work with this model so you won’t run into pesky compatibility issues. Factor in the bonus hard drive space included with each model (some versions pack 256gb) and you’ll net yourself a media player that never falls short.
Only problem? It’s the most expensive on this list, and most viewers will be more than happy with the experience delivered by the more affordable options here. But if you’ve already switched over to 4K, the Apple TV is a no-brainer.
5. Roku Express 4K+
Best For: Plug and play
– Good software
– Fast, responsive
– Remote doesn’t hold up
– Better, cheaper options available
Roku is one of the default media players, and your TV probably already sports a version of their digital streaming tech. Why? Well, their devices are well made, responsive and support all the apps you could ever need. But the express leaves a lot to be desired, especially since it’s priced well above some of the “budget” options on this list. Firstly, its performance is lagging behind with even devices like the streamlined Fire Stick Lite from Amazon managing to sneak better hardware into its minimalist design.
Despite this, the Express is fast, putting mere milliseconds between you and that next episode of White Lotus. Plus, the Roku software has kept up with the pace of the streaming game and ranks right up there with Apple’s offering regarding user experiences.
6. Xiaomi MiBox S Ultra
Best For: A zero-BS setup
– 4K support
– Well-implemented Android TV
– Simple, eye-pleasing design
– No ethernet
Thanks to its relatively affordable price point and widespread availability, the MiBox has become the default streaming device for many South Africans. But with countless options flooding the market, does it still hold up? We think so. It comes bolstered with a fast and responsive version of Android TV and its simple design means that you won’t have to spend hours poring through manuals to get your streaming fix.
That’s the good. The bad? There’s no SD memory card slot for you to boot up your videos and the lack of an ethernet connection means your experience will be dependent on the strength of the signal in your living/bedroom. The ugly? Nothing. The design is one of the best on this list, with Xiaomi opting for a low-profile, minimalist aesthetic that won’t feel like an eyesore on your TV unit.
7. Nvidia Shield TV Pro Streaming Video Player
Best For: Gamers
– The most powerful streaming device on this list
– The most expensive media player on this list
A streaming device that’s capable of playing AAA games? What’s not to love? Tapping into GeForce NOW, an on-demand cloud-gaming platform that beams the latest and greatest titles from anywhere, you can have a next-gen gaming experience without shelling out for one of the new consoles. But, those perks come at a cost; and you’ll also need to have a high-speed internet connection to play games fluidly. Any network issues will result in delays and you dying to whatever creature that next game throws at you.
That said, this player isn’t designed solely for gaming. It’s a powerful streaming device that – thanks to its powerful specs – won’t struggle with any app or HD video you throw at it.
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