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To properly cut cable, you need a few things. One is a streaming service, of course, but you also need a streaming device. Think of a streaming device as the pizza crust and the streaming service as the toppings. Every pizza needs a crust, right? I guess you could technically eat a pizza without the crust, but it would be messier and not as satisfying. Like a good crust, the streaming device is what ties the whole thing together and makes it an enjoyable experience. It provides you with an easy way to organize and access your streaming services. (And in case you’re wondering: Yes, it’s a bad idea to try to get metaphorical around lunchtime.)
In more literal terms, the streaming device is what you hook up to your TV to let you watch shows and movies over your internet connection. Not every streaming device requires you to plug anything in. If you have a Roku Smart TV, for instance, then the Roku app is built in; you don’t need to add anything. Once you have the streaming device set up, you can choose to watch streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, and Sling TV. But for this article, we’re more focused on the first step. We’re going to help you compare streaming devices and find the best ones for your specific needs. Let’s ditch the pizza metaphors and get started.
A good streaming device comparison can start a few different ways, but at CordCutting.com, we prefer to begin with concrete information. We think telling readers something like “Device A costs $100 more than Device B” is more useful than saying “Device A looks a lot cooler than Device B.” For one, a lot of people will have a lot of different definitions of what makes something look either cool or uncool. But we all speak the same language when it comes to things like how much a device costs.
This isn’t to say we won’t interject our opinions about things like aesthetics occasionally. If we think a device is well-designed, we’ll say so in our review and give you the reasons why we think that. We’re not going to say that we compare streaming devices using nothing except cold, hard data. Opinions are a part of the deal when we make comparisons. But we like to start with data and build from there. We think that makes it easier for readers to know what they’re getting.
Our comparisons are built on real-world testing designed to find the best streaming devices on the market. We don’t want to just guess about how a device performs a certain function; we want to try it out for ourselves. That’s the kind of thing that gives us more confidence when we write a streaming devices comparison, and we think it also gives readers confidence when they read a streaming devices comparison. In high school, did you ever sit in a class and realize that the teacher didn’t quite grasp the concept they were trying to explain? We don’t want to be that teacher. We’d much rather be the cool teacher you go see when you want advice, except we give tips on comparing Chromecast to Roku rather than comparing UCLA to USC.
When you compare TV streaming devices, you should know there’s a pretty wide range of pricing. You can spend as little as $30 or $40 on something like a Roku Express or Roku Streaming Stick, or you can spend $200 on a top-of-the-line Apple TV 4K. And that’s not even counting what you could spend if you decide to ditch your old TV in favor of a big-screen Ultra HD Smart TV with Roku or Fire TV built in.
This section is focused more on the price-conscious consumer, though. In other words, we’re going to talk about a few of the more inexpensive streaming devices. The listed prices aren’t set in stone. You can sometimes find deals that are even cheaper, especially around Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Some of Our Favorite Cheap Streaming Devices
You’ve probably noticed that every streaming device in the above chart is just a penny below $30 before tax. That’s because $30 is about the minimum you can expect to pay for a streaming device nowadays, excluding occasional sales that may trim another $5 or so off the price. These are all entry-level streaming devices, but don’t let that dissuade you: They’ll all provide a solid streaming experience. You can opt for something with more bells and whistles, but with cost-conscious options that are this stellar, you don’t have to.
First, a quick note: When we say “streaming platform,” we’re referring to the operating system and user interface of a streaming device. So Roku uses the Roku platform, Amazon devices use the Fire TV platform, and so on. It may seem like one more thing to remember when you compare media streaming devices, but luckily, it’s not too complicated a concept.
Now then, here’s what we’ve found, as you’ll read in our comparisons: Among the best in this category is the Apple TV 4K. That’s not surprising, because Apple is known for its high-end minimalism and easy-to-use platform.
You can’t talk about how to compare streaming devices for TV without also talking about the app libraries on each one. But it’s not just about what apps are offered on each streaming device, though that’s definitely important. It’s also about how streaming devices organize and prioritize their apps. For instance, our Amazon Fire TV review notes that this device pushes Amazon products whenever possible. Your tolerance for that will play a big part in how much you like Amazon Fire TV.
And here’s what we’ve found, as you’ll read in our comparisons: Among the best in this category are the Roku devices. That’s partly because Roku doesn’t pick favorites when it comes to apps. Instead, there’s a simple app grid that’s easy to navigate. Our Roku Ultra review can tell you more.
One way we compare media streaming devices is by looking at the specs. How much storage capacity does it have? Is it capable of streaming in 4K, or does it top out at 1080p or 720p? Specs are another way of saying “How much juice is in the hardware?”
And here’s what we’ve found, as you’ll read in our comparisons: Among the best in this category is Apple TV 4K. For one thing, it’s obviously got 4K. You can also get as much as 64 GB of storage if you’re willing to pay top dollar. For more details, head over to our Apple TV 4K review.
By this point, you should have a better idea of how we compare streaming devices. It’s also important to remember that all of the above is a rough road map for helping you compare streaming TV devices. The road you take will necessarily look different from the path your best friend or spouse or neighbor takes, because you have different priorities when it comes to media streaming devices. Make sure to enjoy the trip, regardless of which route you pick.
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