Cord Cutting Guides, News, and Reviews
Last modified: March 21, 2019
By Stephen Lovely
Why the Roku Ultra? Because Roku has the best streaming platform on the market, and their top-of-the-line device is worth the extra bit of cash. The Roku Ultra offers a pleasant user experience, a huge app library, and streaming quality that ranks with that of the best products we’ve ever tested. It’s a machine that is comparable to the Apple TV, yet it costs 80 bucks less.
Roku’s platform is the main reason to get a Roku device. But why climb the price ladder and get the Roku Ultra? Well, the better hardware will give you superior streaming, but that’s not the only reason. The Ethernet port, which allows you to bypass your Wi-Fi and use a speedier wired connection to stream, is a huge plus. And you might be surprised by how useful you find little perks like the Roku Ultra’s private listening function, which you can use by plugging headphones (they’re included) into the headphone jack on the Ultra’s fancier version of the Roku remote. To hear us sing the praises of the Roku Ultra, you should check out our Roku Ultra review.
Why the Fire TV Stick 4K? While the Roku Ultra edged out Amazon’s streaming device for the top spot, we have to give a runner-up nod to the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. Amazon’s Fire TV platform is a solid choice, and you can’t beat the hardware value on this shockingly affordable 4K-capable device.
4K capabilities are rapidly becoming must-haves in a streaming device. While you can still save a few bucks by opting for a 1080p streamer, it won’t be long before you really want that 4K muscle so that you can make the most of your new 4K TV and all of the 4K-capable streaming services out there. Happily, we’re also seeing the price gap narrow between 4K devices and their cheaper 1080p peers. The Fire TV Stick 4K is a great example — for a 4K-capable device that is also a budget device, look no further.
For those willing to spend a bit more, the Roku Ultra and Apple TV 4K boast platforms that we’ve found to be more pleasing on a user experience level (on the other hand, Amazon power users may find Fire TV to be the best bet — more on that in a later category). Fire TV fans who want more features can climb the price ladder to options like the Fire TV Cube (which includes an Alexa speaker) or the Fire TV Recast (which includes an over-the-air DVR).
Why the TCL Roku TV? For a long time, smart TVs were a good idea in theory that just didn’t seem to work well in practice. Many smart TV platforms we tried were much clumsier than their straming-box counterparts, like Roku and Fire TV. But now the division between “streaming box” platforms and smart TV platforms has been erased, and many of our favorite streaming platforms are available on smart TVs. Our favorite streaming platform is Roku, and our favorite Roku TV is the TCL Roku TV 6-Series.
The TCL Roku TV 6-Series is not the only Roku TV — it’s not even the only one that TCL makes! Roku has partnered with a handful of manufacturers to produce its Roku TVs, and there are lots of great options at all different sizes and price points. Steer clear of the 720p ones, as we’re well into the 4K Ultra-HD era right now — other than that, though, it’s hard to go wrong! If you’re more of a Fire TV person, check out Amazon’s own line of smart TVs, which is also excellent. Like the Roku TV, the “Fire TV Edition” smart TV is available in different models from different manufacturers.
Why the Roku Express? There are a few really affordable streaming devices on the market these days, but only this one comes with the Roku platform that we so adore here at Cordcutting.com. Besides, the Roku Express is a much better streamer than a $25 device has any right to be.
The Roku Express, like virtually all other streaming devices, connects to your TV using an HDMI cable. But its cousin, the Roku Express+, does not. Otherwise pretty much identical to the regular Roku Express, the Roku Express+ uses VGA cables — those old red, white, and yellow ones that you remember from the 1990s. That makes the Roku Express+ the best choice for folks who want to smarten up their old CRT TVs. Why buy a new smart TV for the exercise room or the guest room if you can just turn that old one into a streaming device?
You can check out our full review of the Roku Express here. Other budget options to consider include the Fire TV Stick and Google’s Chromecast — though you should also weigh the importance of 4K capabilities, especially now that entry-level 4K devices aren’t that much pricier than the budget 1080p ones.
Why the Roku Streaming Stick+? Roku’s simple, user-friendly interface is perfect for kids, and its parental control options are pretty solid. Plus, it has a huge app library that includes lots of kid-friendly apps (or, as Roku calls them, “Roku channels”). Of course, all of these things are true of Roku devices in general. You could hardly go wrong with any Roku device here! We’re picking the Streaming Stick+ because it offers great streaming, but is affordable enough that you won’t have to live in fear of the kids breaking it.
The Roku Streaming Stick+ is not the cheapest streaming device — or even the cheapest Roku device. But it’s one of the cheaper ways for you to get a 4K-ready device, and 4K is increasingly essential.
We’ve reached the 4K tipping point. 4K TVs and 4K streaming devices are cheaper than ever. If your current TV isn’t 4K, your next one almost certainly will be — and you should definitely be thinking about 4K-capable products as you shop. The Streaming Stick+ is one of the best affordable 4K devices. Your other options include the excellent Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and the Google Cast-based Chromecast Ultra.
This isn’t to say that you can’t save a few bucks going with a cheap option that tops out at 1080p, like the Roku Express — just know that devices like that won’t be nearly as future-proof as something like the Roku Streaming Stick+.
Why the Nvidia Shield TV? No other streaming device can offer nearly so much to gamers as does the Nvidia Shield TV. The Shield TV can stream video games from Nvidia’s GeForce NOW streaming service as well as from your own gaming PC. Then there are the Android games that run on Android TV platform, which the Shield uses. A special bundle ships with a video game controller — gamers will probably want that one, though they can also choose to supply their own gaming controller.
The Nvidia Shield TV boasts some impressive hardware — which makes sense, given how demanding its video game-related tasks can be. That same hardware gives the Shield TV some very impressive video streaming muscle. While non-gamers may not need to spend the extra cash to get this device, those who do will be rewarded with superb streaming in 4K Ultra-HD, plus top-notch audio and a fast, responsive user interface.
As we noted in our Nvidia Shield TV review, this device has something of a niche appeal — but, within that niche, it is absolutely dominant. If you’re a gamer who wants a streaming device built with games in mind, the Shield TV is the clear choice.
Why the Apple TV 4K? Apple’s streaming platform, TVos, is a beautiful thing. It’s as simple as the Roku platform and is a lot easier on the eyes. And TVos can be found on the Apple TV 4K, which boasts impressive hardware specs and is a dream to use. The Apple TV 4K is also pretty expensive, which is why the Roku Ultra edged it out for our Best Overall Value category. But if you can afford to throw a little money around, you won’t find a better streaming device than the Apple TV 4K.
The Apple TV 4K has a lot to offer just about anyone, but it’s an especially appealing device to those who love Apple products and use a lot of them in their daily lives. The Apple TV 4K plays nice with iOS products like iPhones and iPads — for instance, you can use an iOS device as a keyboard when entering text on your Apple TV, and you can set up a new Apple TV very quickly just by holding an iOS device near it. Plus, you can cast your iOS device’s screen or other types of media to your Apple TV using Apple’s wireless transfer protocol, AirPlay. Throw in the fact that your Apple TV will know your Apple ID and all of the subscriptions you have signed up for using that account, and you have one heck of a great experience for Apple power users.
You can check out our Apple TV 4K review here, but here’s the short version: this device is very, very good and very, very expensive.
Why the Amazon Fire TV Cube? Amazon’s Fire TV platform is great for everyone, but it’s especially great for Amazon power-users, who will see all of their Amazon stuff surfaced conveniently in the Fire TV platform’s top-level menus. And the Fire TV Cube is an especially cool device for fans of Amazon’s products, because it doubles as an Echo Dot-like Alexa device. Cool!
It’s a little frustrating that Amazon’s superb streaming platform is so often pigeonholed as being “for Amazon fans.” It’s so much more than just an Amazon Video machine, and you don’t have to be an Amazon power user to enjoy a Fire TV device. But it would be negligent not to point out just how powerful the Fire TV is for those who rely on lots of Amazon products and services, so here we are.
There’s a lot that you can do when you’re combining Amazon devices and services. Fire TV devices have Alexa and play nice with Echo devices. The Fire TV menus surface Amazon offerings, including not just Prime Video titles but titles for rent or sale, your personal library of purchased videos, and more. If your home is an Amazon ecosystem, the Fire TV Cube will fit right in.