Ever since Roku debuted its first Netflix player back in 2008, streaming boxes have been a favorite tool of cord-cutters. These days, streaming boxes like the Roku Ultra, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV can do a whole lot more than just play Netflix. They're versatile devices that can manage a variety of streaming subscriptions, and many of them also offer social media apps and even games.
But when it comes to non-streaming functionality like gaming, not all streaming devices are created equal. So which ones will game-loving cord cutters prefer? We're ranking seven of the most common types of streaming devices – including OTT boxes, streaming sticks, and (of course) gaming consoles – from worst to best in gaming capabilities.
The Roku is, for our money, one of the very best streaming devices out there. Its simple interface and huge channel selection make it arguably the single best device for streaming. But in games, the Roku lags far behind its competition. Out of its massive 3,000+ channel selection, only 131 of them are games. The Roku controller isn't really suited for gaming, and the only really worthwhile games are retro arcade offerings like Galaga. Don't get us wrong, we're huge Galaga fans, but we want more. If you absolutely want to play some kind of game and Roku is all that is available to you, you’ll likely notice that good quality will be sorely missing.
6. Apple TV
Apple TV has done a much better job than Roku of integrating games into its app offerings. They have some big names in their app store, including Guitar Hero and Rayman. You'll have to turn to a third-party manufacturer to get a decent gaming controller for Apple TV, but there are more than a few decent games available for the device. As with most streaming boxes, there's nothing too in-depth, but casual gamers will have a blast. If your Apple profile is connected to your Apple TV and your iPad or iPhone where you play iOS games, you can save your game data to the cloud and access it wherever you are.
Apple TV also offers AirPlay, which lets you put your iOS screen up on your TV. Play Clash of Clans the way it was meant to be played!
Chromecast's limited gaming selection includes some fun little apps, but they have a long way to go before they can tangle with the big boys. If you’re intent on playing games with your Chromecast, the most recent generation (Chromecast with Google TV and Chromecast Ultra) will have the largest selection. Some Chromecast games are only compatible with Android devices, some only with iOS devices, and some games can handle both. Most Chromecast gaming fare is digital versions of board games and simple, retro-styled arcade games. You also have the ability to cast your Steam games to your Chromecast device by downloading the Steam Link app.
4. Amazon Fire TV
Will you be able to play the most modern, triple-A games on your Amazon Fire TV? No. Will you be able to play a surprising number of retro and contemporary games that include some of your favorites from the ‘90s and 2000s? Yes! Amazon is making games a priority and will frequently advertise its Luna controller, which looks and functions just like a traditional Xbox or PlayStation controller would but allows access to Amazon’s cloud gaming service. If you need to keep up to date with the latest and greatest games, you’ll have to look elsewhere for your fix, but Amazon Fire TV offers plenty for casual gamers.
3. Nvidia Shield
Nvidia Shield targets gamers with a unique proposition. If you're a PC gamer, you can cast games to your big screen and use the Nvidia Shield controller to play. It's a clever idea, and it's a great fit for those who already have their gaming device of choice and just need a way to get it on the same screen as their streaming services. Connect your Steam or Epic Games Store account to play PC games in your living room.
Nvidia Shield also offers a strong selection of games that can be housed on the device itself. Since the Nvidia Shield runs Android, you'll have access to a fair number of Android games that work well with the device's controller. As you'd expect, these games are more of the lightweight fare that you can expect from the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV. Still, with Steam and Epic Games Store compatibility, Nvidia Shield is the most gaming-focused of the dedicated streaming boxes.
2. Xbox Series X/S / PlayStation 5
We're now into the portion of the list that will force you to sacrifice either convenience or functionality in order to emphasize gaming. Both of the current-gen consoles have fewer supported apps than the dedicated streaming boxes. With that said, though, you'll still have your major streaming services (like Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, etc.) covered, and you'll get a gaming experience that's miles beyond anything that the streaming-first devices can offer. Sony even offers a PlayStation 5 media remote that looks and works just like a traditional streaming device remote.
Obviously, the streaming-focused devices on this list were never going to top the gaming-focused devices that we ranked numbers one and two. But balancing gaming and streaming is a matter of personal preference. For many cord-cutters, the middle devices on this list might be better.
1. Media Center PC
We're streaming device apologists, but for die-hard gamers, there's really only one true option for the living room. A dedicated entertainment PC can handle both streaming and gaming demands.
Of course, streaming boxes thrive in part because PCs don't offer quite as convenient of an interface for us couch potatoes. To better replicate the convenience of a streaming box, try installing a media center app like Kodi on your PC. With the right setup, you should be able to access all of your content without having to keep a keyboard and mouse on the coffee table. With modern advancements in hardware and PC case design, you can build or buy a PC that doesn’t take up oodles of living room space. There's no way to replicate the small footprint of a Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick with a media center PC, but if you set up the interface well enough and eschew the RGB lights gamers seem to love, perhaps you'll be able to convince your roommate or spouse that this is the way to go. We'll be rooting for you.