We might all love the vintage appeal of a clunky VHS case, but let’s get real. That might look badass on the shelf, giving your movie and boxset collection an edge of shabby chic, but the quality doesn’t exactly cut it. You need to enter the world of streaming media players.
If you’re anything like me, you want fast access to the latest Thrones episodes.
You want an image sharp enough to highlight every drop of Lannister army blood.
And you’d quite like them ASAP.
With the rise of Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and the like, it’s no surprise that a whopping 52% of Americans prefer to stream movies from the comfort of the couch. But how exactly do you go about streaming?
The options for using those streaming services are endless; but for most, a streaming media device is the best route. They’re easy to use and serve up incredible audio and visual quality at an affordable price. Compared to the apps available on most Smart TVs, they also offer a wider range of content and tend to offer better support.
It’s tough knowing which one is best for you with the absolute glut of devices available.
How can you make sure that the streaming box you’ve got your heart set on is compatible with your favourite streaming subscription?
Is the quality going to really make your new HDR-ready TV pop?
And, most importantly for some, how can you achieve a solid streaming setup without breaking the bank?
Fear not. This article brings you a breakdown of the top 5 streaming media players you can buy today for less than $200, so you don’t have to endlessly trawl the web. You’re welcome!
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1. Apple TV 4K
I get it: you love your Apple products. Me too. When your entire music and movie life is in your iTunes library and you’re never far from a Macbook or an iPhone, it makes sense to stick with what you know.
And now – at long last – Apple has joined the 4K party on the streaming front.
Granted, the Apple TV 4K comes with a spendier price tag than its competitors, but it offers a seamless integration if you’re an Apple devotee. There’s the option to copy your data from existing devices to save on having to re-enter login info (yay!) and if you own an older version of the Apple TV you can mimic the same layout based on those settings.
As the name suggests: it supports 4K. The stunning picture quality is also a result of its extensive HDR capabilities, with added support for HDR in Dolby Vision and HDR10.
2. Roku Ultra
Roku is a giant in the streaming device world.
I mean, a lot of people say ‘Roku’ when they just mean any old streaming device; they’re that big of a deal. Don’t just take my word for it, either:
While the Roku Premiere was a rock-solid choice for home entertainment enthusiasts, this past year the Roku Ultra emerged to blow it out of the water.
Better features, easier to use interface and a decent chunk knocked off the price tag? It’s an absolute winner.
It packs everything you’d expect, such as 4K and HDR support and oodles of ‘Channels’ – that’s Roku’s term for content.
But the Roku Ultra also comes with some nifty treats. ‘Night Listening’ mode automatically tweaks the volume depending on what’s happening on screen during later hours. No more scrambling for the remote when a movie cuts from a quiet scene to an action-packed one, blowing out your center speaker.
Another fun perk is the find remote option. If you tend to lose your remote on the regular, this will come in handy. Push a button on the device and your lost remote will bleep and let you know where it is.
(Hint: it’s probably wedged down the back of the couch.)
3. Google Chromecast Ultra
Times have changed since Google’s first streaming dongle hit the market. While the original Chromecast paved the way for consumers to stream whenever and wherever, it needed an update.
The Google Chromecast Ultra gives that original version a much-needed boost. It has 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision support, so that new 4K TV you picked up during the holiday sales can get a proper test!
Google’s first leap from 1080p to 2160p also includes an Ethernet port, allowing for a wired connection should you choose. Plus, it packs in a decent amount of apps, making it simple to stream content from your favourite services to any TV. And for those with a Google Home setup, you can control the Ultra using voice commands.
And let’s not forget the biggest advantage the Chromecast Ultra has over its competitors — how darn easy it is to turn any TV into a smart TV. Its size makes it perfect to take on nights away when you can’t bear to be without your latest series.
4. Roku Streaming Stick Plus
The Roku Streaming Stick Plus is our recommended buy.
It costs less than half of most other devices on this list — and it still continues to win awards and acclaim for its speediness and superb all-around quality.
Full 4K and HDR support at an affordable price? That’s why this latest Roku stick is a real gem.
It’s a fast streamer that’s a pack-leader for a reason. Not every streaming device offers the sheer volume of apps as the Roku Streaming Stick Plus, nor does every other streaming media gadget have an easy-to-use interface. A simple screen set-up means you won’t be jabbing at the remote for ages wondering why The Crown won’t load.
And yes, its voice capabilities aren’t quite up there with Google Home or Amazon Alexa, if you’re happy to use a remote to find content you’ll be fine.
5. Amazon Fire TV
You can’t go wrong with the Amazon Fire TV: it’s an all-around great streamer that appeals to the movie watcher, TV binger and gamer alike. There’s terrific 4K resolution and it supports HDR.
Granted, it doesn’t boast quite as many features as some of the other devices on this list, but if you’re wanting a streamer for everyone in your household this is for you.
In 2017, this was the most popular streaming device for Americans. It’s easy to see why. It supports a slew of major apps such as Amazon Video (well, duh!), Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube in glorious ultra high definition!
Voice control is its biggest asset, however. If your household is an Amazon household, complete with an Echo or Alexa speaker, you’ll reap the benefits. Who doesn’t want to ask Alexa to fire up another episode of The Expanse?
Okay, I know what you’re thinking now. Of the 5 streaming media players listed which device is best for me?
This list is designed to help movie and TV aficionados get the most out of their home viewing. So all 5 devices are ones that I recommend. It really depends on what you currently use and your budget.
For those already a part of the Apple ecosystem, the Apple TV 4K is the smart choice, as it syncs up with existing devices and the iTunes library. Likewise, if you’re all into the Google Home lifestyle, then – naturally – the Chromecast Ultra is going to be your best bet for a seamless experience.
If you’re not fussed about having a streaming player that “matches” your existing digital system then I’d recommend the Roku Streaming Stick Plus. It’s affordable, has a diverse library of apps and comes in at a great price.
But that’s just me — what did you go for?
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