Streaming Devices Guide and Review
The streaming revolution offers instant access and low prices. Media-streaming devices provide vast catalogs of shows, movies, music, and games, played straight through your TV. Get the inside scoop on the best providers and how to access global content!
Already, 25% of American households have chosen to ‘cut the cord, moving away from cable and satellite television, in favor of Internet-based streaming services.
This change has galvanized innovation in the media-streaming technology industry. What started as web applications have transformed into streamlined hardware systems designed to mimic a traditional TV subscription. Streaming devices aggregate the best media providers, affording access to vast and diverse content catalogs. These TV boxes can be used as standalone entertainment units, or alongside existing-subscriptions on your computer, tablet, and smartphone.
Most streaming devices allow additional plug-ins to enhance your experience further. These add-ons include independent TV streams and clever apps to bypass content blocks, such as the VPN to stream videos. Live players can connect you to local network TV, or watch international events with a VPN for online sports streaming, music concerts, and news channels.
In short, the streaming revolution has enabled chord cutters to access what they want, when they want it – without any limitations! Plus, the services cost less than a conventional subscription!
If you’re ready to cut the cord and transform your entertainment experience, then we’ve compiled a list of some of the best streaming devices currently on the market.
Roku – Best Media Streaming Device
Roku currently offers five models, all complete with full HD support, quad-core processor and access to multiple content providers. The plug-in devices connect to the back of your TV and are controlled with a Bluetooth remote.
The Express range offers a basic service, or you can upgrade to better wireless specs, voice control, and 4k video by investing in a Stick Plus. The Ultra deluxe option offers additional storage, Ethernet connection and USB port for external controls and hard drives.
Roku’s vast channel list includes:
- Watch ESPN
- WWE Network
And there are plenty of niche streams also available. However, geographical licensing binds all of these networks. Although the hardware is sold outside the US, the content is notably restricted.
Apple TV 4K– Fastest Media Streaming Device
Apple TV 4k is a slick and streamlined micro-console that curates content from a range of apps, letting you browse all the best media at the same time. The remote uses 4.0 Bluetooth technology and the rechargeable battery can last for months.
The streaming device offers content in 4k, even allowing users to upgrade their previously purchased HDR films. When streaming through other providers, Apple TV 4k controls the picture, and will automatically choose the best output for your television.
Apple provides a plethora of free streams, such as:
- all ABC channels
- all CBS channels
- Sky News
- Young Hollywood
Once again, this list only refers to US users, so you’ll need to find the best VPNs for Apple TV to watch from overseas.
Amazon Fire TV & FireStick – Smoothest Media Streaming Device
Amazon’s media streaming devices are both compact and convenient, with HDMI plug-in. On the first inspection, the service seems sparse, as the Amazon Prime app is the only auto-install. However, 10,000+ channels can be added to the Fire TV, and 7,000 apps are available on the Firestick – including Amazon Video and Netflix.
Downloadable media streams include:
- Watch ESPN
- CBS All Access
- Hulu Plus
- HuffPost Live
If you’re already an Amazon Prime member, then you enjoy unlimited access to the catalog.
As well as a long list of TVs and movies, Amazon Fire TV and Firestick offer over 500 games. The Alexa voice search feature ensures a smooth user experience, with hands-free access to all apps. Unfortunately, a considerable amount of content is geo-blocked for non-US users. While Europeans are granted access to some local channels, the catalogs are not comparable.
NVIDIA Shield – Best Media Streaming Device for Gamers
The NVIDIA Shield is an Android-based device that claims to be world’s most advanced streamer. There are three sizes available: Shield TV remote, Shield and Shield Pro. Each upgrade offers increased storage. The Pro package includes built-in Plex Media Server. It’s seen significant success with games for its ability to stream and download video games. However, the TV and movie capacities are also worth shouting about!
As well as offering 4k streaming, the Shield supports a wide range of channels, including:
- Twitch TV
- Sling TV
- PlayStation Vue – which hosts channels such as AMC, Comedy Central Disney, ESPN, HBO, NFL Network and Showtime
The one downside is that the NVIDIA Shield is only available in a few places. So far, only the US, Canada and some parts of Europe have access. Even within these countries, each catalog is different, with US viewers enjoying the widest range of content.
Android TV – Broadest Media Streaming Device
NVIDIA Shield is part of the much wider range of Android TV streaming devices. From smart TVs to micro-consoles, there is hardware to suit every requirement. The devices offer numerous features that set them apart from other providers.
The comprehensive Google-assistant voice recognition feature does more than just search content; it can also give you recommendations. For example, ask for a “Romantic comedy set in London,” and you’ll receive a list of suggestions.
In terms of content, Android’s open developer community works to your benefit. Almost every network channel has an app available on the operating system, although they are still geo-blocked accordingly.
The live TV channel apps collate media providers into a single traditional channel-surfing interface for easy access. 600+ new apps have just been added, filling 20 collections including sports, news, and movies.
The built-in Chromecast feature on all Android TV products make it easier to play media from your laptop, tablet, and portable devices – supporting Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, and Chromebook.
Google Cast – Simplest Media Streaming Device
For technophobes, Google Cast is a simple choice for streaming media on your TV. The plug-in device allows users to send – or ‘cast’ – entertainment apps from their phones, laptops, and tablets. Compatible with all major operating systems, the set-up could not be more straightforward.
Plug the Google Cast box in using an HDMI cable and control the content with your Android phone and tablet, iPhone, iPad or computer. Once it’s set up, just push the button to connect.
The media streaming device also hosts a plethora of web channels, including all the major names like:
- Hulu Plus
- HBO Go
As well as niche and up-and-coming channels like:
- Discovery Communications
- Red Bull.TV
Users also enjoy access to the Google Play Music catalog.
Kodi – Biggest Media Streaming Player
Unlike the other listed providers, Kodi is a free open source streaming-media player compatible with many devices – including Smart TVs, laptops, smartphones and some streaming boxes. It has proven incredibly popular with users, with reports claiming nine percent of US households use the service.
Channel listings include Fox Movies & Sports, MTV, Cartoon Network, CBC, ESPN HD, Discovery, and FX. However, the open-source nature of the company is where the real magic lies.
Independent add-ons are available from many third-party providers, promising access to just about any media you can imagine. Dedicated volunteers run the entire Kodi team, but the vast external community is what makes the media-streaming player so successful.
Unfortunately, Kodi is currently struggling with legal battles, as some of these third-party add-ons face piracy accusations. However, Kodi has bounced back from similar problems in the past.
Not All Streaming Devices Work Where You Are
While the streaming revolution has transformed hardware, there’s still a significant issue. Geographical licensing restrictions bind all media players, so content varies dramatically from place to place.
Users outside the US regularly get the short end of the stick. However, if US subscribers want to travel, study or move abroad, their access is automatically restricted.
Since media providers offer no universal resolution, the best option is the use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This popular software can be easily downloaded and allows you to connect to foreign servers. This process re-assigns your web traffic with an international IP address, facilitating access to all global catalogs and allows users out of the US to watch US shows abroad.
Pick the Best VPN for Streaming Devices
To find the best VPN for your streaming needs, there are several factors to review:
- A fast VPN ensure high-speed service with no lags. It’s also essential for streaming in HD and 4k.
- Unreliable services can cut out mid-stream. Look for uptime guarantees to ensure a seamless viewing experience.
- Server Locations. To achieve access to the stream you want, you need to use a server in that country. Look for US-based servers for the largest catalogs.
- Network Size. Particularly during big events, servers can experience clogging. A large server network will avoid this issue.
Media streaming devices allow you to watch what you want, when you want. Combined with a good VPN ( see our VPN reviews), you can enjoy an unlimited entertainment experience.