We have already looked at DVRs. Before getting into the various streaming services, let’s talk about a few more ways to run them. If you don’t need to record live TV, then we recommend using a set-top box (or stick), even if you already have a Smart TV. Here are the most popular streaming devices.
The Fire TV and Fire TV Stick are Amazon products. If you have an Amazon Prime membership, this will complement that very well. These are very capable and we, actually, use them ourselves. One unique feature is that their Alexa voice assistant is built-in and you can press a button on their remote and tell Alexa to play a show, play a song, tell a joke, etc.
Roku Ultra, Roku Streaming Stick, and Roku Express are favorites for many. They do not serve their own content so they do not play favorites. Roku is great searching and switching between different streaming services. The Roku Ultra includes a remote that will allow you to also control your TV volume and turn it on and off. The drawback to most other systems is that you need to keep your TV remote out just to turn it on and adjust the volume. The Roku Express+ will work on older TVs without an HDMI input as they come with composite cables.
If you are already invested in the Apple ecosystem, this may be for you. If your video library is entirely in iTunes, then this is your only real option to get access to that library. It starts at $179 so it’s the highest priced option. One notable drawback is that it offers no support for Amazon Video, so Prime members are out of luck with this one. You can find more details about it here.
This device works differently than the other streaming devices. The first thing you will notice that it’s not really a box, it’s a small dongle that plugs directly into an HDMI port on your TV. To use this you “cast” from your smartphone or computer. The drawback here is that you have to use your phone, tablet or computer to watch the cast on TV. It is best for people who usually watch on their phones or computers or for casual TV streamers. They have two models. The standard Chromecast and the Chromecast Ultra.
If you have a gamer in the house and you already have an XBOX One X or a Playstation 4 then you can use it for watching TV along with playing games. Both will play Blu-Ray discs as well as run many TV streaming apps.
Here are a number of reasons why we recommend using another set-top box instead of your smart TV. The apps on smart TVs are not usually updated as frequent as necessary. There are some privacy issues that may exist in some of them. Some of them embed ads in their product. You have to pay more for a smart TV. If you are looking for a new TV and find a so-called dumb TV where you like the picture, and the size is what you want. Get it. Add a separate set-top box and you will have a smarter TV for less money. Most TVs you will find now are smart TVs though. It is okay to get one. We just suggest you ignore those features on the TV are using a separate set-top box.
Of course, there is always an exception. There are TVs (Fire TV Edition or Roku TV) with the functionality of those streaming devices built-in. However, they need to get better with updates and security before I can recommend them.
Okay, but which one is best?
There really is not a best option. However, there is the best option for you. It depends on what and how you like to watch. If you are already invested in a system or already watch the content that a certain streaming device handles best, then the best for you should stand out as you read about them. If not, then it’s always a safe bet to go with a Roku.