A streaming media device, also called by many as a media streamer, lets you connect your TV or home theater to the internet, in order to stream movies, songs, and other types of videos.
Streaming refers to the delivery method of a media where you can play and listen to some media files even if they're not present in your PC, like YouTube videos.
This method is directly opposite to the downloading where you need to obtain the whole file on your end before 'opening' it.
Best Media Streaming Devices 2020
Media Streamers vs Network Media Players
Most people think that media streamers and network media players are two different names for the same thing, but it's not true actually.
In media streamers, you can only stream from online services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Instant video etc, but in network media players, you can stream content from your home network as well (if you have attached an external HDD or NAS storage to your home network).
It means that while all network media players are media streamers, the opposite isn't necessarily true.
Yes, there are apps that can let your media streamer to stream home network-based content but these apps aren't installed by default and not all media streamers support them.
Apart from that, some network media players also come with a USB port so that you can attach your Flash drive or Hard drive to them and stream data.
So, what should you get, a media streamer or a network media player?
It all depends on your usage.
If you only want to do streaming from online sites like Netflix or Hulu, then you should go for a media streamer, such as Roku, or Google Chromecast.
And if you want to do some extra things, in addition to online streaming, then a network media players is the best bet.
Best Media Streaming Devices 2020 Buying Guide
Nvidia Shield TV Gaming Edition: Check Price On Amazon
Best Streaming Device 2020 For Gamers
Nvidia is a well-known company among PC gaming community for their graphics cards, but the Santa Clara-based Tech giants are trying hard to make space in new verticals.
Nvidia Shield gaming tablet was one step of this whole plan. Released in 2015, that tablet got some praise for its speakers and twitch steaming ability, but was panned for its high price.
And for those who don't know Shield TV itself was first launched in 2015, but 2 years later 2017 model came with some refinements. And this 2017 model is the one we're discussing right now.
Let's how Nvidia's second attempt goes.
Android, as an operating system is basically present on every tech device right now which is not owned by Apple. From watches to smartphones to tablets, everything is covered.
And now Nvidia Shield has come up with Android TV, a variant of Android OS designed specifically for digital media players and features Google Play, voice recognition, content aggregation, and many other goodies.
And to this date, Shield is the only set-up box to feature this OS.
In terms of design, Shield TV looks more like a mini gaming console rather than a media player. There are different angular-shaped design patterns inscribed on one side, making a neon-green colored 'V' in the process.
Being equipped with Android TV, this box takes a very little of your time to be set up. You just need to connect it with your TV through an HDMI 2.0 cable, connect it to the internet, upgrade any necessary app, and you're done.
Some of the most popular streaming apps like YouTube, Netflix, Google Movies, and Spotify come out of the box in shield TV.
Deep searching functionality has also been improved from the first version, but not all apps and services are compatible with this feature.
A remote controller comes with this device that has a D-pad for navigation, in addition to the home and back button, with a touch-based volume slider.
There are different versions of this device, and since we reviewed the gaming edition here, we got the controller as well.
It looks like a variant of Xbox controller from design and actually performs very well (but not up to the standard of best controllers) if you're playing games over Shield TV. That being said, this box doesn't support every android game on the play store.
But the ones that it does support, are snappy and smooth, thanks to Tegra X1 processor, and look stunning too. Probably because these games aren't just scaled to TV resolution. It's a proper graphics implementation.
Speaking of games, you can actually use Nvidia Geforce Now service to steam them from Nvidia-powered PC over to your TV through WiFi. You should have high-speed internet for this though.
Thanks to its powerful processor, this box is a step-up from any media streamers out there. And the difference is clearly felt in the load time of apps, and crashing is practically impossible.
Despite all the goodies, there are some cons in this box such as voice integration which isn't as accurate as in some other competitors.
Apart from this, a newer version of this set-up box isn't that big of an update from its predecessor, and on top of that, 2015 model is significantly less expensive than the one from 2017.
These cons are the only thing that prevents the Nvidia Shield from being the best set-top box for gamers and the non-gamers alike.
But sadly, non-gamers won't find too much attraction in this one.
Apple TV 4K: Check Price On Amazon
Best Media Streamer 2020 For Apple Lovers
Apple TV 4K is the successor of the 4th-Gen Apple TV (2015 model) and is the first one among the Apple TV line-up to support 4K content.
While 2015 model was lauded by many for its Siri integration and intelligent interface, there were some downsides in the form of average touch controls and high price tag.
So let's how the latest Apple TV 4K model goes.
When it comes to Apple TV series, Apple Inc. hasn't really changed the design at all since its inception. Perhaps they know a thing or two about not fixing what's not broken.
Since the original model, the only thing that has changed is the size. Measuring 4.0 x 4.0 x 1.3 inches, it's neither small enough to be placed behind your TV nor big enough to be treated as a separate device.
This makes it a simple yet elegant device, thanks to uncluttered sides.
On the backside, there's a port button and an HDMI port, in addition to a single Ethernet port. There are no Audio and USB ports which is a shame considering the price you're putting into it.
Coming to its interface, my feelings are mixed, to be honest.
First, we'll talk about its positives. Yes, it's clean (as you would expect from any Apple device) and customizable. There are different apps with large icons that easily let you know where to find your favorite content.
All of these apps can be accessed through your home screen. You can drag these apps to sort them in whatever order you like, and can even make folders to group a bunch of similar apps.
From the moment you go deeper than the home screen, things start to get ugly - seriously. Apple's own iTunes, for example, has been separated based on three different content types (music, movies, and TV shows) for no reason apparently.
On top of that, there's an unpolished feature called the TV app. It was introduced as the main hub for all the TV shows you watch on HBO, Hulu and ABC etc, and based on your preferences, it'll suggest you some other TV shows running on those services.
The reality is very different though. More often than not, those suggested shows aren't according to the user's liking. Instead, they're just the latest/popular shows running on a particular service.
This makes the TV app really bloated and messy.
The remote that comes with Apple TV 4K is also different than most of the other media streamers' remotes around. It's because rather than a direction pad, you'll be greeted with a touchpad on which you'll have to tap and slide fingers in order to navigate.
This touchpad is supposed to help you navigate faster as compared to the traditional direction-pad but you'll have to spend a good amount of time adapting to the sensitivity of this pad. First-time users may find it a little too sensitive, and inaccurate.
In addition to that, there's a circular menu button, a home button, a play/pause button, and a volume button on that remote.
As the far as the content-search is concerned, Siri's performance is top-notch. Even if there's some content on a compatible app (and a lot of apps are Siri compatible by the way) remotely related to your search, Siri will find it for you.
To my disappointment though, Siri was actually less awesome in finding out apps from the app store.
One advantage Apple TV 4k has over its competitors (except Nvidia Shield) is the number of games it offers. There are a lot of games you can play with it, but you would have to buy a separate controller.
It's because playing games with the remote will be too sloppy.
The other handy feature of this box is that you can use it as your smart-home controlling hub.
Any device based on Apple's Home kit protocol can be controlled through this box. Once you would've completed the setup, you'll be able to control these gadgets even when not connected to your home's WiFi network.
In terms of performance, the biggest addition in the Apple TV 4k is the 4K and HDR ability. Needless, your internet connection should be strong enough to load 4K content.
Overall, I have mix feelings after using it. It has made improvements over its predecessor in some areas, while in others, issues remain.
So, if you're not into Apple, you can have a similar device for way less money. But if your're surrounded by the Apple ecosystem, you can now stream content in 4K HDR, albeit at a high price.
Amazon Fire TV 4K: Check Price On Amazon
Fire TV 4k is one of the two media streamers released in late 2018, the other being Roku premier. While both of these devices are similarly priced - around 50 bucks - both have their respective pros and cons.
While Roku premier has been praised for its ease-of-use and a larger pool of apps, Fire TV 4k has Dolby Vision and Alexa up in its sleeves.
Some previous Fire TV models were noted to have some performance-related issues.
In order to cope with that issue, this streamer is equipped with a 1.7 GHz quad-core processor, which is a good thing considering its small size, and it actually makes a big difference.
We managed to load apps faster, had no lag or stutter, and didn't notice any major frame-drop. All thanks to this faster processor.
Another improvement, Amazon has made in this new streamer is the voice remote control that has buttons for power, volume and mute, as well as infrared emitter through which you can change your TV's HDMI-input and control your soundbar etc.
Like previous fire TV devices, this one can also be controlled by voice commands (by pressing the microphone button on the remote), as well as through an Alexa-enabled device, such as Echo speakers.
Some of the common things you can do through voice commands is searching the content, launch music videos in supported apps, control video playback, control smart home devices, or ask for weather/sports updates.
The interface is an area where Fire TV 4k disappoints a bit, like its predecessors.
In fact, the interface is the total opposite to that of Roku premier. Instead of an app launcher, all of your apps are present in the form of lots of rows. And since only top one of those rows is customization, you can do nothing but to scroll.
Overall, this interface is a bit messy, and banner ads sometimes make even basic navigation cumbersome.
If another streamer had that issue a year or two ago, it wouldn't have been a big problem. But now due to the ever-increasing competition in the streamers market, every little mistake can be counted against a product.
Not to forget about too much of Amazon's own content on the main screen.
Another peculiar situation arises when you can't find the YouTube app. Yes, YouTube isn't available in this streamer as a dedicated app.
Instead, you'll have to go to Silk or Firefox web browser and open it from there.
It works fine and you'll able to play in 4K from there, but is not a seamless solution. And it gets even worse when you try for YouTube TV service.
There's no way you can have it here (can be deal-breaker if you're a loyal fan of that service), without some sort of workaround, like this.
On the other hand, the area where its beats Roku premier, is the 4K support and Dolby vision. For those who don't know, Dolby vision, HDR10, and HDR10+ are all different scene-enhancements techniques.
Both Dolby Vision and HDR10+ add dynamic metadata to the HDR output of your TV, which results in excellent picture and sound quality. HDR10+ is an improvement to the original HDR 10 feature because HDR 10 only adds a static set of HDR parameters to a TV show or movie.
Without any doubt, Dolby Vision is a step-up from the HDR, but you'll need a Dolby vision compatible TV in order to make this feature work.
But still, since many more expensive streamers don't have this functionality, it's surprisingly good from Amazon to make it available on a streamer that costs less than 50 bucks.
Here's what David Katzmaier of cnet has to say about it:
Alexa integration beats both Apple and rival Roku. If you're deep in Amazon's ecosystem already or you're fed up with Roku's old-school approach, the Fire TV is a better choice.
Roku Streaming Stick Plus: Check Price On Amazon
Best Bang For Buck Streaming Device 2020
For most people, the Roku brand is synonymous with media streaming devices.
Really, they have been into this market for probably the longest period of time and have refined their products over many generations.
When making media streamers, most companies end up being at one of the two extreme ends: basic and premium.
Roku, however, has continuously tried to provide a balanced amount of features at a reasonable price.
The device you're looking right now is Roku Streaming Stick Plus.
Although it was released in 2017, and Roku has since released some new products in the form of Roku Premiere and Premier+, Streaming stick Plus still remains our favorite and there are many solid reasons behind that.
From design it looks like a long USB stick, whose one end will go into the back of your TV/projector.
This way, it hides perfectly behind your TV and you don't need to create any extra space to accommodate it. There's no Ethernet port, so your only option is Dual-band WiFi (which also has MU-MIMO, by the way).
Unlike in some other streamers, there's no smartphone-remote app and you get a real, physical remote control with this one. This remote is little smaller as compared to others, but not too small.
Apart from the basic navigational buttons and shortcuts to the major streaming apps, there are power and volume controls for your TV. It's nice having not to use two remotes at the same time, and this remote will work with any TV with an HDMI socket.
In older Roku devices, there was a listening mode where you could plug your headphones into the headphone jack of the remote and stream directly to that remote. This way you could listen to music without disturbing anyone else in your house.
Sadly, there's no such jack in this one. You can still stream music and listen to it privately, however. But now you have to download the Roku Mobile app and stream music from there.
The biggest strength of the Roku streamers is the huge amount of apps they offer. All the major streaming services in the US are available such as Netflix, YouTube, TuneIn, and Vevo etc.
I know it sucks when you come to know that your new-bought streaming device won't play your favorite streaming service just because the concerned parties are rivals (Amazon video in Chromecast Ultra and Apple TV 4K, and Now TV on Amazon Fire TV).
This is why it's good to see Roku being neutral towards everyone. You can fully customize the interface and move any of your favorite apps on home screen.
Speaking of the interface, it's the best among those of media streamers. Different companies favor their own services in their streamers (I am looking at you Amazon, Google, and Apple.) and it just pisses me off.
Roku, on the other hand, gives you an easy-to-navigate interface with no up-sell stuff.
Within the interface, there's a nice little feature called My Feed which basically allows you to bookmark the upcoming titles so that Roku will let you know once they're available for streaming.
As I said, Roku hasn't tried to go over the board in terms of features, which is why Alexa voice assistant is not present. Same is the case with Dolby Vision but you still get HDR 10.
Its performance is balanced, too. Although Amazon Fire TV is a little faster when it comes to app-loading and responsiveness, this one isn't slow by any means and gives you 4k HDR video with surround sound audio at a smooth rate.
Overall, this streamer is the best bang for your buck. It gives you a nice balance between simplicity and features.
Yes, some features found in Fire TV, such as Dolby vision and Alexa, are missing (you still get the Google Assistant support though), but its interface is the best one among the media players, and it has better search than its competitors.
To get the most of it, you'll need a 4K HDR TV, of course. But even if you don't currently own one, you might want to buy this streamer instead of other non-4k streamers by Roku because of the very little price difference between them.