The Best Media Streaming Devices of 2017

10

Today we live in the digital age, whether you are used to it or not. Digital media has become a crucial part of our everyday lives and it is also one of the only ways we consume media anymore. Between online media marketplaces and streaming video services, Internet video is becoming delivery system for many viewers. This content, however, is best watched on flat-screen in the living room, not on a small computer screen.

The products that are gaining more popularity are streaming devices and can be found in more houses than ever before. As they are becoming so popular, more and more companies are jumping on-board, creating a lot of confusion between buyers. If you are still unaware of media streaming devices, then hang on, because we are going to tell you everything about media streamers.

“Media streamers are modern set-top boxes that deliver streaming content and internet directly to a TV”.

Many media streamers also content such as movie and music files stored on a computer or hard drive. At a variety of price-points and with wide range of features, it is easy to find the best media streamer.

There are innumerable advantages of the media streaming in such socially active digital world, users can easily access the interactive applications and personalized lists. You get fully control of the running apps like what visitors are watching and for how long; this definitely is optimal from any perspective. Moreover rights over the intellectual property stay secure all the way through. Amazing! Isn’t it?

Media streamers offer smart TV functionality to any TV and are built in increasingly to Blu-ray players, gaming consoles, and other devices. Other media streamers are standalone set-top boxes having a variety of connections and features. You should carefully research media streamers before buying to make sure you get the services and features you need. We have compiled a list of best media streaming devices of 2017 to ease out your search hunt.

Roku Streaming Stick:

Roku is the king of streaming featuring more worthwhile apps than anybody else. It is much faster, as speedy as the Roku 2 and Roku 3 boxes and also feels responsive as any modern media streaming device. It lacks voice search and headphone jack found on Roku 3’s remote but both of those features can be used via Roku’s app on your phone.

Roku Streaming Stick (3600R) (2016 Model)

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Features

  • Powerful quad-core processor and fast dual-band wireless. 8x more processing power than before.
  • Access to Amazon, VUDU, Netflix, Hulu, Google Play, and more.
  • Portable for different HDTVs in your home, hotel, and dorm rooms.
  • Unbiased search results across top channels to find where it's free or cheapest to watch.
  • Comes with mobile app for iOS and Android with voice search and private listening.

The Roku streaming stick works flawlessly. It connects to both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks without any problem and serves up video with no delays. Video takes a second or two to ramp up to full quality but that’s fine for streamers and the Stick performs just as well as any other in this area.

Roku claims that the new Stick is eight times faster than the old Stick because of its new quadcore processor. It launches apps much faster than the old one and basically at the speed as the Roku 2 and handily beats the Amazon stick. It moves smoothly through the menus and responds quickly to other remote commands.

The new Stick boosts faster which if nice if you want to connect it to USB port on your TV for power. It fits fine into the HDMI ports of most TV but not all. If the port you want to use is recessed, the length of the stick, the power cable as well as the HDMI jack itself might not be too much. You will need about 3.75 inches.

If the TV connection is too tight you might need a “port saver”, which is a short female-to-male HDMI extension cable. It also has a remote which works via a form of Wi-Fi as long as it is in the same room. And you can also set it aside and use the remote app on your Android phone or iPhone instead.

One of Roku’s most popular features is “Private listening” where you plug your headphone into the remote automatically muting the TV’s audio. The Stick remote doesn’t feature it but it features the app.

The only caveat with the system is lip-sync delay via Bluetooth. With wired headhpones, there is a very brief delay while with a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones, sync becomes an issue. These days, about every decent media streaming device features most of the major apps including Youtube, Hulu, Watch ESPN, Netflix, Plex and PBS Kids and all offer many more. Still Roku has the best selection overall, especially since it offers Amazon unlike Chromecast/Android TV and Apple TV.

Pros:

  • One of the least expensive devices
  • Can listen via phone’s headphone jack
  • More apps, better search and more customization

Cons:

  • No Ethernet port
  • Some app interfaces are less polished
  • Private listening features loses lip-sync with few Bluetooth headphones

In streaming-video hardware, the new Roku Streaming Stick is the best value.

Roku Premiere+:

Gadgets always precede stuff you can use with them. There are plenty of TVs with high dynamic range (HDR) and 4K resolution but you can rarely watch movies and TV shows in HDR and/or 4K. That’s one reason you should not rush to purchase a device like Roku Premiere+ and also there is not enough 4K, HDR stuff to watch, to make it a must have.

Roku Premiere+ Streaming Media Player

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Features

  • Ultra-smooth streaming with our fast quad-core processor and 802.11ac dual-band wireless.
  • 4K Ultra HD at 60fps with four times the resolution of 1080p HD, delivering crisp detail and brilliant, life-like images.
  • Vibrant HDR displaying an incredible range of colors, brighter whites, and deeper blacks.
  • Enhanced point anywhere remote with headphones for private listening.
  • Unbiased search across top channels. Find where it's free or cheapest to watch.

For someone having a new 4K HDR TV and who wants to surround it with best compatible gadgets, the Premiere+ makes the most sense out of all choices. You may already have other 4K streaming options such as 4K Blu-ray player or 4K game console or the smart TV systems built into your TV and if you are happy with that, feel free to skip the Premiere+. No other single device, on the other hand, can match Roku’s selection of HDR and 4K apps and services and no smart TV system is simple to use or updated as regularly.

It would be great if you have a 4K HDR TV and you want a single device to handle all your media streaming needs. The Premiere+ can serve up lower quality streams also and can access all of the thousands of apps that any other Roku can. Many apps including heavy hitters like HBO Now/Go, Hulu, Sling TV and Watch ESPN, don’t offer 4K or HDR yet. And the Premiere+ will be among the first devices gaining access to those streams when they offer.

Every 4K HDR TV has apps that support 4K and/or HDR. Depending on your TV and the type of services you enjoy, you might be fine streaming without an external box. Roku in particular, on the other hand, has more streaming apps that offer HDR, 4K and standard video streams and makes those streams and apps easier to find and use. Also it is updated more often than most smart TVs providing single and convenient source for all your internet video.

The Roku’s interface is best on the market providing a simple list of apps you can add, delete and arrange anywhere you want. The Premiere+ is better than the competitors because of the selection of 4K HDR apps.

Pros:

  • Can access more movies and TV shows in HDR and 4K than most rival devices
  • Better features for money
  • Offers better search, more apps and more customization

Cons:

  • Content in HDR and 4K is still uncommon
  • Doesn’t work with Dolby Vision HDR
  • No voice capability on remote

The best thing is that it is a Roku. It has everything good about that platform, a dead simple interface, the industry’s best app selection, universal search across more than 100 apps without prioritizing one content source or store, a headphone jack remote and 4K and HDR. For 4K HDR TV owners, the Premiere+ is a good choice.

Apple TV 

Apple discontinued the inaugural version of Apple TV narrowing the product line to two version of updated Apple TV released in 2015: the 32GB $149 model and 64GB $199 model. Both have integrated Apple’s app store, a new remote control with a touchpad, device operation and support for Siri voice-recognition for search.

If you are familiar with Apple TV, you might want to know the improvements and changes made since launch which include more than 5,000 apps, support for Bluetooth keyboards, dictation to use voice to enter text on screen, Live tune-in to ask Siri to go to a live channel directly inside supported live TV apps like CBS All Access and Watch ESPN, podcast app, folder support for apps, Conference Room Display to lock Apple TV in education and business environments, iCloud Photo Library and Live Photos and additional Siri language support.

Apple didn’t break the physical mold if compared to the old device. Rounded corners, glossy edges and a matte top with requisite logo- two small boxes look almost identical. The new one is 0.4 inch taller and weighs 5.4 ounces more and also feels like a solid brick when pulled out of the box.

However, the Apple TV 2015 feels better than the original to use. Talking about the remote, it has a touchpad, a few more buttons and a mic icon to evoke Siri. The touchpad of remote is fast and sensitive with just right amount of friction and perfect size for one-thumb operation.

It has great menus, a white, clean canvas to fill with app icons. The Apple TV home page allows nearly full customization. You can also group different apps into folders and name then anything you want with a quick and painless process especially if you use voice to name them. Just tap mic button and speak.

Apple has improved the organization of store since launch by adding the ability to search by voice for example. It is relatively well-organized given the number of apps available. one thing to know about gaming on the Apple TV is that you can always use the remote included and you don’t need to buy a separate controller. The other thing is that with many games, a controller works better.

The Apple TV is the most luxurious you can purchase today. It delivers HBO, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime and the rest with more refinement than other direct competitors. Its fluidity, speed, slick remote and superb voice search and command are enough to make it a no-brainer upgrade from old Apple TV.

Pros:

  • Delivers most polished video experience
  • Best remote
  • Excellent selection of apps

Cons:

  • No dedicated app for Amazon
  • Costs more than similar devices

Apple TV’s awesome voice control and remote make it one of the best entertainment devices especially for someone already having plenty of Apple gadgets.

Amazon Fire TV Stick With Alexa Voice Remote:

It is a slim and compact streaming device that can discreetly hide behind the TV. The only real downside compared to boxes is its lacks of ports like Ethernet, USB, MicroSD and optical audio. The new Fire TV Stick has 1080p resolution instead of 4K unlike many of streaming boxes. The new Stick does have HEVC decoding like 4K-capable Fire TV box so it can benefit from the superior compression format for using the less bandwidth for similar picture quality.

All-New Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote | Streaming Media Player

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Features

  • The next generation of our bestselling Fire TV Stick. The most powerful streaming media player under $50-now with the Alexa Voice Remote.
  • Enjoy over 7,000 apps, games, and Alexa skills including Netflix, Hulu, HBO NOW, YouTube, Amazon Video, NBC, WatchESPN, Disney, and more. Subscription fees may apply.
  • Launch and control content with the included Alexa Voice Remote. Simply say, "Play Game of Thrones" or "Launch Netflix" and Alexa will respond instantly. Plus, play music, find movie show times, order a pizza, and more-just ask.
  • No cable or satellite? No problem. Watch the best of live TV and sports from AMC, HGTV, ESPN, FOX, and others with a subscription to Sling TV, or top-rated primetime shows with CBS All Access.
  • Find the best way to watch with universal search results from over 100 channels and apps including Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video

The newer version of Fire TV stick is little chunkier than the original but still very small. If your TV’s back is too cramped to house it, you can use the included “port saver” HDMI adapter included in the box.

The new Fire TV Stick improves Wi-Fi capability from 802.11n to 802.11ac and for private listening also adds the ability to connect to a set of Bluetooth wireless headphones and shows good enough lip-sync also. Lip-sync issue can vary on different Bluetooth headphones.

Like other sticks, power for Amazon can come from a standard AC wall socket via included adapter and cable or from a USB port. Amazon claims a 30% boost in speed as compared to original Fire TV Stick because of its new quad-core processor and new version is certainly faster in many ways.

The most popular apps offer the biggest differences. The PlayStation Vue was quite sluggish on the old stick whereas on the new one, it is definitely faster. Navigation of the complex menu is also more responsive and quicker without the frustrating lag of the old Stick. Sling TV also launches faster and responds more quickly on the new Stick. Hulu is more of a wash with a slight edge on the new Stick. On the other hand, Showtime and HBO Now, are about the same on both devices.

Generally games require better processing than streaming apps and if you want to play games on your Stick, the new one is worth the investment. You can connect a Bluetooth gaming controller just like with every Fire TV device, although many games work using the remote included. Amazon claims the new Stick has access to games that were previously unavailable on the old model. The new Stick remains an excellent value with a lot of content and is faster. It is no brainer buy for people who prefer talking than pressing buttons and for heavy Amazon video watchers.

Pros:

  • Least expensive streaming device
  • Lightning fast
  • As responsive as other devices

Cons:

  • Interface pushes Amazon content too aggressively
  • Less useful than with always-on devices

The affordable, fast new Fire TV stick is great for fans of Amazon who want to use its voice capabilities and an excellent value but still it is not as good as Roku.

Roku Express+:

The Roku Express+, a little box which is smaller than its remote control, is packed with streaming apps including Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Video and thousands more. Many other devices can do the same thing but none of them work with analog video unless you buy an adapter so none can connect directly to older TVs.

Roku Express+

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Features

  • Turn your older TV into a smart TV with the Roku Express+, which works for TVs with HDMI or composite cable
  • You'll get the Roku streaming player experience at an incredible price
  • Set-up is effortless
  • Kick back and access to 350,000+ movies and TV episodes across 3,500+ paid or free channels, including Netflix, VUDU, Hulu and PBS KIDS
  • There are no monthly rental fees for owning a Roku Express+ - it's so affordable, you can make every TV in your home smart

The Express+ is an analog-capable version of $30 Roku Express which is completed with simple interface, best-in-class app selection and comprehensive search. There is a little reason to get Express+ if your TV has an HDMI input. On the other hand, the Express+ has HDMI so it might be worth getting if you anticipate needing the analog outputs at some point.

The only physical difference between the two small Rokus is that the Express+ features a little minijack port on the back labeled AV out. Plug the yellow, white and red cable that in turn gets plugged into the TV. It also includes a sticker to affix the little box to AV cabinet or TV and avoid having it grabbed around by cables. It also comes with a short HDMI cable in the box.

The two budget Rokus performs the same and are quick enough. But they are not as smooth or speedy as Roku’s $50 Streaming Stick. The standard-definition, analog video connection of Express+ looks much worse than the high-definition HDMI connection but no worse than any other standard-def analog video.

Comparing the Express+ to last year’s Roku 1, the performance is basically the same. In some apps, the Express+ is a split second faster but in others like Amazon Video, Sling TV and YouTube, the two analog Rokus navigates and loads video at the same speed.

The exception is Netflix. Roku 1 lacks the latest version of Netflix app along with many older Rokus. It means that it is missing Netflix’s profiles for individual family members and menus have an extremely basic look. The newer version can be a bit slower on Express+ than Roku 1 but that’s a petite price to pay for a much better experience overall. Even if you have an older analog Roku, Express+ might be worth getting just for its superior Netflix experience.

Unlike older Rokus, the Express+ also gets nifty headphone “private listening” feature via Roku app for Android and Apple phones. Plug a pair of headphones into the phone, hit the headphone icon, it turns the TV audio off which then comes through the ‘phones instead.

Pros:

  • Features an analog audio/video output
  • Easy to use and cheap
  • Loaded with streaming apps

Cons:

  • Slower than other HDMI only devices costing just a few bucks more

With its analog video capability, its affordable price and access to Roku’s best-in-class platform the Roku Express+ is a no-brainer buy for those who want to bring streaming video to an older TV.

Google Chromecast 

It is one of the cheapest ways to watch apps like YouTube and Netflix and listen to music from services like Pandora and Spotify as well as view Web pages, photos and other stuff on your TV. To select items from a menu on your TV screen, instead of using a remote control you can control everything through the apps on your tablet or phone and video and sounds appear on your TV and audio system.

To use Chromecast, you will require a TV with HDMI in range of a decent Wi-Fi network with a broadband Internet connection and a tablet or a smartphone running Android or iOS or a computer with chrome browser complete with Google Cast extension installed.

The device itself is just a bunch of electronics and antennas crammed into a circular puck about two inches in diameter, colored your choice of black, reddish orange (Coral) or pastel-yellow (Lime). From one side bulges out a non-detachable, flat grey cable about 4 inches long, that terminates in the most common type of audio/video connector, HDMI.

Chromecast will be connected to an HDMI port hidden behind the TV. A magnet lets the puck attached to the flat cable when plugged in and makes a neater package also when you take it on the road.

One of the main differences between old and new Chromecast is the integrated cable. The older version was more like a standard USB thumbdrive and was impossible to fit into the cramped confines of many flat-panel TV backsides. A separate HDMI extender was included by Google for such circumstances, which was an elegant solution. The new version is definitely more practical.

Opposite that cable is a port into which you plug in the included gray power cable. Chromecast needs power just like any other device and It doesn’t work with HDMI ports. That power can come from included gray power adapter or from a USB port on your TV. The advantage of plugging the Chromecast into the wall over your TV’s USB port is that you don’t have to wait 20 odd seconds for it to be ready after turning on the TV. No matter how you power the device, it provides same performance.

The biggest advantage of new Chromecast compared to the old one is its compatibility with 5GHz Wi-Fi networks which suffer less interference than their 2.4GHz counterparts which means more reliable streaming especially in crowded areas.

Pros:

  • Cheap wireless video dongle
  • New version is compatible with 5GHz Wi-Fi networks
  • Small in size

Cons:

  • Lack of dedicated remote

The innovative Chromecast might be ultimate living-room accessory for your tablet or phone but more traditional streaming devices offer a better streaming experience.

Amazon Fire TV

The Amazon Fire TV comes with a slim, sharp design. It is a perfect square that smaller than any Roku and substantial enough to not get pulled around by connected cords. It features glossy black sides, a tiny LED on the front, ports on the back and a matte black top with Amazon logo.

Amazon Fire TV | Streaming Media Player

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Features

  • Amazon Fire TV supports 4K Ultra HD for true-to-life picture quality. Watch high-definition 1080p streams on Amazon Video, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and more, even without a 4K TV.
  • Enjoy over 7,000 apps, games, and Alexa skills including access to over 300,000 TV episodes and movies on Netflix, Amazon Video, HBO GO, Hulu, and more.
  • Launch and control content with the included Alexa Voice Remote. Simply say, "Play Game of Thrones" or "Launch Netflix" and Alexa will respond instantly. Plus, play music, find movie show times, order a pizza, and more-just ask.
  • No cable or satellite? No problem. Watch the best of live TV and sports from AMC, HGTV, ESPN, FOX, and others with a subscription to Sling TV, or top-rated primetime shows with CBS All Access.
  • Find the best way to watch with universal search results from over 100 channels and apps including Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video

The ports include one Ethernet, one HDMI, a USB port, one microSD slot and a power connector. The previous version had an optical audio jack which helps with connections to older AV receivers and other audio gear that lacks HDMI. The new drops it and in exchange gets the microSD slot which can take cards up to 128GB.

Instead of charging extra dollars for memory expansion via memory cards, most people will be fine with internal storage of 8GB because most apps are relatively small except games. The expandable memory could be a boon if you plan to do a lot of gaming on Fie TV.

The USB port allows it to play back media files from connected USB thumbdrive and other devices. according to Amazon, the new Fire TV have 75% more processing power than old one with a 64-bit quad-core processor, 2GB of memory and a dedicated GPU.

One advantage of Fire TV over streaming sticks is the presence of an Ethernet port which in many locations provides a more reliable and higher bandwidth stream than Wi-Fi. It supports the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard which works flawlessly.

The new version of Fire TV remote is an improvement with a better integrated battery cover and better clicks particularly the central circle button used to select items. Remote’s matte and slightly rubbery exterior feels nice and natural, more enhanced by rounded back with its index-finger-friendly indentation.

Button placement prioritizes voice with actual microphone and mic button topmost on the clicker. From an interface perspective, voice is well done. In addition to standard play-pause keys, it also included actual-fast forward and rewind keys. There is a key with three horizontal lines in addition to Home and Back. It doesn’t require line of sight to the box like most other streaming devices, so you can point it anywhere.

The Fire TV is very easy to use. Both from text and voice, it recognizes search terms well. Its interface is very responsive and menu system is simple to understand. It lacks nifty headphone jack of Roku 3 and 4 remotes but can pair a pair of Bluetooth wireless headphones with Fire TV for wireless private listening.

Pros:

  • Access thousands of popular streaming apps
  • Interface is very quick to respond
  • Parent controls and support are top-notch

Cons:

  • Search results prioritize Amazon
  • No way to customize the interface
  • No optical digital audio output unlike previous version

The Fire TV is a formidable streamer with oodles of features and 4K capability but it tries hard to serve up Amazon’s own TV shows and movies.

Roku Express:

It is a small device, in fact, smaller than the remote and you can easily place just about anywhere in your AV system just allowing the remote’s infrared beams striking its front face. Roku includes a sticker to affix the Express to the bottom of TV, the cabinet or wherever. It allows blending it almost invisibly keeping the required cables from dragging it around. Velcro or double-sided tape, of course, could do the trick too.

Roku Express

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Features

  • The all-new Roku Express delivers fast HD streaming at an incredible price.
  • There are no monthly rental fees for owning a Roku Express-it's so affordable, you can make every TV in your home smart.
  • Because Roku Express is from Roku, you'll get great features like an easy-to-use remote, simple navigation, and unbiased search across top channels.

One of the shortest HDMI cables is also included on the box. At first glance, its 2 foot length appears pitifully inadequate but if you stick it close enough to the TV’s input, it will get the job done probably. Its other features include HDMI output, 1080p or 720p resolution, 2.4GHz Wi-Fi and stereo, Dolby Digital+ and DTS audio support.

The usual video quality is as good as any other non 4-K streamer. Unlike the Chromecast and the Stick, the Express can connect only to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi networks and not the faster 5GHz band. The Roku’s remote is well designed and simple to use entirely by feel featuring everything you need including basic transport (play/pause and fast-forward/rewind) keys.

It provides a full access of largest selection of worthwhile apps of any streaming device having a great interface. It is very simple to understand and allows full customization so you can put apps on the screen wherever you want. Unlike Amazon and Apple streamers, it doesn’t prioritize any preferred service over any other. Search is great covering scads of apps and presenting results by price.

Roku’s app for tablets and phones also controls the Express and offers convenient options like playing photos from your phone on the TV, using your phone’s keyboard to type in terms and voice search. It also has the nifty headphone “private listening” feature. Plug a pair of headphones into your phone, hitting the headphone icon in the app the audio is muted on the TV and instead comes through the phone. it works well with clear audio and good lip-sync.

The worst part of Express is its slow speed of navigating its on-screen menu which is slower than most current streamers including Roku’s Stick, but experience varies widely per app. Netflix, the most popular app is also the slowest, particularly  with browsing.

But in many ways the Roku Express is better than Chromecast. It features an actual remote and on-screen display and along with all the other major apps such as YouTube, Netflix, Sling TV, Hulu and thousands more, it has an app for Amazon video which Chromecast does not.

Pros:

  • Of low cost
  • Easy to use
  • Loaded with streaming apps

Cons:

  • Slower, especially with Netflix

For a rock-bottom price, the Express provides everything good about Roku but it is worth spending a bit extra on a faster streamer.

Nvidia Shield Android TV:

This slim and angular shard is traced by diagonal ridges, alternating matte-black and glossy finishes and a razor-sharp sideways green “V” that illuminates when it is on. The default operation is horizontal but also you can set it into an optional matching stand to keep it vertical.

NVIDIA SHIELD TV Streaming Media Player

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Features

  • A Killer View - Movies, TV shows and games in amazing 4K HDR, explore thousands of apps like Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, HBO, Showtime, Pandora, Spotify, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, Kodi, and more.
  • Amazing Games, Played Your Way - Stream AAA PC games with GeForce NOW. Cast your PC games in 4K HDR from your GeForce rig to the living room with GameStream. Exclusive Android games only on SHIELD.
  • The World at Your Command - Just say what you want and let Google's voice search find it in seconds. Get search results from over 100 apps, including Netflix, YouTube, HULU, HBO, and more.
  • Best for Amazon Prime - Watch Amazon Video in 4K HDR and get access to original shows like The Grand Tour, The Man in the High Castle, and much more.
  • The Complete Package - SHIELD TV includes the remote and redesigned SHIELD controller with voice search, rumble feedback, and private listening, in a stylish new form factor.

There is a touch sensitive power button on the top and the slim, front face sports an IR infrared sensor so the Shield can work with most universal remote controls. The Shield’s prodigious array of ports is line up at the back panel, bookended by a cooling vent.

A single Shield controller comes with the device. It is chunkier than other controllers such as PlayStation 3 and 4. It is decent but the PlayStation and Xbox controllers are much lighter and their longer grips feel more natural especially over extended periods of gaming. It is great that the Shield works with a variety of Bluetooth controllers and also wired Xbox 360 controller.

However, the Shield controller out-features most. It offers a microphone for voice search, a volume control and a headphone jack for private listening. The volume on the Shield also controls HDMI port’s output level, so you can also control the TV or AV receiver volume. It also pair with Bluetooth headphones.

Unlike many other streaming boxes, the Shield doesn’t come with a simple remote. You can use the controller to do everything for sure but it is not possible to use with one hand. Also, you can use the Android TV Remote Control app which is great. The remote offers provides voice search via a built-in mic and a headphone jack for private listening and is also rechargeable.

Nvidia justifies the high price of Shield with better specifications than any streaming box out there. It runs on Nvidia’s latest Tegra X1 processor, 265-core Maxwell-generation GPU and 3GB of RAM. It supports 4K video output with potential for HDR. It has both an actual Gigabit Ethernet jack and fast 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi. It also feature, for expansion, a Micro-USB port, two USB 3.0 ports and a microSD card slot that supports cards up to 128GB to increase the built-in 16GB of storage on the standard Shield.

It is easier to customize than any other streaming box. The USB ports works with USB sticks and external USB hard drives for media playback.

Pros:

  • Best in-class hardware, gaming and connectivity capabilities
  • Works with 4K streaming services
  • Can upgrade storage up to 128GB

Cons:

  • More expensive than others
  • Doesn’t include a remote
  • Native app selection is still weaker than Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV

The Nvidia Shield’s solid gaming chops and 4K video will appeal to geeks. Software updates have made it more stable but a relatively high price and app shortfalls limit its appeal.

Sony PlayStation Vue:

Vue requires a broadband internet connection and for best experience Sony recommends 10mbps or higher plus 5mbps for every additional stream. It features most of the same live TV channels and on-demand shows. It has three different packages called Core, Access and Elite, with increasing number of channels for more money.

PlayStation Vue

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Features

  • Live TV, movies, sports and On Demand programming from channels including AMC, Disney, ESPN, HBO, NFL Network, SHOWTIME® and more!
  • No annual contracts, no cable or satellite plan required and no surprise fees
  • Save thousands of hours of your favorite shows to the cloud DVR with My Shows
  • Favorite Channels bookmarks your top networks front and center
  • Search for what you want across live, DVR and on demand content and find exactly what you're looking for

It is available nationwide in the USB and costs more in seven major cities. That’s because you can watch live versions of local ABC, Fox, NBC and CBS stations. Its DVR allows you record shows to the cloud and watch them anytime skipping the commercials. You can set up shows to watch easily after they air live and also you can fast0forward, pause and rewind like regular hardware DVR from the cable company. These shows are stored in Cloud not on your device, just like Netflix.

Instead of a cable box, Vue plays your TV through a PlayStation console, Amazon Fire TV stick or an Amazon Fire TV box. You can also watch on an iPhone or iPad or Chromecast to a TV but you must also have a Fire TV or PlayStation to do so.

Vue lets you stream to multiple devices at a time. Currently the limit is one PS3 and one PS4 in same house with additional simultaneous streams using iOS devices or Fire TV up to five total streams at once. That mean your multi-TV household can watch something different at once unless you have a fast enough Internet connection.

There are no contracts, equipment rental or other hidden monthly fees. Vue’s monthly fee is a flat rate and service makes it easy to cancel and restart or you can just try for a week for free to see if you like it.

The most obvious change to cable TV is Vue’s innovative menu system. The home page is a dynamic collection of thumbnail images directly corresponding to actual TV shows just like Netflix. There is also a grid Guide but it is sparse and poorly designed.

Most viewers will be happy with image quality of Vue. It adapts to your bandwidth as faster internet speeds mean better quality. Changing to a new show or channel or coming out of rewind or fast-forward, it takes a moment or two to ramp up the best quality.

Like Sling TV, audio on Vue is restricted to stereo only, not 5.1-channel surround sound is found on most cable and satellite systems.

Pros:

  • Feature rich
  • Innovative, show-centric interface
  • Record, pause, rewind and fast-forward live TV

Cons:

  • May be considered expensive
  • Lacks certain channels and some sports networks
  • Difficult to use the PlayStation controller

With Sony’s PlayStation Vue, you can ditch cable TV and enjoy tons of live channels and DVR features and even you don’t need a PlayStation. Cutting cable is not an easy decision but mere existence of an excellent and feature rich alternative like Vue makes it at least relatively painless.

Media Streamers Buying Guide:

Smart TV technology, which allows TVs to play media from internet or computers, first came out in early 2000s, but took a few years to catch on. Recently streaming services like Hulu and Netflix have exploded in popularity and media streamer has started appearing everywhere from gaming consoles to Blu-ray players. Media streamers are designed to be set up and use easily and enable viewers stream content from online sources and play back stored pictures, music and video files without having a hassle of connecting a computer to the TV.

Dedicated or Built in media streamers:

Dedicated media streamers are generally inexpensive and versatile connecting to a network to stream online and local content. These features however are being built-in to other systems and many of which like PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 attempt to be all in one home entertainment centers. Many people while like only one device to have that handles all of their entertainment, others don’t need any added expense and complexity of playing games and discs.

What to Look For:

Streaming v/s downloads:

When looking at media streamers, commence by deciding what content you want to watch and whether you expect to simply stream or download content. Streaming services provide instant gratification if you have decent broadband and a home network. Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime Instant Video and YouTube are examples of services that stream content on demand over internet. You pay for first three and they provide a good selection of commercial movies and TV shows. YouTube is free and its video clips tend to be of different ilk and shorter.

Vudu, iTunes and Amazon’s standard Instant Video are services that download TV shows and movies, usually to a DVR or a streamer with built-in storage. You can download to your Windows PC and your Mac with iTunes and then stream to an Apple TV or stream directly to Apple TV over the internet. Downloading videos and movies eliminates video quality issues that you can face while streaming media. The video may have to pause or the quality may deteriorate if your network slows down. And when you are done, you can watch the downloaded video several times within a rental period or if you purchase the content indefinitely.

On the other hand, you have to wait before you can start watching and it depends on the size of media file and the network sped for the download to gain partial or total completion. And storage space could become an issue.

Your internet connection will help determine the picture quality, since Netflix and other services adjust the signal you get based on the speed of your internet connection. If something streaming keeps buffering, you may need a more robust broadband connection. And if you are connecting to your network via Wi-Fi, ensure your wireless router is up to snuff.

Require at least 5Mbps speed- that is what you want for a high-definition stream and that is adequate only if you are streaming to one device at a time. Most home require 10Mbps or more and recently the FCC updated its definition of broadband to 25Mbps. You should also note that regardless of your fast internet connection, the picture quality may initially be poor which will improve after a minute or so as the service adjusts to connection speed.

4K video is coming- all services can deliver high-definition picture quality but some such as M-Go, Amazon, Vudu and Netflix now offer a limited amount of 4K content for people having higher-resolution 4K UHD TVs. These screens have almost 8 million pixels around four times as many as a regular 1080p TV. But to stream 4K, you will need a relatively fast connection at least 15-25Mbps.

Simple Setup- look for a media streaming device having simple setup. Wi-Fi Protected Setup means you don’t have to enter a password manually. Simple press one button on router and another on player and you are securely connected.

Organized apps- as more channels are available on these devices, the ability to reorder or delete apps and customize your home screen becomes a plus which helps you avoid scrolling through seldom used options.

Dual-Band Wi-Fi a steaming device with dual-band Wi-Fi can enhance performance by streaming video on higher frequency 5GHz band, sidestepping possible interference with other devices present such as microwaves and cordless phones that operate on 2.4GHz frequency. Now some newer models support 802.11ac standard which has the potential to deliver faster and stronger signals but only if your wireless router supports it.

Well-designed remotes- some models feature remotes with embedded microphones that allow you search using voice terms which is easier than typing on an onscreen keyboard. Dedicated buttons for most-used services makes access easy. Back-lit buttons come in handy for movie night. Some devices don’t come with remote such as Chromecast and are used via an app which is downloaded to a mobile device such as tablet, phone or laptop.

The right connections- all media streaming devices have built-in Wi-Fi and some have an Ethernet jack for wired connection to a router or modem. All hook up to TV via HDMI connections but a few have analog-video connections for use with older TVs lacking a HDMI input. For playing your own media such as music and photos through the device, some come with a USB port. A DLNA label means that the player can access content such as photos, movies and videos from other devices on the same network.

Universal Search- it is good to look for players that without favoring over service over another can search across multiple services to find shows.

New online streaming services provide unprecedented viewing options. Basically there are two options: all-you-can-eat subscription services offer unlimited streaming for monthly subscription, typically around $8 to $10 a month; and pay-per-view services to buy or rent individual shows or movies on a la carte basis.

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