Streaming devices connect your TV to the internet, enabling you to access apps like Netflix, HBO GO, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video and WatchESPN. But, smart TVs (and gaming consoles like Xbox One and PS4) do this too — and they’re only getting more popular. Recent years have seen a spike in smart TVs — in 2013, 24 percent of all TVs sold in America were smart TVs; in 2016 that number has risen to almost 50 percent. So are dedicated streaming devices still worth it?
The answer is yes. The devices, costing between $35 and $150, can turn that $2,000 TV you invested in a mere two to four years ago into a smart TV. And for those who’ve cut the cord altogether (“Why pay for cable plus all those subscriptions!”), a streaming stick works wonders. They’re also convenient for the constant traveler; instead of paying a premium at a hotel to rent a movie, just plug your device into the TV. It’s on par with bringing your own sixer instead of getting burned after indulging in the mini-fridge.
So, to the question at hand: which device is right for you?
Roku Streaming Stick
The new 2016 Roku streaming stick is the brand’s fourth-generation dedicated streamer. It’s extremely portable, the size of a USB drive, and it plugs into the HDMI port on the back of your TV. Like its predecessors, this Roku has access to over 3,000 channels. This one, however, supports 1080p HD and has a quad-core processor that Roku claims is eight times more powerful — meaning faster download speeds — than the 2014 Roku 3.
Google Chromecast (Second Generation)
The second-generation Chromecast is the most affordable option to transform your standard TV into a smart TV. Unlike the Roku, however, it relies on a wall outlet for power. Plus it also doesn’t come with a remote; users control their apps via their phone, tablet or browser. It still is compatible with a ton of apps (but not Amazon), and if you want to cast your laptop’s Chrome browser on the TV, you can.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
True, Amazon’s 2014 Fire TV stick ($40) is more affordable than its newer brethren, and it works with all the apps — Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, Sling TV, Spotify — and games you’d want. But the 2015 version has double the RAM (2GB), 75 percent more processing power and, since it supports 4K Ultra HD, you can stream your favorite shows in high-definition 1080p. It’s also compatible with Alexa; ask her, via a button on the remote, about up-to-the-second news or sports scores, and she’ll let you know.
Apple TV (4th Generation)
Although it’s the most expensive, Apple TV is the most complete streaming device of the bunch. It connects directly with your iTunes account so you can stream all the games, apps and movies you’ve purchased. (If you’ve purchased a lot, music included, this is the no-brainer.) Plus it’s compatible with all the usual players, like Netflix and Hulu Plus. It comes with a companion remote, making rewinding and fast-forwarding a breeze. And it also works with Siri, who can help you filter shows by actor, title, or ratings. The only downside is its price and size — it’s not as portable as other sticks on this list.
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