Published: Saturday, 14 August 2021 00:19
Staying at home means streaming more Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Disney Plus and Hulu than ever. Here's our favorite gear for keeping your family entertained. Ty Pendlebury, David Katzmaier Sept. 2, 2020 6:53 a.m. PT
- Best TV streamer overall Roku Streaming Stick Plus Jump to details $45 at Crutchfield
- Best tablet for entertainment Apple iPad (10.2-inch, 7th gen, 2019) Jump to details $350 at eBay
- Best budget smart TV TCL 4-Series TV Jump to details $334 at Best Buy
- Best streaming soundbar Roku Smart Soundbar Jump to details $161 at Amazon
- Best tablet for kids Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Jump to details $200 at Amazon
- Best budget streamer Roku Express Jump to details $24 at Amazon
- Best high-end streamer Apple TV 4K Jump to details $120 at Crutchfield
- Best streamer for convenience Roku Ultra Jump to details $87 at Amazon
- Best streamer for Amazon Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Jump to details $40 at Amazon
- Best streamer for gamers Nvidia Shield TV Jump to details $150 at Amazon
- Best streamer for Android users Google Chromecast Jump to details $30 at Best Buy
After months of staying at home, chances are you've streamed your share of TV shows and movies. And maybe you've noticed a thing or two about whatever streaming device you're using. Maybe Netflix doesn't load as quickly as you'd like, maybe the remote is a pain to operate, maybe that old tablet is slowing to a crawl. In short, maybe it's time to invest in a new device to watch your shows on.
We've reviewed every major streaming media player available, brands such as Roku, Amazon, Chromecast and Apple TV, as well as numerous smart TVs and tablets like the iPad, which are perfect for watching TV around the house when the TVs themselves are all occupied.Get the CNET Now newsletter Spice up your small talk with the latest tech news, products and reviews. Delivered on weekdays.
We took into account all kinds of factors, from the remote control and whether a device would respond to a voice command, to streaming speeds and device compatibility. There's more than one streaming player out there, and there's no need to keep using an ancient Fire Stick, iOS device or Roku device if it's no longer performing the way you want it to as you stream your favorite TV episodes. Further, the newer versions of these streaming devices have upgraded features, like 4K streaming and access to live TV. And, if you've already sprung for that 4K Ultra HD TV, you really need to update your TV streaming device as well to take your viewing experience to the next level.
So if your current media streaming device is getting long in the tooth, or you need an extra one to turn your otherwise-fine dumb TV into a smart TV, here are our favorites.
Best TV streamer overall
Roku Streaming Stick PlusSarah Tew/CNET
Roku makes our favorite streaming system, with the most streaming apps, the simplest interface, the best search and a content-agnostic platform that doesn't push any one media streaming provider, like Amazon Prime Video or iTunes, over another. The Plus is one of the cheapest streaming TV options with 4K HDR, and even if your current TV doesn't support that format, your next one probably will. Its practical features, like a remote control that can control your TV's volume and power, seal the deal.
Read our Roku Streaming Stick Plus review.
$45 at Crutchfield $39 at Amazon $40 at Best Buy
Read more: Best streaming device of 2020
Best tablet for entertainment
Apple iPad (10.2-inch, 7th gen, 2019)ED I T O R S ’ C H O I C E Nov 2019
Apple's entry-level iPad offers long-lasting battery life and a bigger screen for enjoying TV and movie apps, whether streamed or downloaded. Older processor aside, this is a perfectly good iPad that will handle all your family's streaming needs and more. It does cost more than the competition, however, so it always pays to look for a good deal.
Read our Apple iPad 10.2-inch 2019 review.
$350 at eBay $330 at Target $329 at Apple
Read more: Best tablet for 2020
Best budget smart TV
TCL 4-Series TVSarah Tew/CNET
As we mentioned, Roku makes our favorite media streamers for live TV streaming apps like Netflix, and it's even better as a platform baked into a TV. This TCL 4-Series is one of the most affordable Roku TVs on the market, available in a range of sizes and with image quality that's perfectly fine for most people, especially at this price.
Sizes: 43-, 50-, 55-, 65-, 75-inch. (The price shown below is for the 65-inch size.)
See more of CNET's favorite TVs here.
$334 at Best Buy $830 at Walmart $700 at Target
Read more: The best TV for 2020
Best streaming soundbar
Roku Smart SoundbarSarah Tew/CNET
Soundbars with onboard streaming may be a relatively recent development, but Roku's Smart Soundbar came fully formed out of the gate. With excellent sound, the Roku interface users know and love and an affordable price, this a great option for a media streamer in a bedroom or holiday house.
Read CNET's review of the Roku Smart Soundbar.
$161 at Amazon $180 at Best Buy $174 at Walmart
Read more: Best soundbar for 2020
Best tablet for kids
Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids EditionAmazon
The Fire HD 10 Kids Edition is the kid-friendly version of the Amazon Fire HD 10, with the largest display in the lineup of Amazon tablets. Just like its 7- and 8-inch siblings, the tablet features a ton of parental control options and a rubberized bumper case to protect the device against drops. This 10-inch tablet also includes a two-year "no questions asked" replacement warranty and a one-year subscription to FreeTime Unlimited, a content library that gives kids access to plenty of age-appropriate videos, books, games and apps.$200 at Amazon
Read more: Best kids tablet for 2020
Best budget streamer
Roku ExpressSarah Tew/CNET
For the price of a Blu-ray Disc, you can get a whole media streamer, which comes with plenty of free content. The Express delivers all of the goodness of Roku's platform, and it includes a remote, an HDMI cable and a little sticker to keep it in place.
Read our Roku Express (2019) review.
$24 at Amazon $24 at Walmart $20 at eBay
Read more: Roku Express vs. Amazon Fire TV Stick
Best high-end streamer
Apple TV 4K
The perfect foil to the Roku Streaming Stick Plus, the Apple TV costs over $100 more but is the better choice for people who can appreciate its advantages. Those include compatibility with Dolby Vision HDR, flexible upconversion, superior voice control features, a better remote and a smoother, slicker user interface. The Apple TV 4K is so good for media streaming, it even makes sense if you're not an "Apple person."
Read our Apple TV 4K review.
$120 at Crutchfield $160 at Best Buy $180 at Target
Read more: Best wired streaming device to save your home Wi-Fi bandwidth
Best streamer for convenience
Roku UltraSarah Tew/CNET
At $100, this is the most expensive Roku, but if you must have it all then the Roku Ultra has it all to offer. While in terms of image quality and operating system it's indistinguishable from the Streaming Stick Plus, the Ultra is especially handy for the forgetful among us. The Ultra offers both a remote finder and two extra customizable shortcut buttons for your favorite services.
Read our Roku Ultra (2019) review.
$87 at Amazon $96 at Walmart $86 at eBay
Best streamer for Amazon
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4KSarah Tew/CNET
With Alexa, Amazon has done more than any other company to integrate voice commands into the ways we consume media. The Fire TV Stick 4K bakes Alexa right into the remote, and you can use voice control to search for Gremlins or turn on your Christmas tree. Or both at the same time. Throw in a massive selection of content with an easy-to-use menu and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K represents excellent value for money when it comes to streaming media.
Read our Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K review.
$40 at Amazon $40 at Best Buy $40 at Target
Best streamer for gamers
Nvidia Shield TVSarah Tew/CNET
Sure, it's an expensive media streamer at $150 -- and that's before adding a game controller -- but if you want a jack-of-all-trades video media player, the Shield is it. In addition to being a streaming media player in 4K and HDR, it offers a robust library of games, both console-level and Android, Steam Link, built-in Google Assistant complete with smart home control, NAS access, Plex server capability, HDHomeRun integration and much more.
Read our Nvidia Shield TV review.
$150 at Amazon $150 at Best Buy $150 at Walmart
Best streamer for Android users
Google ChromecastSarah Tew/CNET
The Chromecast is one of the cheapest ways to get video to stream on your TV, but unlike the other streamers listed here it doesn't come with a remote. Instead it works in combination with a phone or Google Assistant for voice control and voice search. The latter method is great for calling up shows on Netflix or Disney Plus.
Read our Google Chromecast 2018 review.
$30 at Best Buy $30 at Walmart $30 at Target
More home entertainment advice
- Disney Plus: Early movie releases and everything else in coronavirus lockdown
- Free movies: 10 Netflix alternatives that will keep you entertained
- 30 best movies to watch on Disney Plus
- 30 of the best TV shows to watch on Hulu
- YouTube TV vs. Sling TV vs. Hulu vs. Philo vs. FuboTV vs. AT&T TV Now: Live channels compared
- Still haven't tried Netflix Party? Here's how to watch movies with friends for free
- Save on Netflix, Amazon Video, HBO and Spotify with these cord-cutter credit cards
- Best universal remotes of 2020
- YouTube TV hiked its price to $65. Sling TV and Hulu are the best alternatives
- This is the best cheap live-TV streaming service for cord cutters
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