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The 6 Best Streaming Boxes and Sticks for Holiday 2021 – Review Geek

Apple TV 4K against blue background
Apple

What to Look for in a Streaming Device

The best streaming sticks and boxes all offer the same basic features. Still, though, there are a few things to take into consideration before making a purchase:

  • Operating System (OS): This is the main difference between various streaming devices. While a lot of streaming operating systems hit the same beats, there’s still room for preference. They can vary significantly in design, features, and even what apps they support (although the major ones will be present regardless of what device you choose).
  • Specs: Being able to support 4K, various HDR modes, and surround sound are all important factors of at-home entertainment these days. Still, these features can increase the price significantly, so it’s not uncommon for manufacturers to create multiple versions of the same streaming device with different specs. Most commonly, there will be a 1080p and 4K edition to give you multiple price points to pick from. These different versions usually differ on what resolutions they support, but we’ll be sure to provide you with a breakdown of each device’s situation in this regard.
  • Extra Features: Voice controls, game streaming, and extra ports like USB and Ethernet are all useful features that not every streaming device offers. These are nice bonuses you might not use all the time but are appreciated nonetheless.

Best for Apple Users: Apple TV 4K

Apple TV 4K
Apple

Pros

  • 4K, HDR support
  • Surround sound
  • Compatibility with other Apple devices
  • Sleek remote

Cons

  • Limited ports (only HDMI and Ethernet)
  • Expensive

Apple’s streaming player is excellent for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest draws are the tie-ins with the rest of Apple’s ecosystem. The TV uses Siri for its voice assistant, and you can use the Apple TV app to control things from your phone or tablet and control HomeKit enabled smart home devices from the TV. As far as performance goes, you can expect 4K with HDR (namely, Dolby Vision and HDR10) and Dolby Atmos digital surround sound for a fully immersive experience.

For Apple fans, it’s the obvious choice, but if you’re on a tighter budget, there’s also the 1080p edition available. It’s around $40 cheaper, lowers the resolution, and has less powerful hardware inside. You can also choose between 32 or 64GB of internal storage for either edition, with the latter option being more expensive.

Best for Apple Users

Apple TV 4K

Siri-compatibility and excellent specs all around make this the ideal choice if you’re invested in Apple’s ecosystem.

Best for Google Users: Chromecast with Google TV

Chromecast with Google TV device and remote control on wooden surface
Justin Duino

Pros

  • 4K, HDR support
  • Surround sound
  • Great recommendations
  • Google Assistant

Chromecasts have far outgrown their once simple purpose of simply casting things from your phone to your TV. The latest model is a feature-rich streaming stick that easily rivals the rest on this list. This Chromecast runs Google TV (formerly Android TV), which has all the best services, uses Google Assistant for voice controls and smart home functionality, and lets Google do what it does best—analyze your preferences and recommend content you’ll probably like. The content recommendations on the home screen draw from all your favorite services and make picking what to watch next a little bit easier.

It also supports 4K and HDR (Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HDR10+) as well as Dolby Atmos surround sound, so you’re well-covered when it comes to performance. And if you’re interested in game streaming, then Google Stadia works on this Chromecast as well.

The Chromecast with Google TV is available in three colors: Snow, Sunrise, and Sky.

Best for Alexa Users: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
Amazon

Pros

  • 4K, HDR support
  • Surround sound
  • Works with other Alexa devices

If your home is already kitted out with loads of Alexa-enabled devices, then the Fire TV is the right choice for you. It offers the typical stuff—4K output (along with Dolby Vision or HDR10+ for HDR support), Dolby Atmos surround sound, all the streaming services your heart desires, and some solid content recommendations. But on top of that, it uses Amazon Alexa, which means you can control the stick using other Alexa devices in your home or vice versa. It’s an excellent way to watch your favorite media (especially Amazon Prime Video naturally), and the smart home tie-ins are a nice bonus if you’ve heavily invested in that ecosystem.

There’s also the Fire TV Stick Max that supports Wi-Fi 6 (albeit for a slightly higher price), and the Fire TV Lite that only supports 1080p (for anyone watching their budget).

Best for Alexa Users

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

The Fire TV Stick predictably plays well with Alexa on top of being a solid streaming device.

Best for Simplicity: Roku Ultra

Roku Ultra
Roku

Pros

  • 4K, HDR support
  • Surround sound
  • Plenty of ports
  • Simple OS

Cons

  • Limited voice assistant functionality

While in-depth voice assistant support and algorithmic recommendations are great, sometimes what’s simplest is best—something that Roku has always been great at. Roku TV is an incredibly simple OS that allows you to quickly jump into streaming services without much fuss. On top of that, the Ultra supports 4K (with Dolby Vision and HDR10+), Dolby Atmos, and the remote has shortcut buttons you can assign to your favorite apps. There’s also a USB port on the box itself if you want to display video from other devices and an aux port on the remote for private listening. Chances are it has the streaming app you want, whether that’s Netflix or HBO Max.

It’s a fantastic streaming box, but if you don’t already have a soundbar, you might want to consider the Roku Streambar Pro instead. It features the same stuff seen in the Ultra, but all built into a solid soundbar. And what’s not to love about getting an audio upgrade and a great streaming device all in one? Or if you prefer, you can plug a decent set of headphones into the remote control thanks to the included headphone jack.

Best for Simplicity

Roku Ultra

The many ports and performance of the Ultra makes it enticing enough, but Roku’s simple approach to UI design makes it especially great if you’re looking for something straightforward.

Best Budget: Roku Express 4K+

Roku Express 4K+
Roku

Pros

  • 4K + basic HDR support
  • Affordable
  • Simple OS

Cons

  • Limited voice controls
  • No extra ports
  • No Dolby Vision

The Express 4K+ still features Roku TV, so its UI is easy to navigate, but it also delivers 4K (with HDR10+) support for a lower price than most. This small box still has all the performance you need out of a streaming device nowadays but manages to avoid breaking the $50 price point. If you’re okay with (or even prefer) Roku’s more straightforward approach to streaming devices, it’s an excellent choice if you’re on a budget, even among the various Roku streaming sticks.

Best Budget

Roku Express 4K+

A stripped-down streaming device that still brings solid performance and a great UI.

Best for Versatility: NVIDIA Shield

NVIDIA Shield
NVIDIA

Pros

  • 4K, HDR support
  • Surround sound
  • Game streaming through GeForce NOW
  • 3GB internal storage

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Limited storage for a Plex server

The other streaming devices mentioned so far have been almost exclusively focused on streaming services as their primary function, and it makes sense why: that’s what most people use them for. However, if you want a box with more functionality, the Shield is precisely that. It still supports 4K along with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos surround sound for when you are watching stuff, but there’s a lot more going on here.

It runs AndroidTV, so you can use Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa on it, stream games with it via GeForce NOW, and even have it function as a small (yet proper) Plex server with 3GB of internal storage. On the outside of the box, it features two USB ports for other devices to connect with and a gigabit Ethernet port. The Shield is more expensive than most streaming devices because of all this, but for what you’re getting here, that price is justified.

There is a cheaper version of the Shield, though, that drops the internal storage for a MicroSD card slot, loses the USB ports, and features a slimmer body. If having internal storage out of the box isn’t important to you, it’s a good alternative.

Best for Versatility

Nvidia Shield

There’s a lot packed into the Shield, making it the perfect choice if you’re looking for a gadget that’s more than just a streaming stick.




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Source: https://www.reviewgeek.com/99583/the-best-streaming-boxes-and-sticks/

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