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4k streaming media device being enjoyed by a family watching TV.

Best 4K Streaming Media Devices

See which model from Amazon, Apple, Google, or Roku is right for you

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The next television you buy is likely to be a smart set, ready right out of the box to stream TV series and movies.

Still, you might want to add a streaming device to your smart TV. These add-on devices may outperform or be easier to use than your television, or they might have features or services you can’t get from that TV. (Using an external streaming device on a TV might seem an unusual move, but it's not uncommon. In our recent online national survey of 1,061 smart-TV owners, Consumer Reports found that 60 percent of respondents ended up using an external streaming device instead of the TV's built-in system.)

Also remember that you can stream content on a modern but non-smart TV. Plug a streaming media device into the TV and connect it to your home's wireless network, and you can access Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming services.

What You'll Find When Shopping
The 4K streaming media device market is dominated by just four platforms: the Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and Roku.

Some of these new devices are set-top models; others are small players that plug directly into a TV's HDMI slot. Prices of the five models below range from $30 to $200.

The newest 4K models in our streaming media device ratings also support high dynamic range (HDR) technology. When done right, HDR boosts a TV’s brightness, contrast, and color, making the pictures on the screen look more like real life. All models support the HDR10 format, and some also support the Dolby Vision format. (CR can help you find a TV with good HDR performance.)

The 4K streaming media devices featured here (in alphabetical order) work well. Besides price, your decision comes down to two factors: Which platform best suits your needs, and whether you want a set-top box or stick-style player.

1

Amazon Fire TV with 4K Ultra HD and Alexa Voice Remote
Amazon Fire TV with 4K Ultra HD...

    Amazon Fire TV with 4K Ultra HD...

    The latest Fire TV, priced at $70, does away with the set-top box design of its pricier predecessor. In its place is a diamond-shaped dongle with a slightly faster processor, HDR capability, and support for a smooth-looking 60-frames-per-second video. The new device also supports Dolby Atmos surround sound.

    But Fire TV’s most attractive feature may be the Alexa voice remote, which can find, launch, and control content. And Fire TV can also pair with and be controlled by other Alexa devices such as the Echo, and it will work with other smart-home devices, including compatible lights, thermostats, and security cameras


    Best for: Amazon Prime subscribers who like the Alexa voice assistant. This device doesn't have as many services as Roku, and it prioritizes Amazon content when you're looking for something to watch.

    2

    Apple TV 4K (32GB)
    Apple TV 4K (32GB)

      Apple TV 4K (32GB)

      Apple TV has always made sense for those who already live in Apple's world, and the new 4K Apple TV is no exception.

      The new version ($180 for the 32GB version, $200 for 64GB) has a sleek interface plus a faster processor, the commendable Siri voice assistant, and an updated touchpad remote.

      It also supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR formats, and 4K HDR titles cost less on iTunes than on other services. Apple sweetens the deal by automatically upgrading your other iTunes purchases to 4K, free.

      And Apple has fixed one issue we had when we first tested this player. Initially, the device was automatically upconverting non-4K content to 4K with HDR, often with disappointing results. The company has now updated its software, providing a setting where you can choose both frame rate and dynamic range.

      Also, Apple TV now supports the Amazon Prime Video app, overcoming an old drawback for Apple TVs. But the platform still doesn’t work with 4K videos from YouTube.

      Best for: Those who already are invested in the Apple ecosystem and use iTunes for content—and who don't mind paying a premium for an Apple device.

      3

      Google Chromecast Ultra
      Google Chromecast Ultra

        Google Chromecast Ultra

        The Chromecast Ultra, $70, has a cool-looking circular design, and underneath the hood it’s a solid-performing 4K HDR streamer that works a bit differently from most.

        Most important, there’s no remote control. Instead, you use the Google Home app on your smartphone or tablet to find content, then “cast” it to your TV to start playing.

        One drawback to Chromecast is that it takes a couple of extra steps to play Amazon videos. Instead of using a mobile app, you'll need to sign in to Amazon in the Chrome browser on your mobile device.

        Like the 4K streaming media devices listed here, the Chromecast Ultra has dual-band WiFi for connecting to a home network, but there’s also an Ethernet port on the power adapter for a more reliable connection. Chromecast Ultra supports Dolby Vision HDR. 

        Best for: Tech-savvy users who are comfortable finding and sending content to the TV from their phone.

        4

        Roku Streaming Stick +
        Roku Streaming Stick +

          Roku Streaming Stick +

          If you want a 4K HDR Roku player but don't want a visible set-top box, then this stick-style player, $70, is the best choice. Pop it into your TV’s HDMI port and it will essentially disappear behind or alongside your TV.

          Like all Rokus, the Stick + has a category-leading assortment of channels. Its voice capability is limited compared with other players’.

          Roku doesn't offer its own subscription service, and the company takes an agnostic approach when searching for the content you want; it looks across all your streaming services and lists the cheapest options first.

          This device provides the same basic functions as the pricier Roku Ultra, listed below, but the remote control on that device has some additional features.

          Best for: Just about anyone looking for a solid, well-priced 4K streaming player with access to loads of content.

          5

          Roku Ultra
          Roku Ultra

            Roku Ultra

            Roku's flagship streaming player, $100, offers great performance and a wide assortment of channels.

            Two reasons you might want to spring for this instead of the less expensive Roku Streaming Stick+, shown above: a button on the unit that causes a misplaced remote to beep, and a headphone jack in the remote control for private listening.

            The Ultra's voice capability is limited compared with other players’.

            Best for: Almost anyone looking for a top-performing player with lots of content and who wants all the bells and whistles a streaming device can come with.

            13
            Streaming Media Devices Rated
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            James K. Willcox

            I've been a tech journalist for more years than I'm willing to admit. My specialties at CR are TVs, streaming media, audio, and TV and broadband services. In my spare time I build and play guitars and bass, ride motorcycles, and like to sail—hobbies I've not yet figured out how to safely combine.