Buyers Guide - Best Media Streamers

Introduction


There are so many options when it comes to streaming set-top boxes - and NO perfect solution. Each has its fans and each supports many, but in most cases not ALL, of the streaming services. Which box you buy may come down to the services you use - but our handy buyers guide is here to help if you have to make a decision...

6. Your Computer / Tablet / Xbox One / Playstation 4 / Xbox 360 / Playstation 3



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Rather than look at something new, one option is to use what you already have. Couple your tablet with a USB-HDMI dongle, connect your laptop or use your game console and you'll be able to access most services on your TV. There are exceptions - Sky Go has a lockout for tablet and mobile devices with HDMI connections so if you want to use that service you'll find yourself restricted to your computer or home console.

The other downside is you're using a lot of power and for something that is much more efficiently achieved via other options. Still - if you have a console under your TV, it will likely provide access to all the streaming and catchup services you need; maybe just not in that perfect little package you want.

5. Apple TV



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Apple TV is one of the oldest streaming solutions - and it's soon to get a big revamp, so buying one right now is likely to be a bad idea. It supports Netflix and all of the main terrestrial catchup platforms including iPlayer, 4oD, Demand 5 and ITV Player and your Sky itch is scratched via Now TV. There is no onboard Sky Go support and it's unlikely to materialize and we're also lacking Amazon Instant Video right now.

AirPlay makes up for some of the holes, but it's not perfect and introduces lag and occasional instability.

The new Apple TV is rumoured to have more gaming performance and will likely encourage those that are holding off bringing support to jump onboard, however the cheap price of the existing Apple TV IS tempting.

4. Amazon Fire TV / Fire TV Stick



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While it doesn't have the power of its big brother, the Amazon Fire TV Stick still packs a weighty punch as a streaming AND gaming device. It supports MOST streaming options - the obvious Sky Go is the big omission here again, but we do have support from the rest of the big players including Amazon's own Prime Instant Video. The interface, once your used to it is good but places a big emphasis on Amazon's own content.

There is more limited gaming support than the Fire TV set-top box, but you can still pair the Fire controller and play near-console standard Android games on your big screen.

What we do miss most is the voice search that features on the set-top box - although you can still add this functionality via your phone OR buy the voice-equipped remote control. Voice search is great, but as with standard search only caters for Amazon's own content.

Bigger, better and dearer than its £35 little sister, the Amazon Fire TV has the same support for streaming services but with a little more oomf and a few more games. Is it worth the extra outlay? We'd suggest the network port is the biggest advantage and makes it a sensible choice if you can afford it.

Our biggest issue with Amazon Instant Video is the fact that Prime Instant Video content is mixed in with content that ISN'T part of prime - so often you find what you want to watch only to discover that you have to pay to view it. We'd rather not see the pay-per-view stuff and just have what our Prime subscription allows.

Best Amazon Fire TV Prices


StorePricePostageTotal
Amazon UK£79.00£0.00£79.00
Usually dispatched within 24 hours 


Best Amazon Fire TV Stick Prices


StorePricePostageTotal
Amazon UK£35.00£0.00£35.00
Usually dispatched within 24 hours 


3. Now TV



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Sky's NowTV box is a total bargain - £9.99 for a box that does ALL of the main terrestrial catchup services AND NowTV is great. However, if you're a Netflix OR Amazon Prime customer you're going to be left wanting. The NowTV box is effectively an artificially limited Roku - it has many but not all of the channels of the parent device and while you can add Plex, it's through the unsupported (and potentially breakable) sideloading of the app by hand. Not ideal.

For value for money, this is hard to beat, but for a few more of your English Pounds, you can get access to a lot more with other devices.

2. Chromecast



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We love our Chromecasts - they are simple to use, unobtrusive and just work. They really come into their own when used by multiple people and its our go-to choice for watching YouTube videos on the TV. There are limitations - the reliance on other devices and limited app support (which is improving), but we have support for some catchup services and with Google opening up the SDK we can expect to see more options in the future.

As a Netflix streamer it's excellent, as is its Plex support. There are more holes in support than most other devices but as an ecosystem it certainly has legs.

Best Chromecast Prices


StorePricePostageTotal
Amazon UK£30.00£0.00£30.00
Usually dispatched within 24 hours 


1. Roku



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Right now, Roku are the undisputed kings of set-top box streaming. They have various offerings - we'll consider the Roku 3 and Roku Streaming Stick here. In terms of support they both offer the same channels (although the stick has less support for games) and cover all of the main services with the irritating exception of Amazon Prime Instant Video in the UK. US users have Amazon support but it seems politics between Sky (who have an investment in Roku) and Amazon are preventing this becoming something we have here. We also don't have Sky Go and have to make do with NowTV.

The Roku streaming stick isn't quite as responsive as its bigger, more powerful brother, but in terms of playback it works just as well. As with the Fire TV/Fire TV stick, the Roku Streaming Stick is Wi-fi only compared to the support for an ethernet (and therefore more stable) connection in the bigger box.

Conclusion



Right now our money is on the Roku solutions - the only caveat being if you need access to Amazon's library. If you do then Amazon's own devices win out. We haven't even looked at the countless other options including Android-powered devices and various other proprietory solutions but short of building your own solution on a PC, Raspberry Pi or one of the new HDMI dongle Windows sticks we think the options above are suitable for all but the most technical and demanding users. Its a shame that there is no one-box-fits all solution outside of the consoles or PCs of this world and the fact that company politics is to blame in some cases is even more disappointing. Streaming is the future for TV and film watching so we expect the market to get even more exciting over the next few years.

We would love Sky to bring support for Sky Go to more platforms - especially as its a paid service for existing subscribers and we would also like Amazon Prime Instant Video to get more traction on non-Amazon devices. The first box that offers both will find a TDF bulk order going in!

Last updated: 30/05/2018 19:48:20

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