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Best streaming devices 2022: The best for streaming TV and audio

The great thing about streaming is the convenience it offers. For some, discs will always seem an old-fashioned relic of a time when we liked to show off our video collection. Streaming is for those who want to plug in and start watching their favourite films and shows with minimum fuss.

The main reason to get a streaming stick is likely because your TV doesn’t have access to your favourite app, or perhaps there’s a niche streaming app you subscribe to that isn’t available. A streaming device can fill the gaps within your TV’s app library.

But which streaming devices offer the best performance? It may surprise you that despite all building towards the same end goal, they do cover different options for different people.

Most can double up as smart devices, entangling themselves within a wide ecosystem and interact with other products in the home. Others have voice assistance to make it even easier to find what you want. Some work best in a particular ecosystem, which may mean you need to sign up to Apple, Amazon or Google to get the best performance.

We’ve tested a range of streaming devices and watched plenty of video and listened to a lot of audio, using them as anyone else would in their homes to determine how well they perform. From how easy they are to set-up, to their interface, speed of operation and app library, these are all things we consider as we test them. The list below is made of the streaming devices we say are the best currently available.

Of course, there are those who prefer the attraction of physical media, and you can check out our best 4K Blu-ray players to see which ones we rate the best. If you’re a Prime subscriber in need of the best Fire TV streamer, then check out our page for that as well.

How we test

How we test streaming devices

We stream a lot video and a lot of audio, but, as with any product that needs plugging into another, we unpack the streaming devices and check what connections and accessories it has. Does it come with HDMI cable? Can it be powered by a TV’s USB port? Is there a need for an HDMI extender to plug it from the wash of cables around the rear of a TV? Aesthetics don’t count much for streaming devices, but functionality does.

And then there are the means of operating the device. We’re interested in the quality of the remote, its responsiveness and feel. If there’s voice control we use that to see if it’s quicker or easier than navigating with just the remote.

Of course, there’s the interface for the streaming device itself, and we use it extensively, just like any owner would, digging into how fluid and responsive it is, and whether it’s easy to find what you want. The advent of voice control ensures we’ll be testing how well the microphones receive our voices, how accurate the response from the voice assistant is, and how the digital assistant responds to commands.

Buffering is an aspect we consider, how speedy the device can be when loading up a stream (this, of course, is dependant on your internet speed). We’ll scour the app library to see which apps are supported and how it compares to other options on the market.

Then it’s time to actually watch and listen. Streaming devices can have an effect on picture but not necessarily a great one, and are reliant on the quality of your home cinema kit. Nevertheless, we’ll pay attention to the video, HDR and audio formats that are supported, assessing whether the streamer has everything you need to watch and hear your favourite content in the best way possible.

Finally, every element is judged against the price. If a streamer represents good value generally, we’ll be a little more lenient on aspects we’re not fans of. If it’s expensive, then the streamer has to put in a suitably powerhouse of a performance.

Amazon Fire TV Cube

Best steamer for home cinema users
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Pros

  • Excellent picture and sound
  • Control over a wide range of home cinema devices
  • Simple set-up
  • Hands-free Alexa

Cons

  • HDMI cable not included
  • Double the price of the Fire TV Stick 4K
  • Focus on Prime Video content

The Fire TV Cube (2nd gen) launched in 2019, but remains our favourite Fire TV streamer; a cube-shaped streamer that can pretty much do it all with its built-in Alexa voice control.

It’s bigger than a streaming stick but takes up relatively little space compared to an Apple TV 4K, small enough to be carted around to other homes if you so choose – our only issue is that the glossy finish is a magnet for smudges and picking up dust over time.

The remote’s clicky buttons offer a better response than the Roku Streaming Stick 4K‘s remote which makes for a better point of interaction.

No HDMI cable is included, which we find too frugal from Amazon, so a cable is needed to get things going. Once up and running, the Fire TV Cube can hold court over your entire home cinema set-up, with the ability to use Alexa to control devices connected to your TV (like a soundbar or AV receiver) or the IR extender that extends the Cube’s reach, enabling changes to the volume, switching inputs and hands-free navigation.

This level of connectivity isn’t possible on Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K Max and sets the Cube apart from many of its competitors. Alexa is built-in, with the near and far-field microphones able to hear our commands with ease, while the speaker gives Alexa a voice to respond with.

The app selection is, in our estimation, as strong as you’ll find on any streaming platform. All the big names are accounted for in their optimal form with Prime Video (naturally), Netflix, Disney+, YouTube and Apple TV+, Spotify and Tidal, plus all the UK catch-up apps in iPlayer, My5, All4 and ITV Hub. While the Wi-Fi performance will depend on the stability of your connection, our time spent with Cube revealed few, if any issues, in terms of patience-wearing buffering times.

The Fire TV Cube supports all the main HDR standards, from HDR10, HDR10+, HLG and Dolby Vision. This ensures that whatever you’re watching and on whatever TV you’re watching on, the Cube will filter through the best image to your screen. We also noted that the Cube’s compression, especially with darker scenes, is better than the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, which makes for a less distracting performance.

There’s Dolby Atmos sound if you have the kit capable to take advantage of it, and while the performance is similar to other Fire TV streamers, we did hear a more textured bass performance from our subwoofer when watching films and TV. And with Atmos and MQA support for Tidal, if you subscribe to that service you can expect excellent fidelity too.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Amazon Fire TV Cube

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max

Best streaming stick for Amazon users
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Pros

  • Excellent streaming performance
  • UI speed improved over older models
  • Bundle of entertainment apps
  • Supports all major HDR formats
  • Wi-Fi 6 compatible

Cons

  • Prime customers best served to get the most from it
  • Some might not dig the amount of ads
  • No High-res audio support
  • £5 more expensive than standard Fire TV 4K

If the home cinema ambitions of the Fire TV Cube aren’t of interest, and all you want is a stick to plug in and expand the entertainment options of your 4K TV, then the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is an excellent option.

It’s half the price of the Fire TV Cube, and its performance is similar, though you don’t get the hands-free Alexa support, nor do you get as much control over connected equipment. The Max model only supports power and volume options for a TV, soundbar and AV receiver.

Still, unlike the Cube, the Max is futureproofed with Wi-Fi 6 support ensuring it’s well-placed to take advantage of the faster Wi-Fi speeds those routers bring. It also has the Live view Picture-in-Picture mode, not available on the Fire TV Stick Lite or Fire TV Stick 3rd Gen, that shows a live feed of any connected smart camera/doorbell alongside what you’re watching.

There is a bounty of apps on the Fire TV platform, with all the usual suspects (and many more) accounted for. There are also lots of ads, which may annoy some given they’ve paid for Prime, but Amazon argues it helps in terms of flinging new content at users. Voice control is possible through the Alexa remote, and we found that it’s easier to call her up and find content or navigate through the menus than to use the buttons themselves.

Performance is similar to that of the Fire TV Cube, with punchy, colourful images, good detail and speedy navigation. Though what you see on screen will depend on the quality of your TV, the Max’s wide HDR support in Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10 and HLG will ensure the display has the best chance of optimising the picture. Where the Cube has the edge is in how it handles compression in darker scenes, otherwise the two streamers are close in quality.

The Cube also offers better, more textured bass performance, but what the Max offers is still better than most other streamers we’ve listened too, offering more nuance and detail in its sound than the Roku Streaming Stick 4K.

Of course you’ll need to be a Prime subscriber to make the most of this streamer. And given the ubiquity of Alexa in products and smart ecosystems, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max also gets our vote over the Chromecast with Google TV for its smarts. It’s also the cheaper of the two.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max

Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Best affordable 4K HDR streamer
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Pros

  • Affordable
  • Excellent streaming performance
  • Good feature set and app selection
  • Supports all main HDR formats
  • Stable Wi-Fi connection

Cons

  • Remote could feel better to use, only controls Roku stick
  • Missing a few apps here and there
  • No HDMI extender (but one is available)

We include the Roku Streaming Stick 4K as an alternative to those who aren’t interested in Alexa smarts or Google interfaces. It takes a platform agnostic approach to streaming, happy to serve content from any app.

Like the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, it plugs into the HDMI port of your TV (or any device you want to plug it into). Surprisingly, it doesn’t come with an HDMI extender, something Amazon’s streaming sticks do have, but you can order one from the Roku website. We’re not big fans of the remote, the build quality is plasticky and the response from the buttons doesn’t feel great. While volume and power can be controlled, there’s no means to control other devices and you can’t use your TV remote to operate the Roku either. We’d suggest using the Roku app, as that is the more intuitive control method.

The interface feels very basic yet it works very well. It’s easy to find content (both paid-for and free), easy to customise the layout and is home to a big app library, although we’d wager Amazon has it beat in terms of app quantity. AirPlay and HomeKit are supported, so those with iOS devices will find it easy to slot the Roku into the Apple ecosystem. The Roku doesn’t natively support either Alexa or Google voice assistance, but its own voice search is very powerful and accurate in serving up entertainment.

It’s hard to choose between the Fire TV Stick 4K Max’s performance and the Roku, as both conjure similarly colourful and detailed images, and both support all the main HDR formats, so you’re getting the best performance the stick can provide. It’s in the audio department where the Amazon streamer edges things, producing a more nuanced and detailed performance, and it boasts MQA and Atmos support for Tidal streaming.

The Roku is a very good streamer, close to the quality of Amazon’s best Fire TV Stick, and if you’re not interested in Alexa smarts then the Roku is the smarter choice.

Reviewer: Kob Monney
Full Review: Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Apple TV 4K (2021)

Best streamer for Apple users
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Pros

  • Excellent app selection
  • Fantastic picture
  • Wide HDR and audio support
  • Vastly improved remote

Cons

  • It is expensive when streaming sticks are so cheap
  • Minor upgrade over previous model

The Apple TV 4K box is the most expensive streamer on this list, but it’s arguably the best one in terms of picture and sound. though similarly to Amazon’s streamers, you’ll need to be in the Apple ecosystem to make the best of what it has to offer.

It’s not a big visual upgrade over the previous Apple TV box, which is still available, but features an HDMI 2.1 port and an upgraded remote, which we found to be much better than the unloved version that came with previous Apple TVs. The remote is not as smart as it could be, despite packing a Siri button, as it ditches the accelerometer for gaming and doesn’t support the AirTag tech that would help in locating the remote.

The tvOS interface hasn’t changed much in the last few years, so it’s the same sleek and slick experience from before, with Apple’s content hub pulling in shows and films from multiple streaming services along with your own video library. Recommendations for what to watch are available for most apps, although the Netflix app doesn’t support this feature. All the apps you’d expect are present, from the big SVOD options to UK catch-up and on-demand apps.

Like the Fire TV 4K Max, the Apple TV is futureproofed with support for faster Wi-Fi 6 speeds, and most of the HDR formats are supported in HDR10, Dolby Vision and HLG. Strangely though, HLG is not supported within the iPlayer app. The picture quality is very good, offering a bright, colourful image with 4K content, with better contrast on the 2021 Apple box than there was on the older model.

Dolby Atmos with Spatial Audio is included, so those with compatible Apple headphones can listen to music and films in the third-dimension. If you want the best picture performance, the Apple TV also has the Adjust Colour Balance feature that calibrates the picture of the streamer (not the TV). It’s a quick and easy process, though we found that with premium TVs, the differences post-calibration can be negligible.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full Review: Apple TV 4K Box (2021)

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FAQs

Is Roku or Fire TV Stick better?

We’d say it depends on what you want. If you want simplicity and ease of use then we’d say Roku. If you want a wider app selection and smart features in the form of Alexa, then a Fire TV device is better.

Does Roku have a monthly fee?

You do not have to pay to access the Roku interface/device. You will have to pay for any app that incurs a month subscription, such as Disney+ or Spotify.

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