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8 of the best streaming devices to watch TV your way, on your schedule

As convenient as it is to stream Netflix on our smartphones, tablets and PCs, nothing beats watching on the big screen for the ultimate in movie and TV show enjoyment. To do it, we recommend a streaming set-top box or streaming stick, and there are plenty to choose from now, each with its own pros and cons, and some with quirks you’ll want to know about ahead of time.

Sure, you can expect popular streaming services like Netflix and Hulu to come standard, but not every device is going to allow you to remotely access your iTunes library or stream photos and video straight from your smartphone. As such, we’ve picked out the best of the bunch and laid out their essential and unique features to help you get the absolute most entertainment for your money.

The Best

Roku 3 ($100)


The third incarnation of the Saratoga-based company’s flagship streamer is the most comprehensive to date, sporting more than 2,000 channels, an intuitive cross-platform search utility, and an excellent user interface. The puck-sized offering is attractive and subtle, and equipped with nonskid rubber and enough weight to prevent it from getting shuffled around in your entertainment center. The remote is simple, but allows snappy navigation of Roku’s extremely intuitive channel-based interface, and, best of all, features a built-in headphone jack for wireless listening when turning up the TV volume is a no-go. Wi-Fi is built in, but an Ethernet port is available if a faster connection is needed. A microSD slot for additional app and game storage is a feature unique to the Roku (others tend to us USB for storage). Read more here.

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The Rest

Roku Streaming Stick ($40)


The compact and super-portable Roku Streaming Stick comes with nearly every notable feature present in the flagship Roku 3, but at half the price. The included remote skips the headphone jack found on the Roku 3, but it’s lined with shortcut buttons for easy access to apps like Netflix and Amazon. The Stick’s slick, thumb drive-like design fits discretely into any HDMI-equipped television, and though it is much smaller, still delivers 1080P HD streams and snappy navigation . With access to more than 2,000 sports, movies, news, and music channels, the Roku Stick makes it easy to cut the cord and never look back. Read more here.

Buy it now from:

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Amazon Fire TV ($100)


Amazon’s first go at a streaming set-top box instantly became a hit among members of the company’s Prime service, which delivers tons of free streaming movies and TV shows and a handy voice-search feature to get at them more easily. But the super-slim and speedy box will appeal to anyone with subscriptions to other services like Netflix and Hulu. Amazon also made the device compatible with a dedicated video game controller (sold separately at $40), which is designed to work with a wide array of mobile games such as Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto III.  As the devices on this list go, the Fire TV is the most versatile and well-supported. Read our full review here.

Buy it now from:

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Apple TV ($70)


Admittedly, the Apple TV is getting a little long in the tooth — we’d hoped to hear of a new one earlier this year, but no dice. Still, the Apple TV remains one of the best offerings on our roundup — especially if you’re already heavily-invested in any of Apples other devices or services — and the price has come down, to boot. While most essential services are supported (sorry, no Amazon Prime!) it is Apple Airplay and apps like iOS Remote that makes the Apple TV’s user experience unique. You can easily beam any content you’ve previously purchased or rented through the iTunes Store to you TV straight from the cloud, freeing your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad up to do other things. Sharing personal photos and videos from iOS devices is also easiest with the Apple TV. It may be a little old, but the Apple TV is still going strong. Read more here.

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Google Nexus Player ($70)


After canning its first attempt at a streaming media player, Google returned to the set-top box field in the fall of 2014 with the Asus-made Nexus Player. It offers similar capabilities to Amazon’s Fire TV, allowing for voice-activated searching and personalized recommendations, along with integrated gaming if you decide to opt for an optional gamig controller. The Android-powered and Google-backed device has been slowly but surely adding apps, and Chromecast-style “casting” ability makes it easy for friends and family to share content from their smartphones and tablets. The only downside is no Ethernet port, which seems like an odd omission for a set-top box. Read our full review here.

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Google Chromecast ($38)


At $35, the Chromecast wins the affordability award on this list. The HDMI dongle doesn’t have a user interface per se, but instead allows you to initiate streams using your smart phone, tablet or PC. Once commanded to do so, the Chromecast pulls the content down from the cloud, leaving your device’s resources alone, thus saving its battery. The device revels in simplicity, which explains why it’s been such a hit.

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Amazon Fire TV Stick ($39)


Don’t let the size of Amazon’s Fire TV Stick fool you. The device packs nearly the same punch as its larger cousin, essentially functioning as Amazon’s answer to the Roku Stick and Google’s Chromecast. Perfect for the budget-minded cord cutter, the Fire TV Stick streams stunning 1080p HD video and provides rich Dolby Digital Plus surround sound in the process. As sleek as it is inconspicuous, the black-matte Fire TV Stick also discretely plugs into any HDMI port without becoming an eyesore. You do give up on the voice-search feature here, but it can still be activated using a Fire Phone or Kindle Fire tablet, all of which act as remotes on their own. Amazon’s Advanced Streaming and Prediction technology (ASAP),learns your viewing habits and allows you to skirt buffering sessions on Amazon-hosted content. Read our full review here.

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Video Game Consoles (varies)


Even before Microsoft’s Xbox One received an Emmy for its “industry-leading television-on-demand and media center capabilities,” video game consoles ranked as the most popular devices for streaming content to your TV. Other top choices include the Xbox 360, and both the PS4 and PS3. The systems have quickly become jack-of-all-trades media centers, conveniently giving you access to scores of programming from the likes of HBO Go, NFL Network, Netflix, and Hulu. Several other devices on our list provide gaming, but as you might expect, the next-gen consoles blow all mobile games out of the water in terms of graphics resolution and playability. The downside? Even most last-gen consoles (Xbox 360 and PS3) still cost upwards of $150 if you buy them new.

Recommended consoles:

Playstation 4 Xbox One PlayStation 3 Xbox 360 Nintendo Wii U