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8 of the best media 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.

Related: Looking to cut the cord? Here’s how to quite cable for online streaming video

Sure, you can usually expect popular streaming services such as 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 directly 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 4 ($120+)

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The fourth incarnation of the Saratoga-based company’s flagship streamer is the most comprehensive to date, sporting thousands of channels, 4K content, an intuitive cross-platform search utility, and an excellent user interface. The compact offering is slim 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, dedicated buttons for a few streaming services, and, best of all, features a built-in headphone jack for wireless listening when turning up the TV volume is a no-go. The device also features a microSD slot for extra app and game storage, as well as built-in Wi-Fi and an Ethernet port for when a faster connection is of the utmost importance. Read our full review here.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Best Buy Walmart

The Rest

Roku Stick (2016) ($49)

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While the Roku Stick isn’t quite as robust feature-wise as the Roku 4, it’s nearly just as good. It’s fast, powerful, and it’s totally portable, making it a breeze to grab as you head out for a stay at a hotel. The streaming stick is also compatible with the Roku app, which makes searching for content and connecting the device to Wi-Fi connections that use web-based passwords — such as hotels or dorm rooms — as easy as possible. It even allows you to stream audio, via the Roku app, to an Android or iOS device connected to your network for private listening.

There are, of course, some drawbacks inherent to the Roku Stick’s smaller form factor. It doesn’t have the expandable storage the Roku 4 does, nor is it capable of 4K playback. If those things aren’t important, however, it’s a way better deal. The stick is portable and far cheaper than the Roku 4, and the 2016 version is the fastest and most reliable iteration of the device yet. Read our full review here.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Best Buy

Amazon Fire TV (2015) ($100)

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Amazon’s first go at a streaming set-top box instantly became a hit among members of the company’s Prime service, but the second-generation Fire TV delivers tons of free programming alongside Amazon’s handy voice-assistant, Alexa. Thankfully, the super-slim and speedy box will still appeal to anyone with subscriptions to other services, such as Netflix and Hulu. Amazon also recently outfitted the device with 4K Ultra HD streaming support, and though it’s not meant for advanced gaming, it’s designed to tackle a wide array of mobile games using an optional, dedicated controller. As the devices on this list go, the Fire TV is the most versatile and well-supported for the price. Read our full review here.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Best Buy

Amazon Fire TV Stick ($40+)

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The Amazon Fire Stick is to the Fire TV what the Roku Stick is to the Roku 4; the smaller, simpler version of the streaming box. The Amazon Fire Stick gets props for giving users quick access to Amazon’s entire library of streaming content, which includes a fair amount of original programming and a host of apps and games offered through Amazon’s app store. Therein lies the rub, however. The Fire Stick is an Amazon product to a fault, and at every turn, the device’s user interface will steer you toward Amazon content. Voice search results also tend to favor the Amazon library, and the voice-compatible model will run you $10 more than the basic Fire TV Stick. While this might put off some, the device’s low price point and robust integration with Amazon’s services makes it an enticing choice for Amazon Prime users. The intuitive home-screen layout helps, too. Read our full review here.

Buy one now from:

Amazon Best Buy

Apple TV (2015) ($149+)

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The Apple TV remains one of the best offerings on our roundup — especially if you’re already heavily-invested in any of Apple’s other devices or services — and the latest iteration of the streamer is even better than its predecessor. While most essential services are supported (sorry, no Amazon Prime!) Apple Airplay and apps like iOS Remote make the Apple TV’s user experience unique. You can easily beam any content you’ve previously purchased or rented through the iTunes Store directly to you TV 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, and the device’s speedy operation and integration with Siri render it a must-have for Apple aficionados. The bright colors and rounded icons help, too. Read our full review here.

Buy one now from:

Apple Best Buy Walmart

Google Chromecast (2015) ($30)

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At $35, the Chromecast wins the affordability award on this list. The puck-sized, HDMI-equipped device doesn’t come with a remote or have a built-in user interface, 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. Fair warning, Chromecast doesn’t support Amazon Prime, but there is a Chrome browser-based workaround available. Otherwise, the device revels in simplicity, which explains why it’s been such a hit. Read our full review here.

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Best Buy Target

Video Game Consoles (varies)

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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. Systems such as the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 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 — i.e. the Xbox 360 and PS3 — still cost quite a bit more than the other devices on our list, especially if you buy them new.

Recommended consoles:

Playstation 4 Xbox One PlayStation 3 Xbox 360 Nintendo Wii U

This article was originally published on August 13, 2015, and updated on May 27, 2016, by Brendan Hesse to reflect the latest offerings from Apple, Google, and Amazon.