Holiday 2020: The Best Streaming Sticks and Boxes

A photo of the Roku remote control.
Fozan Ns/Shutterstock

Streaming sticks are an essential item in every home, and they’re often one of the best gifts that you can put under the tree. Not only are streaming sticks snappier, easier to use, and more reliable than typical smart TVs, but they can integrate with your phone and smarthome gadgets to make life easier.

But which streaming stick should you buy? You can’t go wrong with a Roku or the new Chromecast, but most brands offer features that may line up with the lifestyle of whoever you’re shopping for. Many even offer full voice control and deep smart home integration! So here’s the rundown on the best streaming sticks and boxes available today, including info on smart home integration, gaming, and all the good stuff that makes or breaks a gift.

Cheap and Easy: Roku Premiere

A photo of the Roku Premiere box.

Why overcomplicate things? The 4K-capable Roku Premiere keeps the cost low and takes minutes to set up. It has a no-frills interface, a straightforward remote control, and it’s compatible with all of your favorite streaming services. Roku devices also come with free access to The Roku Channel, and they’re compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant smart home environments.

Don’t need 4K? The more affordable Roku Express HD packs the simplicity of Roku into an even cheaper package. You can also pair Roku streaming sticks with Roku’s smart soundbars for the ultimate all-in-one Christmas gift.

Cheap and Easy

Roku Premiere | HD/4K/HDR Streaming Media Player, Simple Remote and Premium HDMI Cable

The Roku Premiere packs 4K, smart home compatibility, and a simple remote into an affordable package. You can’t beat the price or simplicity of Roku streaming sticks.

Killer Content Curation: Chromecast with Google TV

A photo of the blue Chromecast with Google TV

Chromecast with Google TV is the new kid on the block. It’s a 4K streaming stick with a home screen that focuses on curating content just for you, Google Assistant integration, and a simple remote with a knack for voice commands. Notably, the Chromecast with Google TV has a global voice search so you can find shows without jumping from service to service.

Like other Chromecast products, the Chromecast with Google TV can be controlled entirely from your phone, tablet, or laptop. You and your guests can also “cast” videos directly to the streaming stick from your device of choice, or beam photos and websites directly to the big screen.

While it’s not supported out of the box, Chromecast with Google TV will eventually work with Google’s Stadia game streaming service. It’s worth keeping in mind if you’re shopping for a gamer.

Powerful Streaming and Gaming: NVIDIA SHIELD TV

A photo of the NVIDIA SHIELD streamign box and remote control.

NVIDIA SHIELD TV is a superpowered streaming box that runs  Android TV. Its enhanced processing power delivers 4K Dolby Vision video with AI upscaling, so even 1080p streams look 4K. NVIDIA SHIELD TV is also capable of playing Android games, and it makes for a fantastic advanced media streamer and Plex server.

The only downside to NVIDIA SHIELD TV is its price tag. If you’re interested in AI upscaling and Android games, then the cheaper, hot dog-shaped NVIDIA SHIELD might suit your needs better than the original SHIELD TV.

Powerful Streaming and Gaming

NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV Pro 4K HDR Streaming Media Player; High Performance, Dolby Vision, 3GB RAM, 2x USB, Works with Alexa

NVIDIA SHIELD uses the same interface as Chromecast with Google TV, but its powerful hardware takes gaming and AI-enhanced video to the next level.

For Alexa Households: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

A photo of the Fire TV Stick 4K.

The Fire TV Stick 4K puts your favorite Amazon Prime Video content all in one place, along with Alexa smarthome controls and voice navigation. It’s a smooth simple alternative to other streaming sticks, and it integrates seamlessly with Amazon’s vast array of products and services.

At the time of writing, Fire TV doesn’t have HBO Max or Peacock apps. But that’s the Fire TV Stick 4K’s only serious drawback, and it’s a small thing to trade for Fire TV’s simple interface, voice remote, and Alexa integration—especially if you don’t subscribe to those services.

For Alexa Households

Fire TV Stick 4K streaming device with Alexa built in, Dolby Vision, includes Alexa Voice Remote, latest release

Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K emphasizes Prime Video and integrates seamlessly with Alexa. If you’re subscribed to Amazon services or use Alexa, then this is the streaming stick for you.

All Apple All the Time: Apple TV 4K

A photo of the Apple TV streaming box.

Shopping for someone deep in the Apple ecosystem? Apple TV 4K is a bit expensive, but its ultra-clean interface and iOS integration make for a phenomenal experience. You can navigate Apple TV with voice commands through the Apple Remote, or connect a wireless gamepad to enjoy Apple Arcade games. Want to show your friends a video on the big screen? You can cast content from your iPhone or iPad to Apple TV or use your iOS device as a remote control.

Apple TV 4K works with 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos audio. If you don’t need 4K HDR or Dolby Atmos, then you should buy the Apple TV HD instead, as it’s more affordable (but not as future proof).

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