Top Picks Streaming Media Players

Google Chromecast Streaming Media Player: $35
There are many ways to add streaming to a non-Wi-Fi-equipped HDTV these days but none are as inexpensive or as impressive as Google’s Chromecast dongle. Plug it into an open HDMI port and you’ll be streaming high-def content from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and more in no time. You can even stop watching a movie on the Chromecast and continue watching on any smartphone or tablet—and the switching is nearly instantaneous. If you’re looking to add smarts to your TV, you can’t do any better than this. (June 2014, Read Full Review)
Amazon Fire TV Stick Streaming Media Player: $39
A smaller, less expensive follow-up to Amazon’s Fire TV, the Stick delivers a host of streaming options through an easy-to-use menu when you plug it into any HDMI port on your TV. The focus is on music and movies available through Amazon so Amazon Prime members will get the most from it. Netflix, Hulu Plus, and YouTube are accounted for and Amazon has added an X-Ray feature that provides access to additional info about the TV show or movie you’re watching, but there’s no app for Vudu or M-Go. (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
Roku Streaming HDMI Stick: $50
Whereas the previous Roku Streaming Stick required an MHL (Mobile High Definition Link)-compatible HDMI port, the HDMI Stick is compatible with standard HDMI connections on most TVs. The tiny dongle is basically a Roku box on a stick that puts 1,700-plus channels at your fingertips. Unlike its predecessor, the HDMI Stick cannot be controlled by the TV’s remote and requires AC power. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez concluded: “Roku persists as one of the most content-rich, high-performing media players available.” (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
Netgear NeoTV NTV200 Media Streamer: $50
This inexpensive media streamer is easy to set up and provides wired or wireless access to Web content from Netflix, Vudu, Pandora and dozens of other service providers. The device can stream high-def movies from Vudu and has an intuitive interface for creating your own channels. You can control the box using the supplied remote, or download a free app and use your smartphone or tablet. Reviewer Kim Wilson wrote: “The greatest asset to this player is Vudu...and an extensive array of fun, informative, and social content.” (May 2012, Read Full Review)
Western Digital WD TV Play Media Player: $70
An update of last year’s WD TV Live media streamer, WD TV Player is a stellar audio and video performer that offers the quality and usability of its predecessor for $30 less. Updates include an intuitive grid-style menu that can be customized to move frequently used channels and apps to the Favorites screen, a smaller remote with dedicated buttons for Netflix and other popular services, a remote app for using your smartphone to control the player, and built-in SlingPlayer for streaming live TV from a Slingbox. (October 2013, Read Full Review)
Netgear NeoTV Max Media Streamer: $70
The NTV-300SL (aka NeoTV 300 Max or just NeoTV Max) is the only media device (so far) to use Intel’s Wireless Display (WiDi) technology to turn your TV into a second monitor for your computer. The tiny box is DLNA-certified and provides access to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, or any Website when it’s connected to a WiDi-enabled laptop. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez wrote, “The NeoTV Max has the features you’d expect on a $100 player, but it’s priced at $70. If you have wanted to wirelessly connect your computer to your TV, this may be the way.” (HomeTheater.com, Read Full Review)
BiggiFi Android Media Streamer: $90
If you like the idea of displaying and playing smartphone apps and games on the big screen, then BiggiFi deserves consideration. Plug the tiny app-controlled dongle into an HDMI port on your TV and you’ve just expanded your entertainment horizons. Noting it’s uniqueness among media streamers, reviewer Barb Gonzalez wrote, “BiggiFi does more than mirror an Android phone. You can even connect more than one phone at the same time, so the family can take turns playing games or controlling what is on the BiggiFi.” All that for just 90 bucks. (November 2014, Read Full Review)
Amazon Fire TV Streaming Media Player: $99
Amazon’s surprise entry into the world of media streamers is a welcome addition. The sleek looking Fire TV boasts a quad-core processor with 2 GB of memory, making it the fastest streamer available. It also offers a number of popular games and is equipped with an excellent remote control and an impressive voice search function. Speak into the microphone and your search term—cast, crew, title—appears on screen. Bonus: If you’re an Amazon Prime member you get ready access to the Amazon Instant Video library and the system makes intelligent recommendations based on your viewing history. (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
Western Digital WD TV Live Media Streamer: $99
WD TV Live delivers solid video and audio performance and is equipped to play 1080p video with 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. It supports wired or wireless (via Wi-Fi) streaming and gives you access to streaming services Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Vudu as well as social media sites and more; it also plays just about any kind of photo, music, or video file. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez concluded: “WD TV Live is a great choice if you want to stream media both online and from your home network.” (HomeTheater.com, Read Full Review)
Roku 2 XS Media Streamer: $99
Comprehensive, Wi-Fi compatible, and easy to operate, the Roku 2 XS adds Internet streaming to any TV or home theater system from a box the size of a hockey puck and gives you direct access to the popular game, Angry Birds. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez wrote: "If you are looking for a good way to stream movies, TV, music, and other online content in an easy-to-use manner—or if you are truly addicted to Angry Birds—the Roku 2 XS is a solid choice." (April 2012, Read Full Review)
Roku 3 Media Streamer: $100
Everything about the Roku 3, the latest version of the popular media streamer, is better than previous generation models. Dual-band wireless capability greatly improves streaming performance, the box is lighter and physically smaller yet adds a headphone jack, and a new interface and remote control make it easier to stream favorite movies and TV shows, now available on more than 750 entertainment channels. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez called it one of the best media streamers you can buy. (July/August 2013, Read Full Review)
Roku Stick Media Streamer: $100
Like it’s big brother, the 2 XS, the Roku Stick adds Internet streaming to a TV but this time from a thumb-drive-size device that plugs into the HDMI input on a Mobile High Definition Link (MHL)-enabled TV (MHL enables the Stick to get power through the HDMI connection). With the tiny stick in place, you can stream content from your home network and tap into more than 700 channels, including Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, and many other streaming services. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez was impressed with its performance and concluded: “If you can use a Roku Stick and like Roku’s offering, it’s definitely the way to go.” (May 2013, Read Full Review)
Vizio Co-Star Streaming Player with Google TV: $100
The Co-Star lacks some of the features offered on Sony’s NSZ-GS7 player, but costs $100 less and supports 1080p resolution with Dolby Digital Plus pass-through and 3D playback. A slick Movies and TV app recommends movies and TV shows (based on ratings you've assigned to programs) and tells you where you can watch them, while the Bluetooth remote provides one-touch access to Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez wrote: “The Vizio is a good value and a good way to bring Google TV to your home theater.” (HomeTheater.com, Read Full Review)
Sony SMP-N200 Media Player: $100
The SMP-N200 comes highly recommended as a great way to bring trouble-free, high-quality audio and video streaming from Netflix, Hulu Plus and other popular sites to your home theater. It’s easy to set up and use, supports Dolby Digital surround sound, and plays a wide variety of file formats. In the words of reviewer Barb Gonzalez: “This is an awesome player that will do the job in 1080p full HD while delivering great value. Recommended.” (September 2012, Read Full Review)
Roku Ultra Streaming Player: $130
Roku continues to up its streaming game, this time adding 4K high dynamic range (HDR) capability and voice search to its flagship player. The player is dead simple to use, agnostic in the way it searches for desired content, and delivers topnotch video. It’s easy to see why it made our 2016 Top Picks of the Year list. Calling the Ultra a great choice for owners of 4K HDTVs, reviewer Barb Gonzalez wrote: “No other streaming player has the search capabilities, robust remote app, and ease of casting photos and music.” (February/March 2017, Read Full Review)
Roku 4 Streaming Media Player: $130
The newest Roku box is the first to deliver both 4K video and high-quality audio to your receiver via HDMI. It doesn’t hurt that the advanced processor makes for a zippy user interface, or that a button on the box helps you find your lost remote. (SoundandVision.com, Nov. 2015, Read Full Review)
Sony NSZ-GU1 Bravia Smart Stick: $150
Upgrading was never so easy: If you own a Sony Bravia TV made after 2013, use the Bravia Smart Stick to add Google TV apps and integrate all of your streaming apps with cable/satellite-delivered programming for more seamless “global” content searches. Simply plug it in and you’re ready to go. It even comes with a handy remote with a touchpad on one side and a full (mini) keyboard on the other. (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
Sony NSZ-GS7 Internet Player with Google TV: $200
The NSZ-GS7 turns any TV in to a Google TV and excels at cleaning up poor-quality video, making it presentable on a big screen. Apps such as Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, and Sony’s Video Unlimited come pre-loaded and many others are available through Google Play. Performance is glitch-free and you get an easy-to-use Bluetooth remote with backlit keys and a mini keyboard. Reviewer Barb Gonzalez concluded: “If you want a Google TV with a great Web browser, the NSZ-GS7 is a good choice.” (December 2012, Read Full Review)
TiVo Bolt Vox DVD and Streamer: $200-$500
DVR pioneer TiVo continues to evolve the DVR art form with the 4K-compatible Bolt Vox. While not everyone will like the new interface, there’s no denying the appeal of its voice remote, which greatly streamlines search and is a lot more fun to use than an onscreen keyboard. The remote also sports a Skip button that makes bypassing annoying commercials a one-tap affair. (April 2018, Read Full Review)
TiVo Bolt Unified Entertainment System: $300 (500 GB), $400 (1 TB)
Far more than just a digital video recorder (DVR), Bolt is an indispensable tool for TV-obsessed viewers who hate commercials and value the ease of managing all their cable, online, and local-network-stored entertainment from one smartly designed media receiver/recorder. You can stream 4K/Ultra HD content from Netflix and YouTube, stream music from Pandora and Spotify, record up to four programs at once, and access Bolt via an app on your phone or tablet (Android or iOS). This is TiVo on steroids. (June 2016, Read Full Review)

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