So, you went out and bought one of those massive, fancy-pants TVs, and you’ve noticed that you spend more time watching Orange is the New Black than any of the network crap. Hulu, Amazon Video, Netflix, and an array of other video streaming services are putting out fantastic original series. How can you get the good stuff on your TV? Well, stop shelling out hundreds of dollars a month for cable and make a one-time investment in a streaming media player.
First, I will show you what to look for in a streaming media player (SMP). Then, I’ll let you know which SMPs are the best. I was one of the first guys to “cut the cord,” so I like to think I know a thing or two about watching TV shows off of the Internet.
Types of SMPs
There are essentially three types of streaming media players: set-top boxes, streaming sticks, and game consoles. Sure, there are smart Blu-ray players out there that can double as SMPs, but they are not worth buying for their streaming abilities. Mostly because you don’t know which apps they will support. So, let’s take a closer look at the other three types:
Set-Top Boxes – If you’ve ever had digital cable, you probably had some big ol’ receiver that you had to “rent” from the cable company. Of course, it was just another way to squeeze more money out of you. Rest happy knowing you don’t have to put up with those dillholes anymore. Unfortunately, the set-top box is still the standard for streaming, but you get it with a one-time payment, and it’s much smaller than its prehistoric ancestors.
Streaming Sticks – These are tiny and generally the most affordable. The downside is that you need to use it with your computer or mobile device. You plug it directly into your TV’s HDMI port and control it with whatever Internet-connected device you are able to get to communicate with it.
Game Consoles – This is how I started watching streaming media on my old-school cathode ray tube television. My Wii connected me to Netflix and YouTube, and I wagged my genitals at Comcast while canceling my subscription (after an hour of listening to them try to convince me otherwise on the phone). This is your most expensive option, but it is worth it if you want to watch Amelie on Blu-ray and play the latest games, like Call of Duty 7 or James Bond and Friends or whatever you kids are into.
“Which Streaming Media Player Is Right for Me?”
Listen, I didn’t make a list of ten of the best SMPs so that I could immediately tell you the ONE device that is perfect for you. You gotta choose the one that is right for your situation. Also, do not look up SMP on Urban Dictionary. I’m sorry for the poorly-chosen acronym.
Basically, the best streaming media player for you depends on what you want to use it for. If you have a laptop or mobile device that you do not mind using for streaming purposes, go with the stick. If you want to watch DVDs and play games with your device, the game console is the way to go. Otherwise, buy a box. If you don’t want to stream video, stop wasting your time and read one of our other lists.
Want more specific recommendations? Check out my top 10 best streaming media players:
- Only Android TV player that has Amazon Video app
- Download and play high-end Android and GeForce Now games
- Voice command smart home tech control
Now that we have broken all of the SMPs into nice neat categories, it’s time to talk about a device that breaks the rules. NVIDIA SHIELD is branded in all caps because you can only say it while yelling for joy. It is a gaming console/streaming box/smart home thingy hybrid (tribrid?) Assuming everything else you have is of the best quality, you can get crystal clear video images. You can also play your family vacation video from your trip to the Wisconsin Dells via the USB port. Buy it unless you are subsisting solely on ramen. In which case, get your life together first.
2. Roku Ultra
- Access to over 3,500 channels
- Remote with a voice search option because buttons are for idiots
- Let’s you know that you put the remote in the freezer by accident
SMPs are basically what Roku does. I refuse to perform a Google search to see if they actually make anything else because if they do, it’s irrelevant. They have six models currently, and the Ultra is their top of the line product. It supports HDR and 4K video. Or, if you are a Luddite and still have one of those CRT TVs you found sitting on the curb in your neighborhood or at Goodwill, you can still use Roku to stream. Mind blown.
- Isn’t actually on fire
- Has some of the capabilities of Alexa, a gorgeous young lady I dated back in college
- Able to mirror anything on your internet-connected devices
Amazon is battling (and slowly winning) against Google for world domination. Their entry into the SMP competition is Fire TV, which is one of the most affordable set-top boxes on the market. If you are already heavily invested in Amazon’s products, then go with the Fire. It makes it easy for you to watch all of the virtual movies you bought from Amazon. Plus, when Amazon wins World War III, this will likely be the only SMP that is still supported.
- The best stick money can buy (you can get better ones if you will barter your soul)
- More than 15,000 apps and games
- Alexa is listening to you
Though the name “Fire Stick” smacks of cultural appropriation, I’m guessing Amazon is banking on people not associating the name with the ridiculous Hollywoodized Native American name for shotguns. Anyway, this is currently the least expensive device that gives you access to that saucy gal Alexa.
- Quad-core processor, so it doesn’t crap out on you like older Roku devices
- Unbiased search results – Find where stuff is cheap or free
- Upscale HD to 1080p
The cool thing about Roku devices is that they are not attached to specific streaming services, so they are not trying to push their products on you (I’m looking at you, Amazon.) Therefore, you might save money in the long run with the Roku Stick when you aren’t duped into buying paid content you could have gotten for free elsewhere.
- Access to almost half a million TV episodes and movies
- Most affordable Roku device with 4K Ultra HD
- Night listening mode (in a totally non-creepy way)
If you want an affordable set-top box, the Premiere is the way to go. It supports sharp graphics, and it has a classy remote that you can plug your headphones into in case you want to watch tasteful porn while your wife sleeps next to you.
7. Roku Express
- Most affordable SMP
- Many of the same features you can expect from other Roku products
- Small enough you can fit it in your underwear (I’m assuming)
Tired of spending thousands of dollars for a streaming media player? Now, you can get a streaming stick for under $30. Plus, it has just about all of the services other Roku products have.
8. Xbox One
- Best streaming game console
- Built-in Blu-ray player
- Comes with a lot of stuff that gamers would like
I’m not a gamer. Nonetheless, I have a son who games, and we keep our Xbox in the room we rent out for Airbnb. Anyway, I’m pretty sure this VR genius guy from China stayed with us extra nights solely because we had the Xbox in the room. This is your most expensive SMP option, but it comes with much more stuff than the other options on this list.
9. TiVo BOLT
- DVR capabilities – up to four shows at the same time
- Have to subscribe to TiVo ($149.99 per year)
- Skip commercials
TiVo used to be the big man on campus, and it’s still pretty cool for old people who think they need a cable provider and don’t know that you can watch TV shows any other way. For the most part, if you are using streaming services, you don’t really need DVR and commercial skipping won’t actually work. This device isn’t bad, but I’m not sure it’s really worth the price unless you plan on keeping your cable subscription.
10. SkyStream ONE
- Visitors will ask “What the funny is that?”
- Claims “you will never miss another episode again”
- 4K Ultra HD streaming
This is a hipster set-top box: it’s obscure, and you probably haven’t heard of it. Other than that, it doesn’t really offer anything the above set-top boxes provide. I guess it’s kind of cool in that it has four USB ports. Pretty neat.
Are your parents still addicted to the cord? Do your civic duty and share these reviews with them.