Well, it’s official: streaming media has officially won the content wars. Physical media fought hard, but in the end, its limited resources could not compete with the ever-expanding, ever-improving technological juggernaut that is online streaming. Please take a moment to honor all the fallen Blu-ray players and cable boxes that served us so well over the years.
All right. Now, that that’s done, we can celebrate the winner of the content wars: streaming! Here are the best streaming media devices you can buy in 2021.
Roku Streaming Stick+
At this point, the name Roku is as synonymous with streaming as Netflix. The company is a streaming media pioneer, having launched its first device way back in 2008. More than 12 years later, it remains at the forefront of the streaming media industry, thanks to devices like the Roku Streaming Stick+. We're happy to report that the Streaming Stick 4K is a noteworthy upgrade from the Streaming Stick+ it replaces. Alongside full 4K HDR capabilities, Dolby Vision finally comes the Streaming Stick 4K, as well. With access to more than half a million movies and episodes spread out across some 3,000 channels, the Streaming Stick+ delivers a near-endless supply of entertainment in a discreet, inexpensive package that installs easily. It supports Full HD and UHD 4K video and, thanks to the new-and-improved Roku RCAL7R Voice Remote, it’s easier than ever to operate.
Google Chromecast with Google TV
Years from now, historians will claim it was Google finally developing a Chromecast remote control that signaled the end of the content wars. Why did it take the company so long? Who knows? But it’s here, and with it comes a new, stand-alone Chromecast device with Google TV. Make no mistake: Chromecast was a great streaming tool before this latest edition was released. But now, it’s one of the best streaming platforms you can buy. It features one of Google’s other recent unveilings, Google TV, which supports thousands of Android apps and grants you access to channels even the Roku Streaming Stick+ doesn’t (*cough* HBO Max *cough*). Like the Streaming Stick+, it supports 4K streaming, is inexpensive, and features a cool, compact design that’s fairly inconspicuous. Also, did we mention it comes with a remote? It comes with a remote, and it’s awesome.
Apple TV 4K
For anyone immersed in Apple’s entertainment ecosystem, there aren’t a whole lot of options when it comes to streaming. Luckily, that doesn’t matter, because you only need one: Apple TV 4K.
Apple has given the Apple TV 4K its first major refresh in four years. A new version of the Apple TV 4K, quite literally called the “New Apple TV 4K” is now powered with the A12 Bionic chip and also ships with an all-new redesigned Siri Remote. The updated Apple TV 4K includes new color-balance technology that uses the light sensor found in an iPhone to compare the color balance to the industry-standard specifications used by cinematographers worldwide. Using this data, the Apple TV 4K automatically adjusts its video output to deliver much more accurate colors and improved contrast.
Apple’s most recent streaming device gives you access to hundreds of applications—everything from Netflix and YouTube to sports-content apps from all major sports leagues (NFL, NBA, etc.) It also gives you access to Apple-exclusive content and services, such as Apple Arcade. In terms of performance, Apple TV 4K supports streaming content up to—you guessed it—4K resolution and it features arguably the best-looking and most user-friendly home setup screen. It’s got a lot of other really great features, including a voice-enabled remote with Siri support and excellent integration with other Apple devices, but all that good does come at a more expensive price. Still, for being the only Apple-friendly streaming device in town, it’s quite excellent.
NVIDIA Shield TV
Although it’s held in high esteem when it comes to graphics cards and gaming, not enough people are singing the praises of NVIDIA’s streaming platform, specifically the NVIDIA Shield TV. Like the other devices on this list, the Shield TV gives you access to a near-endless trove of streaming 4K content, but it also provides the best game-streaming experience. With the Shield TV, you can stream games directly from your computer library or access them through gaming services like NVIDIA Games and GeForce Now. What’s more, those games you access from your local library can be streamed in 1080p with no lag, meaning you can be watching a Netflix movie in bed one minute, then jump back into your latest video game adventure the next—all without having to get up and go to your PC. And those are just some of the highlights. For an even deeper look at why we think the NVIDIA Shield TV is so great, check out this review.
Farewell, Physical Media
One of the reasons streaming media ultimately won the content wars is because there are so many high-quality streaming devices available. The above list represents some of the very best of those devices. Were there any that we missed? Let us know in the Comments section, below!