If you don't get an HDR streaming device, you're gonna have a bad time
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This feature is part is Reviewed.com's Guide to Cord Cutting, where we explain everything you need to know to start living life without a cable bill.
There are a lot of streaming devices on the market: everything from household names like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Roku, to more obscure entries from Nvidia. We've done our best to keep up with all the new devices as they hit the market, and these days you can find a good streaming device no matter your budget.
But if you want a streaming device that won't be obsolete in a few years, it's wise to buy one that's built to keep up with the times. Also, all of the streaming devices we actually recommend now support both 4K and HDR.
Fortunately, you don't have to spend a bundle on a new 4K/HDR device (though you can if you want). We've tested every single streaming device on the market, and it's easy to get one that's 4K and HDR-ready no matter your budget. Here are your options:
The latest Roku Ultra replaces the previous model, but is altogether very similar. It costs less ($99), supports 4K and HDR content at up to 60 frames per second (though not the more advanced Dolby Vision HDR), comes with Roku’s most advanced remote, and a button on the box will force your remote to make a noise so you can find it in the cushions.
The remote is still the easiest to use of all the major players, and it now features power/volume buttons that work with your TV. The remote is perfectly sized, has buttons to quickly access popular services, and even includes a headphone jack so you can plug in headphones and listen to what you’re streaming wirelessly—perfect for late-night binge sessions.
Though streaming sticks have typically been lower-end offerings compared to the full-size streaming boxes, the new Roku Streaming Stick+ is the exception. It offers full 4K and HDR (HDR10, not Dolby Vision) in a stick form factor, and in our tests it was nearly as fast as the full-size Roku Ultra.
Though it only connects to the internet over Wi-Fi, the Stick+ did just fine streaming 4K and HDR content, comparing well to the Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV 4K, and the Roku Ultra. The antenna is built into the USB power cable (don’t lose it!), a design Roku claims offers improved reception.
Apple finally released a 4K- and HDR-ready version of the Apple TV this year, and unsurprisingly, it’s a high-end device—with a high-end price. The Apple TV 4K supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR, has access to most popular streaming services, and includes the new “TV” app that syncs (almost) all the TVs, shows, and movies you’re watching across your other iOS devices.
As you’d expect, the Apple TV 4K is fast, relatively easy to use, and has a good-looking user interface. The new TV app works well as a one-stop-shop for all your streaming needs, but it doesn’t pull in content from Netflix. It does pull in Amazon Prime shows and movie, which were recently added to Apple TV after a puzzlingly long wait.
Making up the gap somewhat is iTunes, which has gotten a full 4K/HDR makeover. Most of your existing iTunes purchases are now available in 4K and HDR for no extra charge.
If you don’t need the higher-end features of the Apple TV 4K and want something with a lower profile than the Roku Ultra, the Amazon Fire TV is a great pick. Also updated in late 2017, the new model is smaller, faster, cheaper, and offers full support for 4K and HDR content.
If you’re updating from an existing Fire TV, there are some changes to be aware of. The most positive is the addition of HDR. It’s only HDR10 and not Dolby Vision—weird, since Amazon Video offers Dolby Vision movies—but it’s better than nothing.
The box itself is smaller, and it now hangs off the back of your TV out of sight. The biggest loss there is it no longer has an optical audio or an ethernet port. Amazon offers a $15 adapter that lets you add an Ethernet port. You can’t add wired internet to the Fire TV’s closest competition, the Roku Streaming Stick+ (also $70), though at that point we'd recommend just going with the Roku Ultra.
The Chromecast Ultra presents somewhat of a conundrum. It retails for right around $70 and offers 4K and HDR streaming with support for all the major apps and standards, including both HDR10 and Dolby Vision. The only other device that offers that is the Apple TV 4K, which costs over $100 more.
But the Chromecast Ultra, like the smaller, cheaper Chromecast, is still a barebones solution that mostly acts as a way to get content from your phone or tablet to your TV. There's no remote, no built-in apps, and no real user interface at all—all of that is done via the apps on your phone, tablet, or laptop.
Though you're not streaming content directly from your phone (when you cast content you're just telling the Chromecast to go play something), you still need another device around to make it work. If you're used to channel surfing with a remote, you'll have to adapt. But for tech-savvy viewers with Dolby Vision-compatible TVs that don't want to step up to the Apple TV 4K, the Chromecast Ultra is your cheapest bet.
The 2017 Nvidia Shield tablet has long been one of the most powerful (and pricy) streaming options on the market. As an Nvidia product, it's classically aimed at power users, offering a full Android-based streaming experience with extra focus on gaming.
With this version, Nvidia has upped the ante, planning to stay at the top of streaming device power. The original Shield already streamed in 4K (and was one of the first devices to do so), but the upgraded version adds HDR streaming without upping the price.