You don't have to spend a bundle to get Netflix on your TV
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Streaming devices are all the rage these days, whether you're cutting the cord or just want to access services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, Sling TV, or more on your TV. The problem? There are too many options, ranging in price from $30 up to nearly $200.
But while the expensive options are nice, there are more cheap streaming devices than ever before. Here are all of our favorite options under $50, so you can pick the one that's right for you.
For most people, right now, the Amazon Fire TV Stick provides the most bang for your buck. It won't do 4K or HDR, but you get a low-profile device that sticks into an HDMI port on your TV and stays out of sight. But unlike other streaming sticks, you get a fully-featured remote, including voice control that works with Amazon's Alexa assistant.
The Fire TV interface is ideal if you've got an Amazon Prime subscription, but it works just fine for all the other major streaming services as well. That even carries over to the voice search support, which will pull up options across all your favorite apps. So if you say "Play Stranger Things" you'll get results from Netflix, which not all the Voice-enabled remotes offer. For under $50, this is the one to beat right now.
The newest, cheap Roku is the Roku Express. At just $30 it's the most affordable streaming device around, and it works just like past Rokus: there's a remote and a small box that plugs into your TV's HDMI port. It connects to the internet via Wi-fi, and gives you access to all the major streaming services and Roku's straightforward user interface.
The real draw, like with other Rokus, is the simple remote, which has buttons to easily access Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, and Google Play so anybody can jump right to them. We haven't reviewed the Express yet, but early reports are that the remote feels a bit cheap and it's slow overall, so it's not all roses. There is, however, the Roku Express+ to consider. It's $10 more, but it's the only compact streaming device that can connect to older analog TVs and projectors that don't have HDMI ports.
The Roku Streaming Stick wasn't part of the recent refresh, but it's still a 2016 model and it is a worthwhile upgrade for anyone considering the Express. For a little more money you get a faster processor, a nicer remote, and the awesome Hotel and Dorm Connect feature that lets you get past those pesky browser-based log-in screens that give other streaming devices fits.
That makes the Roku Streaming Stick an ideal choice for road warriors or students who want an option while at school. And while this remote also lacks voice search or a headphone jack, you can get those features by using the free Roku Mobile app on your phone. It's not as good as having the feature baked right into the remote, but it's better than nothing.
Though no longer the cheapest streaming solution on the market, the Google Chromecast is still solid. Unlike the Fire TV and the Roku Express the Chromecast doesn't have its own user interface or remote. Instead, you "cast" content to it from all the streaming apps you already have on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. It's simple: just pull up what you want to watch on Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, or HBO Now and hit the cast icon.
It can take a little getting used to, but it is a snappy performer and you don't have to ever worry about losing a remote. And because it's made by Google, the Chromecast can do some other neat tricks like let you "cast" a tab from the Chrome web browser on your computer to the TV. I used this recently to show off some baby photos on our TV, and it worked beautifully.