• Roku Ultra

  • Roku Streaming Stick+

  • Apple TV 4K

  • How We Tested

  • What You Need To Know About Streaming Devices

  • Other Streaming Devices We Tested

  • More Articles You Might Enjoy

Our Favorite Streaming Devices of 2020

  1. Best Overall

    Roku Ultra

    Pros

    • 4K content

    • Advanced remote control options

    • Easy to use

    Cons

    • Nothing we could find

    Skip to the full review below
  2. Best Value

    Roku Streaming Stick+

    Pros

    • Streams HDR and 4K content

    • Remote includes voice-control

    Cons

    • Only works over WiFi

    Skip to the full review below
Roku Ultra
Credit: Reviewed.com / TJ Donegan

The Roku Ultra offers everything we want in a streaming box.

Best Overall
Roku Ultra

Though Roku's lineup has undergone some changes in the past few years, the current Roku Ultra is the current flagship model and far and away the best option for most people. It supports 4K/HDR (though not Dolby Vision), Dolby Atmos sound, and every major streaming service including Apple's own TV app. It was the first non-Apple device to fully support the app, letting you rent or buy movies from Apple just like you would on the Apple TV.

Roku’s interface has become slightly more cluttered with ads than it used to be, though these are primarily for the Roku Channel, a free ad-supported streaming service that includes mostly basic cable-level movies and TV shows.

Otherwise, the interface looks just like it has for the past few years. It's relatively easy to navigate, and Roku makes it even easier with voice control and dedicated buttons on the remote control for four major streaming services (typically Netflix and some mix of HBO, Hulu, Sling TV, and a few others).

The remote is one of the few places the most recent Ultra that differs from older models, with two "personal shortcut" buttons that can be assigned to whichever apps for streaming content you please. Beyond that, the remote hasn't changed much, which is great news. It's the best remote control you'll get with any media streamer, with clicky buttons that are satisfying to use. It works wirelessly so you can control the Ultra even if it's behind the TV or in a media cabinet without line-of-sight.

Best of all, the remote has a headphone jack so you can plug in any old pair of headphones and instantly have wireless audio for whatever you're streaming—perfect for late-night binge-watching, especially if you share a living space with someone who goes to bed early.

Add it up and there's really no other streaming device that can compete with the Roku. It's fast, easy to use, has the best remote, and it has access to all the best streaming services (including Apple). Outside of people on a tight budget and those with very specific technical needs, the Roku Ultra is your best bet.

Pros

  • 4K content

  • Advanced remote control options

  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Nothing we could find

Roku Stick+
Credit: Reviewed.com / TJ Donegan

The Roku Streaming Stick+ is an affordable way to get 4K and HDR streaming to any TV in range of Wi-Fi.

Best Value
Roku Streaming Stick+

Though streaming sticks have typically been lower-end offerings compared to the full-size streaming boxes, the Roku Streaming Stick+ is a real exception. It offers 4K and HDR support (though, again, no 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 works over WiFi, the Stick+ did just fine streaming HDR and 4K content, comparing well to the Amazon Fire TV Cube, Apple TV 4K, and the Roku Ultra. The antenna is built into the USB power cable, a design Roku claims offers improved reception.

The Streaming Stick+ ships with a remote control that is nearly identical to the Ultra’s as well, offering voice search and full control over your TV’s power and volume. The remote doesn’t have a headphone jack, though you can still listen wirelessly with any Roku via your phone and the Roku app.

The closest competitor in terms of design and price is Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K, which is a similar form factor and feature set. They’re about the same price (whether on or off sale), and mostly we side with Roku due to personal preferences.

Though the Fire TV Stick 4K offers Dolby Vision HDR for Dolby Vision-compatible TVs, and better integration with Alexa, Roku’s voice search is also great. And with Apple’s streaming service no longer exclusive to Apple devices, there are fewer reasons than ever to go with anything but Roku.

Pros

  • Streams HDR and 4K content

  • Remote includes voice-control

Cons

  • Only works over WiFi

Related content

Apple TV
Credit: Reviewed.com / TJ Donegan

The Apple TV 4K is the best high-end streaming box, but it's only worth the money if you need Dolby Vision HDR.

Best High-End Device
Apple TV 4K

Apple waited much longer than competitors to release a 4K- and HDR-ready version of the Apple TV, and unsurprisingly, it’s a high-end device—with a high-end price. The Apple TV 4K supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR, has access to the most popular streaming services, and includes Apple’s TV+ service and its TV app, which integrates streaming content from multiple services in one spot.

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, though integration relies on competitors like Netflix and Amazon Prime playing nicely with Apple—which is never a given.

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, and the prices for buying/renting 4K movies on iTunes is also among the cheapest in the industry, likely driving the price down for the whole market.

It isn’t a huge advantage for the Apple TV, though, since iTunes purchases and rentals can also be accessed on Roku devices now as well as Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and the Amazon Fire TV Cube. The biggest downside here (besides price), is the touchpad remote. It just isn’t as easy to use or as full-featured as Roku’s remote. It looks pretty, but it’s a tool first and foremost and it needs to be better.

If you have a high-end home theater with a Dolby Vision-compatible TV set, the high-end finishes are a good reason to go with the Apple TV over the superior Roku Ultra. But for everyone else, the Roku Ultra is a much better value.

Pros

  • Supports higher-end TVs

  • Good-looking interface

  • Easy to navigate

Cons

  • Expensive

  • Remote difficult to use

How We Tested

The Tester

Hi, my name is TJ Donegan. I'm an Executive Editor at Reviewed and have been testing consumer electronics for a decade. In my time at Reviewed I’ve covered cameras, tablets, smartphones, televisions, laptops, headphones, and—of course—streaming boxes.

My personal experience with streaming boxes stretches back to the earliest days of the Roku, and I personally own a streaming device from every major manufacturer. Though I have not fully cut the cord, the majority of my own TV diet includes Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Now, and I frequently switch to live TV services like Youtube TV and Sling TV for months at a time.

The Tests

These days, nearly every streaming device has access to all the major streaming services. Even a brand-new service, such as Disney+, is compatible with nearly every new box on the market right from launch.

Luckily, that means you can pretty much pick any box and watch almost any preferred service without trouble. To that end, our tests focus primarily on the hardware—the remote, the device itself, how it connects to your TV, how fast it is and how it feels to use it.

On the software side, we also evaluated things like ease of use, the presence of ads, the ability to use things like voice search to discover content, and any other relevant features like mobile apps.

Our goal was to find the best possible streaming box for most people. Though there are a few devices that are more specialized if you’re into, say, PC gaming, we think our top pick is the best option for the vast majority of people streaming TV and movies.

What You Need To Know About Streaming Devices

There are a few key things to keep in mind when selecting a streaming box or streaming stick. The first is making sure you get a device that works with your TV.

Do You Need a 4K Streaming Device If You Don’t Have a 4K TV?

Almost every new TV is going to come with a 4K screen these days, which means that it has four times as many pixels as older 1080p Full HD screens.

Nearly every device on this list supports 4K (and it’ll say so on the box and in the model name, typically).

Even if you don’t have a 4K TV yet, you’re likely to have one at some point and it’s not worth pinching pennies on a 1080p device just to have to replace it with a 4K-ready one later.

Does the Roku, Apple TV, or Fire TV support HDR?

While 4K is fairly simple, HDR—or High Dynamic Range—is much more complex. Basically, it is a mode that lets your TV adapt to make part of the screen brighter or darker depending on what is playing. This in turn affects the color shading and vibrancy.

HDR TVs also typically support wider color gamuts, meaning you get more vivid colors that are beyond what older TVs were capable of displaying. There is a lot of detail we’re skipping here, but in a nutshell if you have an HDR TV you’ll want a box that supports HDR so you can get the most out of it.

The Roku, Apple TV 4K, and Fire TV 4K all support HDR for supported TVs. As long as you are using any newer HDMI cable, you should be able to just play HDR content through these boxes without having to change anything in the menus.

Dolby Vision HDR vs HDR10: which is better?

Among picture purists, Dolby Vision has a slightly better reputation, but both formats are evolving and have their strengths and weaknesses. You can read about both formats in our guide, but not all streaming devices support both formats.

HDR10 is supported by every HDR streaming device, but Dolby Vision is only found on select devices on our list. The same is generally true for HDR TVs. The majority support HDR10, while some also support Dolby Vision. You’ll need a TV that supports Dolby Vision to utilize it, so if your TV only supports HDR10, Dolby Vision shouldn’t be a concern.

Is My Privacy Secure with a TV Streaming Device?

Reviewed takes data privacy extremely seriously, and unfortunately, most streaming services do not. In most cases, you can opt-out of letting the box itself track and monetize your viewing habits, but you’ll still see ads and such. Just be aware that each streaming service may have its own ad tracking built-in, and this is often not something you can opt-out of.

You can opt-out of most of these settings by going to each box’s account or settings pages and navigating to the section on privacy.

Which Streaming Device is Best for Netflix?

Though we don’t typically evaluate each streaming box for how well they handle any individual service, the Roku Ultra is the best for Netflix in our opinion. Though the app experience isn’t any better than on other devices, the ability to listen to your streaming audio with the headphone jack on the remote is amazing.

You can do this with other Roku devices as well through the mobile app, but we prefer the ease of use of plugging any pair of wired headphones into the remote at a moment’s notice.

Which Streaming Devices Support Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos is a fancy audio codec that promises even more immersive sound than traditional surround sound, if you have the speaker and other hardware to take advantage of it. This is different from Dolby Vision HDR, which is exclusively referring to the picture format. Support for Atmos does not guarantee support for Dolby Vision.

Many of the models we have tested support Dolby Atmos sound. Occasionally, apps will fail to pass it through properly and you may need to have other compatible equipment to handle the conversion, along with Atmos-compatible speakers or soundbars.


Other Streaming Devices We Tested

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K with Alexa Voice Remote (2019)

If you are big into Alexa and Amazon Prime Video, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is an excellent, budget-friendly choice. It supports 4K (HDR10 and Dolby Vision), Dolby Atmos sound, and it ships with an excellent remote control that supports voice searching and control of all your Alexa-compatible devices.

The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K supports all the major streaming options out there, including newer services like Disney+. Amazon has even added support for Apple TV+, catching up to Roku in this crucial area.

Our major reason for preferring the Roku Streaming Stick+ over the Fire TV Stick 4K is Roku’s agnostic platform. Though Roku has added significantly more ads over the years, Amazon still highlights its top shows and movies (including rentals you need to pay for) above other services. t’s a minor note, but when every streaming stick and service is relatively similar, the little things add up.

Still, if you want a streaming stick form factor, a remote, and support for Dolby Vision HDR, this is your best bet.

Pros

  • Supports all major streaming services

  • Excellent remote

Cons

  • Favors Amazon content

Amazon Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen)

Amazon’s Fire TV Cube is a bit of an odd duck in the streaming market. The main thing that sets it apart is its support for hands-free Alexa control (without needing to use the remote or another Echo speaker) and its built-in infrared blasters.

Theoretically, this gives the Fire TV Cube the ability to control your smart devices through Alexa, your legacy devices like A/V receivers through their infrared remote ports, and your TV through the HDMI cable. Though it works well for some people and setups, we’ve had difficulty getting it to fully respond in our tests

When everything works, it’s really cool to tell Alexa to dim your lights, check the weather, change the channel, close your smart blinds, water your lawn, and stream Netflix without lifting a finger. But too often we were stuck repeating ourselves or having to give up and just change something manually.

For its higher price, it’s a tough sell. The Roku Ultra costs about the same (or less) and has all the same support for major streaming services. Though Roku’s voice search isn’t as powerful as Alexa, it’s nearly as reliable for finding stuff to watch and the extra features like a button to find a lost remote and use headphones wirelessly are too much to pass up.

Pros

  • Able to control all your smart devices

Cons

  • Unreliable voice control

  • Expensive

Roku Premiere

The Roku Premiere has changed forms several times in the last few years, going from a slightly lower-end version of the Roku Ultra to a slightly higher-end take on Roku’s entry-level Express model.

The latest version is actually slightly lower-end compared to the Roku Streaming Stick+, offering worse Wifi connectivity and no Ethernet support. It’s still a Roku, so you are getting a great experience overall, but it’s only slightly cheaper than the Streaming Stick+ and we’d prefer the faster wifi speed and range in most situations.

If the Streaming Stick+ isn’t an option for you for some reason, the Premiere isn’t a bad alternative. You’re still getting the excellent Roku platform and remote (without a headphone jack; you need to upgrade to the Ultra for that now), and it still supports 4K, HDR, and Dolby Atmos sound with a compatible TV and audio system.

Pros

  • Roku's easy-to-navigate platform

  • Supports 4K, HDR, and Dolby Atmos sound

Cons

  • Bad connectivity

  • No Ethernet

Google Chromecast Ultra

The Chromecast Ultra isn’t a bad streaming device, by any means and Google Assistant makes it easy to navigate. It supports a huge array of services, thanks to its unique ability to act as a bridge between your phone, tablet, or laptop and your TV; just stream something on a device, hit the cast icon, and you can send it right to your TV.

The Ultra supports 4K, HDR (including Dolby Vision), and Dolby Atmos, but because it lacks a traditional interface and operating system (it acts more like a web browser, fetching the content you tell it to), support can be spotty.

As a result, we don’t think most people should bother with the Chromecast Ultra unless you need its casting ability and don’t want to use less-elegant versions of it such as the screen mirroring function on Roku. It’s still a neat feature and makes having a Chromecast a nice backup solution, but for the same price, you can get a better all-around streaming gadget from Roku or Amazon.

Pros

  • Good backup device

Cons

  • Spotty support of 4K, HDR, and Dolby

Roku Express

The very entry-level model in Roku’s lineup is the Express, and it offers a very barebones experience. Though you do get Roku’s excellent, clicky remote, it does not support voice searching or wireless listening, and it doesn’t have buttons to control your TV’s power or volume.

The platform is fully featured, so you are getting access to all the same streaming services, but the device maxes out at 1080p video. The box itself is quite small, so it’s a nice option for a second bedroom, den, or kitchen TV where you just want streaming support and don’t care about the high-end options like 4K, HDR, and more.

Just note that, unlike some earlier models of the Roku Express line, this model requires an HDMI port to connect. It includes the cable, but if you have an older TV or A/V setup that requires separate analog RCA jacks, this box no longer supports that.

For most people, it’s worth the extra money to jump up to the Streaming Stick+, but if you’re on a tight budget or just don’t mind the missing features, this is a good alternative.

Pros

  • Access to Roku's full platform

Cons

  • Remote lacks voice-control, power/volume buttons

  • Video maxes at 1080p

  • Requires HDMI

Meet the tester

TJ Donegan

TJ Donegan

Executive Editor

@TJDonegan

TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.

See all of TJ Donegan's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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