What's the best streaming stick? From Roku to Fire TV, Chromecast, Apple TV, and something for gamers.
The one thing that I'll tell you right now is the Chromecast is one of the most popular steaming sticks and also the one that I just don't love. My main issue with the base level of the Chromecast as I begin my breakdown of the best streaming systems, the Chromecast does not have a remote control. So your ability to use this relies upon you downloading an app, using it on a smart phone or tablet. And of course there are variations of all sorts of products but the base level of the Chromecast and the base level of the streaming sticks is not my favorite pick.
If you guys are unfamiliar with how streaming sticks works, I'm going to take you through all of that, but this is the Chromecast. You plug this into the back of your television in an available HDMI port and when that is all done and powered you can watch your favorite shows from Netflix, Prime Video, and we're going to talk about which platforms are best for which types of viewing.
But if there is one base level streaming platform, if you guys are unfamiliar with Roku, more than a decade ago when I cut the cord, Roku was the first for me, or at least the first heavily advertised streaming stick. And they keep reappearing every year as one of the dominant ways to cut the cord. So the best beginner streaming stick is, in my opinion, the Roku Express HD. It's generally always $29 and unlike the Chromecast, its base level comes with a remote. The remote does have one downside. It has the channel shortcut buttons and this always aggravates me on any smart TV or any manufacturer that decides they're going to brand the buttons. What if you don't watch Hulu? What if you don't like Disney Plus or Sling or Netflix? You're forced into having these shortcuts that should otherwise be something that you could program on your own. The problem is, a lot of the ways these streaming platforms make money is they are subsidized through agreements with different services and that's why they appear the way they do.
Let's take a quick look at the Roku Express. You plug this in, you get fast HD streaming. This is, again, high definition streaming. It's 1080p, it's not 4K. Not only is this a good beginner system, but if you have lower bandwidth or slower wifi in your house you're probably not going to enjoy the vast majority of the 4K programming available. This would be your key to getting it done for $29. That is my pick as the base level streaming stick.
As we move to the mid-level consumer, the mid-level consumer is probably going to go beyond just something that's plug and play. You may need some additional outputs for Dolby audio, you might need something that has a little bit more of a responsive remote, you might want a faster processor, and of course, you want access to that 4K. So my favorite streaming system is not the Fire TV stick, that's the best base level, but there is something called the Fire TV Stick 4K. That is the same $39 Fire TV stick except it's $10 more when it's not on sale and this gives you 4K HDR capabilities.
The Fire TV Stick 4K is the Ultra HD, Dolby Vision and also includes the Amazon Alexa voice remote. Unlike its $10 Fire TV Stick alternative, this is 4K HDR, it's a little bit better for gaming, and it's a lot faster. So this is how it's advertised. The 4K Ultra HD and Amazon calls it the most powerful 4K streaming stick that they make. This does allow support for a faster level of bandwidth and wifi, and that 4K Ultra HD streaming with that same Alexa voice remote brings you the true to life picture quality that they are saying.
One additional benefit to Amazon, if you guys are not yet a Prime video member, they do have access to many free movies and TV shows built into your Prime membership. But what you guys might not be aware of is you can actually subscribe independently to your favorite channels through Amazon. So before we get to my favorite gaming and then my favorite high end streaming sticks, on Prime Video, for example, you can actually subscribe independently to your favorite channels. You do not need to go through your cable or satellite providers. So if you wanted to watch Starz, for example, or the Sundance Channel, you can subscribe independently to that, HBO or Showtime. And instead of overpaying for 10,000 channels you don't want to get the ten channels you need, you're doing it all through the Prime interface where you can actually turn your programming on and off, based on whether or not you're using it.
Shudder is one of my favorite all horror, thriller and mystery networks where I'm using a free 30 day trial right now and rather than subscribing independently through Shudder.com I'm doing it through Amazon. This in tune sends all of my content over to my Fire TV stick. And of course it's a great way to curate your content so it's all on the same platform.
Generally, all of the streaming sticks that I'm showing you have access to Hulu and Sling, and if you guys want to know a full breakdown of the best streaming services I have that in a prior video and you can look at which streaming platforms brings you the best bang for your buck. But as a streaming stick you want to be able to access everything, and they all access Netflix, and Prime Video, and so on and so forth.
The best streaming stick for gamers, in my opinion, is the Nvidia Shield. The Nvidia Shield is an android TV system. It is a 4K HDR. It has a price match guarantee of $149 at the time I'm recording this. And it works with Google Assistant. It does have that shortcut button on it through Netflix, unfortunately, but I think a lot more people subscribe to Netflix versus Disney Plus, at least at the moment.
This is a small product where look are a little bit deceiving. This not only gives you a direct ethernet plug that you can directly hook into here without using an adaptor, but it has a micro SD slot so you can expand your storage. Why is this better for gamers? What secret does this hold? This is powered by Nvidia's Tegra X1 Processor. And it is fast. It also gives you access to Shield TV which is a powerful android TV streaming media player.
Gamers are going to find the speed on this specific product the best for gaming. For whatever reason, it's just tuned for gaming. It has eight gigs of flash memory so enough memory to not only store basic system files but additional storage if you need it. But you can expand upon that with a micro SD memory card so if you are, for any reason, downloading games you've the ability to do so.
A cool bonus to the Nvidia Shield is it also provides access to Netflix, Prime Video, and all of those other platforms that I mentioned. In addition to the Google Assistant, and Alexa, so you could use it with the other members of your household even if you don't have one dedicated gaming television. So I do like that.
Let's move on from here to my next favorite streaming stick. As we discuss the best high end, and then the best overall, I have two that I want to show you. I think the best of the high end platforms comes down to the question of Apple TV versus the Fire TV Cube, and then I'm going to show you my final answer.
The Apple TV 4K is a brilliant platform. It's free of all of those annoying shortcut buttons on your remote. It works in 4K. It has Siri built in. My only complaint is I actually struggle a little bit using the remote. It's like this, almost this touch remote but not quite. And I always struggle to use it and I was actually one of the first people to have an Apple TV when it was that white box that sits on top of your television and then it got smaller and smaller over time.
This isn't really a streaming stick, it's more a streaming box, but I think that Apple is charging way too much money for it for $179. So on the high end of this I think you can replicate these exact same features for about 120 bucks and that is where the Fire TV Cube comes in. My recommendation on the Apple TV, if you stream a lot of content, even a lot of video on your iPhone or your iPad and you do a lot of screen sharing or you do a lot of presentation, 100% buy the Apple TV 4K. It's for you. But if most of your content is from other platforms like Netflix and Prime Video, and even Apple TV Plus, which is their streaming service, which you can still access on Roku and Amazon, I wouldn't get the Apple TV 4K. I think that's just way too much money for the $179. So that is my take on that.
If you were going to go to what I consider to be one of the best of the high ends, but not the best overall, the best of the high ends, I think the Fire TV Cube would be my pick. The Fire TV Cube has a hands free Echo basically built into the 4K streaming. I know I mentioned all of the other streaming sticks have the Alexa voice remote, so that when you speak and can say to the Amazon Alexa voice service, open YouTube, and she'll do that. But you actually need to hold the button down for that to work.
The Fire TV Cube is basically like always having an Echo on where you can control your television. So this really is more of a streaming box than a streaming stick but it does plug in to the back of your television through an HDMI port. It's 4K Ultra HD and it is fast. This also gives you some additional support for all of your programming needs.
The Fire TV Cube gives you a way to control a wide range of devices through the cloud. Infrared and HDMI CEC, what does that mean? Well, there's a lot of voice control capability where you could use a soundbar with this, you could use different Dolby audio equipped platforms, and then on top of that this is a smart television device control that will also take care of your lights. You can control your thermostats, you can actually see what going on on your doorbell or surveillance cameras by simply speaking that and then this Fire TV Cube which I said is basically like an Echo and a Fire TV Stick had a baby. You're going to do really well.
This has a hexa-core processor versus the quad-core, so it's even faster. It also has 16 gigs of storage on it. This has double the storage, it's Dolby compatible with Dolby Atmos, and it is a really good product. This will also hard wire to your ethernet. It's $119. I think it is better bang for your buck than the Apple TV.
If you're doing a lot of storage for whatever reason, your storing programmings or you want to occupy a little bit more hard drive space, you're gonna notice this just has 16 gigs of flash storage, and the Apple TV has 32. But for the average person that just relies upon the output resolution, the speed, the internal 2 gigs of ram, you're going to do really well with this processor. It's fast, it's small, and it is highly functional. I also prefer the design of this, personally, compared to the Apple TV cube.
That, though, in my opinion, is not the best overall. For 100 bucks, in my opinion, the best overall, which takes into account all of the characteristics of speed, 4K capability, and some cool add ons, I'm going to with the Roku Ultra. Why am I going to go with the Roku Ultra? So first things first, this gives you the 4K HDR, and premium JBL headphones. So if you don't want to disturb someone and you want to watch television, or watch sports, or watch a scary movie and you don't want all of that noise to bother the many people that are all at home simultaneously in your household, this remote comes brilliantly equipped with a headphone jack. I realize the Fire TV stick and the Apple TV and other platforms allow you to wirelessly pair bluetooth earbuds, but the fact that you get a wired connection that you can use if you want is tremendous. Now, this does have a branded remote, but it also has a voice remote. And then the ability to enjoy true to life HDR programming.
Similar to the Apple TV and the Fire TV Cube, you get support for DTS digital sound, Dolby Audio, Dolby Atmos. You can really integrate this into a stereo system if you so choose. And this also works with both the Amazon Alexa voice service and Google Assistant. And, similar to the other platforms, you can subscribe independently to your favorite channels. You can use their apps on this and then enjoy your channels through Roku rather than your cable or satellite provider.
So I think if I wanted to spend under $100 and I wanted to go high end it's definitely the Roku Ultra. If I had a lot of disposable cash and I was heavily invested in Apple's streaming platforms, and I share a lot of content where I want to mirror it from my phone to the television, Apple TV is a really good way to go. Especially if you are a heavy iPad or iPad Pro user. And I think if it really comes down to it, and I was just looking to break into the streaming world, the $29 Roku Express versus the 39 you would have to pay Amazon to get the equivalent, is the better way to go, in my opinion.
So, whether you spend $29 or $179, at least on the higher end of my streaming spectrum, you're going to do well. And you're going to find that all of these platforms provide access to basically the same services with different levels of speed, bells and whistles. The one distinction factor that I really want to make sure you guys are aware of is there's two versions of the Fire TV stick which confuses so many people. There's the $39 which is just 1080p and then there's $49 which is the 4K HDR.