Streaming & Over-the-Top TV Buying Guide

A Review of The Pros and Cons of Internet TV

For nearly two decades now, progressive and forward-looking companies have been trying to bridge the gap between traditional pay TV and true TV streaming. The biggest roadblock had always been the technological hurdles involved with compressing high quality HD into an internet connection. With massive improvements in fiber optics and throughput, internet TV started to come into its own in early 2010. While it comes in various forms, internet TV can broken up into two main categories: content providers and streaming devices.

Streaming: Content Providers

These are the non-devices which provide you with a specific service of programming. A few of the more popular include: Netflix, Sling TV, Amazon Video (which has its own device as well), Hulu and YouTube. A mix of free and pay, there's no denying the explosive growth here; Netflix ($7.99-$11.99/mo) has grown to over 83 million worldwide users while Hulu (also $7.99-$11.99/mo) has eclipsed 12 million. YouTube (Red: $7.99/mo) has evolved into user-generated haven, home to millenials and the tech-savvy alike...many of which are using it as their only source of "TV entertainment".

Streaming Devices

While most households still subscribe to cable or satellite TV, a growing number are cutting the cord and going straight to over-the-top, internet TV. The biggest upside here is cost. Most streaming devices go for under $50 and if all you want is basic TV coverage most apps can be installed free of charge. The biggest downside? Lack of free live TV. If WWIII breaks out or hurricane is en route, you maaay not be the first to know :). Live TV (particularly local news and ANY sports match-up) require an additional monthly charge. However, new pay-per-channel(s) services like Sling TV are helping to fill that void with relatively inexpensive live TV plans (25+ live channels for $20/mo).

We've put just about every mass market streaming unit to the test and, as of this publication, our handful of favorites include: Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, TiVo BOLT and the Roku Stick. Each fill their own niche and do so impressively well. In the table below, we stack the five side-by-side and rank each based on our key categories. If you'd like to check out our full reviews on each, jump down a bit further below.

Streaming Device Comparison

Category
Roku 4
Amazon Fire TV
Apple TV 4
TiVo BOLT
NVIDIA SHIELD
TrueCost
(approx. sale price)
$115
$100
32 GB: $149 64 GB: $199
$170
16 GB: $199 500 GB: $299
Processor
Quad-core
Quad-core
A8 chip (64 bit)
Broadcom BCM7449
NVIDIA Tegra X1
DVR Capacity
(if applicable)
Streamer only (no DVR)
2 GB
32 GB - 64 GB
500 GB - 1,000 GB
16 GB - 500 GB
Max Resolution
4K Ultra HD (compatible TV required)
4K Ultra HD
1080p HD
4K Ultra HD
4K Ultra HD
Voice Support
Yes, but limited (only for search)
Yes (Alexa)
Yes (Siri)
No
Yes
App Support
(seamless integration of top apps)
49/50
48/50
46/50
44/50
45/50
Overall Value
(vs cost and features)
98/100
97/100
95/100
93/100
95/100

Streaming Device Reviews:

All of our comprehensive reports of streaming media units will live right here. As new versions launch, expect an updated report soon thereafter (and a fresh table above).

Roku 3 Roku 3 (2015 version) - Roku is one of the original TV-streaming devices and even as it continues to compete against Apple, Amazon, and Google, in our opinion, Roku still comes out on top. The Roku 3 (new for 2015) has a few extra features that provides a tangible convenience over its predecessors and other TV-streaming devices. For example, this newer model bundles a remote with voice control, a headphone jack for private listening, one-touch app buttons and interactive games with motion control...
Apple TV Apple TV - Apart from the excellent functionality, the most appealing thing about the Apple TV is its pedigree and diversity of features. The small TV-streaming device has really evolved and ironed out most of the kinks from its 1st generation offering (first seen in 2007). One of the biggest improvements of the new Apple TV (released in 2012) is its ability to stream and play 1080p HD movies.
Chromecast Chromecast - Google's Chromecast launched back in 2013 and, with every generation, just keeps getting incrementally better. Starting at $29.99, this plug-and-play streaming device is a solid companion for anyone who wants to stream music, movies, television, and games from their mobile devices to their TV. Over the years, Chromecast has also developed and optimized seamless WiFi connectivity, 1080p support and a plethora of apps to extend its impressive capability.
Nexus Player Google Nexus Player - As a global tech leader, Google has given users plenty to love. From Android phones you can root to your Chromebook to the incredible resolution of Google Maps, they continue to change the way we use technology. Launched in 2014, the Google Nexus Player was intended to take on Roku, Fire TV and a slew of other popular TV streaming units. Read on to see how it stacks up...



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