Chromecast and alternatives
Media streamers deliver the latest in TV and film, whether it's from your home PC or Mac or beamed from the increasing number of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video.
While there was a time when media streamers were all about viewing all those hours of content stored on your hard drive, they're now about giving you quick access to streaming video services. So here we've gathered together the best media streaming devices. As well as Google Chromecast, we've also gathered together a bunch of alternatives to Chromecast.
Some of these boxes, like the Amazon Fire TV products for example, are built to highlight a certain service. Mind, you, while Amazon Prime video is front and centre but apps like Netflix can be installed too. If you want to pick up something a little bit more open, Roku's gear has access to plenty of content and most of it is treated equally.
If you're part of the iOS ecosystem, the new Apple TV is well worth a look. It'll let you AirPlay content from your iPhone, iPad and Mac and you'll have quick access to all your iTunes movies and music.
It's also worth looking out for features aside media streaming. Some of the boxes can be used as mini consoles, with a couple offering additional gamepads for the more taxing titles.
If you want to make your dumb TV smart, you've come to the right place.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
The big brother to the Fire TV Stick already resides in this list, but if you've waited until now to add some streaming capabilities to your TV this is currently one of the best choices.
In the same vein as the Chromecast and Roku Streaming Stick, Fire TV Stick looks a bit like a USB dongle and plugs directly into the HDMI port on the back of your televsion and then into the mains. It's a lot faster than those two devices though, doubling the RAM of both and running off a dual-core processor. The speed shows, too. Navigating menus is quick and easy and jumping from app to app is pretty much lag-free.
As you'd expect, the Stick works best if you're an Amazon Prime subscriber as it puts all that content front and center. Other services, like Netflix, iPlayer and YouTube, can be downloaded, but they don't tie in quite so well. The remote is clicky and useful and there's an iOS and Android app that gives you some of the voice control functionality that impressed us so much with the original Fire TV.
For £35, this is one of the best ways to add some extra features to your television.
Amazon Fire TV
If you're heavily invested in the Amazon ecosystem, pay for a Prime membership and use the company's bevy of cloud services, the Fire TV is probably the one for you. Unlike the Chromecast, you get a fantastic little remote here that works with voice and there's a slick, easy to use interface for picking your media. Plenty of the big names are here, Netflix, Plex et al, plus if you pick up the additional controller you can play games too. Specs wise this is one of the most powerful telly boxes on the market - it's now 4K compatible.
£80 | Buy Amazon Fire TV
Apple's telly streaming box is still worth a punt, especially if you use an iPhone, iPad or Mac on a daily basis.
There's plenty of available content including YouTube, Netflix and Vimeo plus Apple's photostream can be integrated via iCloud, automatically sending all new pictures to the TV and letting users view their snaps on the big screen (all of which can be controlled via iPhone or iPad, of course). AirPlay is a solid addition, letting you beam for display from other Apple products to the big screen, increasing the amount of streaming options in the process.
The older third-generation box is Full HD compatible, while the newer fourth-generation box adds a Siri remote and an app store. You can also buy it with 32 or 64GB of memory.
Google's HDMI dongle reinvented the streaming game, offering a fully featured product for around £30.
There is no remote or really even an interface here, as you have to beam everything from an iOS or Android phone or a computer running Chrome. But it works as advertised, adds almost no clutter to your TV set-up and is compatible with all the big streaming services like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, NBA GameTime and more. Sadly, there's no support for Amazon Instant Video.
There's also a new Audio version, too, for streaming to your stereo.
£30 | Buy Google Chromecast
With more than 1,000 available services just waiting to be downloaded, the Roku 3 is the streaming box to plump for if you want the widest selection of content. The device itself is impressive too, with dual band wireless, a headphone jack positioned on the remote for re-routing audio and the ability to play a few simple games. There's also a MicroSD slot on the machine for playing back local media and a remote app for iOS and Android.
£99 | Buy Roku 3
Sky's Now TV box is a true bargain, coming in at under a tenner - it gives you access to the Now TV service for streaming Sports and Movies, while also offering BBC iPlayer, 5 on Demand, Spotify and Facebook. The re-branded Roku box comes complete with a remote and an HDMI cable so you can make any TV a smart one.
£9.99 | Sky