Welcome to part 1 of our holiday cord cutting buyers guide!
Choosing the right streaming device is one of the most important parts of being a cord cutter. There is no one right device for everyone, so it is important to research and pick what is best for you.
Here is our short roundup of the most popular set-top boxes for cord cutting.
The Roku lineup was refreshed this year. The Roku 4 has faster processors, 4K, a voice search, and the largest collection of third-party apps of any set-top box, making the Roku an extremely attractive and competitive device.
The Roku 4 is $129.99, but if you do not have a 4K TV the Roku 3 is $99 and has an enormous library of available content, including a wide range of 100% free content.
The Roku also has the largest selection of apps with access to more content stores than any other set-top box. You can buy or rent content through Amazon Instant, Google Play, Vodu, MGo, and many others. There are hundreds of great apps to explore on the Roku and many of them are 100% free.
The Roku has had several different versions, so make sure you know what you are buying. The Roku 1 is slower, but it is a lot cheaper than the much faster Roku 3 and 4.
Why Buy a Roku?
If you really want something super easy to use with a ton of content, the Roku is the right device for you. Make sure to research the four different versions available. The new Roku OS 7 also supports authentication for hotels and college dorm rooms, making Roku a great option for people who travel.
The new Amazon Fire TV is a powerful 4K ultra HD set-top box with exceptional integration into the Amazon ecosystem. If you only buy your content on Amazon, the Fire TV is the best device for you. While it may not have as many third-party apps as the Roku, the Fire TV has a large variety of third-party apps with a nice lineup that grows every day.
The new Amazon Fire TV is fast and works well with the Amazon Instant store and also with Netflix, Hulu, and many others. With the Fire TV, you also have the ability to play games with a dedicated gaming controller.
In addition, the new Fire TV comes with Alexa, the voice-powered digital assistant that lets you speak into the remote to ask for all kinds of information, from sports scores and traffic updates to music choices, which is then displayed on your TV screen.
The new Fire TV offers a lot of content and apps, but if you do not normally use the Amazon Instant store then this may not be the best box for you. The Fire TV pushes Amazon Instant over all other apps.
Why Buy a Fire TV?
If you often stay in hotels or live on a college or university campus, the Fire TV may be the best device for you. Many hotels and campuses require you to connect to their Wi-Fi in order to log into your set-top box. The Fire TV is one of the few devices with a Wi-Fi browser that will make this possible. Most set-top boxes do not have a Wi-Fi browser option, which can make traveling with them difficult.
The Nvidia Shield, built on the Android TV, is still fairly new, but it is an impressive gaming and streaming set-top box with a growing following.
The Nvidia Shield offers 4K support. And, with 3 gigabytes of RAM, one miniature and two full size USB ports, the Shield is a remarkable gaming and streaming player. If you want a powerful gaming device make sure to check out the Shield.
The Nvidia Shield does not have a web browser. It also has a steeper price than the Roku and Fire TV. Third-party support is good, especially on the gaming side; however it still lags behind the Roku and Fire TV when it comes to third-party apps.
Why Buy an Nvidia Shield?
If you want gaming to be the main focus of your set-top box, check out the Shield. It is less expensive than buying a PS4 or Xbox One and also allows you to stream content.
The New Apple TV
After many years Apple has finally released an updated Apple TV set-top box. Its many new features include third-party app support and Siri-integrated voice search. Add in gaming, and you have an extremely competitive set-top box.
If you buy movies and TV shows from iTunes this is the only device that will officially play them.
The Apple TV has excellent voice search (Siri integrated) that allows you to ask complicated questions such as, “Show me every episode of show ABC in which actor XYZ has appeared.” It also allows you to access your settings, control playback, and ask questions about your stocks or the weather. And if you missed the last line of dialogue, you can ask, “What did he just say?” and Siri will temporarily turn on closed captioning so that you can read what you missed.
No third-party content stores are allowed on the Apple TV, so if you have purchased content on Amazon Instant, MGO, Vudu or one of the other content services, you will not be able to access it on your Apple TV.
The Apple TV is twice or sometimes even three times, the cost of a Roku or Amazon Fire TV device. With starting prices ranging from $149 to $199 Apple TV is one of the more expensive set-top boxes on the market.
Why Buy an Apple TV?
If you buy most of your content through iTunes, the new Apple TV is your best option. Whereas it may lack in some areas the new Apple TV is the only set-top box that officially supports iTunes.
The new Chromecast 2 is a powerful stick. Although it requires you to have a smart phone, tablet, or PC to get full use of your Chromecast, it is a nice inexpensive device. It plays a wide range of content and can cast your screen to your TV.
The Chromecast is inexpensive and powerful, and it offers a wide range of apps to cast from your phone or tablet to your TV.
You needs a smart phone or tablet to get the full experience with Chromecast. Also, it may not be the easiest to use for technology-challenged people.
Why Buy a Chromecast?
If you want something small and inexpensive, a Chromecast may be your best option. If you want a device to cast your screen or share photos, Chromecast may be the best device on the market with their new Chromecast app for Android and iOS.
In the end it really comes down to deciding what you want to do with your set-top box and where you would like to get your content. Once you do that, you will easily be able to find the right streaming box for you.