What Is It
An up-to-date media player can turn your TV into a multifunctional digital device and greatly expand your options for watching various high-quality videos, whether you do it online or use external storage. With it, you will get access to all and every Internet application, social network, and video streaming website. 3D games? Sure! Why buy an expensive console if there is a streaming media player that supports the same and even more functions? Either your TV is the newest model or a slightly older one, the streaming media player will expand its features greatly!
If you are looking for a portable device to fill in for a PC by connecting to a monitor or a TV set, we recommend you to give a glance to Mini PCs or MicroPC Sticks. And in the following review we present 5 best streaming media players and tell you what to think about when you choose one.
What Features to Compare
A choice of a streaming media player should start with looking at its Form-Factor and Performance. There are several form-factors nowadays, the most popular among which are desktop players and smart sticks. The latter are usually placed beside the TV and connected to it via a cable. The smart sticks are known to be quite miniature (a little bigger than your average USB flash drive, so you can easily hide it behind your TV) and to have high functionality. The performance parameter includes the data processing speed, the response time, and the options for data storage. An important part here is played by the streaming media player's processor (CPU) as it is responsible for playing out your high-resolution videos and for a comfortable gaming. The best streaming media players are those with quad-core processors. Then there is also the RAM capacity. To obtain a device with a good response time, look for the one with larger RAM, 2 GB or more. Talking about memory, remember about the media player's storage space. The larger it is, the more data you will be able to keep there. Up-to-date streaming media players sometimes feature a flash memory capacity of 8 GB and higher, or even an HDD drive of up to 3 TB, and some use external USB drives of various shapes and capacity. Additional modes also affect the performance: alongside a standard online video replay option, they might provide a gaming possibility with a special control, or they can include a DVR mode to record online streaming to the internal or external drive.
Next, pay some of your attention to the Functionality. It largely depends on the operating system (OS) as the operating system is what determines the number of supported applications, operation stability, and the availability of additional features like, for example, voice search. A major number of streaming media players are Android-based, and this means you will have a whole world of multimedia entertainment before you, right on your TV screen. Be it simple flipping through pictures or playing 3D video games, the good streaming device will let you enjoy it to the fullest. Today, the smallest resolution for a streaming media player is HD format, but we recommend you to look for at least Full HD device, as it is the resolution the movies are released in, mostly. If you have a 4K TV, you will need a device that supports Ultra HD. Note that the bigger display you have, the larger resolution it will require for comfortable watching. As for the screens that support 3D, it will probably benefit you to buy a media streaming device with the same option. The models with an embedded TV-tuner also exist, although they usually only work with digital TV, not analog. But instead, you will be able to record the shows you want to re-watch later. The great alternative to the tuner will be an IPTV-supporting streaming media player. IPTV is similar to the cable TV, it uses an Internet connection as an incoming signal. IPTV media players will provide you with an opportunity to watch high-quality TV channels in both standard and HD resolution. Among the supported video formats, we'd say, the most widespread would be MPEG 1/2/3/4, AVI, MKV for video, MP3, FLAC, WMA-Pro for audio, and JPEG for images. So choose a device that supports those.
The last important parameter we'd like to point at in choosing the best streaming device is its Interfaces and Controls. Almost any up-to-date streaming media player includes an HDMI port for the maximum image quality and great sound. We recommend the HDMI of 1.4 or higher version both in the player and the TV. If you are planning to connect your streaming devices to the older TV models, you will probably need the composite and the component video outputs. At the same time, to play sound via the external acoustic system, you should, probably, consider the number and types of audio outs, which can be either digital optical, or have coaxial connections with analog stereo outputs. The awesome addition to your best streaming media player will be the availability of a USB input and a place to put a memory card in. It will make the content transfer a piece of cake. As for the controls, all standard media streaming devices operate on closed systems and go with a classic remote control. More cutting-edge devices might be equipped with a QWERTY-keyboard remote, voice search option, and embedded sensors to determine their position in space (the Air Mouse). About the half of modern streaming media players can be controlled via your smartphone or another device using an official application. Sometimes you can connect a keyboard and a mouse to type and use social networks. And for fierce gamers, the gaming remote is surely a must.
Here we have told you the info you can use to make your final choice. Now let us proceed to the best streaming media players on the market as of today.
Roku 4 4400R
Form-factor and Performance
Looking at a Roku 4 4400R Streaming Media Player, you will see it is of a desktop form-factor. Despite being quite small, it is still a powerful and high-performing streaming device. This Roku media player has quad-core ARM processor and a 1.5 GB RAM, and they provide the high speed and quality to a high-definition video processing. The internal storage amounts to 256 MB, enough to install several most needed applications. And if you need more space, you can just plug a MicroSD memory card in.
With the native Roku OS 7, installed on this Roku 4 4400R Streaming Media Player, you will get access to 3000 channels. Additionally, Roku offers you 300,000+ movies and TV-Shows and gives the option to search for the movie on over 20 most popular video streaming channels by the movie's name, by the actor's, or by the director's. This model of Roku media player adapts the image automatically and provides the best quality on your TV. The advanced upscaling technology optimizes the resolution according to that supported by your TV set. What we are trying to say is that you will get the best possible image quality whatever resolution your TV set has, HD or 4K Ultra HD.
Interfaces and Controllers
You can connect Roku 4 4400R Streaming Media Player to the Internet using either Wi-Fi 802.11ac connection or an Ethernet port. The HDMI output is also available, to transmit audio and video signals in a digital quality. An optical output will let you connect a professional stereo system, and with a microSD card slot you will be able to expand the storage space. To watch photos, video, and listen to music stored on your other devices, there is a USB port. The Roku media player is controlled via the remote control delivered with the device. We'd like to note that the said control has a headphone output to let you enjoy the sound without disturbing people around. That's a useful feature! And if you happen to lose the controller somewhere in the room, the automatic location feature will find it instantly. Just push the button on top of your Roku player, and the remote will tell you its whereabouts itself! Furthermore, you can also control the Roku 4 4400R Streaming Media Player using your iOS or Android device — you only need to install the official app! Marvelous!
Matricom G-Box Q² Android TV Streaming Media
Form-factor and Performance
Speaking of the form-factor, the Matricom G-Box Q² streaming media player is a desktop device. Performance-wise, this streaming device is quite great, it will easily handle your high-resolution video. Any modern game from Google Store will also be ok! The powerful Amlogic s812 Quad Core processor with 2 GHz frequency and an embedded 8-core GPU will effectively display even 3D. The operating speed is great with the 2 GB RAM this streaming media player has. To store all your apps and games from the Store, here are 16 GB of storage space. Play comfortably!
The OS installed on this streaming media player is a full, unlimited version of Android 5 Lollipop. We bet you know this one, it's pretty popular and is used on many modern smartphones and tablets. What's good in it? Well, it allows you to install a huge variety of Google Play apps — and do it fast. There are also other benefits you will get when you buy this Matricom G-Box Q² Android TV Streaming Media Mini PC. Like a convenient HUD Launcher UI and the Amazon Prime video support. The maximum resolution is that of the best streaming devices out there on the market, 3840 x 2160 pixels (4K Ultra HD). You will simply drown in the image realisticity. The supported formats include MP4, MKV, HEVC, MP3, WMA, AAC, JPG, PNG.
Interfaces and Controllers
Matricom G-Box Q² Android TV Streaming Media Mini PC connects to the Internet via both Wi-Fi and Ethernet port. That's pretty standard. What is an advantage, however, is that it can also use a WIRELESS connection and a Bluetooth technology to connect to your headphones and a gamepad. We also would like to point at 2 available USB 2.0 ports for external devices and the HDMI output for digital audio/video playing. You can connect an external audio system through an Optical output. The Matricom remote will make using this best streaming device as easy as possible.
Amazon Fire TV
Great Possibilities at Moderate Price
For the device in this price range, we were really surprised to see the variety of features Amazon Fire TV has. The Quad-core MediaTek processor and 2GB RAM make this streaming media player a device of an extremely high performance. Then there is the unique voice service called Alexa that can answer questions, play music, check cinema shows, sports competitions results, weather forecasts, news, etc. Just ask Alexa to perform the needed action with a Fire TV Voice Remote controller. Another feature that will probably be a real gift to the parents is the parental control. Now you can create up to four personal profiles for your kids and be absolutely certain that the child will not see anything inappropriate. And to top it all, we can also assure you that Amazon Fire TV is a great player for gaming. First, you can connect an external game controller (sold separately) to have convenient and ergonomic gaming experience. And second — the device is pre-set to support a major number of games, including Lego Star Wars, Pac-Man 256, Minecraft, and many more.
The Last VHS Player
This might be hard to believe for someone but there are still people over there who use VHS even today, despite the availability of digital formats. The following news might be sad for those people. The last VCR manufacturer, Japan’s Funai Electric, has stopped producing these recorders as of August 2016. The reason is obvious: the demand for this type of players has long since stopped covering the costs of manufacturing. Some parts are even hard to find nowadays.
The first Funai VCR was launched in 1983, and around that time approximately 15 millions of devices were sold per year. The last year has shown 750,000 which clearly can't save them. So the company decided it was time to stop. R.I.P. VHS.
More Products to Consider
Amazon Fire TV Game Controller will be a great addition to the streaming media player. It has a voice search option and the possibility to plug your headphones right into the controller.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
Form-factor and Performance
Amazon Fire TV is a streaming media player of a rather distinct form-factor. It is a Smart-stick device. This streaming media player outperforms its competitors in terms of compact size, which allows you to easily hide it behind your TV. The Amazon Fire TV Stick features a dual-core Broadcom processor, a VideoCore4 graphics, and a 1 GB RAM. All in all, the performance of this best streaming device is rather high. The same goes for its stability and operating speed. The internal storage capacity amounts to 8 GB — enough to install all the applications you may need.
The device is operated by Amazon OS, allowing this streaming media player to work with more than 3,000 channels, a variety of apps and games. It provides access to over 250,000 TV-shows and movies provided by Netflix, Amazon Video, HBO GO, Hulu. You will have the opportunity to watch your favorite NBC News, NBA, and Sling TV programs on a variety of channels, including ESPN, CNN, HGTV, AMC, A & E, Cartoon Network etc. With Amazon Fire TV Stick, the word "buffering" will be gone from your active vocabulary. This TV streaming device supports 1080p and 720p resolutions, and, let's be frank, it is more than great for such a miniature streaming media player.
Interfaces and Controllers
A Type A HDMI 1.4b port with HDCP 1.4 connects the Amazon Fire TV streaming media player to your computer. Internet connection is established via Wi-Fi. Also, this streaming device features Bluetooth 3.0 support. The microUSB port is intended to power the Amazon Fire TV. You will have two options to control this best streaming media player, one is a useful standard remote control, and another is via the application you can install on your iOS or Android device. In the app, there is a voice search enabled for your convenience. This is an excellent streaming device!
Roku 2 Streaming Media Player 4205E
Form-factor and Performance
Roku 2 is a desktop streaming media player created to make your TV as smart and high-performing as possible. With this streaming device, you will easily watch and listen to online content. The BCM11130 processor with the frequency of 900 MHz provides fast launching of your applications and digital files. The 256 RAM ensures system stability, and you can store up to 512 MB of your data and apps. If it is not enough, we have good news for you - you can add to the storage space by using a microSD card as there is a slot available for it.
Roku OS is known to have a pretty simple and user-friendly interface. This streaming device connects you to over 3,000 channels with 300,000+ movies and TV episodes. You can search over 20 best streaming channels too. The package includes Vudu, Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Sling TV, Amazon Prime, and Watch ESPN. The maximum video resolution this streaming media player by Roku supports is a Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels). The picture you get is really marvelous! The supported formats include MP4 and MKV for video, AAC and MP3 for audio, JPG and PNG for images.
Interfaces and Controllers
To connect Roku 2 Streaming Media Player 4205E, use the HDMI port. You can choose to watch your movie from an external drive using either a USB port or a microSD card. And, of course, you can connect to the Internet, and there is also a choice here: both Ethernet and Wi-Fi 802.11 (a/b/g/n) are supported, the latter with WEP, WPA, and WPA2 profiles. The Roku remote control with fast channel launching is included, but if you wish you can connect your general-purpose IR remote. Roku has also developed a special mobile application for its devices, called simply Roku Mobile App. It is offered for iOS and Android smartphones, as well as for Windows-based ones. This app allows you to control the player and launch your other mobile apps duplicating the image to the large screen. Fascinating!
1. Grant Clauser, Streaming Media Stick vs. Streaming Media Box: Understanding the Differences, Electronic House. November 12, 2015.
2. Lauren Barret, Finding the Best Streaming Media Player: Roku vs Chromecast vs Amazon Fire vs Apple TV, Money Under 30. March 23, 2016.
3. Streaming Media Buying Guide, ConsumerReports. Last updated: September 2016.
4. Marshall Honorof, How to Buy a Streaming Media Player, Tom's Guide. May 4, 2016.
5. Brittany Hodak, RIP VHS: World's Last VCR Will Be Made This Month, Forbes. July 23, 2016.