The 5 best TV streamers of 2015 – which should you buy?
Finding the right streamer
Deciding which streaming device to go for can be a tricky process. After all, they’re all the same, right?
Wrong. While they may perform very similar functions, Apple TV locks you into Apple’s ecosystem, while Amazon’s Fire TV range works far better if you’re an Amazon Prime member. Prefer to just use services like Netflix or just want to watch YouTube videos on a big screen? Then Google’s Chromecast is probably more up your street.
You may not even need a separate streaming service if you’ve already got an internet-connected TV or Blu-ray player. So it always pays to check first.
Do I need to a TV streamer?
If you’ve brought a new TV within the past two years, and that TV has an internet connection, you might not need a separate TV streamer. A selection of recent LG, Hitachi, Sony and Philips TVs all come with in-build Smart TV capabilities. Exactly what these capabilities are depends on the model and brand, but remember to check what your TV can and cannot do before looking any further.
Stick or box?
Unsure whether you’re better off with a streaming box setup or a quick and simple HDMI dongle? Well, it all boils down to what you really want to be doing with your streaming device.
As a rule of thumb, set-top box streamers will come with more internal storage, more power and usually more features. Dongles are fantastic for portability, and they offer up a cheaper and hassle-free way of watching the films and TV shows you love. However, both types of device have their own downsides.
Set-top boxes are more expensive, can’t be powered from a USB socket on your TV, and aren’t as quick to set up out of the box. Conversely, dongles don’t have the same grunt as a set-top box and so are poor for those who want to play games. They also have little to no storage for apps and usually come with fewer features included as standard.
Obviously, the degree to which this is an inconvenience or benefit varies from device to device, so give our reviews a read to help make up your mind.
Android TV, Apple TV or Amazon Fire?
It’s all about the “A”s when it comes down to a TV streamer’s operating systems and, as you can imagine, each one has its own pros and cons.
While Sony, Sharp and Philips have integrated Android TV into their TVs – and some streaming devices also use it to run – it’s had a hard time getting off the ground as a streaming OS. It’s hard to pin down exactly why it’s failed to capture users’ attentions, although it generally has a lacklustre selection of apps available due to the convenience of Google’s own Chromecast and the lack of native support for standard Android apps. However, things are changing and, with the Android TV-based Nvidia Shield on the way, it’s likely we’ll see a resurgence in Google’s mobile OS competently powering more and more streaming devices.
Amazon’s own take on the Android infrastructure comes with a whole new set of issues. When using any Amazon Fire device, you’ll quickly notice that everything is contained within a ring-fenced user interface hung around Amazon’s own movie, TV rental and streaming services. This means that, if Amazon doesn’t want you to access a service, it won’t let you. While you’ll still be able to use Netflix and some on-demand services, you can’t access Now TV or Sky Go, and if you want to rent or buy films you have to buy them directly from Amazon’s video store.
As any well-versed Apple user can imagine, Apple TV is another ring-fenced operation, and this one isn’t as flexible as Amazon’s. Running mostly through iTunes for film and TV show purchases and rentals, Apple TV is best suited for those running an iOS or OS X device. Apple’s upcoming app-based Apple TV will be a huge breath of fresh air for Apple’s streamer, but it’s still unknown just how tightly Apple will regulate apps on the service.
It’s important to remember that, as most streamers are essentially the same, you should investigate the capabilities of each device for your individual situation, rather than just assuming an Amazon Fire or Apple TV device will do the job best. Unless you’re someone who’s already heavily invested in Google, Apple or Amazon services, it’s worth keeping an open mind about other alternatives.