The battle for the best streaming media player has many worthy contenders. There are many very capable boxes on the market today at a variety of price points. Of course, the hardware is only as good as the content available on it, and all the boxes now offer most popular streaming services, with a few notable exceptions. Still, there are some important differences that set the best streaming media players apart now and into the future.
Apple TV - the best and most expensive
The new 4th generation Apple TV is the best streaming media player in my opinion. It offers several advancements over its predecessors and the other options on this list. However, it is also the most expensive option and Amazon Prime isn’t available as a native app, only with an iOS device and AirPlay. The advanced features are worth the money for people that have abandoned cable or watch lots of streaming TV and movies.
Everything about the new Apple TV is better. It is quicker to seek within a video, the new remote supports voice search and can control other devices, and it is overall speedier. Siri voice search is an indispensable feature, and can be used to find a show on Netflix, a YouTube video, or jump directly to the ESPN2 live stream. Siri search also displays what apps a title is available on (in supported apps) and I use it all the time to see if something is available for free before buying or renting. The remote has also become my primary (but not universal) remote because it supports controlling other devices over HDMI. Now when I tap the remote, my TV automatically turns on and changes to the correct input. The remote also has infrared so I can change my TV's volume. Some of my apps are adding advanced features such as picture-in-picture and Apple has already announced new features that will make the box even better and easier to use.
The games and non-video apps currently available are not extremely compelling, but Apple receives better support from developers than its competitors. For this reason I expect the Apple TV to have the best apps and features going forward, even if it doesn’t have the most apps overall.
Users of other Apple devices will get the most out of the Apple TV, as it is the only streaming media player to support AirPlay, iTunes, and iCloud.
Amazon Fire TV, Roku - two more good options
The Amazon Fire TV and Roku other other great choices that are more affordable. The higher-end boxes from both companies offer many of the same advanced features as the Apple TV, such as voice search, apps and games, and speedy processors. They also offer some features the Apple TV does not, such as 4k support (with capable TV and content), all while costing less.
Both support Amazon Prime streaming and Amazon Video for rentals and purchases, and Roku also offers Vudu, Google Play, and Fandango.
Chromecast, Channelmaster DVR+ - niche devices
The Chromecast is a small and inexpensive device with support for most popular services, but its lack of a dedicated remote is a deal-breaker for me. It is available for $35 from Google.
Channel Master’s DVR+ isn't primarily a streaming box, it's a DVR made to work with an antenna that also supports a handful of streaming services: Sling, Vudu, and YouTube. The selection of streaming services pales in comparison to the above choices and the price is high, but the DVR+ may be a nice option for cord-cutters. It starts at $250 at the Channel Master store and is also available on Amazon as part of a $300 bundle that includes a wifi dongle and HDMI cable.
Any of these devices is capable of streaming HD videos from a variety of services. Although the best choices are several times more expensive than the cheapest, they offer the best experience and will save time for years to come.