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The Best Plug-and-Play Streaming Devices for Your TV

Streaming on a tv

The Best Plug-and-Play Streaming Devices for Your TV

Key Points:

  • The best plug-and-play streaming device will make it seamless to switch between different streaming services, menu options, and any other “extras” that are available as part of its feature set.
  • If you have an HDMI-ready television and a TV no older than the last decade, you’re almost certain to be compatible with plug and play streaming devices.
  • If you have a 4K TV, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K supports all 4K content—and Dolby Vision/HDR+—and you can discover all of that content through voice search. Plus, you can use your iPhone or Android as a remote control with the downloadable Roku app. 

The best plug-and-play streaming devices are all really great at one thing: creating a way to stream all of your favorite streaming services from one nice and tidy menu.

The best plug-and-play streaming device will make it seamless to switch between different streaming services, menu options, and any other “extras” that are available as part of its feature set.

Built-in smart TV platforms are often full of apps and content you don’t want or need and it can make finding what you do want even more difficult. Moving to a plug-and-play streaming device is going to make your entire television experience a whole lot better. 

The good news is that the size of your TV screen doesn’t matter, nor does how old your television is. So long as you have an HDMI-ready television and a TV no older than the last decade, you’re almost certain to be compatible!

So, after many weeks of reviewing almost all of the options on the market, our team of tech experts has compiled a list of the best plug-and-play streaming devices for 2022: 

Best Overall Plug-and-Play Streaming Device: Roku Streaming Stick 4K

Best for Roku Fans
Roku Streaming Stick 4K
$39.00
  • Hides behind your TV
  • Streams in 4K, Dolby Vision, and HDR10+
  • Start streaming channels like Disney+, Netflix, Apple TV+, and more quickly
  • Long-range Wi-Fi
  • Voice search and control with Alexa
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/29/2024 06:13 pm GMT

The combination of its affordability and feature set help make the Roku Streaming Stick 4K the top plug-and-play streaming device in 2022.

The startup is fast, the remote is comfortable, and the interface is organized super well. If you have a 4K TV, the Roku supports all 4K content—and Dolby Vision/HDR+—and you can discover all of that content through voice search. Plus, you can use your iPhone or Android as a remote control with the downloadable Roku app. 

Add in long-range Wi-Fi, hundreds of live channels with Roku original programming, and compatibility with Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant, and the Roku’s benefits quickly add up.

While it’s the best in our opinion, we wish the remote had a few more shortcut buttons so we can quickly access our favorite streaming services. Instead, Roku provides four default shortcut buttons that you may or may not use but, unfortunately, can’t change. For example, if you have no use for ESPN+, you can’t change the shortcut button. 

Check it out the Roku Streaming Stick 4K on Amazon.

Best for Budget-Friendly: Fire TV Stick Lite

Best Budget-Friendly
Fire TV Stick Lite
  • Enjoy fast streaming in Full HD
  • Comes with Alexa Voice Remote Lite
  • Access to over 200,000 free movies and TV episodes from ad-supported streaming apps like IMDb TV, Tubi, Pluto TV, and more
  • Plug in behind your TV, turn on the TV, and connect to the internet to get set up
  • Endless entertainment - Stream more than 1 million movies and TV episodes from Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, Peacock, and more, plus listen to millions of songs (subscription fees may apply)
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If you want to spend the least amount of money on a streaming stick but still walk away with a bevy of features, the Fire TV Stick Lite is for you.

The biggest downside is that it lacks 4K compatibility so you’re stuck with 1080p but, for millions of television owners, that’s not an issue. The good news is this product still has access to all of your favorite streaming services in one clean, easy-to-use interface. 

Setup is as simple as plugging it in, turning on the TV, and logging into your streaming accounts. At a price that’s about $10 less than its closest competitor, it almost puts it in the running as an impulse buy, even for the most budget-conscious shoppers. Plus, playing with Alexa’s voice search to find music, movies, television shows, and apps is just fun. 

Check the Fire TV Stick Lite out on Amazon.

Best for Apple Users: Apple TV 4K

2021 Apple TV 4K (2nd Generation)
$100.32
  • Dolby Atmos cinema sound for an immersive listening experience
  • Crisp video quality (4K with Dolby Vision)
  • A12 Bionic chip for enhanced audio, video, and graphics
  • Bing on Apple Original shows, Apple TV+ movies, Disney+, Amazon Prime
  • 32 to 64 GB storage capacity
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
03/01/2024 07:20 am GMT

Once you purchase the Apple TV 4K and hook it up, the seamless integration with the rest of your Apple products makes it a must-own.

Not only would you want to use it for its streaming capabilities, but you can play a ton of games from the App Store making it a pseudo-game console. 

There’s no question that the price tag of $179+ on the Apple TV 4K may scare off some potential buyers, but the 4K playback is among the best we’ve used and the interface is as snappy as you will find in the plug-and-play streaming space.

Throw on a pair of AirPod Pros or Max and stream with spatial audio for an entirely different audio experience.

Check out the Apple TV 4K on Amazon.

Best for Voice Search: Chromecast with Google TV

Best for Google TV
Google Chromecast with Google TV 4K
$49.98
  • Streaming in up to 4K HDR quality
  • Dedicated Google Assistant button on the included remote
  • Stream over 700,000 TV shows and films
  • Supports Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, Google TV, and YouTube
  • Compatible with most TVs with an HDMI port
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
03/01/2024 03:40 am GMT

If you haven’t had an opportunity to see the new Google TV interface, we would highly suggest you do with the new $50 Chromecast with Google TV.

Gone are the days of the cumbersome interface, and now we can welcome the days of a Google TV interface that’s user-friendly and has the best voice search on the market.

Google Assistant remains the best in the business and it’s easy as saying “find action movies,” waiting a few seconds, and, voila, action movies galore!

Personal recommendations are a fun addition and help you discover new content, but the real value and differentiator over our top choice lies with voice search. Sadly, the live TV interface is only supported by YouTube TV subscribers whereas Roku, for example, offers hundreds of free streaming channels. 

Check it out the Chromecast with Google TV on Amazon.

Best for Premium Users: NVIDIA Shield TV

NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV Pro Streaming Media Player
$199.99
  • Powerful Android TV 4K UHD HDR streaming media player
  • Support for Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos for next-level visuals and audio
  • GeForce NOW cloud gaming support
  • Built-in Google Assistant for hands-free use
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
03/01/2024 05:15 am GMT

Like the Apple TV 4K, the $150 NVIDIA Shield TV is a premium-priced device, but you certainly get what you pay for.

Don’t let the tube shape fool you, inside this device is a 4K HDR beast, and while other devices, like our best overall favorite with Roku, also feature 4K, the 4K upscaling feature on the Shield TV makes watching content just that much better. 

Add in the fact that it has Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos for outstanding sound and picture quality, plus Google Assistant for voice search, and this device is truly impressive.

If you’re a gamer, the Shield TV works with both PlayStation and Xbox controllers plus you get a GeForce NOW membership with purchase. The downside? It’s pricey, the remote is triangle-shaped so it’s awkward to hold, and the upscaling, while fancy, isn’t earth-shatteringly good. 

Check out the NVIDIA Shield TV on Amazon.

How To Pick The Best Plug-and-Play Streaming Device: A Step-by-Step Guide

When you’re looking to purchase a plug-and-play streaming device, there are a few options you should be sure to consider. 

  • Price
  • 4K compatibility
  • Interface
  • Content selection 

Let’s take a closer look at each of these four considerations in detail so you’re ready to make your buying decision. 

Family watching television in living room
There are many important considerations to make before purchasing a plug-and-play device, such as the price and your intended use for streaming.

Price

The plug-and-play streaming options on this list vary in price quite a bit. The lowest option, the Fire TV Stick Lite, comes in around $30, while the Apple TV 4K can go as high as $199 for its 64GB variant. That’s a pretty substantial difference and the feature set isn’t always worth the higher price.

The bottom line is that you don’t have to spend a lot to get a lot, and it all depends on your personal feature-based preferences and user needs. 

4K Compatibility

Even as most plug-and-play streaming options offer 4K compatibility these days (the Fire Stick TV Lite being an exception), it’s still important to know if this is something you want.

If you don’t have a TV that supports 4K and don’t plan to buy one in the future, the Fire TV Stick Lite quickly becomes your best option. If you have a 4K television, then you want a 4K experience, and that might drive you to the NVIDIA Shield TV and its upscaling features. 

Interface

Aside from price, this is undoubtedly the biggest question around which plug-and-play streaming device is best for you.

Roku is a hugely popular interface but, compared to the Apple TV 4K or Chromecast with Google TV, it’s downright slow. 

Apple TV’s interface is clean, can be navigated from either the remote or your iPhone or iPad, and shows personal recommendations or new episodes of your favorite content. Amazon recently revamped its entire interface, making it much cleaner and user-friendly, but it still lags behind both Apple and Google. 

Content Selection 

All of these plug-and-play streaming services offer the same variety of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, ESPN+, and more. What really differentiates each device is the additional content that’s offered.

Roku has hundreds of thousands of hours of programming available from either Roku TV or its live channels, making it best-in-class in this category. 

On the other hand, Apple TV only offers third-party apps and has no live channels, so it’s really dependent on users liking its interface.

Television streaming, multimedia streaming

It’s best to decide if you prefer live channels, third-party streaming apps, or both, to pick which plug-and-play device is for you.

What To Know Before Buying a Plug-and-Play Streaming Device

Before you purchase any plug-and-play streaming device, you need to double-check two things.

The first is to ensure your TV has HDMI compatibility and a free HDMI slot as well. All plug-and-play streaming devices function off HDMI signals, so ensuring you have a free HDMI port is critical. 

The second is to double-check if you have a 4K TV which, as noted above, will influence which plug-and-play streaming stick options are right for you. If you do have a 4K TV, then your options in this category are pretty broad, though we recommend one of our top choices. If you do not have a 4K TV, looking at our recommendation of the Fire TV Stick Lite is your best bet. 

Using Plug-and-Play Streaming Devices: What It’s Like

Our team of experts has tested each plug-and-play streaming device and evaluated its setup, ease of use, how fast you can add your favorite streaming services, and additional features. We’ve also used each of them to see how the interface works and if it slows down after a few days of heavy use or if it’s consistently seamless. 

best free movie streaming site

No matter which plug-and-play streaming device you choose, you’re going to get access to all of your favorite streaming services in one place.

Fortunately, all of these options have easy setups ranging from between four and seven steps. You’ll need to set up an account with Roku and NVIDIA and you can use your existing Amazon, Apple, and Google accounts with their respective devices.

Once you are set up, the next step is downloading your streaming apps, which is pretty straightforward on all of the devices. All apps are downloaded to each device’s “home screen” where you can rearrange them to your heart’s content. 

We’ve used each device on TVs large and small and that has no impact on the use case.

Where things really got interesting is with remotes.

The Roku remote is our favorite, but not by too much. It’s compact, has everything you need and nothing you don’t, and works well, but we still want to be able to change the shortcut buttons. On the other hand, Apple’s remote is more fashion than function and we’d recommend using your iPhone or iPad over the physical remote. Google’s remote is somewhat in the middle as the circular button at the top feels very iPod-like but, again, we wished we could have replaced the shortcut buttons. NVIDIA’s remote is our least favorite and while not ridiculously uncomfortable, it’s not ideal to use for lengthy periods of time thanks to its odd triangle shape. 

Final Thoughts

No matter which plug-and-play streaming device you choose, you’re going to get access to all of your favorite streaming services in one place. All of our favorite options offer interfaces and features that are better than what your smart television has to offer.

Roku remains the reigning champion of this category, but competitors like Apple and Google are quickly closing the gap—and that’s good news for everyone.

Up Next…

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use multiple plug-and-play streaming devices on one TV?

Yes, absolutely. So long as you have free HDMI ports, you can use as many plug and play streaming devices on a single TV as you want.

Should I wait for sales before picking one of these up?

Given the frequency of sales for both the Amazon and Roku devices: Yes, wait for a sale.

AppleTV 4K and the Chromecast with Google TV also go on sale, but not as frequently. 

Is gaming a big part of plug-and-play streaming devices?

Gaming is definitely a secondary reason to purchase any plug-and-play streaming device, but it’s still possible.

The AppleTV 4K, Chromecast with Google TV, and NVIDIA Shield TV all provide some aspect of gaming and, for many people, that’s a big plus.

Apple Arcade games are fantastic on the AppleTV but they are not a reason alone to spend 4x the price of the Roku Streaming Stick 4K.

What are the differences between the different Roku and Amazon streaming devices?

Each one, as you increase its price, adds a few extra features including some additional options on the remote, an improved WiFi experience, and more. Overall, they all do 98% of the same things and that’s more than enough for most users. 

How does Amazon's 4K stick compare to our favorite Roku Streaming Stick 4K selection?

What really helps set the Roku apart is its far more user-friendly interface, specifically, its search functionality which is leaps and bounds better than Amazon’s. Throw in Dolby Vision with the Roku Streaming Stick 4K and it’s a clear winner.

 

 

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