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The best streaming gadgets you can buy

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
What are the best streaming options? We've got the answer.

Want to watch Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime or any other streaming service on your TV? Then you’re going to need some kind of streaming device.

And it just so happens a boatload of set-top boxes, sticks, and game consoles can beam your favorite shows and movies from the internet straight to your TV.

But not all streaming devices are created equal. What’s more, not every streaming device offers the same content. Which is why I’m here to help you pick the best gadget for cramming more TV into your peepers.

Cool? Cool.

Amazon

Amazon offers two streaming devices: the $50 Fire TV Stick and the $100 Fire TV, which provide different ways to access Amazon’s various streaming apps.

Amazon's Fire TV Stick

The Fire TV Stick has a dual-core processor, while the Fire TV has a quad-core chip, which means navigating menus with the Stick will be slower than with Fire TV.

Amazon's Fire TV

Fire TV can also play super high-resolution 4K video, something the Stick can’t do. But at this point, there isn’t enough 4K content to warrant picking the Fire TV over the Stick.

Total content offerings

According to Amazon, the Fire TV has more than 4,500 apps, channels and games.

Major channels

Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, HBO GO, Showtime Anytime, Starz Play, PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, Spotify, Pandora, Crackle, Twitch, MLB.TV, NBA for Fire TV, WatchESPN

What’s missing?

Google Play Movies, NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL.TV, YouTube

Roku

Roku has several options to choose from. The Roku 1 ($50), the company’s oldest offering, is designed for TVs without HDMI ports. It’s also the slowest Roku and doesn’t have the high-end features of its successors. But if you’ve got an older TV and want to watch “House of Cards,” the Roku 1 gets the job done.

Roku Streaming Stick review: The only streaming device you need

The Roku 2 ($70) is an upgraded version of the Roku 1. It’s faster, offers functionality with the Roku smartphone app, and includes Ethernet and USB ports and a microSD card slot. Upping the ante is the $100 Roku 3, which features an improved remote with built-in voice search and private listening via its headphone jack.

The Roku Stick ($50) offers a faster quad-core processor than the Roku 1, 2 and 3, and all of the other features found on the Roku 3 with the exception of the latter's fancy voice search remote. Instead, the Stick lets you perform voice search and use private listening mode via the Roku app.

The Roku 4 is Roku's top-of-the-line streaming box.

Then there’s the Roku 4. The top dog in Roku’s arsenal, the $130 Roku 4 can do everything its counterparts can as well as stream 4K video. It also has optical digital audio output and a remote finder for when you lose the clicker between your couch cushions.

Total content offerings

Roku doesn’t provide the total number of its content offerings, but a rep said the company has more than 3,000 channels and apps.

Major channels

Netflix, Hulu, Google Play Movies, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, HBO Now, HBO GO, Showtime Anytime, Starz Play, Sling TV, Crackle, Spotify, Pandora, Twitch, MLB.TV, NBA, NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL.TV, WatchESPN

What’s missing?

PlayStation Vue

Apple TV

Apple’s fourth-generation Apple TV reinvents the company’s streaming-content strategy. Not only does Apple TV let you watch your favorite shows, but it’s also a platform for interactive apps. You can, for example, use App

le TV to download Airbnb and browse rentals or check out Gilt to shop for clothes and jewelry. Oh, and then there are the tons of games.

The 4th-generation Apple TV

Total content offerings

Apple says its fourth-generation Apple TV has more than 5,000 apps including streaming channels and games.

Major channels

Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, HBO Now, HBO GO, Showtime Anytime, Starz Play, Crackle, Pandora, MLB.TV, NBA, NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL.TV, WatchESPN

What’s missing

Google Play Movies, Amazon Prime, NFL Sunday Ticket, PlayStation Vue, Sling TV, Spotify, Twitch

Google Chromecast

Google’s Chromecast is one of the least expensive streaming devices at just $35. The hockey puck shaped gadget plugs into your TV via an HDMI port and lets you pull up streaming apps on your smartphone or tablet and cast them to your boob tube. In other words, your phone, or tablet, acts as a gateway for the Chromecast.

Google's Chromecast

The one hitch to Chromecast is that it requires your smartphone or tablet to act as a home screen and remote. But if you hate having a million remotes cluttering your coffee table (you should see the mess I have), then not having a remote could be a blessing.

Total content offerings

There are no totals for the number of apps available for Chromecast, though it's in the thousands.

Major Channels

Netflix, Hulu, Google Play Movies, PlayStation Vue, YouTube, HBO Now, HBO GO, Showtime Anytime, Starz Play, Sling TV, Crackle, Spotify, Pandora, Twitch, MLB.TV, NBA, NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL.TV, WatchESPN

What’s missing?

Not much. It has the majority of the major streaming apps with the exception of Android Prime Video. But even in that case the Chromecast lets you mirror Prime Video (or any service) from any desktop or laptop that supports Chrome or any Android phone or tablet to your TV.

Android TV

Google's own TV streaming OS, Android TV, is a version of the company's Android software designed for your boob tube.

Nvidia's Shield

The interface is clean and easy to understand and gives you access to movies, TV shows and games. Right now, two devices run Android TV: the $200 Nvidia Shield and the $100 Razer Forge TV. Both boxes are designed for streaming video content and playing graphics-intensive games.

Total content offerings

Google doesn't have a firm number for the amount of Android TV apps, but it's safe to say it's in the thousands.

Major Channels

Netflix, Hulu, Google Play Movies, PlayStation Vue, YouTube, HBO Now, HBO GO, Showtime Anytime, Starz Play, Sling TV, Crackle, Pandora, Twitch, MLB.TV, NBA, NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL.TV

 What's missing

Amazon Prime Video, PlayStation Vue, Spotify, WatchESPN. As with the Chromecast, you can cast apps from your phone to the Android TV.

Sony PlayStation 4

Sony’s PlayStation 4 is first and foremost a game console, but it’s also a heck of a streaming device.

The PlayStation 4

 

Available for $350 with a game and a 500GB hard drive, the PlayStation 4 can play Blu-ray discs, as well as stream TV shows, movies and music.

Total content offerings

Sony offers 38 apps including the company’s PlayStation Now service.

Major channels

Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, PlayStation Vue, YouTube, HBO GO, Crackle, Spotify, Twitch, NBA, NFL Sunday Ticket

What’s missing?

Google Play Movies, HBO Now, Showtime Anytime, Starz Play, Sling TV, Pandora, WatchESPN

Microsoft Xbox One

Like the PlayStation 4, Microsoft’s Xbox One is primarily a game console.

The Xbox One

But Microsoft also wants its system to be at the center of your living room, and to do that it’s added a boatload of streaming services to the mix.

Total content offerings

Microsoft has close to 100 apps for the Xbox One with more in other markets.

Major channels

Netflix, Hulu, Google Play Movies, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube HBO Now, HBO GO, Showtime Anytime, Starz Play, Sling TV, Crackle, Spotify, Pandora, Twitch, MLB.TV, NBA, NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL.TV, WatchESPN

What’s missing?

PlayStation Vue, Spotify

Which should you buy?

Here’s the thing: There’s no one player for everyone. If you love Apple, you'll probably want the Apple TV, because, well, it's an Apple product. If you're dedicated to Amazon you'll want the Fire TV, and if you're a Google maniac, the Chromecast will work for you.

But, if I had to choose the device that offers the most streaming options at the lowest price, I’d have to go with the Roku Streaming Stick. Sure, it’s a bit more expensive than the Chromecast. But it doesn’t require a smartphone, and it gives you access to both Google Play Movies and Amazon Prime Video without needing to mirror it to your TV. And unlike the Amazon Fire TV Stick, the Roku Stick has a fast quad-core processor.

If you're not looking for Amazon Prime Video, though, then the Chromecast is the way to go. Just make sure you've got enough of a charge on your smartphone.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.