The best way to take control of your TV: Connect it to the Internet, so it can get shows from Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, and all of those other sources you can already watch on your computer.
Here’s how: Get a streaming stick that plugs into one of your TV’s inputs, or a larger streaming box that does pretty much the same thing. They’re all relatively cheap. But which one is best?
We sat on our fat duffs streaming hours of movies and episodes of The X-Files to figure that out. Here’s the best streaming device you can get today.
(Not buying a streaming device just yet? Check back next month for our updated list.)
Correction: A previous version of this article indicated that you could not mirror content using Amazon or Roku devices. That was incorrect.
This is the best streaming device:
Roku Streaming Stick ($49)
Roku’s streaming stick is cheap, tiny, and gives you access to more content than you could ever possibly watch. Not only do you get the basics like Netflix and Hulu Plus, but you also get Google Play Movies, which isn’t available on Amazon’s Fire TV or Fire TV Stick. The Roku Streaming Stick also gets Amazon Instant Video.
It’s dead easy to set up and use, too.
The Roku Streaming Stick has access to more than 1,800 channels, which include things like HBO GO, Crackle, Watch ESPN, and a variety of niche offerings, including Zom-Bee TV, Spud’s Trailer Trash, Detroit Reality TV, a ton of religious channels, and others. The Streaming Stick also gets access to all of the available major music services, with the exception of Apple’s iTunes.
The Roku Streaming Stick also lets you mirror content from your smartphone, tablet, or Windows 8 device to your TV.
Sure, Roku’s streaming stick doesn’t have an Ethernet port, so you have to use Wi-Fi, and it doesn’t have a digital audio jack, so you can’t hook it up to your stereo system. But when it comes to streaming devices, content is king. And with more content than any other offering at a relatively low price, the Roku Streaming Stick is clearly the best option if you’re in the market for a streaming device.
If you love Roku, but your Wi-Fi is terrible
Roku 3 ($99)
So you love everything that the Roku Streaming Stick has to offer in terms of content, but your Wi-Fi connection isn’t fast enough to stream content to your TV?
Then get the Roku 3. Not only does this set-top box come with an Ethernet port that lets you connect to the Web via a hard line, but also it features a digital audio-out jack for connecting the box to your stereo system.
There’s even an improved wireless remote, which comes with a built-in headphone jack so you can watch TV in bed without bothering your significant other. And like the Roku Streaming Stick, the Roku 3 lets you mirror content from your mobile device to your TV.
The downside is that the Roku 3 is relatively large compared to the Roku Streaming Stick, and it costs an extra $50.
If you just want to mirror content on your TV
Google Chromecast ($35)
The Roku Streaming Stick and the Roku 3 may offer a huge number of channels, but if you just want to mirror content from from your tablet, smartphone, and even your laptop to your big-screen TV and save a few bucks, Google’s Chromecast is the device to get.
Why bother? Because mirroring lets you do things like view your Chrome browser on your television without any silly cables. In fact, Chromecast is built entirely on the concept of mirroring. You can open Chromecast-compatible apps, such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, on your iPhone, iPad, or Android device and wirelessly send video to your TV.
The drawbacks? Chromecast doesn’t support nearly as many apps as the Roku Streaming Stick, and it doesn’t come with its own remote; you have to use your smartphone to control the player.
Also, Amazon’s Instant Video app for Android doesn’t officially support Chromecast, so if you want to watch the service on your Chromecast, you’ll have to cast it from the Chrome Web browser.
Amazon’s Fire TV and Fire TV Stick are two of the more popular streaming devices on the market, but they don’t offer as much content as Roku’s offerings, and are a bit more expensive than the Chromecast if you are looking for a mirroring device.
Apple TV ($99)
Like Amazon’s Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Apple TV has a solid number of apps, but it still can’t beat Roku’s massive collection.
On the plus side, the Apple TV supports screen mirroring as well.