These days you don't need to go to the expense of a smart TV to access services such as Netflix, Amazon or BBC iPlayer. We round up the best media streaming devices you can buy in the UK in 2016 that let you stream media to smartphones, tablets, PCs and laptops.
There has been an enormous price crash in the market for media-streaming devices in the past year or so. Devices such as the Sky Now TV Box now cost less than a DVD – the disc, not the player. None of the devices on test here costs more than £99, and it’s now almost a no-brainer to connect one of these devices to your living-room TV instead of stumping up extra for a so-called ‘smart TV’. In fact, even if you have a TV with internet connectivity, it's bound to offer an inferior experience - not to mention a deficit in content - compared to the media streamers we've reviewed here. See also: Best Blu-ray players 2016
The content available through each streamer is the most important factor for most people. This is why it's crucial to check that the services you want are available. It's rare for one device to offer everything, but Roku has the biggest range going with hundreds of apps to choose between.
The advantages of having a media streamer are manifold. You can stream films or TV shows from services such as Netflix or the BBC iPlayer without having to plug your laptop into the TV or have a noisy PC whirring away – all of these devices are silent in operation and consume very little power.
Smartphone and tablet owners can beam content from their phones to the television wirelessly with many of these devices, so if you want to show the family the video you shot earlier that day, or perhaps play a family game using the Scrabble app, you simply press a button on your phone and beam the picture to the big screen so that everyone can see it instantly.
See also: Amazon Prime Instant Video vs Netflix.
Some of these media streamers can display content stored on other PCs, laptops and NAS drives connected to your home network, letting you enjoy your music collection in the lounge for family parties or share photo slideshows. Apps for online media services such as Spotify, Flickr and YouTube are also common now: you install those you want, and ignore those you don't.
We’ve got two different types of media streamer on test here. Some are traditional set-top boxes that can work independently of any other device. Prices range from just £9.99 to £99, but there’s a huge discrepancy in features and capabilities from top to bottom, so read the individual reviews to see which best meets your needs.
Then we have the Chromecast (of which a new version has recently been launched) and its thinly veiled imitator, the EZCast, which have to be used in conjunction with a smartphone, tablet or PC to serve content to them. These dongle-like devices plug straight into the TV and can be practically hidden from sight. The Roku Streaming Stick and Amazon Fire TV Stick are also dongles but come with remote controls and can work without another device such as a smartphone.
Gaming is a relatively new addition to media streamers. You can play casual games such as Tetris on Roku and Amazon devices as well as the Google Nexus Player, or opt for the Nvidia Shield TV for something a little more console-esque. You can even buy optional game pads if you're serious about wanting a games console experience.
Best media streamers 2016 UK
- Reviewed on: 1 October 14
- RRP: £49 inc VAT
The Roku Streaming Stick is one of the best media streamers around and worth the extra money compared with the Chromecast if you want more content at your fingertips plus the physical remote control and user interface.
Read our Roku Streaming Stick review.
2. Roku 3
- Reviewed on: 17 November 15
- RRP: £99 inc VAT
The Roku 3 is a premium player with a superior feature set to rivals. The wireless headphones are a boon and the UK content selection is superb, although we experienced lip-sync issues and network media playback is too unreliable.
Read our Roku 3 review.
- Reviewed on: 25 November 15
- RRP: £30 inc VAT
Owners of the original Chromecast have very little reason to upgrade the new model. Google has improved the design with the Chromecast 2 and added better Wi-Fi. We also like the new app and, in general, the device is a bargain at £30. However, the Roku Streaming Stick outclasses it for less than £10 extra with more content available, a remote control and excellent user interface.
Read our Google Chromecast 2 review.
- Reviewed on: 9 September 16
- RRP: £35 inc VAT
Thanks to its powerful internals and nice interface, the Fire TV Stick is a great gadget for watching Prime Instant Video, Netflix, iPlayer and Demand 5. The remote may lack a mic, but you can still use voice search in Prime Instant Video using the iOS, Amazon or Android app. We still prefer the Roku for its sheer breadth of content, but if you're a Prime member, this is one of the best ways to watch the Instant Video service.
Read our Amazon Fire TV Stick review.
- Reviewed on: 6 October 14
- RRP: £30 inc VAT
A brilliant, low-cost add-on for Android device users in particular, providing a blissfully simple way to beam video from your device to the big screen. People who want to stream their own media collection should look elsewhere. The Chromecast is cheap and easy to use, but there aren’t many apps that support it yet. This situation is bound to change over the coming months, but for now you might find your existing smart TV offers more.
Read our Google Chromecast review.
- Reviewed on: 3 October 14
- RRP: £79 inc. VAT
From a technical point of view, the Apple TV is as slick and neatly designed as you'd expect from Apple. However, its reliance upon iTunes and Netflix is frustrating for users outside the US, and the Apple TV won't live up to its considerable potential until Apple bites the bullet and opens it up to a wider range of online video services.
Read our Apple TV (2014 - PCA) review.
- Reviewed on: 10 February 16
- RRP: £14.99 inc VAT
For under £15 and various value bundles, the second generation Sky Now TV Box is a great budget media streamer. It not only allows contract-free access to a wide range of Sky content but also a number of other apps including BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub. It's just a big shame that Now TV is limited to just 720p.
Read our Sky Now TV Box (2015) review.
- Reviewed on: 9 September 16
- RRP: £79.99 inc VAT
The Fire TV is an excellent set-top box which is powerful and well designed. The voice search works well too, but isn't available in all apps. There are other foibles, too, such as confusion over whether videos are included in your Prime Instant video subscription or not. Even so, the Fire TV is one of the best video streamers, but it really makes sense if you pair it with a Prime Instant Video subscription and use Amazon's other services. 4K content is still limited, and many 4K TVs already have the Prime Instant Video app. This means it's going to appeal to people who want 4K Prime Instant Video (or Netflix) but their TV doesn't have it. If that's you, just double-check your TV has an HDMI port which supports HDCP 2.2, otherwise you'll find 4K videos won't play.
- Reviewed on: 22 March 16
- RRP: 32GB: £129 ($149); 64GB: £169 ($199)
For some people - mainly those with iOS devices and no 2nd- or 3rd-generation Apple TV - the new box is a great media streamer and games machine. However, there's no escaping the high price and limited selection of apps. And if you're not interested in gaming, you're just as well off buying a 3rd-generation Apple TV or Roku for less than half the price. Competition from other gaming media streamers is stiff, too, with Amazon's £79 Fire TV offering more UK catch-up TV as well as similar gaming performance, expandable storage and support for 4K content. Ultimately, the 4th-gen Apple TV has potential (Apple may even upgrade the software so it supports 4K at some point) but right now that potential is far from realised.
Read our Apple TV 2015 (4th-gen) review.
10. Nvidia Shield TV
- Reviewed on: 24 November 15
- RRP: £149.99
We’re extremely impressed by the Nvidia Shield both as a media streamer and as a games console. The beautiful UI and game-streaming technology is powered by one of the most impressive mobile processors on the market at the moment, and provides an experience akin to playing a PS4 or Xbox One. The native 4K resolution that supports 60fps playback is better than any other offering in the UK at the moment, with the Fire TV only being able to support [email protected] GeForce Now has been coined as the ‘Netflix for gaming’ and although the library may be a bit sparse at the moment, the experience is great – being able to choose from a library and play it instantly is an intriguing experience and gives us a glimpse at the future of on-demand gaming.
The only real disappointment comes with the selection of catch-up TV apps, as we could only install BBC iPlayer, leaving those who want to use the likes of All4, Demand5 or ITV Hub without any option. The Shield is so close to being the perfect media streamer but without access to popular apps like those mentioned, it’ll always fall short.
Read our Nvidia Shield TV review.
11. Roku 2 (2015)
- Reviewed on: 15 July 15
- RRP: £69 inc VAT
The Roku 2 is yet another decent media streaming box from the market leader and we like the new Roku Search and MyFeed features. However, these are available on the other Rokus and the slightly high price means you'll want to pay the extra for the better remote which comes with the Roku 3 or save money by getting the similar Streaming Stick.
Read our Roku 2 (2015) review.
- Reviewed on: 29 April 15
- RRP: £79 inc VAT
The Nexus Player is a decent media streamer, but it’s not an unqualified success. It’s only truly good if you’re pairing it with an Android phone or tablet in order to stream a much wider selection of content. However, if you only want to do that, you may as well buy a Chromecast which costs as little as £20 these days. iOS users are better off with an Apple TV. If you want to play games, it’s a pretty much a toss-up between the Fire TV and Nexus Player. Adding the cost of the Bluetooth gamepad, which is a must, the price shoots up to £115, which is dangerously close to previous-generation games consoles. And we haven't even mentioned the Roku 3, which offers a heck of a lot of content for basically the same price. For those in the UK, the Roku 3 and Streaming Stick are hard to beat.
Read our Google Nexus Player review.
- Reviewed on: 23 September 14
- RRP: £80 inc. VAT
The WD TV Live media streamer supports the streaming of many different video and audio formats, is easy to use and it performs well.
Read our WD TV Live media streamer review.
14. Sky Now TV Box
- Reviewed on: 25 September 14
- RRP: £9.99 inc VAT
A perfectly capable media streamer, with dedicated remote control, for only £10 may look an indisputable bargain. It's light on features and obviously geared towards Sky's content, but if you want an inexpensive, fuss-free way of watching the occasional football match or TV series, it would be just the ticket providing Sky sorts out its streaming servers.
Read our Sky Now TV Box review.
15. EZCast (M2)
- Reviewed on: 24 September 14
- RRP: £14.95 inc VAT
A poor impersonation of the Chromecast, which fails to get many of the basics right. Streaming video is choppy, screen sharing is awkward and there's no third-party app support. Simply not worth the £15 saving on Google's hardware.
Read our EZCast (M2) review.