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CNET reviews: Streaming devices taken to the extreme

Roku Streaming Stick Plus is economical and offers

Roku Streaming Stick Plus is economical and offers a ton of streaming options. Credit: CBS Interactive/Sarah Tew/CNET

So you need a new device to connect to your TV and stream video, but you're not sure which one?

This guide will help you find the best streaming device that connects to your TV and streams video — something you'll likely use every day for hours at a time to watch movies and TV. With the exception of smart TVs that actually run streaming software from Amazon, Google or Roku, these add-on streaming devices have more apps, simpler remotes, better search and more frequent updates than the smarts built into your set.

If you're looking for the best streaming device to go with that new 4K HDR TV, or if your current media streaming device is getting long in the tooth, chances are you'll be more than happy with one of these.

WHAT Roku Streaming Stick Plus

THE COST $49.99

AVAILABLE FROM roku.com

Roku has a ton of streaming app options (now with HBO Max), the simplest interface and the best search. It also has a content-agnostic platform that doesn't push any one media streaming service provider, like Amazon Prime Video or Apple, over another.

The Streaming Stick Plus is one of the cheapest streaming TV options with 4K HDR, and even if your current TV doesn't support those formats, your next one probably will. And with the AirPlay update, this Roku device is one of the least expensive ways to connect your iPhone or other Apple device to your TV.

WHAT Apple TV 4K

THE COST $179

AVAILABLE FROM apple.com

The perfect foil to the $50 streamer above, the Apple TV still costs $180 but is the better choice for people who want to check every feature box — or who just want an Apple device to use Apple Arcade for gaming or take full advantage of their Apple One subscription bundles.

Video purists will appreciate its flexible HDR while Siri fans will dig its voice extras. For most people, however, Apple's venerable streamer just isn't worth the money, especially now that Roku has all the major apps, AirPlay and the Roku Ultra has Dolby Vision at almost half the price.

WHAT Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite

THE COST $29.99

AVAILABLE FROM amazon.com

If you prefer the simplicity of Roku's app-based menus, you might like the Roku Express better. But the Lite trounces the Express in features for the money. The Amazon Fire TV Lite device's biggest advantage is a remote with built-in voice search and control (the cheapest Roku with a voice remote is the Streaming Stick Plus) thanks to Alexa. The Fire Stick's remote also doesn't need line of sight to work. If you can't step up to a $50 player, the Lite is your best bet.

The following CNET staff contributed to this story: senior managing editor David Katzmaier, senior associate editor Ty Pendlebury and copy editor Jim Hoffman. For more reviews of personal technology products, visit cnet.com.

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