Get the big picture on these streaming devices
Many smart TVs come with some kind of operating system that is capable of downloading streaming apps, but add-on streaming devices often have simpler remotes, more apps, better search and more frequent updates than the OS built into your set. Plus, they're a much more affordable alternative to upgrading your entire TV. Here are CNET's top three picks among all the streaming devices on the market.
WHAT Roku Express 4K Plus
THE COST $29.99
AVAILABLE FROM roku.com
Roku is a fabulous streaming system, with the most streaming app options, the simplest streaming platform 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 Express 4K Plus streaming media player is one of the cheapest streaming TV options with 4K HDR.
Thanks to the AirPlay update, this Roku device is one of the least expensive ways to connect your iPhone or other Apple device to your TV. It is cheaper than the company's Streaming Stick 4K Plus and other 4K HDR streaming devices.
WHAT Chromecast with Google TV HD
THE COST $19.99
AVAILABLE FROM store.google.com
The brand-new Chromecast with Google TV HD is far and away the best HD-only, entry-level streaming device you can find. If you're looking for a cheap streamer for your HD TV, this is the one to get. It's speedy and offers the same form-factor and remote as the Chromecast with Google 4K, which means that it doesn't need line-of-sight to work and can seamlessly control your TV's power, volume and inputs. It also comes with a built-in button to access the Google Assistant.
WHAT Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max
THE COST $34.99
AVAILABLE FROM amazon.com
If you're looking for a speedy device, look no further than the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max. It loads apps almost immediately, and navigating around the system is swift and smooth. Even better, the Max supports Wi-Fi 6 and nearly all the latest playback standards, including Dolby Vision. The downside is its Fire TV platform and that ads are featured prominently throughout. (Who appreciates their TV becoming a giant rotating billboard for content or ads when in screen saver mode?)
But this is a good choice for those looking for a fast device or those hooked into the Amazon ecosystem. The Fire TV Stick 4K Max is the best Fire Stick on the market today, and it's worth the extra money over the standard Fire TV Stick 4K.
The following CNET staff contributed to this story: senior editor Eli Blumenthal, editorial director David Katzmaier, associate writer Sarah Lord, editor Ty Pendlebury and copy editor Jim Hoffman. For more reviews of personal technology products, visit cnet.com.