Streaming players are some of the most versatile gifts in the tech world. They're small enough to fit in a stocking but powerful enough to offer tons of entertainment for the whole family. So if you're thinking about giving yourself or someone you love the cozy gift of streaming, but are unsure of which device will work best, you've come to the right place.
These add-on streaming devices from Roku, Google Chromecast and Apple TV have simple remotes, more apps, better search and more frequent updates than the smarts built into your TV set, especially older models.
WHAT Roku Express 4K Plus
THE COST $29.99
AVAILABLE FROM roku.com
Roku offers the most streaming app options, the simplest streaming platform interface and the best search of any streaming system. 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 is one of the cheapest streaming TV options with 4K HDR. (Even if your current TV doesn't support those formats, your next one probably will.) Thanks to the AirPlay update, the Roku is also an inexpensive way to connect your iPhone or other Apple device to your TV.
WHAT Chromecast with Google TV
THE COST $49.99-$89
AVAILABLE FROM store.google.com
Those looking to give the gift of Google should love the Chromecast with Google TV. While not as good as the Roku Express 4K Plus, this TV streaming product comes closer than any other device on the market. It features Dolby Vision compatibility but its biggest smart device strength is Google Assistant voice search, which works well for finding programs to watch.
Another plus is its impressive integration with other Google services such as Google Photos and YouTube TV. The interface is more evolved-looking than Roku, but Roku offers a simpler approach and no-nonsense search results.
WHAT Apple TV 4K
THE COST $179 (or six monthly payments of $29.83)
AVAILABLE FROM apple.com
The new Apple TV 4K is pricey but a good 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 and TV calibration feature, while those with older Apple boxes will love the new and improved remote.
For most people, however, Apple's venerable remote control streamer just isn't worth the money, especially now that Roku has nearly all the major apps and AirPlay. If you really want Dolby Vision, you can find that on Roku, Google and Amazon devices at less than half the price.
The following CNET staff contributed to this story: senior editor Eli Blumenthal, associate writer Sarah Lord and copy editor Jim Hoffman. For more reviews of personal technology products, visit cnet.com.