Cord Cutting Guide
The Streaming Boxes You Need After Cutting the Cord
Dec 11th, 2019
There’s a lot of great TV shows and movies out there (Golden Age, y’all). But when you switch to a simpler internet package without cable *ahem, like Starry*, you need a way to watch them all on your big screen. One popular way to access apps like Netflix and Hulu (and much more) is via a streaming box. Streaming boxes are very similar to streaming sticks in function, but do have additional visual features that could improve your watching experience. If you like viewing in 4K, that is.
Streaming sticks (think Amazon Fire stick and Chromecast) are, of course, much lighter and more portable and cheaper than their console counterparts - just in case you’re concerned about taking your streaming to-go. However, streaming boxes tend to have more processing power (translation: load content faster) and can have features like Ethernet ports, which allow you to connect your console directly into your internet router. Even better, many streaming boxes on the market have the option of letting you plug in external storage, maximizing your binge-watching options.
Each of these options feature all the most popular streaming services (Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, HBO, YouTube). But which is the best streaming box for you? We broke down five of the most popular options on the market.
Best for: If you want a fancy streaming experience at a mid-range price point
What You Can’t Stream: There has been some whining about Roku not supporting Kodi (the old Xbox Media Center), which is a free, open-source software to manage a local collection of movies, shows, music, and photos.
Remote? Yes, plus the Roku mobile app lets you operate your phone as a remote.
Ethernet Port? Yes
Storage Expansion? Micro SD and USB
Perks: The “lost remote finder” feature, which cuts back on the ever-present search for the clicker, plus JBL headphones that plug into the remote for private listening. Additionally, the night mode automatically adjusts sound for more peaceful night binge-watches.
Bonus: Roku Ultra is compatible with voice-enabled devices that feature Alexa and Google Assistant.
Best for: If you really like bossing Alexa around (or if you have an Amazon digital catalog)
What You Can’t Stream: Because this is an Amazon product, you’re limited to apps that you can get through the Amazon Appstore. This means that you won’t be able to get services from other companies like Walmart-owned Vudu - but if you have Amazon Prime, you probably won’t need it anyway.
Ethernet Port? No, but it comes with an Ethernet adapter
Storage Expansion? Fire TV Cube offers free cloud storage for digital content purchased from Amazon
Perks: Jokes aside, Fire TV Cube is the peak Alexa experience. The product description boasts eight microphones that promise “Fire TV Cube hears you from any direction.” You can do the usual pause/play/fast-forward vocal commands, as well as adjust the TV volume and change channels with just your voice.
Best for: Maximizing visuals. It’s compatible with 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision TVs, and is generally regarded as a very polished streaming experience.
What You Can’t Stream: Similar to Amazon, you are confined to services that are available in the Apple TV app store. But that means you can play anything in your iTunes library or on Spotify. And like Roku, you’re not going to be able to get Kodi on your Apple TV.
Remote? Yes, the Siri Remote
Ethernet Port? Yes
Storage Expansion? Nope, but it’s a hotly requested feature. The two price points reflect the different amounts of internal storage available on the devices; you can get 32GB for $179, while 64GB will run you $199.
Perks: This fall’s software update to the tvOS 13, will make Apple TV 4K compatible with Xbox One S and PlayStation DualShock 4 controllers. Of course, there’s also the looming launch of Apple Arcade, the gaming subscription service that will be available across the brand’s devices, including Apple TV 4K.
Added bonus: A lot of apps in the mobile app store are available on Apple TV. You can actually order food straight from your TV - what better way to get everyone’s order right?
Best for: An affordable, no-frills streaming experience
What You Can’t Stream: This streaming box features Google Play, which is especially nice if you have a Google Home (you can cast your Google Nest cameras to your TV!). Like Roku and Apple TV, you can’t get Kodi on Chromecast unless you jailbreak it - we don’t recommend that.
Remote? Nope, but you can use your phone, tablet or computer as a remote
Ethernet Port? Sort of — there’s an Ethernet port on the power adapter
Storage Expansion? Micro-USB
Perks: You can stream in 4K Ultra HD and HDR for a (relatively) affordable price, as long as you’re okay with using one of your devices as a remote - but yes, this can result in slower load times. Also, it’s the most portable of all the streaming boxes. Which means you can just unplug it and take it to your friend’s house to stream...if you’re that kind of friend.
Best for: You want a little bit of everything — and are willing to pay for it
What You Can’t Stream: You can’t stream games for free from GeForce Now. But other than having to pay to stream your game, Nvidia Shield has pretty much everything.
Remote? Yes, and a controller, and it is microphone-equipped for voice search
Ethernet Port? Yes
Storage Expansion? USB
Perks: This is the most expensive option, so will you get your money’s worth? It has a little something for everyone - and it’s basically Chromecast but on steroids. The Shield includes built-in Google Assistant and Chromecast functionality and offers tons of video games via GeForce NOW - even games you can normally only play on a PC. Nvidia Shield conveniently offers different bundles, from your basic TV package with a remote, to gaming and smart home editions that include a Shield controller and a SmartThings link.