10 best TV streaming boxes so you never miss your favourite show

The Independent 3 weeks ago

Streaming TV programmes and movies is the norm these days: who can resist bingeing on a box set? 

Most of the boxes below are tiny gadgets that sit below or behind your TV, connecting invariably to an HDMI socket. 

Some offer 4K, also called Ultra HD or UHD, compatibility and HDR – that’s high dynamic range and means the TV shows pictures with detail in bright skies and dark shadows at the same time. 

If you have a 4K TV, it’s best to find a 4K-capable streaming box.

You can also opt for a less pricey version if your TV is HD instead of 4K or lacks HDR compatibility.

Remote controls with microphones are found on almost all the boxes here and mean you have a whole new way to interact with your TV, and sometimes with your smart home gadgets via the TV.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.  

Sky Q: From £34 a month, Sky

4K capable? Yes
HDR? No
Voice remote? Yes
Compatible with: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video? Netflix
Other apps? Yes

Sky Q is outstanding, delivering hundreds of channels via the satellite dish plus huge amounts of on-demand viewing via broadband and an on-demand Sky Store of the latest movie titles. It includes Netflix, included in the £34 a month subscription price above. 

There are two different boxes available, identical except for their capacity and price. There’s a 1TB price which costs from £25 and a 2TB box, from £50. Note that the 4K service, available on both boxes now, attracts an extra £13 a month subscription charge.   

You also pay more for subscriptions to Sky Cinema or Sky Sports, for instance.The remote has a microphone and you can search programming, though searching Netflix content with voice comes later. The Sky Q interface is attractive and easy to use, and the range of content is outstanding. The range of movies in 4K quality, for instance, is wider than most, available to buy, rent or watch if you subscribe to Sky Cinema.

Apple TV 4K: From £179, Apple

4K capable? Yes
HDR? Yes
Voice remote? Yes
Compatible with: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video? Both
Other apps? Yes

Apple’s machine is slick and enjoyable to use. It has a great TV app which keeps track of what you’re watching and suggests the next episode of what you saw on iPlayer, for instance. It keeps track of what you’ve been watching on other apps, including Prime Video but not Netflix. There’s also the brand-new Apple TV+ service which offers original programming for £4.99 a month. When you buy this box, or if you’ve just bought a new iPhone, for instance, you get your first year’s Apple TV+ viewing free. There are other neat features: miss a bit of dialogue? Press the microphone button on the remote and say, “What did they say?” and it’ll rewind 15 seconds and play that last moment again complete with subtitles. A version without 4K is also available.

Amazon Fire TV stick 4K: £49.99, Amazon

4K capable? Yes
HDR? Yes
Voice remote? Yes
Compatible with: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video? Both
Other apps? Yes, apps and games

The Fire TV Stick is a tiny gizmo that plugs into the HDMI socket on the TV (though you also need to plug the cable into the mains). As well as access to a huge library of movies and TV shows you can rent and buy, including some in 4K, there’s access to apps like Netflix, BBC iPlayer and, most recently, Apple TV. Then there’s Prime Video: if you have a Prime subscription (£79.99 a year) then as well as free delivery of many products bought from Amazon there’s a strong range of original programming such as The Grand Tour and movies you can watch as part of your subscription.

It’s easy to use, including a remote control with a microphone so you can tell the box what to do. It’s a Bluetooth remote so you don’t need line of sight to the Stick, that is, it can hide away out of sight round the back of your TV.

Amazon Fire TV cube: £109.99, Amazon

4K capable? Yes
HDR? Yes
Voice remote? Yes
Compatible with: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video? Both
Other apps? Yes

The latest device from Amazon does everything the other Fire models here can but adds extra features. For a start, there are eight microphones so you don’t need to use the remote to control it, just say, “Alexa, play Modern Love,” for instance. A Bluetooth remote control with built-in microphone is also supplied. You can also control compatible smart home products by telling Alexa what to do, again using your voice.

Google chromecast ultra: £69, Google

4K capable? Yes
HDR? Yes
Voice remote? No remote
Compatible with: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video? Netflix
Other apps? Yes

This is a great-value 4K streamer, though Amazon’s Fire TV Stick with 4K is even better.  It’s easy and quick to set up. There’s no remote control. Instead, you use the appropriate Google-branded app on your smartphone. That also means it’s easy to cast, as Google calls it, video from your phone or tablet onto the bigger TV screen. It has a built-in ethernet adapter which aids with the simplicity of connection. Unlike other boxes here, the interface lacks a central hub of apps – the Chromecast is all about streaming content from your phone, tablet or computer rather than finding the channels you can browse. Instead, you must rely on the Google Home app to find content. Then you use apps which feature a distinctive Cast button, touch the button and your chosen content appears on the TV. The Netflix app works with Chromecast, while Amazon Prime Video does not.

NOW TV smart box: £45.99, NOW TV

4K capable? Yes
HDR? Yes
Voice remote? Yes
Compatible with: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video? Netflix
Other apps? Yes

The latest NOW TV box is built by Roku. But NOW is part of Sky which brings unique benefits. Instead of subscribing to a set of programmes for a year or more as you do with the Sky box above, you simply choose a pass. An entertainment pass (11 Sky channels) costs £8.99 a month but you can cancel whenever you like. Similarly, Sky Cinema, with 1,000 movies on demand and a new premiere each day, costs £11.99 per month until you cancel. For Sky Sports you can sign up for as short a period as 24 hours for £9.99 or a week for £14.99. Simple to use and amazingly flexible.

Roku streaming stick+: £49.99, Argos

4K capable? Yes
HDR? Yes
Voice remote? Yes
Compatible with: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video? Both
Other apps? Yes

Roku has hundreds of streaming channels from mainstream offerings like ITV Hub to dedicated horror or sci-fi stations. The remote has a dedicated Netflix button, which is handy. Its interface is straightforward and works smoothly. The range of channels is so extensive that it’s easy to spend considerable time just signing up to more – many are free or have a trial period. 

Apple TV: £149, Apple

4K capable? No
HDR? No
Voice remote? Yes
Compatible with: Netflix, Amazon
Other apps? Yes

This box looks almost identical to the 4K Apple TV above and works in just the same way, save for the lack of 4K, obviously. It has the same super-slim remote with voice control so you can ask the box to look for movies directed by Martin Scorsese, for instance and it’ll look through various sources to find what’s on offer, some you can rent and others may be available as part of a subscription if you have one. Unlike many remotes, this one lets you control the volume on your TV, too.

NOW TV smart stick: From £14.99, NOW TV

4K capable? No
HDR? No
Voice remote? Yes
Compatible with: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video? Netflix
Other apps? Yes

This is amazingly cheap for a streamer with voice control. Like the other NOW TV box, it’s made by Roku but has the same access to Sky programming and movie when you buy daily, weekly or longer passes. It’s easy to set up – just plug the stick into the TV’s HDMI socket and activate your pass. You can buy the stick on its own or get a two-month entertainment pass for £19.99, with a month’s pass to Sky Sports for £29.99 or with a month of Sky Cinema for £19.99. It’s not compatible with 4K or HDR.

Amazon Fire TV Stick: £39.99, Amazon

4K capable? No
HDR? No
Voice remote? Yes
Compatible with: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video? Both
Other apps? Yes

If you want to stream programming on a TV that’s not 4K, then the Fire TV Stick is more affordable and works exactly the same but for the lack of 4K and HDR compatibility. The operating system is the same and it has the same access to channels, programming and apps as the other Fire TV devices.

The verdict: TV Streaming Boxes

The standout box is Sky Q, but it’s bigger and pricier than most. For a compact streaming-focused box then Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K and the Apple TV 4K box are the ones to go for 4K TVs or their equivalent HD boxes for screens without the highest resolution.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.


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