It might seem odd to some generations, the ones who grew up with on-demand streaming platforms, that their predecessors were used to a much different media consumption model. Extensive commercial breaks, lengthy TV guides, and shows available only at a certain time would probably seem like a nightmare to many younger millennials and Gen Z. And however odd it may sound to the zoomers, even their older millennial brethren had no other choice aside from watching traditional television – at least until the internet gave us the freedom to view whatever and whenever we wanted on nearly any device.
And with the rise of TV streaming devices, media consumption habits are changing further. This technology shapes the new generations of cord-cutters and cord-nevers. But how? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at streaming sticks and boxes, the benefits they offer, and where they’ll take us in the future.
What is a streaming device?
In a nutshell, a streaming device is a piece of hardware that allows viewers to stream video and audio content onto their TVs, screens, and projectors from the internet. Such devices are connected to displays through HDMI ports, and to the internet via Wi-Fi or a cable.
This hardware processes data from online services to reproduce videos and audios on streaming media players. To stream content, you’ll often need a service subscription. While some require a monthly fee, others are available free of charge.
Benefits of streaming devices
1. A smarter TV without a SmartTV
A TV connected to the internet enhances the viewing experience. That is why many television manufacturers focus on SmartTVs. These next-generation television sets can be directly connected to the internet either via Wi-Fi or a cable and come with preinstalled streaming apps. But what can you do if your television is not as smart as you’d like? A streaming device will fix this inconvenience, effortlessly. By simply plugging it into the HDMI port, you get all the benefits of the SmartTV environment and more, such as remotes optimized specifically for streaming.
2. Prestige Content
Streaming devices provide a rich variety of beloved shows with just a few clicks. Also, they grant access to the top-tier content available exclusively on streaming services. These are shows and movies with worldwide impact and received widespread recognition – including Oscar and Emmy nominations. Additionally, streaming devices have nearly all the major streaming apps, unlike SmartTVs that may lack some popular apps because of TV manufacturer rivalry.
3. Latest updates
TV manufacturers don’t want you to use your SmartTV for too long, preferring instead a stable upgrade model with a cycle of every couple of years. That’s why the OS on these TVs become outdated in five to six years, or even sooner. But buying a new TV is often unfeasible – either environmentally or financially. But with a small piece of hardware, you can update your content system to the latest version, which allows you to watch videos on your favorite apps regardless of when you purchased your TV.
2021’s Best Streaming Devices
Now that we’ve covered what streaming devices are and what they offer, let’s try to answer the big question: what is the best streaming device?
Roku Ultra 2021
This is one of the best 4k streaming devices, and has definitely exceeded many users’ expectations. It offers voice search, 4k and HDR video support, and a sophisticated remote. Its high-quality picture will satisfy even the most demanding eye, as the device can deliver 4K videos at 60 frames per second and offers HDR Playback. The latter means that colors are more vibrant and have improved contrast. And to enhance the HDR picture, Roku Ultra 2021 supports the Dolby Vision format.
Another feature that many viewers find useful is Roku Ultra’s remote. It has a 3.5mm audio jack built in, to allow viewers to watch videos without disturbing others by simply plugging a pair of headphones into the remote – and the headset is included.
As for the cons, HBO Max is currently unavailable on the platform. If that’s a dealbreaker for you, you should check out some Roku alternatives.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
Just like all the devices above, Amazon’s latest streaming stick reproduces videos in 4K and HDR, Dolby Visions, and HDR10+. Also, it integrates with your Echo Dot, so you can play content simply by asking Alexa to do it. The Amazon virtual assistant is also at your service in the remote control. As for the downsides, it misses some popular apps like HBO Max and Google Play. And if you have a speaker from a different brand, you may want to consider another streaming device.
Google Chromecast with Google TV – 4K
Older Chromecast devices had a serious drawback — they could stream content only from a phone, tablet, or computer. Chromecast with Google TV has addressed this handicap and now offers numerous services in its interface as well. The device has a great variety of apps, including the popular Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO Max services.
And there have been improvements on the video quality end as well. The device supports 4K HDR, Dolby Vision, HDR10+, and Dolby Atmos playback. Following Siri’s lead, the remote control features Google Assistant. One of its more useful features is effortless integration with other Google products.
Apple TV 4K
The company founded by the late Steve Jobs remains true to its tradition of keeping users in the Apple garden. The Apple TV 4K is a device that integrates with iPhones, iTunes accounts, and other iOS ecosystem devices. If you’re an Apple fan, you will feel very comfortable with this device. It also supports 4K, HDR formats, and Dolby Vision. As for the remote, it’s powered by Siri, meaning that it offers Apple’s premium virtual assistant voice control.
What’s the best streaming device for TV?
As in all things – it depends. There are a number of things that can influence your decision: your preferred environment, how much money you are ready to pay, what apps you are after, etc. That being said, there’s one device that has won the most viewers’ hearts – at least judging by the sales numbers.
Roku sold the most devices at the beginning of 2019 — holding a whopping 30 percent of market share. The second on the list was Amazon with 12 percent, and Google’s share with its Chromecast and Android TV amounted to 9 percent. Also, according to these statistics, Roku was the most popular streaming platform in the US, with 43 million active users in the second quarter of 2021.
Its straightforward interface and extensive search capabilities, regardless of streaming service, is one reason for Roku’s popularity among viewers. Not only is its home screen neat and practical, but you can also customize it to quickly access favorited apps. On top of this, Roku Channel offers direct access to what feels like an endless catalog of ad-supported content for free. And a Featured Free section highlights content from different platforms that is accessible without a subscription.
While Netflix and HBO Max may keep viewers glued to their screens with their binge-watchable series and new seasons of acclaimed shows, bigger players are stepping onto the streaming arena. However, in order to be successful at streaming, veteran content owners will have to leave their outdated business models in the past. Such optimization will first and foremost include parting ways with cable networks.
Naturally, these trends only enhance the growth of the streaming devices market. Experts expect it to reach nearly $19 billion in 2027. Still, viewers’ habits will get the final word on the development of the media industry and its technology.
Streaming boxes and sticks are the cool kids on the block that allow viewers to cut cords and never look back, with the most popular ones being Apple, Amazon Fire TV stick, Chromecast, and Roku. And the growing number of major content distributors that focus on streaming will only contribute to the rapid growth of the market – by motivating more users to opt for streaming services.