Top 5 Smart Streaming Set Top Boxes

Turn your TV into a Smart TV with one of these streaming set top boxes that connects to the Internet via your home router either wirelessly or via Ethernet cable to bring you your favourite shows on demand.

Once connected you will be able to sign up for a subscription service, watch movies or TV shows you purchased or rented, install apps for streaming music, social media or games or simply use it to access live and on-demand TV such as BBC iPlayer and Demand 5.

If you already have a subscription with one of the streaming services; Netflix, Wuaki, Amazon Instant Prime Video, Blinkbox or Sky, then you will need to confirm that the companion app is available for your chosen set top box.

TOP 5 Smart TV Set Top Boxes

  1. Roku 3 HD Streaming Player – lastest generation player from Roku that lets you stream Netflix, NOW TV and all of the catch-up channels including BBC iPlayer, 4oD, Demand 5 and ITV. Also, rent or buy latest releases from Sky Store.
  2. NOW TV Box from Sky – lets you watch TV shows on demand from BBC iPlayer, Demand 5 and more… (list) for free and subscribe to Sky Movies to watch the latest Hollywood releases.
  3. Google Chromecast – an add-on USB dongle for your TV that connects to your home wireless network. It turns your TV into a smart TV and lets you access Google’s own streaming service as well as support for apps such as Netflix, NOW TV, BT Sports, Blinkbox Movies & Music, Google Play Movies & TV and more.
  4. Apple TV – buy and watch TV series from iTunes in Full 1080p HD, also interfaces with your iOS devices via AirPlay including mirroring your smartphone or tablet screen. Supports Netflix, NOW TV but not Amazon Prime Instant Video.
  5. Amazon Fire TV – the first streaming device to support voice search, browse and buy or rent movies from Amazon or watch TV show and movies with Amazon Prime Instant Video subscription. For gamers, the optional wireless game controller is a must.

ROKU 3

roku3

Roku’s latest and best HD Streaming Player, now in its third generation, it lets you share your videos, photos and music stored on your smartphone or tablet to the big screen via the Roku app. Apart from the Roku Streaming Stick, Roku 3 is the only other streaming device that supports High Definition 1080p streaming.

The motion remote does not only help you navigate the menus but great for games and has a stereo headphone jack for private listening great for watching your shows at night without disturbing others. Netflix and YouTube apps now support casting to TV via Roku so you can send you shows and video clip to the TV.

The biggest advantage that the Roku 3 has over its earlier generations and all the other streaming player featured here is the USB and microSD slot. You can use these for additional game and channel storage as well as locally stored media files. While the type of media files supported over USB is not many but at least the support is there. See below for supported media format over USB and microSD.

What You Need to Know:

  • Number of Channels: 750+
  • Streaming services: Netflix, NOW TV, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video and more
  • All catch up TV: BBC iPlayer, 4oD, Demand 5, ITV and more
  • Rent or Buy: Sky Store

Specifications:

  • Fast processor
  • Plays up to 1080p HD video (and 720p)
  • Dual-band wireless
  • Roku Search across top channels
  • Control with included remote or mobile devices via Roku app
  • Motion control for games
  • Built in headphone jack on remote for private listening
  • Send videos, photos and music stored locally on mobile device to TV via Roku app
  • Cast to TV direct from Netflix and YouTube apps
  • Digital audio over HDMI (7.1 and 5.1 surround pass through)
  • Connectivity: HDMI, Ethernet, USB, microSD slot
  • Dimensions and Weight: 89 mm x 89 mm x 25 mm 170 grams
  • Supported USB Media Formats: Video MP4 (H.264), MKV (H.264), Audio AAC, MP3, Images JPG, PNG

NOW TV Box

now-tv

Made in partnership with Roku, the NOW TV Box is Sky’s move to join the streaming TV revolution. Once everyone relied of satellite TV for their shows, movies and news. With faster broadband connection, streaming has become a viable alternative for on-demand content Sky is not going to miss out.

There are three packages (or what they call passes), Movies, Entertainment and Sports pay monthly plan with no contract meaning you can cancel any time. For the latest, up to 16 premieres a month and over 800 movies on demand the Movies package is a little more.

For TV shows from the 13 of the best pay TV channels (Fox, abc studios, sky atlantic, sky living, nick jr. etc) watch over 150 series for a small monthy fee. Finally, for the Sports pass, get the biggest matches and events live on every Sky Sports channel for the same monthly price.

All that on top of your usual catch up TV channels:  BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, 4oD, ITV Player, BBC Sports, BBC News, Sky News etc. You can also access your favourite social media platform Facebook, TYouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, Picasa, Spotify and Vevo.

While the streaming box is the cheapest to buy at only a tenner, you can only get Sky streaming services, no Netflix, Prime Instant Video or blinkbox. Sky does try to entice new customers with NOW TV Starter Packs include up to 3 months pass for Entertainment, Movies or Sports pack. With that you get the NOW TV Box and remote and either 3 months Entertainment pass, 2 months Sky Movies pass or 2 Sky Sports day passes.

What You Need to Know:

  • Streaming services: Netflix, NOW TV, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video
  • All catch up TV: BBC iPlayer, 4oD, Demand 5, ITV, Plex, BBC News, BBC Sport, Sky News, Spotify, Facebook, Flickr and more.
  • Rent or Buy: Sky Store

Specifications:

  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Video Quality: Up to 720p video
  • Dimension and Weight: 84 x 84 x 23 mm 85 grams
  • Connectivity: HDMI, AV line out, no memory card slot

Google Chromecast

chromecast

Media sreaming device from Google that plugs straight into the HDMI port on your TV. Once set up, it lets you send onlie shows, movies, music and more to the TV using your mobile devices (smartphones, tablets or laptops). Chromecast works with a growing number of apps (listed below) and lets you mirror your Chrome browser screen on your laptop or Android phone or tablet to the big screen.

There is no need for a remote, simply connect using your Android tablets or smartphones, iPhones, iPads, Chrome (Window/MAC) and Chromebooks and control what see from there.

What You Need to Know:

  • Streaming Servies: Netflix, NOW TV, BT Sports, YouTube, blinkbox movies, Google Play Movies & TV
  • All catch up TV: BBC iPlayer
  • Rent or Buy: blinkbox movies
  • Google Cast Ready Apps: [Featured List] BBC iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube, BT Sport, NOW TV, blinkbox Movies, blinkbox Music, Google Play Movies, Google+, Google Play Music, Vevo, RedBull TV, Plex, RealPlayer Cloud, Rdio, Wuaki.tv, Deezer, DailyBurn, Chrome, NPR One. More Google Cast Ready Apps.

Specifications:

  • Plays up to 1080p HD video
  • Single band wireless
  • Control via smartphone, tablet or laptop with Chrome Cast Ready Apps
  • Send videos, photos and music stored locally on mobile device to TV via Chrome Cast Ready App
  • Cast to TV direct from Chrome browser on your laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Apple TV

Apple TV

Apple TV lets you access the best 1080p HD content including the latest blockbuster movies (to buy or rent), hit TV series, live sports as well as your music, photos, videos and more. You can see a list of included content provider below:

Apple TV Content Providers US

With AirPlay, you can; stream your content wirelessly from your iOS device or MAC to the TV and speaker, mirror exactly what you see on the device’s display to the TV, enable peer-to-peer AirPlay that lets your visitors easily connect to their Mac and iOS to your big screen without being connected to your WiFi. There is also a Remote app from Apple that lets you use your iOS device as a remote.

What You Need to Know:

  • Streaming Servies: Netflix, NOW TV, Bloomberg TV, Hylu Plus, HBO Go, Disney Channel, ABC, Sky News, WSJ Live, AOL On, Qello Concerts, NHL Gamecenter, RedBull TV, MLB.tv, KOR TV, crunchyroll and more
  • Social and Music: YouTube, Vevo, Vimeo, Flickr,
  • All catch up TV: BBC iPlayer
  • Rent or Buy: iTunes, iTunes Extras
  • Cast to TV from iOS or MAC via AirPlay
  • View your photos and videos, access your iCloud storage

Specifications:

  • Apple single-core A5 Chip
  • Apple Remote included
  • Video Quality: 1080p or 720p
  • WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless
  • Connectivity: Ethernet, HDMI, Optical audio, Built-in IR receiver, Micro USB (for service and support), Bluetooth for Apple Wireless Keyboard
  • AirPlay with Mac and iOS device
  • Dimensions and Weight: 23mm x 98mm x 98mm, 270 grams

Amazon Fire TV

AmazonFireTV

Available on Pre-order for the UK market, Amazon’s first Fire TV is the first streaming video player to include voice search. We all know how fiddly it is to search for movies or tv shows using the remote and on screen keyboard. With the Fire TV, simply speak the words into the remote.

As with Apple TV, the idea of Amazon coming up with their own Streaming Player is to sell or rent out more content i.e. movies, TV shows and music. But while Apple has the same to offer they do not have a video streaming service. Amazon on the other hand has Amazon Instant Video or Amazon Prime Instant Video (what used to be Love Film).

Apart from the Fire TV, you can find Amazon Instant Video or Amazon Prime Instant Video on Roku or cast your Chrome browser window with Amazon Instant Video playing using Flash streaming on your laptop to Chromecast but you won’t find it on NOW TV or Apple TV.

What You Need to Know:

  • Best device for Amazon Prime Instant Video. Also supports Netflix, RedBull TV, Dailymotion, Plex, Tunein, Bloomberg TV, vevo, skynews, spotify and more. See list of content providers below
  • voice search via remote to look for the movies and TV shows you want to watch instead of typing
  • instant streaming predicts the movies and TV episodes you want to watch and caches this locally, ready for you to watch
  • install and play games on the big screen; Minecraft-Pocket Edition, The Walking Dead and Monsters University plus free games and Amazon exclusives straight from the box, no tablet or smartphone mirroring. Separate game controller available to purchase.
  • access Amazon Cloud Drive for photos and videos captured using the smartphone or tablet and view it on the big screen
  • mirror your tablet on to the HDTV to share your movies, TV shows, music and photos stored on your device
  • While watching your show on the big screen, you can also find out more about the show with information from IMDb with a feature called X-Ray

Fire TV Apps

New Features:

We are very excited to bring you the new features that comes with software upgrades on existing Fire TV or new Fire TV. You can now add additional storage for downloaded apps and games via the USB port allowing for more games and apps. It also supports wireless connectivity that requires web authentication via a web portal sometimes known as a captive portal typical of public access WiFi (Hotels, Libraries) and secured access (Dorms, Universities). You can also now connect Wireless Bluetooth Headphones to the Fire TV allowing for private listening to your favourite movie, TV show or music especially great for late new viewing, without disturbing anyone else at home. The PIN entry screen has been updated to hide the numbers you select, where previously this was shown in plain sight. Finally, this we found by accident is the long press Home button shortcuts, this lets you put the Amazon TV to sleep or mirror your display quickly. Other feature includes fast scrolling through you music library on Amazon Music and alphabetical search.

Specifications:

  • Video quality: up to 1080p HD, up to 60fps, 120p
  • Sound quality: Dolby Digital Plus, 5.1 surround sound, 2 channel Stereo and HDMI audio pass through up to 7.1
  • Super fast Qualcomm Snapdragon Krait 300 1.7GHz Quad-core processor, 2GB memory, Adreno 320 dedicated GPU, 8GB storage
  • Dual band, dual antenna WiFi (MIMO) for faster streaming
  • Connectivity: HDMI, Optical Audio, Ethernet, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Dimensions and Weight: 115 mm x 115 mm x 17.5 mm 281 grams
  • Bluetooth remote with built-in dual digital microphones and noise suppression technology
  • Optional Amazon Fire Game Controller

Amazon has provided us with a quick comparison table between the Fire TV, Apple TV and Chromecast, see below:Fire TV Comparison Chart

Final Thoughts

Some decisions are easier to make than others so here is what we think you need:

Depending on your subscription you have, you can narrow down the devices that are available to support it. A common streaming service that is supported by all devices except NOW TV box is Netflix so if you have a Netflix subscription, you can decide on 1 of 4 choices. NOW TV streaming service is supported on all devices except Fire TV. Amazon Instant Video and Amazon Prime Instant Video is supported only on Amazon Fire TV and Roku 3.

If you have movies, tv shows and music that you purchased from iTunes and enjoy sharing your photos and videos from your iPhone or iPad on the big screen then Apple TV is for you. It also lets you mirror your iPad screen so you can play games and share your apps.

If you like to keep up with new releases and the latest Hollywood flicks, then NOW TV box with Movie pack is the one for you

If you are on a budget and just want to get into the smart TV game, be able to stream live or on demand TV programmes as well as run some apps, then Chromecast is for you.

If you signed up to Amazon Instant Prime Video then again, the decision becomes an obvious one. The Amazon Fire TV is the latest in the line-up and therefore is the fastest and sleekest having learnt from all its competitors. With the fast processor, GPU, 2GB memory and 8GB storage, it lets you install games and apps from Amazon Store and the voice driven search is pretty neat.

Our Line-up

Here is a quick look at our line-up again. For the most up to date prices, please click on the links below:

  1. Roku 3 HD Streaming Player
  2. NOW TV Box from Sky
  3. Google Chromecast
  4. Apple TV
  5. Amazon Fire TV