With a few new players in the game, including Amazon Fire TV, consumers have more ways than ever to bring streaming media from the web to their TVs. A variety of devices display content from favorite subscription services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus on a TV screen. This keeps users from having to crowd around a computer monitor and has also made it easy for many to "cut the cord" and get rid of that pesky cable bill.
With so many options, it can be hard to know which streaming media player is best for you. Cheapism.com, which is dedicated to finding the best inexpensive products, has narrowed the field to three top picks under $70. The best one supports far more content offerings than Apple TV or Fire TV -- including Amazon Instant Video -- but costs half the price.
If you own the latest gaming console or an Internet-connected smart TV, you already have the ability to access services such as Netflix on your TV and don't need to purchase a separate device. Another simple and cheap method is to use a HDMI cable, which can cost around $5, to connect a computer to an HDTV and use the TV as a second display. However, you don't get the features or convenience of a dedicated player.
The Roku Streaming Stick (starting at $50) is a recently released streaming device from a well-known name in the industry. It looks similar to a USB thumb drive and connects by plugging into an HMDI port on an HDTV. Users have access to a menu of more than 1,000 channels, among them Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and HBO Go. Content appears in up to 1080p high definition and viewers can control the display using an included remote.
The Roku 2 (starting at $70) is a set-top box similar to the Roku Streaming Stick in its content sources. Some consumers prefer the Roku 2 because the remote includes a headphone jack, so they can watch without disturbing those around them. The Roku 2 can also be connected to older TVs using a composite A/V cable and can stream content in 480i, 480p, 720p, or 1080p resolution.
Google Chromecast (starting at $35) is the least expensive option and works a little differently than the others. Whereas most streaming devices are self-contained and come with a remote for browsing built-in apps or channels, this HDMI dongle relies on a mobile device or laptop for content and navigation. Chromecast essentially acts as a relay point, giving users the ability to "cast" content or even mirror a browser tab or computer screen onto a TV screen. Reviewers marvel at how much it can do for such a low price.