Best Digital Media Player
Digital media players have evolved a lot over the last few years, growing from a niche market to establishing a presence in millions of households. There are a lot of different devices available on the market, and they tend to offer a lot of the same features, with minor variations overall. However, these minor variations soon become major differences since they can impact how you control your digital media player and what it does in your living room. As you consider different models, take into account your own viewing habits, the features you want, and the media sources you’re most likely to use.
These digital media players give you the best options and performance thanks to a wide range of channels and streaming services to choose from and utilize, with support for at least Netflix and some other media streaming options. All of these devices offer HD media options of up to at least 1080p, though you’ll typically need to also have access to HD video through a streaming service. These picks are easy to connect to your existing entertainment center either wirelessly or through an Ethernet port. Lastly, they all include remote controls with a variety of voice and manual input commands for accessing your preferred media.
Amazon Fire TV
Roku 4 Streaming Media Player
NVIDIA Shield Android TV Box
Apple TV 4th Generation
Amazon Fire TV Stick
It’s clear in designing the Fire TV system, Amazon looked at competing devices and made every effort to match or exceed them. The set-top box features a clean design with HDMI and optical audio connections. It can connect wirelessly or through an Ethernet cable, and has access to thousands of different streaming services and channels. This is an especially strong option if you already have Amazon Prime, as you can easily stream media in your library through this system.
The included remote has voice activation and lets you issue spoken search commands which isn’t strictly necessary but does make the system easier to use. The latest release of the Amazon Fire TV box has included 4K Ultra HD support which means you can use this to stream incredibly high resolution media to a 4K HDTV. While such media is offered in limited quantities at present, this just means your new device is future proofed as 4K HDTV becomes more widely available in the future.
Roku has been an industry leader for a few years now and the Roku 4 makes it pretty clear why they are. The Roku 4 supports both wireless networks and includes an Ethernet port if you need a physical connection with your modem or router. It works with different common types of wireless network security and can output video at up to 4K Ultra HD if you have a 4K HDTV.
The included remote control makes navigating different channels and media streams fast and easy with the option for manual input and voice commands. The remote even has a headphone jack so you can listen to audio without playing over your TV. A number of games are included for additional fun and the remote has motion-control features to make playing said games easier. The Roku mobile app makes it easy to use a phone or tablet to control your system although you don’t get access to quite as many channels and media streams as you would with the Amazon Fire TV box.
This is a surprisingly powerful little system that has an NVIDIA processor, dedicated GPU, and 3GB of RAM. It also supports 4K Ultra HD video which makes it a future-proofed media system once 4K HDTV becomes more widely available. This device offers a lot of storage and an Android OS that’s perfect for use with the Google Play Store to download and stream video games through it on your HDTV.
The big weakness is it simply cannot compete with the amount of media services available to some other systems. This is device is primarily for use with Netflix and Google services like the Play Store, Google Play Movies, and YouTube. With that in mind, this is an interesting option for a digital media player which you should strongly consider for some specific uses, gaming in particular.
Apple TV 4th Generation
Apple TV has definitely come into its own as an effective option for digital media. It's small, sleek, and easy to set up with support for Wi-Fi and an Ethernet connection if you need to have it as part of a physical network. It comes with a slick rechargeable remote which integrates an accelerometer and Siri voice-search functionality. Some digital media players have buttons dedicated to commonly used channels, but the Apple Remote forgoes such features for a streamlined appearance and touch surface instead.
You get 1080p HD video quality with Apple TV, but it lacks 4K Ultra HD support. However, unless you have a 4K HDTV and access to streaming 4K media, then it is not a major concern at this point (at least until 4K HDTV becomes more widely available). While the Apple TV 4th Generation includes access to a lot of streaming services, it also includes numerous games and entertainment options through the Apple app store.
This is a great option if you want all of the features and streaming media available to the Amazon Fire TV box, but don’t need 4K support. This is a small stick that installs directly into an HDMI port on your HDTV without requiring space for a box or additional hardware. Despite the small size, you still get access to more than 3,000 channels, apps, and games just like the Amazon Fire TV box. There are two different versions available, one with a standard remote, and one that includes a remote with voice controls so it’s up to your individual preferences which works best for your entertainment center. While this stick does work with apps and games, it’s not the best option for gaming on your HDTV, since it lacks the memory and processing power of larger options featured on this list. With that in mind, this media player is perfect for streaming basic media and accessing simple apps.