Network Streaming Players

Best Device for Streaming for Any User – 2022

One of the most common questions we hear these days is what is the best streaming box for me? When I got my first streaming box in 2009, it was a crude android box. It was underpowered, had almost no storage, and was hard to use. But thanks to Netflix (and a global pandemic), the demand for streaming boxes exploded overnight. But now we have streaming boxes with processors and memory capacity rivaling computers! Oh, and variety? Thanks to the number of streaming services today, there is no shortage of choices.

But which streaming box is best for you? That’s a difficult question to answer in 2022. If you are like me, you have a set of criteria, but you don’t want to have multiple streaming boxes to meet them all. So is there truly a “best” streaming box in 2022? Well, that depends on who you are and how you’ll use it. Let’s discuss!

Best Streaming Box For the Power User – NVIDIA Shield Pro (2019)

I consider myself the quintessential user of this category. I want a streaming box with all the bells and whistles, and I don’t mind paying for them. At $200 (USD), the Nvidia Shield Pro is the most expensive streaming box on the list. But for that money, you get a lot.

Nvidia is one of the best streaming boxes

First, it has one of the best processors, the 64bit Tegra X1. That pairs with 16GB internal storage, 3GB of RAM, and a dedicated GPU. Two USB 3.0 ports allow for extra storage or peripherals. Plus, you can attach network addressable storage (NAS) or networked PCs for your storage needs.

But the reason I chose it as the best streaming box for power users is NVIDIA’s ability to handle pretty much any file natively. The Shield will do HDR and Dolby Vision, play high-resolution audio, and take any video or audio codec you can throw its way. Did I mention that it can pass through Atmos and DTS:X? Plus, it can be used as a Plex Media Server/client, play retro video games (RetroArch), stream modern games via the cloud (Nvidia GForce Now), and has a TON of apps available because it’s Android. So yeah, it does all that.

No, it’s not perfect. The Hulu app for Shield won’t let you access HDR or object-based audio goodness. But it does offer full support for virtually every other streaming service. It is the only streaming box in my home theater, and I don’t expect that to change.

Best Streaming Box For Ease Of Use – Apple TV 4K

Cards on the table, I am an Apple fan. The Apple TV was the first “mainstream” streaming box I owned, and we kept it until it was too sluggish to use. The one thing that I loved about the Apple TV is that “it just worked.” I didn’t have to tweak any settings with the apps. Plus, I own an iPhone, so once it figured out my iPhone was close, it hooked up to that and automated the install!

And it’s that ease of use that makes it the best streaming box for ease of use. Sure, it’s not cheap at $180 for the 32GB 4K second-generation model. But like the NVIDIA Shield, you get a lot for your money. First off, it is the only streaming box with HDMI 2.1. HDMI 2.1 is not necessary now, but it gives you options for future updates. Speaking of which, the Apple TV receives regular updates. Support is huge when it comes to technology, and Apple does it well. Add HDR and Dolby Vision support, plus native support for Atmos and DTS on virtually all streaming services, and you have a well-rounded streaming box.

And let’s not forget apps. Apple has always had one of the largest catalogs of apps, and the Apple TV is no different. Every mainstream streaming service has a native app in the Apple App Store. Plus, when you get a new Apple TV, you get a few months of free Apple TV+. I am still enjoying the 12-month subscription we got when my wife upgraded her phone. And if you are an Apple Music subscriber, you get lossless audio AND spacial audio playback with the Apple Music app!

If I had to slam the Apple TV, it has to be for its mediocre Plex performance. Unfortunately, the Apple TV does not support pass-through for Atmos or DTS:X playback. That is a black eye for Apple because the hardware can support it. So we don’t know why they refuse to implement it!

Best Streaming Box For the DIYer – Raspberry Pi

So I know that recommending the Raspberry Pi as one of the best streaming boxes in 2022 might be counterintuitive. After all, the Pi is entirely DIY, finicky, and requires some tinkering. But those reasons are also why some people love it.

First off, the Raspberry Pi is cheap. The base unit is about $50; you only need a micro SD card to get it up and running. The Pi is also software agnostic, meaning you can run various software. Several Linux distros run on the Pi, along with the native PiOS. Plus, you can use Android TV on it, mimicking some of the more popular streaming boxes out there. You can get tons of 3D printed cases to make it look like anything you want (Mini Playstation, anyone?), making the Pi a contender for the best streaming box in 2022.

But like anything, there are some drawbacks. As I said earlier, it can be finicky. You may need some tweaking to get HDR and hi-res audio files to work. The hardware is capable of audio pass-through to your AV receiver, but you need to get the right software to do it. And Pi’s tend to have slower hardware. Sure the software is optimized for the Pi, but they can get sluggish.

But if you are the kind of person that likes the challenge of putting together and programming your device, the Pi is right up your alley. Plus, they can handle some other duties. Many users have made Roon or media servers from Pi’s. They are not one-trick ponies!

Editor’s Note: It seems that the supply chain issues have affected the Raspberry Pi. When this article was first written, the prices were around $35-$50. They are now up to $135 and more. Shop carefully.

Best Streaming Box For The Casual User – Google Chromecast With Google TV

So as hard as it is for me to realize this, I am not the typical streaming user. Not everyone has a dedicated home theater, and not everyone cares about lossless audio and being on the bleeding edge of tech. I know, I am just as shocked as you are! But for those who want to add a simple device to their TV, the Google Chromecast with Google TV might be the right fit for you.

Building off the popular Chromecast, it adds 4K HDR and the Google TV operating system, which is just another version of Android TV. I think that Google TV OS is great. Google likes aggregating all your streaming services and making suggestions based on your viewing history. Plus, it suggests what’s trending so that you might discover your next binge-worthy series. I know some people hate this feature and refer to it as advertising, but I’m afraid I have to disagree. I like it.

The hardware on the Google Chromecast is not impressive. Yes, it will do 4K, but don’t expect to use it for something like a 4K Plex client. But it will handle HDR and Atmos through most streaming services without issue. I don’t expect it to be able to take update after update before it gets laggy. But for $50, I wouldn’t expect something that will last me years. And because it has a Google voice assistant built-in, you can control all your Google-enabled devices.

Best Streaming Box for Your Parents – Roku Streaming Stick 4k

So I think the Roku is a no-brainer as the best streaming box for your parents. Why? Because it is the most straightforward layout for them to set up and navigate. After popping the unit into an open HDMI port, you walk through a short setup tutorial, and it’s up and running.

The interface is why I recommend the Roku as the best streaming box for your parents. It’s simple, well laid out, and easy to navigate. For example, my 80-year-old mom has difficulty navigating my Shield and Apple TV but got the hang of the Roku immediately. I think it’s because the Roku closely mimics many of the cable-box interfaces, so it’s familiar to her. In any case, it’s mom-approved!

The Roku is not light on features either. It will do 4K HDR, Dolby Atmos, and is compatible with Google, Alexa, and Airplay 2. So if you have a Google Home or the like set up for your parents, this will fit right in. The remote is not the best. Some button placements are awkward, but my mom got accustomed to them quickly. In any case, for $40, it’s hard to find much to complain about!

Best Streaming Box for Gamers – Xbox Series X or PS5

So this one might be controversial because the Xbox and Playstation are gaming consoles, not dedicated streaming boxes. And they are the most expensive and hardest-to-get devices. But hear me out. If you are a dedicated gamer with just a console, TV, and soundbar/AV receiver, plus you have an Xbox or PS5, you may not need to add anything else.

These consoles have apps for every major streaming service. But let’s address the elephant in the room, they have a lot of issues. Yes, they will do Dolby Vision for games (kinda), and streaming, but not physical discs. You do get Atmos and DTS:X, BUT the audio settings on the Xbox are a hot mess, and it can be really hit or miss trying to get it all to work. Neither console are perfect, but the Xbox or PS5 may check a lot of boxes. And sometimes ”good enough” is good enough.

But after someone has just dropped a chunk of cash on a new console, there may not be much money for a separate streaming box. For those reasons, I think that the Xbox Series X or PS5 is the best streaming box for gamers.

Our Take

I think we are pretty lucky today. While we don’t have a streaming box that does everything perfectly, we have a lot of choices. And if you are like most people, you don’t need every bell or whistle. While I own or have owned every box on this list, I know that most people don’t want the hassle of switching from box to box for a single app. So hopefully, we have helped you narrow down the choice to fit your budget, needs, and lifestyle.

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