Our roundup of the best TV streaming sticks available, with options to suit any budget
We live in an age of on-demand viewing and the best streaming stick will help you access the near-endless supply of great film and TV content available online.
You might already have a smart TV, but the chances are it won’t have absolutely every app necessary to watch all of your favourite shows and movies. That’s where the best media streamers come in and streaming sticks are the most compact of the lot.
There are plenty of great streaming sticks out there, with offerings from the likes of Amazon, Roku, Google and Now all competing for your hard-earned cash. But which is the best streaming stick overall and which one is right for you?
We’ve tested every media streamer worth knowing about and are here to help you make the right choice, whether you’re after a basic budget dongle or a 4K HDR powerhouse. Below, you’ll find an in-depth buying guide arming you with all the information you need to make a smart buying decision along with our pick of the best streaming sticks on the market today.
So, if you’re ready to take a step towards binge-watching heaven, read on.
Best streaming stick: At a glance
|Best 4K streaming stick with Alexa
|Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max (~£70)
|Check price at Amazon
|Best streaming stick overall
|Roku Streaming Stick 4K (~£50)
|Check price at Amazon
|Best affordable 4K streamer
|Roku Express 4K (~£39)
|Check price at Amazon
|Best cheap Alexa streaming stick
|Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite (~£35)
|Check price at Amazon
How to choose the best streaming stick for you
What’s the big deal with streaming sticks, then? This brief buying guide should clear up some of the questions you may have concerning streaming sticks and what they’re used for. If you already know your Roku Streaming Stick+ from your Fire TV Stick then fast forward straight to our product recommendations further down the page.
What is a streaming stick and how do you use one?
It’s a small internet-connected stick that plugs directly into the HDMI input of your TV and allows you to stream TV programmes and movies from a variety of services. With a few exceptions, you can usually download apps onto the stick for paid streaming services (Netflix, Disney Plus, Now etc.) and also for free-to-watch apps such as YouTube and BBC iPlayer. The majority of streaming sticks also come bundled with remote controls, but they can also often be controlled via an app on a smartphone or tablet.
READ NEXT: The best 4K HDR smart TVs you can buy
Do you need a subscription to watch content with a streaming stick?
Streaming sticks always have a range of free applications that do not require a paid subscription. YouTube, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5 are commonly found on streaming stick devices and won’t require a monthly subscription – although bear in mind that you will need a TV license if you’re intending to watch live TV. Paid-for streaming services like Netflix and Disney Plus will cost extra, and, outside of free trials, you won’t be able to access any of these apps’ content until you’re a paying customer.
Should you buy a streaming stick if you already have a smart TV?
Depending on the brand of smart TV that you own, it may not have an app for every streaming service. For instance, some televisions running Android TV OS don’t currently support Sky’s Now, so you would need to buy a streaming stick that does. Apple TV Plus currently has limited television support too, so a dedicated media streamer may be your only option. And even if your TV does cover all your desired apps, you may simply prefer the cleaner user interface and nifty voice search functions that some streaming sticks offer.
If you don’t have a smart TV and want to watch the latest on-demand video content without having to buy a new television, then a streaming stick is a must-have. There are still alternatives, obviously: you could connect an external device such as a laptop or tablet to your TV via an HDMI cable and launch content from there. But who wants to go through all that hassle every movie night?
How much should you spend?
You can spend as little as £30 on a streaming stick, but that figure could be higher depending on your budget and requirements. If you want the very best in HDR 4K playback and surround sound support then you can expect to spend nearer £50, sometimes more. Meanwhile, those after a decent budget stick with Full HD playback can get away with spending £30 or less.
Don’t forget to take streaming service subscriptions into account; Disney plus starts at £8/mth, while a 4K premium Netflix account will run you £14/mth, and the separate subscription costs for Now’s Cinema, Entertainment, Kids and Sports channels can add up to a hefty fee. Of course, subscribing to these is optional, and there’s always plenty of free-to-watch content from Freeview Play apps, YouTube and so on.
READ NEXT: The best smart TV platforms
How are streaming sticks different to media streaming boxes?
Being cheap and just as effective, streaming sticks have eaten away at the market for streaming set-top-boxes, with only a few hold-outs like the Amazon Fire TV Cube, Apple TV and NVIDIA Shield TV Pro still doing any serious business.
The big advantage of streaming sticks is that they’re cheaper and more discreet; you just plug one into the back of your TV and it’ll hide out of sight and just work. Some will even work with no source of power other than a spare USB port on your TV, although the more powerful 4K sticks tend to need their own dedicated power supply.
That’s always the case with media streaming boxes, which are designed to sit near your screen or in your AV stack. But while they’re less convenient and more expensive, they’re also more powerful, giving you the chance to install apps, play games and more. They’re also more likely to have a wired Ethernet port as well. That said, the more advanced 4K sticks are growing more adept at this stuff, so you don’t really lose out much, if at all, by opting for a stick.
How we test streaming sticks
The first thing that stands out when reviewing a streaming stick, quite literally, is how neatly it slots into the TV. Most come with an adapter if your HDMI ports don’t accommodate the stick itself, so we’ll try that out and see how fiddly the overall set up is. After that, most of the testing for a streaming stick comes down to simply using the thing. Our reviewer will boot it up and browse through the home screen, noting what channels, services and recommendations are presented there.
Next up will be jumping to specific streaming services, in all the ways possible. Some streaming sticks come with a voice-control remote, so our reviewer will use that to ask to be taken to various platforms, as well as specific content. Most remotes also have quick-launch buttons for popular services like Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus and Netflix, so we’ll see how efficient those are at launching the apps. If these functions lag, resulting in it being quicker to judge flick through the menu manually, this will be noted.
Finally, onto the content itself. We’ll look at video and audio quality in a general sense, before judging any 4K or HDR compatibility the stick may offer with specific services. Dolby Vision, for instance, will be tested with the likes of Apple TV Plus and Amazon Prime Video, while Netflix will be used for HDR10. If Dolby Atmos is supported, we’ll connect the stick to a compatible TV to sample how well the immersive audio translates, and the whole time we’ll be on the lookout for any extended buffering or dips in video quality due to poor connectivity.
1. Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max (2nd gen, 2023): Amazon’s best streaming stick
Price when reviewed: £70 | Check price at Amazon
After the success of its first maximum power streaming stick, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K Max has returned for a second run-out. The 2nd generation model upgrades upon the original in several ways, most notably through Wi-Fi 6E support, generally speedier performance and a handful of new features that keep it top of Amazon’s streaming stick tree.
The new incarnation is the first Fire TV Stick to include the Ambient Experience from Amazon’s Fire TV Omni QLED television, offering background music, customisable widgets and an ongoing slideshow of curated photography or art. There are new Alexa-powered AI features too, designed to give you a more conversational approach to searching out top movies and TV shows.
Elsewhere, the aforementioned boosts in speed are courtesy of a faster MediaTek MT8696T CPU, with the device seeing its four cores boosted from 1.8GHz on the first-gen model to 2GHz today, plus the Imagination Tech GE9215 GPU now runs at 850Hz rather than the old 750Hz. Better still, the internal storage has been doubled to 16GB instead of 8GB so you can use the stick for housing more content than ever before.
Outside of those key upgrades, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is pretty much business as usual for an Amazon streaming stick, with continued support for all the UHD formats and streaming services you could desire in the classic Fire Stick design.
Read our full Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max review for more details
Key specs – Streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Now, Apple TV Plus, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My 5, YouTube; Resolution: Up to 3,840 x 2,160p (4K) at 60fps; HDR formats: Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10+, HLG; Wi-Fi: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax (Wi-Fi 6/6E); Audio support: Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital Plus; Smart assistants: Amazon Alexa; Storage: 8GB; Operating system: Fire OS 8
2. Roku Streaming Stick 4K: Best value 4K streamer
Price when reviewed: £50 | Check price at Amazon
Roku has followed up the superb Streaming Stick+ with an even better media streamer, adding support for HDR10+ and Dolby Vision to the existing 4K HDR and HLG support. What’s more, Roku has improved the older unit’s processor and 802.11ac Wi-Fi, giving you a slick steaming experience with minimal pausing or low-quality streaming, plus excellent connectivity almost anywhere you put it.
Pair it with a decent screen and Dolby Vision content looks spectacularly good, and you won’t be disappointed by the colours or the detail in standard 4K HDR material or even upscaled 1080p programmes. Meanwhile, Roku’s no-nonsense interface makes it quick and easy to get to your favourite streaming services or search for programmes or movies across most of them (though not all). And while Amazon has caught up on support for the full suite of major streaming services, Roku still gains extra credit for its superb smartphone app and integration with both Alexa and the Google Assistant. If you’re not embedded in Amazon’s ecosystems, this is the king of streaming sticks.
Read our full Roku Streaming Stick 4K review for more details
Key specs – Streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Now, Apple TV Plus, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My 5, YouTube; Resolution: Up to 3,840 x 2,160p (4K); HDR formats: Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10+, HLG; Wi-Fi: Dual-band 802.11ac; Audio support: DTS, Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Plus 7.1; Smart assistants: Roku voice remote, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa; Storage: 4GB; Operating system: Roku OS
3. Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K (2nd gen, 2023): Amazon’s cheapest 4K streamer
Price when reviewed: £60 | Check price at Amazon
The second-gen Fire TV Stick 4K builds on its predecessor’s success, offering enhanced performance via a revamped MediaTek MT8696D CPU. Native Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support provide the richest picture and audio quality going – bettering sticks that only provide the former via passthrough – while the headline addition of Wi-Fi 6 functionality allows for even shorter loading times of all your favourite streaming services.
Despite being Amazon-centric, the Fire OS 8 interface is user-friendly and ensures intuitive navigation for content discovery using the included Alexa Voice (3rd gen) remote: simply navigate or search using your voice via the Alexa button.
Owners of the first-gen Fire Stick 4K shouldn’t rush out to upgrade and those in search of more storage or Wi-Fi 6E should spend a bit more and buy the 4K Max instead. But for just about everyone else, the Fire TV Stick 4K is a compelling option.
Read our full Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K review for more details
Key specs – Streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Now, Apple TV Plus, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My 5, YouTube; Resolution: Up to 3,840 x 2,160p (4K); HDR formats: HDR, HDR10, HDR10+, HLG, Dolby Vision; Wi-Fi: Dual-band 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6); Audio support: Dolby Audio, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos, DTS HD; Smart assistants: Amazon voice remote, Amazon Alexa; Storage: 8GB; Operating system: Fire OS
4. Roku Express 4K: Best streaming stick for affordable 4K HDR
Price when reviewed: £50 | Check price at Amazon
The Roku Express 4K is an upgrade to Roku’s budget Express streamer, which costs £30 and can only stream in FHD resolution. As the name suggests, the Express 4K is able to stream content in 4K and is also compatible with most of the major HDR formats: HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG. This means you can enjoy vivid, impactful High Dynamic Range playback across a wide range of streaming services. As long as your TV supports HDR content, that is.
Dolby Vision is the only major HDR format missing here, but the brand is well represented on the audio front, with support for Dolby Audio and Dolby Atmos, as well as DTS Digital Surround. The other drawback of the Express 4K is that the remote lacks voice control. This is easily forgiven, however, as the function is present on the excellent Roku app, which also allows you to search for content and execute remote control functions.
Read our full Roku Express 4K review for more details
Key specs – Streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Now, Apple TV Plus, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My 5, YouTube; Resolution: Up to 3,840 x 2,160p (4K); HDR formats: HDR10, HDR10+, HLG; Wi-Fi: Dual-band 802.11ac; Audio support: DTS Digital Surround, Dolby Audio, Dolby Atmos; Smart assistants: Roku voice remote, Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa; Storage: N/A; Operating system: Roku OS
5. Amazon Fire TV Stick (2021): Best Alexa streaming stick for FHD content
Price when reviewed: £45 | Check price at Amazon
Amazon’s third-gen Fire TV Stick has 50% more power than its predecessor and, for the first time on an HD Fire TV Stick, it adds HDR playback and Dolby Atmos support too. And the best news? It doesn’t even cost any more than the second-gen Fire TV Stick. Thanks to its new 1.7GHz quad-core processor, the Fire TV Stick is much more responsive than the last model, letting you leap around the Fire TV UI and launch apps faster than ever before.
The Fire TV Stick supports video playback up to 1080p and carries every major streaming platform, including Netflix, Now and YouTube. This model adds in support for HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG, a real boon for anyone with a modern FHD HDR TV. There’s also audio support for Dolby Digital and Dolby Atmos surround sound. Capping it off is the fantastic voice remote with Alexa functionality, which can control the Fire TV Stick, your TV and any other Alexa smart devices you may have at home.
Read our full Amazon Fire TV Stick (2020) review for more details
Key specs – Streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Now, Apple TV Plus, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My 5, YouTube; Resolution: Up to 1080p; HDR formats: HDR10, HDR10+, HLG; Wi-Fi: Dual-band 802.11ac; Audio support: Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus; Smart assistants: Amazon Alexa; Storage: 8GB; Operating system: Fire OS
6. Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite: Amazon’s cheapest streaming stick
Price when reviewed: £35 | Check price at Amazon
Price aside, there’s not a huge difference between the Fire TV Stick Lite and the standard Fire TV Stick. The biggest concession in this model is that Dolby Atmos support is achieved only through HDMI passthrough, meaning that it can’t transcode multi-channel audio. So if your TV can’t decode the audio stream from whichever streaming service you choose, it may just come through in stereo. The remote also lacks the ability to control your TV’s power and volume, something the regular Fire TV Stick’s remote can do.
Unlike some of its budget FHD competitors, the Fire TV Stick Lite offers three HDR formats – HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG. There aren’t many FHD HDR TVs out there but it’s an impressive feature nonetheless. And then there’s the inclusion of the wonderful Amazon Alexa smart assistant. The remote features a voice search button that utilises Alexa to help you find content and execute commands, saving you time hassle and getting you into the HDR action that much faster.
Read our full Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite review for more details
Key specs – Streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Now, Apple TV Plus, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My 5, YouTube; Resolution: Up to 1080p; HDR formats: HDR10, HDR10+, HLG; Wi-Fi: Dual-band 802.11ac; Audio support: Dolby Atmos (HDMI passthrough only); Smart assistants: Amazon Alexa; Storage: N/A; Operating system: Fire OS
7. Sky Stream: Best streaming stick alternative
Price when reviewed: £26/mth (18 month contract) | Check price at Sky
While it might be more of a box than a stick, the Sky Stream works entirely over a Wi-Fi connection like any other streamer and is a great alternative to Sky’s satellite-supported Sky Q system – or any other traditional set-top box or streaming stick, for that matter.
Most Freeview channels (see a full list here) and big-name streaming apps, including Prime Video, Netflix, Disney Plus and Apple TV+, are part of the package, meaning you’re getting your usual glut of TV channels on top of almost all the biggest streaming services in a streaming puck the size of a coaster. Sky Stream supports show recording but saves your programmes to the cloud, which means storage is effectively infinite (unlike Sky Q). Your recordings are displayed as “Playlists”, which comprise a key segment of the slick user interface.
Unlike Virgin’s alternative – Stream by Virgin Media – which is only available to Virgin Broadband customers, Sky Stream doesn’t require that you have a Sky Broadband contract, making it eminently more accessible. If you want to ditch the satellite dish without sacrificing content or image quality, Sky Stream is a no-brainer.
Read our full Sky Stream review for more details
Key specs – Streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My 5, YouTube; Resolution: Up to 3,840 x 2,160p (4K); HDR formats: Dolby Vision, HDR10, HLG; Wi-Fi: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax (Wi-Fi 6); Audio support: Dolby Atmos; Smart assistants: No; Storage: N/A; Operating system: Entertainment OS