Streaming TV is the future, and there’s no question about it at this point – in the UK, and around the world. From Netflix, Prime Video and Disney+, to local services like NOW and ITVX, streaming is here to stay. But if you want a good streaming experience, there’s one device you need to buy – a streamer.
While Smart TVs are getting better and better, standalone streaming devices are still quite popular, and for a good reason. They’re faster and easier to use in most cases, they support a vast library of apps, and you can even take them with you when you go on holiday.
So if you’re looking to replace your expensive Sky/BT/Virgin Media etc. subscription and become a ‘cord cutter’ – a good streaming device is almost essential these days.
There are plenty of streaming sticks and boxes out there. But in this roundup, I’ll take a closer look at three of the best in the UK market for 2023: Google’s “Chromecast with Google TV”, the Amazon Fire TV 4K Max Stick, and the Roku Streaming Stick 4K.
They’re all excellent devices – but the Roku Streaming Stick 4K is still our ultimate winner, with Roku grabbing our No. 1 spot for the 4th year in a row.
You might have also heard about Sky and Virgin Media’s streaming-based devices – both called “Stream” – so I’ll go into some detail about these two as well, later in the article.
Table of Contents
Best Streaming Devices UK 2023
Roku Streaming Stick 4K
Easy to use interface, perfect for beginners
Excellent 4K/HDR Picture Quality
Almost all the major UK streaming services/apps
Fastest Roku to date
Basic Voice Search/Control
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K MAX
Best For Amazon Fans
Speedy and powerful performance
Excellent 4K/HDR Picture Quality
Almost all the major UK streaming services/apps
WiFi 6 supported
Voice Remote with Alexa assistant
Chromecast with Google TV
Broadest support for UK streaming services
Excellent 4K/HDR Picture Quality
The interface combines a mix of streaming services
Cast from phones
Do I Need A Streaming Device?
A dedicated streaming device has a lot of advantages – but if you already have some sort of streaming solution, do you really need another one?
If you bought a new TV in recent years, chances are it’s a “Smart” TV, with streaming apps already baked in.
However, even if you have a Smart TV that comes with its own set of streaming apps, it’s still often a good idea (at least for some) to buy a dedicated streaming device.
Most TV manufacturers have their own “Smart” streaming interface – and those are often slow and confusing. Furthermore, some get abandoned pretty quickly – which means you might lose access to some of your favourite streaming services (or not get apps for newly launched services).
In 2022, for example, quite a few older Smart TVs – including from big manufacturers like Samsung – stopped supporting ITV Hub (or its replacement, ITVX) – and many customers were left without access to it.
The top streaming devices like the ones covered here, on the other hand, are quite the opposite – they’re fast (due to improved technical specs), very easy to use (as they’ve been around for years, perfecting their user interface), and they get constant updates and new apps (because so many people use them, so the streaming companies have the incentive to keep supporting them).
Another streaming device you might already have at home is a Freeview Play box – while it’s true that those come with a few UK streaming apps (mostly the big UK public broadcasters like BBC iPlayer, All4, etc. – with a few extras like YouTube and Prime Video, depending on the device), they’re no match for a ‘full’ streaming device that supports countless streaming services and apps.
And, as with older smart TVs – many older Freeview (and Freesat) boxes also didn’t get ITVX.
So while it’s OK to start with a Smart TV – if you’re serious about streaming TV, it’s probably a good idea to upgrade to a dedicated streamer at some point.
The Three Best Streaming Devices In The UK
There are a lot of streaming devices out there – but for this roundup, I’ve narrowed the list down to three, that represent the best combination of excellent performance, an easy to use interface and a budget-friendly price.
The Roku 4K and the Fire TV 4K Max were released late in 2021, to replace the previous models – the Roku Streaming Stick+ and the Fire TV 4K Stick. These were not major upgrades, though – and there’s no reason to switch if you have the previous generation. But if you’re in the market for a brand new streaming stick – you might as well go with the latest versions – which is why they’re covered in this roundup.
Yes, there are cheaper streaming devices out there – and there are more expensive ones. Take Apple TV, for example – it’s an excellent device for Apple fans – but it’s just too expensive, in my opinion, while not offering significant extra value.
The Nvidia Shield TV is another similar example – a lot of people swear by it, and it’s also a very capable gaming console. But it’s too expensive if you just want to use it for streaming.
And on the low-cost side, there are lots of Chinese streaming sticks out there – they’re cheap, and they might work well, but they’re often a gamble – and their interface and user experience will never be as good as on the major streaming devices. Plus, they’re usually lacking in support for some of the primary streaming services.
Additionally, Roku, Amazon and Google also have cheaper entry-level versions of their streaming devices: The Roku Express (see our complete Roku comparison here), the Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite (see our Fire TV specs comparison) and the 3rd gen Google Chromecast (see our review), or the HD-only Chromecast with Google TV.
These low-cost versions are capable devices – though they don’t support 4K/HDR, and they’re somewhat underpowered, so the interface can feel slow at times. That being said, if you’re making your first streaming steps and you just want a cheap solution – or you’re looking for an extra streaming device for the bedroom/guest room – these are decent solutions.
Roku Stick 4K, Firestick 4K Max And Chromecast – The Similarities
Before I rank and compare the three devices, let’s quickly go over the things they have in common.
All three are HDMI-based streaming devices – so if you have an older TV with a SCART connection, for example, you’ll have to look elsewhere. (There are HDMI-to-SCART converters out there – but you’ll be downgrading the picture quality, and some services just won’t work).
All three devices connect to the internet via WiFi (The Roku stick has a built-in WiFi booster that increases the range, and the Fire TV 4K Max supports the newer WiFi 6 standard, if you use compatible routers like Amazon’s own eero Pro 6), with the Chromecast and Fire TV also having optional Ethernet adaptors, if your WiFi reception is problematic.
As for power, all three are powered with a mini-USB plug. You can either connect it directly to your TV’s USB socket if it has one (though that’s not recommended these days, as it might not give the device enough power), or to the wall, with the supplied USB mains adapter.
Roku Stick, Firestick And Chromecast – The Differences
Now, let’s go over some of the important factors that differentiate the three devices – and see which one comes out on top.
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max have a similar shape (the clue is in the name) of… a stick (similar to a USB stick).
However, the Fire TV (108 x 30 x 14 mm) is bigger than the Roku Stick (94.5 x 21.1 x 11.5 mm). Because of its size, some might find it hard to find the space behind their TV to plug the Fire TV stick – and you might need to use an HDMI extension cable.
Fortunately, Amazon provides an HDMI extender in the box. Roku, on the other hand, does not. You can get one from them, for free – but you have to register and order it online.
Older Roku sticks had an issue of sometimes overheating, especially when playing UltraHD videos – but I’m happy to say I haven’t noticed that with the Roku Stick 4K.
The Google Chromecast isn’t a stick at all – it’s a round disc, that has a short HDMI cable attached – so it’s easier to connect it to your TV, while remaining small and portable. However, the newer Chromecast with Google TV is slightly bigger than the 3rd gen Chromecast.
So, in this category, mainly for looking a bit different…
Form Factor Winner: Google Chromecast
Selection Of UK Streaming Apps
A streaming device is only as good as the actual streaming you can do on it – and for that, you need apps and support from the streaming services.
And in particular, you need UK-based support. Streamers that only support big US streaming services won’t help here – as we need things like BBC iPlayer, NOW, ITVX, etc. – and not just the big American ones like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
The Chromecast, Firestick and Roku all support most of the major UK streaming services, so you’re going to do well with each of them.
However, there ARE a few minor differences – and if the particular streaming service you’re fond of is missing, that might be a dealbreaker.
So, for example, while the new Chromecast with Google TV supports lots of apps via its “Chromecast” method (so you push content from your mobile phone to the TV), its selection of native Android TV apps is still somewhat limited.
For the longest time, for example, Google’s Chromecast didn’t have a native app for NOW. That was finally changed late last year – but you’ll still find a few similar examples here and there.
Roku used to have an advantage in this area thanks to their “Private / Non-certified” channels options, where you could install apps from outside the store by using a link and a code. These, however, were removed in 2022, as they presumably posed security and copyright risks.
The Roku does have a unique advantage, though, with The Roku Channel – it’s a free (with adverts) streaming content channel that offers films, TV shows and Roku Originals – and it’s not available on the Fire TV or Chromecast.
I’ve compiled a list of the major streaming services available in the UK – and the devices that support them (remember, though, that this list might change in the future) –
|Streaming Service||Roku||Fire TV||Chromecast|
|Amazon Prime Video||YES||YES||YES|
|All 4||YES||YES||Casting Only|
At this point in 2023, the selection of streaming apps on all three devices is almost identical – therefore it’s a tie.
Selection Of UK Apps Winners (Tie): Amazon Fire TV 4K Max / Roku Stick 4K / Google’s Chromecast
Interface / Ease Of Use
One of the reasons people dislike Smart TVs is the user interface. It’s usually slow, unintuitive, and even confusing to some.
In fact, most Smart TVs probably won’t pass the Grandparents Test (as in – your grandparents come for a visit – can they operate your Smart TV by themselves?)
Things are very different with Roku and the Fire TV, however. Both devices offer friendly, easy to use interfaces that have been refined for several years, and yes – even your grandparents will probably understand what to do.
That being said, I feel the Roku takes the lead – at least in terms of how clean and easy to understand the interface is. Your apps (they’re called ‘Channels’ on Roku) take centre-stage, with big icons that stay in place (but you can re-order them any way you want).
Amazon’s Fire TV interface, on the other hand, while also slick and friendly, is a bit of a mess sometimes, with categories and apps moving around all by themselves. In addition, Amazon puts its own Prime Video content front and centre – which is fine if you’re a big Amazon fan (and if you’re subscribed to Prime), but otherwise can get annoying.
And the Chromecast? The newer model, “Chromecast with Google TV”, finally has an interface of its own – along with a remote control. It’s unique in that it combines content recommendations and a watchlist from several different streaming services – Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ and more.
The Chromecast’s new interface is a BIG step in the right direction, especially for those who use several different streaming services. However, even now, it’s still a bit rough around the edges, and – it’s still confusing for the inexperienced.
So for that reason…
Interface / Ease Of Use Winner: Roku Streaming Stick 4K
Although picture quality depends first and foremost on your TV, streaming devices also play an important part.
All three devices – The Roku Streaming Stick 4K, the Amazon Fire TV 4K Max Stick and the Chromecast with Google TV – support Ultra HD (4K) and HDR.
HDR stands for “High Dynamic Range” – it’s a technology that helps improve contrast rates, making the picture more accurate. It also provides a larger colour palette and more colour shades – and with a proper TV, it can make quite a difference in picture quality (but your streaming service needs to support HDR as well!).
To make things even more complicated, there are several competing HDR formats: HDR, HDR10+, HLG and Dolby Vision. The new Roku Stick 4K model added Dolby Vision support – so now all three devices support all of these formats.
HDR10 is the popular format, and is supported by most major streaming services. But Dolby Vision is gaining some traction, and is considered superior – though, as always, your TV must support it as well.
Don’t forget that the older, cheaper Chromecast version (the one without the remote), only supports Full HD (1080p) – so no 4K or HDR at all.
Picture Quality Winner: 3-Way Tie
Performance is sometimes hard to measure on a streaming device – after all, every app and streaming service works differently, and it isn’t always the stick’s fault when something goes wrong.
And yes, compare any modern streaming device to an older Smart TV – and you’ll see the difference in speed right away.
So when I talk about Performance, I take into account the speed of the interface, how responsive the apps are, and how good the internet connection is (via WiFi).
This is another case where all three devices are pretty similar. They all have modern processors (Quad-Core), and the interface is fast to load and very responsive.
The Roku still feels snappier, though – it might not even be due to better hardware, but due to a more straightforward – and more optimised – interface. But the bottom line is that the Roku is faster – at least in perception.
As for WiFi, the Roku Stick 4K has a WiFi amplifier built into its power cable – which gives you better range and a stronger signal.
The Fire TV 4K Max, however, now supports WiFi 6 – a more advanced technology that helps keep multiple WiFi connections (and devices) more stable. But you need a WiFi 6 router to take advantage of the extra features – something that’s not very common in the UK yet (It’s backwards compatible, though, so you’re fine if you don’t have a WiFi 6 router)
Performance Winner: Roku Streaming Stick 4K
Selection Of Apps
While streaming services and apps are the ‘main event’ for a streaming device – they’re not the only thing you can do with it.
From watching music videos and lectures, to practising yoga and even playing games – modern streaming devices are tiny computers connected to your TV.
And while they’ll never replace a full-featured gaming console or a PC, the extra apps are still a factor when you consider which streaming device to get.
The Amazon Fire TV has its own app store, where it’s easy to find and download apps directly (here are some of the best apps for the Firestick). Roku also has a ‘Channels Marketplace’, where you go to search for ‘Channels’. (And here are our recommended Roku channels).
With the Chromecast with Google TV, you get two options – there’s an app store for native Android TV apps (which you can then control with the remote, with an on-screen interface).
And, there’s also the smartphone-supported version, where you “cast” content from apps on your phone to the Chromecast. There’s no single app store for apps that support Chromecast casting – But we can help with our list of best Chromecast apps in the UK.
The Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast with Google TV, however, take the lead by supporting two types of apps that aren’t supported on any Roku devices for now – VPN, and a browser.
A VPN is helpful if you want to protect your privacy when you’re using a streamer, or to unblock Geo-Restrictions on Netflix and similar services. The Fire TV and Chromecast have quite a few supported VPN apps, which is a big plus.
And, the Fire TV also has an internet browser – Amazon’s own ‘Silk’ browser (it used to also have Firefox, but that’s gone). While browsing the open web on your TV is never a very good experience, it does give you some extra flexibility.
The Chromecast, on the other hand, is a mixed bag in this case – you can “cast” from a native Chrome browser on another device, but there’s no native version of Chrome for Google TV. You can, however, install a few 3rd party browsers.
As for Roku’s channel store, it actually BANS browser apps – so you’re not going to see them anytime soon.
Selection of Apps Winner: Amazon Fire TV 4K Max
Although we’re getting used to doing everything with our smartphones – when operating a TV, a remote control is still the easiest way to control things.
The Amazon Fire TV 4K Max and Roku Stick 4K remotes are pretty similar. They both have ‘movement’ buttons on the top (it’s wheel-shaped on the Firestick), as well as Play/Pause buttons and Fast-Forward and rewind.
The new Chromecast with Google TV remote is a bit different. For one, it’s smaller – and it also doesn’t have Play/Pause buttons – instead, it relies on the middle “selection” button for those actions.
All three remotes (in these specific models) also have Volume Control buttons (they’re on the side of the remote on the Roku and Chromecast remotes – which is brilliant), a mute button, and a button to turn your TV on/off.
And, all three remotes are also ‘Voice remotes’ – so once you push the Voice button, you can speak to the remote itself and control the device with your voice (more on that later).
All three remotes have shortcut buttons for apps (which the hardware companies reportedly get paid for). These can’t be easily remapped, so they’re not helpful for everyone. The Chromecast remote gets extra points for only having two – YouTube and Netflix.
Amazon also sells a “Pro” version of its Fire TV remote – with a few additional features like backlighting and a ‘Find my remote’ function. Roku has a Pro remote in the US – but they don’t sell it in the UK, unfortunately.
All in all, choosing between the three remotes is a matter of taste above all – but I prefer the button placement on the Roku (Amazon’s Pro remote would have taken first place here – but it costs extra and doesn’t come bundles with any devices).
Remote Controls Winner: Roku Streaming Stick 4K
With voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa becoming more and more common, both on our phones and in our living rooms, it makes sense that TV streaming devices will also add voice commands.
Amazon’s Fire TV, as expected, has Alexa built into its Voice Remote. It’s not as ‘powerful’ as the Alexa that lives inside Amazon’s Echo devices – but it comes close. Plus, you can’t just start talking – you need to first press the ‘Voice’ button on the remote, and then the Firestick’s Alexa starts listening.
You can give it video-related commands like “Stop”, “Rewind 30 seconds”, etc. You can tell it to “Run Netflix”, or you can search by saying things like “Show me movies with Tom Cruise “, or “Play The Expanse on Prime Video”.
As an Alexa device, you can also ask for the weather (which will then be spoken, as well as shown on your TV screen), or ask a bunch of trivia questions like “How Old Is Boris Johnson?”.
And, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can pair that as well with your Firestick, and then you don’t even need the remote – you can just say “Alexa”, and give your Echo commands that control your Firestick.
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K also has a Voice-control button on its remote, but it’s a bit more limited, because it doesn’t have the power of Alexa behind it.
So you can give it basic video-playing commands, AND you can search things like “Show me comedies with Steve Martin” – but you don’t get the general questions and information gathering that Alexa has.
And finally, the Chromecast with Google TV now has a dedicated Google Assistant button, which can control the TV, search for programmes and apps, or ask general questions (much like the Alexa button).
For some reason, Google’s Assistant on the Chromecast isn’t very good at understanding me. I often have to repeat misunderstood words repeatedly – which doesn’t usually happen with Amazon’s Alexa.
Voice Control Winner: Amazon Fire TV 4K Max Stick
Although these streaming devices are meant to operate on your telly, they all have accompanying smartphone apps.
The Roku smartphone app wins this category without a doubt. Amazon’s Fire TV app is mainly used as a remote control (if you lose the physical one, for example), and as a handy keyboard when you need to type something on the screen.
The Roku app can also be used as a remote control, but it has several additional nifty features – it has a full-featured content search engine (like the one on the Roku streamer), and you can use the Voice Search on it as well.
However, the best Roku app feature is the ‘Private Listening’ mode. Once the app is paired with your Roku stick, you can plug headphones into your PHONE, tap Private Listening, and anything you’re watching on your TV, will have its sound streamed to your headphones, instead of to the TV’s regular speakers. This is very useful when you’re watching TV late at night, for example.
And the Chromecast? Weirdly, despite this being a device that can be controlled with your smartphone, it doesn’t have its own app. You set up the device with the Google Home app, which is used with all of Google’s Home devices – but it’s mainly used for the initial setup, and for giving your Chromecast a name, and that’s about it. For everything else – you need Chromecast support on each specific app you use.
Smartphone App Winner: Roku Streaming Stick 4K
Streaming Devices – Honourable Mentions
Before we get to the overall best, I wanted to give two unique devices a mention:
Amazon Fire TV Cube: This is Amazon’s top-of-the-line 4K streaming device, which combines a Fire TV streamer with Echo/Alexa voice control and built-in microphones and a speaker.
The new, 3rd generation Cube has an Octa-core processor, so it’s even faster and more powerful than the 4K Max, and you can use it as a full Alexa voice assistant device without needing the remote control at all.
I’m a big fan of the Fire TV Cube, and you can read my full review of it here. The problem? It costs a lot more than the Fire TV sticks, so it’s harder to recommend – unless you’re also in the market for a small Echo device.
Sky Glass: Sky’s 4K TV set was first announced in October 2021. It features a QLED HDR screen, and a built-in Dolby Atmos soundbar with five speakers.
Why am I mentioning it here? Because, unlike Sky’s traditional services in the UK, Sky Glass doesn’t use a satellite dish – instead, it relies on broadband, and streams all the content to the TV, so it’s basically a streaming device (with Sky’s channels) baked into a TV.
It has a very promising interface (which still has bugs, however), a very useful and responsive global search, and it also brings Freeview into the streaming ecosystem.
Of course, it’s a TV, and it costs like a TV, so you can’t compare it to streaming sticks. But it was an interesting first step for Sky into the streaming hardware world (in the UK, at least – and if you don’t consider NOW a full Sky service, which I don’t).
Sky Stream / Virgin Media Stream: In 2022, Sky and Virgin Media both released standalone streaming boxes, that finally let customers sign up to their respective TV services without needing a satellite dish a long-term TV contract.
The two are similar in many ways (see my Sky Stream VS Virgin Media stream comparison), and they also serve as streaming devices, with many 3rd party streaming apps like Netflix, Disney+, BBC iPlayer and many others.
Sky Stream’s main advantage over Virgin Media’s Stream is that you can use it with any broadband provider, therefore it truly is a standalone device. Virgin Media Stream only works if you’re a Virgin Media Broadband customer.
If you’re interested in subscribing to Sky (or Virgin Media’s broadband) – these are certainly devices to consider. But they don’t truly replace streaming devices like the ones covered here.
Best Overall Streaming Device: The Roku Streaming Stick 4K
Yes, the Roku stick takes the crown for the fourth year in a row and is our 2023 winner as the best streamer in the UK.
The Roku Streaming Stick 4K provides the best combination of features, performance, and price. It’s a joy to use, both for beginners (yes, your grandparents too) and for veteran streamers, and it has a vast selection of streaming services and apps.
My one concern regarding the Roku Stick? While it’s VERY popular in the US, it’s still not as popular in the UK, which might mean some UK app developers prefer to go with something more popular like the Amazon Firestick – we’ve seen that, for example, when BritBox and Discovery+ took a long time to get on Roku in the UK.
The Amazon Fire TV 4K Max is a close second in this tight race. It’s another excellent device, and it’s particularly useful to those who live in the Amazon ecosystem (especially if you have an Amazon Prime subscription). It loses on points, primarily due to its interface being a bit messy.
In third place, for now, is the Google Chromecast with Google TV. It’s an excellent device, don’t get me wrong – and the new interface shows A LOT of promise, but even a year later, it’s still a bit rough around the edges, and there are still apps that don’t have a native Android TV version – which is disappointing.
For even more information on each of the streaming devices, you can read my full review of the Roku Streaming Stick 4K, my Amazon Fire TV 4K Max Stick review, and for now – my 3rd Gen Google Chromecast review.