These days you don’t need to go to the expense of a smart TV to access services such as Netflix, Amazon or BBC iPlayer. We round up the best media players you can buy in the UK in 2017 that let you stream media to smartphones, tablets, PCs and laptops.
There has been an enormous price crash in the market for media-streaming devices in the past year or so. If you can’t get one free from your ISP, then devices such as the Sky Now TV Box cost less than a DVD – the disc, not the player.
Best media players: what’s on?
Even if you have a so-called ‘smart TV’, it’s bound to offer an inferior experience – not to mention a deficit in content – compared to the media streamers we’ve reviewed here.
The content available through each streamer is the most important factor for most people. This is why it’s crucial to check that the services you want are available. It’s rare for one device to offer everything, but Roku has the biggest range going with hundreds of apps to choose between.
Kodi is massively popular at the moment. While you can buy a Kodi box, you can also install this media player on any Android TV, and even on an Amazon Fire TV – because, at its heart, the Fire TV is an Android device.
Best media players: do I need a media streamer?
You may have recently bought a new TV and, in some cases, no you won’t need a media player. Some TVs run Android TV (such as Sony’s modern range) and there’s little point in duplicating this by buying a separate media streamer.
Really, these dedicated boxes are for people with older TVs (and those with don’t have any internet connection) because they allow you to stream films or TV shows from services such as Netflix or the BBC iPlayer without having to plug your laptop into the TV or have a noisy PC whirring away. All of these devices are silent (or very nearly silent) in operation and consume very little power.
Smartphone and tablet owners can beam content from their phones to the television wirelessly with many of these devices, so if you want to show the family the video you shot earlier that day, or perhaps play a family game using the Scrabble app, you simply press a button on your phone and beam the picture to the big screen so that everyone can see it instantly.
Some of these media streamers can display content stored on other PCs, laptops and NAS drives connected to your home network, letting you enjoy your music collection in the lounge for family parties or share photo slideshows. Apps for online media services such as Spotify, Flickr and YouTube are also common now: you install those you want, and ignore those you don’t.
Best media players: Gaming
Gaming is a relatively new addition to media streamers. You can play casual games such as Tetris on Roku and Amazon devices as well as the Google Nexus Player, or opt for the Nvidia Shield TV for something a little more console-esque. You can even buy optional game pads if you’re serious about wanting a games console experience.
We’ve also included set-top boxes here from the likes of Sky and BT because they also offer a lot of the features you’d get on a media streamer. If you don’t want lots of set-top boxes under your TV, you may find one of these will do everything you need, including playing and recording live TV. We’re reviewing the new Virgin V6 box at the moment, and will add this shortly.
Best media player reviews 2017
- Reviewed on: 1 October 14
- RRP: £49
The Roku Streaming Stick is one of the best media streamers around and worth the extra money compared with the Chromecast if you want more content at your fingertips plus the physical remote control and user interface.
Read our Roku Streaming Stick review.
2. Roku 3
The Roku 3 is a premium player with a superior feature set to rivals. The wireless headphones are a boon and the UK content selection is superb, although we experienced lip-sync issues and network media playback is too unreliable.
Read our Roku 3 review.
Owners of the original Chromecast have very little reason to upgrade the new model. Google has improved the design with the Chromecast 2 and added better Wi-Fi. We also like the new app and, in general, the device is a bargain at £30. However, the Roku Streaming Stick outclasses it for less than £10 extra with more content available, a remote control and excellent user interface.
Read our Google Chromecast review.
Thanks to its powerful internals, great interface and Alexa, the Fire TV Stick is a fantastic gadget for watching Prime Video, Netflix, and UK TV on demand. Even if you own a smart TV, the Stick is still a good buy – especially if you don’t have Alexa through another device. It isn’t quite as convenient as using an Amazon Echo, but at this price, it’s fantastic value.
Read our Amazon Fire TV Stick (2017) review.
If you have a 4K TV and a Netflix subscription, the Chromecast Ultra is worth the £69 asking price. The fact it is so easy to use and works best with the Google Home app means you can easily throw it in a bag and use it on different TVs wherever you are, as your phone or tablet carries your streaming subscriptions with you.
If you don’t have a 4K TV then go with the £30 Chromecast, but otherwise if you want a no-nonsense media streamer the Chromecast Ultra is one of the best going.
Read our Google Chromecast Ultra review.
We’re extremely impressed by the Nvidia Shield both as a media streamer and as a games console. The beautiful UI and game-streaming technology is powered by one of the most impressive mobile processors on the market at the moment, and provides an experience akin to playing a PS4 or Xbox One. The native 4K resolution that supports 60fps playback is better than any other offering in the UK at the moment, with the Fire TV only being able to support 4K@30fps. GeForce Now has been coined as the ‘Netflix for gaming’ and although the library may be a bit sparse at the moment, the experience is great – being able to choose from a library and play it instantly is an intriguing experience and gives us a glimpse at the future of on-demand gaming.
The only real disappointment comes with the selection of catch-up TV apps, as we could only install BBC iPlayer, leaving those who want to use the likes of All4, Demand5 or ITV Hub without any option. The Shield is so close to being the perfect media streamer but without access to popular apps like those mentioned, it’ll always fall short.
Read our Nvidia Shield TV review.
The Q10 Pro prices itself out of range for those wanting a simple, no-frills box that adds Android functionality to their TV set, but the HiMedia offers so much more than this. Fantastic format support, expansive storage options and good 4K image quality make this a great Kodi box for enthusiasts.
Read our HiMedia Q10 Pro review.
The Fire TV is an excellent set-top box which is powerful and well designed. The voice search works well too, and Alexa is coming, which will make it far better. The interface is slick and easy to use, even if it can be confusing working out what you can watch on an Amazon Prime subscription. The Fire TV is one of the best video streamers, but it really makes sense if you pair it with a Prime Instant Video subscription and use Amazon’s other services. 4K content at no extra cost is a huge bonus but don’t forget that many 4K TVs already have the Prime Instant Video app. This means it’s going to appeal to people who want 4K Prime Instant Video (or Netflix) but their TV doesn’t have it. If that’s you, just double-check your TV has an HDMI port which supports HDCP 2.2, otherwise you’ll find 4K videos won’t play.
For some people – mainly those with iOS devices and no 2nd- or 3rd-generation Apple TV – the new box is a great media streamer and games machine. However, there’s no escaping the high price and limited selection of apps. And if you’re not interested in gaming, you’re just as well off buying a 3rd-generation Apple TV or Roku for less than half the price. Competition from other gaming media streamers is stiff, too, with Amazon’s £79 Fire TV offering more UK catch-up TV as well as similar gaming performance, expandable storage and support for 4K content. Ultimately, the 4th-gen Apple TV has potential (Apple may even upgrade the software so it supports 4K at some point) but right now that potential is far from realised.
Read our Apple TV 2015 (4th-gen) review.
10. Sky Q
Sky Q is a whole new TV platform, built around flexibility of viewing both online and offline. The kit looks suitably sexy and makes the old Sky+ box look like a dinosaur. The ability to record up to four channels at once solves many of the old clashes that depressingly showed up in the old Planner listings. Would any one ever use all four channel to record while watching a fifth? I doubt it but it’s a nice option. The cheaper non-Silver Sky Q box can record three while you watch a fourth, and even that looks generous. The extra storage on the Sky Q 2TB box will be appreciated by most of us – even though it’s mostly clogged up with stuff we wished we had the time to watch. You’ll either love or loath the new Bluetooth remote, and getting used to the new controls and user interface will infuriate you until you’re used to the changes. But in the end we suspect you’ll quickly come to grips with the new setup and enjoy Sky Q for its range of services and flexibility of viewing. With an extensive range of content on offer, 4K at no extra cost, and the ability to take recordings with you via the app, Sky Q is the best home entertainment package you can get right now.
Read our Sky Q review.
11. Humax DTR-T2100
The new DTR-T2100 box is a vast improvement over its predecessor, being much faster and quieter. It also uses less power and starts up quicker.
Read our Humax DTR-T2100 review.
From a technical point of view, the Apple TV is as slick and neatly designed as you’d expect from Apple. However, its reliance upon iTunes and Netflix is frustrating for users outside the US, and the Apple TV won’t live up to its considerable potential until Apple bites the bullet and opens it up to a wider range of online video services.
Read our Apple TV (2014 – PCA) review.
For under £15 and various value bundles, the second generation Sky Now TV Box is a great budget media streamer. It not only allows contract-free access to a wide range of Sky content but also a number of other apps including BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub. It’s just a big shame that Now TV is limited to just 720p.
Read our Sky Now TV Box (2015) review.
14. Sky Now TV Box
A perfectly capable media streamer, with dedicated remote control, for only £10 may look an indisputable bargain. It’s light on features and obviously geared towards Sky’s content, but if you want an inexpensive, fuss-free way of watching the occasional football match or TV series, it would be just the ticket providing Sky sorts out its streaming servers.
Read our Sky Now TV Box review.
15. Roku 2 (2015)
The Roku 2 is yet another decent media streaming box from the market leader and we like the new Roku Search and MyFeed features. However, these are available on the other Rokus and the slightly high price means you’ll want to pay the extra for the better remote which comes with the Roku 3 or save money by getting the similar Streaming Stick.
Read our Roku 2 (2015) review.