CHARLESTON, SC – If you’re looking to stream video from the Internet but don’t have a smart TV, you may want to pick up a streaming stick. It’s a simple, inexpensive way to watch online content on your television. Streaming sticks are about the size of a USB thumb drive. They plug right into a TV’s HDMI input, and connect to your home Wi-Fi—making any TV a smart TV. Consumer Reports looked at three: the Amazon Fire TV Stick, the Roku Streaming stick, and Google Chromecast.
For around $35, Google Chromecast is the least expensive, but to operate it you need a smartphone or tablet loaded with the Chromecast app. Chromecast is a bit different from the others in that you use your own device—a tablet, a smartphone, or a laptop computer—to access the content, such as Netflix or HBO, then you wirelessly send it, or cast it, to your TV.
For around $50, the Roku Streaming stick also lets you download a remote-control app and use your phone or tablet, but it comes with a handy Wi-Fi remote as well. Roku has the most channels of any of the sticks and lets you know when newer movies are available to stream.
Keep in mind that with any of those sticks, you’re still going to have to pay for any content that’s not free. That’s one advantage to the $40 Fire TV stick. You get Amazon Prime movies and music at no extra charge if you’re already an Amazon Prime subscriber. It works with the included remote or your phone or tablet for features including voice search.
If you’re in the market for a new streaming media player and you’d prefer a more conventional set-top box-style player, you might want to consider any of the three Roku boxes. They earned the top spots in Consumer Reports’ Ratings of streaming devices.
Complete Ratings and recommendations on all kinds of products, including appliances, cars & trucks, and electronic gear, are available on Consumer Reports’ website. Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org.