Video streaming has been one of the fastest growing areas of entertainment technology over the last few years, but it has never been as accessible or enjoyable as it is today.

Not only do we have swathes of different streaming services, each offering thousands upon thousands of hours worth of movies and TV shows to watch on demand, but there are plenty of standalone set-top-boxes to play them through.

Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and many others are all available on subscription or as a free service, but unless you have a Smart TV you'll need a separate device to use them.

Thankfully, as long as you have a broadband internet connection capable of over 2Mbps speeds, there are plenty of options out there in the media streaming box market to add smart capabilities to an existing TV. And they needn't cost the Earth.

READ: Which is the best movie streaming service in the UK? Netflix vs Amazon Prime vs Now TV and more

For less than £100 - sometimes considerably so - you can buy a small device that gives you all of the content you could ever want and then some. And these are the contenders you should consider.

Price: £59

What is it?

Even though Apple now sells a new version of its set-top-box (below), it is still carrying the previous model at a cut down price.

Its primary goal is to give you access to the content you have bought on iTunes, or to stream your additional movie, TV and music files from a PC or Mac running Apple's software.

You can purchase or rent iTunes content straight through the small box, so don't technically have to have another Apple device. However, with Apple AirPlay meaning it can mirror and stream content to a large screen from your iPhone or iPad, it would seem unlikely that you wouldn't have one of those too.

READ: Apple TV (2012) review

Main apps

App support is scant when compared to some rivals and the new model. As well as access to iTunes movies, TV shows and music, there are apps for Netflix, Now TV, YouTube, Vimeo and Sky News among other more specific ones. HBO Go is available on the US version.

Sports coverage is offered to the tune of separate apps for the NHL, MLB and NBA. The Now TV app also features Sky Sports. All of them require fees or subscriptions.

For

Like many Apple products, Apple TV is a doddle to set up and use. It is presented in a straight forward, clean way, with bold apps and a very Apple-centric style - the user interface reflects the flat design of iOS 8 and 9.

Unlike many of its rivals, much of the content available through the box - specifically the iTunes movies and shows - offer trailers and previews in 1080p, so you can check to see whether you fancy something before paying for it.

Apple AirPlay mirroring is essential too, as the lack of app support for major UK services, such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Player and 4oD, can be compensated through using an iPhone or iPad to stream them to the box.

It is also capable of 1080p output and much of the content is presented as such. And iCloud support means you can view all of the pictures stored in your Photo Stream.

Against

Although there are several third party apps, they are not as varied as on many rivals and often seem US-centric in nature. 

In all other respects, Apple TV is locked to Apple's ecosystem and therefore suffers from the same problems or benefits as the company's other devices, depending on your point of view.

New apps seem to be added once in a blue moon, and there isn't the versatility exhibited on rival boxes. Apple also restricts application user interfaces to ape its own, so although Netflix has profiles and the same functionality as on other devices, it isn't presented the same and can be confusing and awkward to use in comparison. Now TV's app also has it own unique style in comparison to the one on other devices.

Conclusion

It is easy to recommend Apple TV to owners of iPhones, iPod touches and iPads, less so to everybody else. If iTunes is your life, you should consider an Apple TV even if you already own a smart TV.

Its simplicity in use and quality of output is superb, but do be aware that AirPlay streaming BBC iPlayer, for example, gives you a less than HD version of that particular service as it is dependant on the iOS app, which was not designed with TV use as its primary concern.

You also cannot AirPlay Sky Go from an iPad or iPhone, so if you subscribe to that service, you need to look elsewhere. But at least Now TV is available.

Apple has dropped the price of the Apple TV in recent months, first to £79 and then to £59, which does represent good value but as a replacement device is here, you might consider bumping your budget up a bit.

Price: £79

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What is it?

As well as the Chromecast, Google now has the Nexus Player in its line-up of Android-based streaming devices to steal some of the Apple TV's thunder.

It is built by long-term hardware collaborator Asus and is seen as a way of turning any TV into an Android TV - providing access to Google Play and services. And it even doubles as a Chromecast as part of its functionality.

There is also a separate game controller available that works much like the one for the Amazon Fire TV, providing more console-like controls for downloaded Android games.

READ: Nexus Player review: A first step in Android TV

Main apps

As it is an Android machine, running the latest version of the Android TV platform, there are hundreds of apps already available on the Google Play Store that will work with the device.

However, many of the streaming services you'd expect in the UK are currently incompatible with the player, including BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All 4 and My5. That will no doubt change over time, but seems strange considering the device is now available in the country.

It has no such worries when it comes to Google's own services, such as Play movies, shows, games and music. And the usual suspects for other services are available, including Netflix, Mubi and YouTube.

For

When it comes to gaming, it compares well with the Amazon Fire TV, in terms of the amount of titles available. Plus, as it runs on native Android, many more are being released all the time and you can buy them once and play them across multiple devices.

Chromecast functionality means you can stream from smartphone and tablet applications not currently supported by the Player itself, including BBC iPlayer, but you coluld always just fork out £30 for one of the dongles instead.

Against

Its biggest failing at present is the lack of support by some of the major services available in the UK. That will change over time no doubt, but it hamstrings the Nexus Player in comparison with devices that already have a decent stranglehold over the British market - Roku, for example.

Conclusion

If you're looking for a device to capitalise on the growing trend of Android as a smart TV platform, this is a reasonably cheap way to add the ability to an existing set. However, it comes with plenty of caveats and there are already better media streaming devices on the market that have been around longer. There's also Nvidia's own Android TV box, the Shield, that is more expensive but also much more capable.

As it is a Google product though, you can expect updates and support to change and morph as the product matures, so it might be worth considering somewhere down the line.

Price: £79.99

Pocket-lintAmazon Fire TV-12

What is it?

After enormous success with its 2014 model, Amazon updated its Fire TV set-top-box in 2015 with some key new features - not least 4K video streaming.

It's built on an Android base, much like Amazon's tablets and Fire OS, and similarly adds a personal touch to the operating system. The box is powered by a quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, plus has some interesting features including a microphone in the remote control to allow for voice operated search.

A separate, compatible games controller is available too (for £34.99) which illustrates that gaming is equally high on Amazon's agenda as movies, TV shows and other content.

It's worth pointing out though that this year's remodelled versions of the remote and game controller now connect through Wi-Fi rather than Bluetooth, so have lower latency.

READ: Amazon Fire TV 4K Ultra HD: Embracing a new age for entertainment

Main apps

Like with Apple TV and Apple content, the Amazon Fire TV immediately offers Amazon-based content as soon as you fire it up. It offers music, movies, TV shows - some to buy and some to rent - and the box is intrinsically linked with Amazon Prime Instant, the company's subscription service. However, other, rival services will also be available in the apps section, including Netflix, Sky News and YouTube. BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5 (previously known as Demand 5) are also available as catch-up services in the UK.

The big draw though, when compared with its closest competitors in box terms, is that the new version of the box has a dedicated section for 4K Ultra HD video. You can purchase or rent a healthy collection of higher resolution films to play through the box to a compatible television, or stream 4K versions of Amazon's own originals TV series at no extra cost if you are a Prime subscriber.

There are also plenty of games available on the platform too.

For

Amazon has followed up last year's models with a confident upgrade, one that is capable of so much.

It might lack slightly on the content app side in comparison to some, but there's plenty of Amazon's own content to access in the meantime.

The gaming aspect is an interesting one. Many have tried to enter the microconsole sphere of late and have, mostly, failed. However, as this is not the Fire TV's primary use, it is a nice side bonus.

The newest version of the box also has 802.11ac Wi-Fi for greater range, more stability and higher bandwidth than before. And a microSD card slot has been added to expand the storage for app downloads by up to a further 128GB (from the initial 8GB).

But it is still the 4K video output that is the headline positive feature, of course.

Against

Like with its Fire tablets, the operating system of Fire TV is closed and task specific. That might put off some, but it's hardly original amongst the company here. You also might not fancy investing all your money in Amazon products, so that would dampen its use somewhat for you. 

Conclusion

Amazon entered the market with a bang and has returned with a very impressive device as a follow up. The box is, on paper and in the flesh, a powerful proposition. It's great if you are a keen Amazon purchaser or Amazon Prime Instant subscriber, and even better if you love dabbling with casual games too.

The retailer has also kept it cheap enough to compete directly with Roku, yet also offers 4K video. Compelling.

Price: £35

Pocket-lintAmazon Fire TV Stick-2

What is it?

Amazon followed up its original Fire TV with a cheaper, more discreet alternative. The Fire TV Stick isn't as powerful as the main set-top-box, featuring a dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM, but it does technically out perform other HDMI dongles on the market, such as the Roku Streaming Stick.

READ: Amazon Fire TV Stick review: Stick it to 'em

Main apps

Again, like the Fire TV box, the stick version is mainly centred on the Amazon Prime experience, with Prime Instant Video, Amazon Music and a link-up to images stored on the Amazon Cloud being at the forefront.

All other apps are available on the stick too, save for some of the more graphically intensive games, which require the beefier processor.

That means Netflix, BBC iPlayer, My5, Plex - for those with home stored content they want to stream - and many more are available on the store.

IITV Hub and All 4 have also been added in recent times.

For

Bar 4K video, just about everything the Fire TV STB can do the Fire TV Stick can too. It's just not as quick in operation. It does have dual-band Wi-Fi though, so will connect over a greater distance to the Chromecast, say, and be more stable.

If you want to play games, the Fire TV Stick comes with Bluetooth so will connect to the Amazon Game Controller or another Bluetooth-enabled joypad. And the remote doesn't require line-of-sight, which is obviously really as the stick will invariably be hidden from sight.

It is capable of 1080p output with 7.1 audio through the HDMI. And you can even take it on holiday with you as Amazon has added a cunning way for you to input room and log-in details for connection to hotel Wi-Fi.

Against

To keep the cost down, the remote that comes with the Fire TV Stick is more bare bones than the one with the larger unit. It doesn't therefore have voice search capability as there is no microphone. Those who do want to utilise that feature can use a dedicated Fire TV remote app on their iPhone, Fire Phone or Android device.

Alternatively, you can buy an optional remote with the mic for an additional £25. Or even choose a slightly pricier version of the Fire TV Stick that comes with the more fully-featured remote in the box.

It is still best served when coupled with an Amazon Prime subscription.

Conclusion

Amazon came to the dongle market at an opportune point. It had hindsight on its side so introduced a direct rival to Chromecast and the Roku Streaming Stick that offered better tech inside to ensure a smoother experience. Both of its rivals have improved recently, but the Fire TV Stick is still incredibly useful for its price.

Its price is also very attractive.

Price: £99.99

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What is it?

The Roku 3 is Roku's top-end streaming box, but there are others in the range for a variety of prices, each with slightly fewer features or technical specifications.

Like the Apple TV and Fire TV, it offers 1080p output through HDMI, but has access to a much larger library of applications, some very useful, many very niche.

The Roku 3 comes with a wireless remote control that is not IR dependant so can be used anywhere and at any angle. It also has motion sensors like a Wii console remote and can double as a basic gamepad. And, in the US at present, a new controller even has voice control functionality, much like the Amazon Fire TV and new Apple TV.

READ: Roku 3 review (2015): Voice-controlled set-top box smarts

Main apps

There are more than 1,700 apps (called channels) available through Roku's Channel Store, many free but some will cost - especially games. BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and My5 (Demand 5) are present, completing the catch-up foursome. There is an app for Netflix and, more recently added, Amazon Instant Video.

Because BSkyB is one of Roku's investors, Now TV has a fully-functioning application on the box that gives you access to the entertainment, movie and sports packages. The Sky Store app adds access to day-and-date releases for purchase or rental. Or, if you are a regular Android user, you can now access your Google Play account on Roku boxes to stream bought or rented movies and TV shows. Even if you are not, you can still sign up for an account.

Roku also gives access to YouTube, Vimeo and Flixster for the more casual video watcher. The latter gives access to your UltraViolet digital film library if you've been collecting vouchers from Blu-rays.

For

Roku has an excellent name around the tech industry and home streaming fans alike. Its boxes are simple to understand and install and the wealth of content available from the off is quite staggering.

The Roku 3 also has apps that can stream media from your home network servers, including Plex. A paid-for Dropbox app will even let you access your cloud files and pictures in a similar way to Apple's iCloud access.

The Roku 3's remote control is excellent. You don't have to point it at the box to use it, meaning you can tuck the Roku device away out of sight (not that it's that large anyway), and because it doubles as a motion controller and gamepad, you can use it to play titles such as Angry Birds on the big screen. It also features a headphone port on the side, which allows you to listen to shows and movies through a headset remotely and wirelessly.

And the US version, which will hopefully come to the UK, also has voice control, which works well.

The box is capable of outputting up to 1080p visuals and has dual-band Wi-Fi as well as an Ethernet port for direct connection - handy if you plan to use it in a bedroom, far from your wired internet connection.

Like Google's Chromecast, you can cast Netflix and YouTube content from within their respective smartphone apps straight to the TV.

Against

There are a few app omissions, and many of the 1,700 plus downloadable channels are junk, to be honest.

The user interface is either basic and sparse or simple to use, depending on your point of view, and there are quite a lot of gaps in its file compatibility for native media sharing. However, the Plex app will stream other file types (if you have a system set-up to take advantage of it or a Plex server running on a computer), and some rivals don't even offer the option in the first place.

Conclusion

Roku is an excellent platform if you don't want to lock your content or subscriptions to just one or two places. The Roku 3 box is the daddy of the range, but should you not need the wireless remote come gamepad, or super fast processor and are looking for something more basic, the Roku 2 is priced at £69.99 at the loss of some features.

Check out roku.com for information on those devices. They each offer just as much in the way of movie and TV show streaming. The Roku Streaming Stick too.

Price: £49.99

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What is it?

Like the Roku 3 and the other members of the family, the Roku Streaming Stick gives access to the vast library of applications on the Roku store, most of which are free to download. However, it more resembles the first generation Google Chromecast or Fire TV Stick in shape and size. Rather than a set-top-box, it is a dongle-like device that fits into a HDMI port and therefore out of sight.

It also comes with a remote control (that's actually bigger than the device itself), although it's not the wireless motion controller the Roku 3 uses. It still uses wireless technology other than IR though - after all, with it tucked behind a telly, you don't get line of sight.

READ: Roku Streaming Stick review

Main apps

Like the Roku 3, the Streaming Stick has access to hundreds of apps, including the solid line-up of main movie and streaming services.

Amazon Prime Instant Video has recently been added, and you also get Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD, My5 (Demand 5) and the others mentioned for the device's stablemate above.

Without the games control aspect of the remote though, it is not compatible with the games titles, such as Angry Birds.

For

Its stealth design means that a flatscreen can be turned into a smart TV without the need for extra wires or fuss.

It is capable of outputting up to 1080p video and has dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity like its larger cousin (although there is no wired internet connection, so you'll need to be in range of a decent wireless signal).

Like all Roku products, it is simple to set up and get working within minutes. And if you download a dedicated application for your smartphone, you can streaming your video, music and picture files to the stick, in similar fashion to Airplay.

Against

The lack of an Ethernet connection might be a problem for some, especially those who don't have a great Wi-Fi signal throughout the house.

It is sadly not completely wire-free as it needs to be powered through USB. You will either need to plug it into the wall via an included power adapter or, if your TV has a powered USB port, you can hook it up to that to keep cables discrete.

Like the Roku 3, some of the missing apps leave holes in what you can watch - although there is so much else you might not care.

Conclusion

This isn't the first time that Roku has offered a Streaming Stick solution. However, the last one used a specific type of port that is not available on a vast number of sets globally. The HDMI version is ideal therefore.

It has also been updated more recently, with a quad-core processor that makes it much more smooth to use. It certainly offers an ideal way to turn a TV into a smart one without much fuss. Ideal for a bedroom perhaps.

Price: £14.99

Pocket-lintIMG_9164

What is it?

Refreshed last year, the latest Now TV box is made by Roku and is therefore similar in size and style to that manufacturer's own-branded devices. Its purpose is to present Sky's Now TV content in as easy a way as possible for those who don't already own a home entertainment device capable of accessing the service.

It accesses all of the Now TV movies, TV channels and sport, but since its original launch, it has effectively become a basic version of the Roku box service, although the user interface is completely different. A number of key apps and services are included on the box as well as Sky's own channels and catch-up.

READ: New Now TV Box (2015) arrives, we get watching the latest movies, TV and sport

Main apps

Naturally, like the first generation device, the 2015 Now TV box's raison d'être is to provide access to Now TV - Sky's streaming service that offers three separate subscription or pay models for movies, entertainment and sports.

But since launch it has also added apps for BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD, My5 (Demand 5), Vimeo, YouTube, Flixster and other streaming services. There is also access to the Sky Store to rent or buy modern day-and-date films as they are released on Blu-ray and DVD. All of these you can access and use, even if you don't subscribe to any of the Now TV packages.

For

The main selling point of the Now TV box is clearly its price. At £14.99 it undercuts all rivals dramatically. You can buy it from £24.99 as well, which includes money saving bundles for sports, entertainment or movies access, but for just fifteen quid you actually get so much included.

It connects to your network through Wi-Fi or Ethernet (a recent addition), and is very simple to set up. The user interface design is fresh and new, but it could be considered a very entry-level Roku box in many ways.

The latest box now also includes USB and microSD card slots too, to playback local media files.

Against

There are a few caveats to the price of the Now TV box. For a start, the Now TV service only offers 720p video at present and stereo audio, even though the newer box is capable of 1080p. That might change in future, according to Sky staff posting on its dedicated forums, but this puts it at a disadvantage when compared to many rival devices.

Also, because this is a box designed to encourage you to take out a subscription to the Now TV streaming packages, it is unlikely to ever offer direct paid-for rivals, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Wuaki.tv or others.

Services that Sky doesn't offer, such as music streaming, are catered for however. At present that includes a Spotify app and TuneIn Radio for internet radio stations.

Conclusion

Some might say that with the Now TV box you get what you pay for. It's own content is only 720p and stereo and the box has a limited library of apps available for it compared to others, but we would argue that you get far more for your money that you can rightly expect.

Also, with the potential to output 1080p video and 7.1 surround sound, there is every likelihood that the content will end up matching the technical specifications. And it cannot be denied that this is a cheap way to ensure you are up to speed with the streaming revolution. As a bedroom machine, it is quite simply perfect. 

Price: £30

Pocket-lintChromecast 2

What is it?

Google updated its two-year-old first Chromecast with a second-generation device that offers several new features and a different form factor, but in essence it works the same way. Like the Roku Streaming Stick and Fire TV Stick, Google's Chromecast device is a dongle that plugs directly into a HDMI port on your TV.

It's not quite a movie and TV show streaming solution like many of the others listed here. Instead, it works with compatible apps you have on your smartphone or tablet and plays their video or music content on a larger screen. Unlike Apple TV though, that's not done by mirroring a device, using the processing power of the phone or tablet, instead the Chromecast pulls the content from the internet itself. It effectively turns your mobile device into a remote control.

READ: Chromecast 2 review: Make any TV smart, effortlessly

Main apps

There are more apps becoming compatible with Chromecast all the time. And there will be even more now that the second-gen device has been launched.

It is capable of playing Netflix content, YouTube and any Google Play movies, TV shows or music you might have bought. Android, iPhone and iPad apps that have also added support include BBC iPlayer, BT Sport, Now TV, Blinkbox, Wuaki.tv, Deezer and there are plenty of others too.

Spotify is now part of the mix too. And owners of the previous Chromecast can also now use the music streaming service.

Plex support also means you can stream your own content through a computer too.

Gaming has also been added to the new model, with certain games having the ability to Cast the action to the device and then onto the big screen. The list of titles will expand as the feature develops, but Angry Birds Go is one of the biggest name games already featuring support.

For

Google Chromecast is cheap and ridiculously simple to use. You just tell the specific app to send the pictures to the device and the rest is done for you.

As the stream is taken by the Chromecast over the internet, not from your phone or tablet, you can carry on using your mobile device as normal.

Chromecast may be a Google product, but it also works with iPhone, iPod touch and iPad as well as Android and computers running Chrome. You can even cast a tab through the Google browser to your big screen, so can watch online video from websites too. That makes up for the shortfall of supported apps.

Along with the new model, Google also released a new version of the Chromecast app with a couple of interesting new features. The best is probably the "what's on" feature that highlights shows and movies that are on Chromecast-enabled apps installed on your device. 

Against

Even though app support is growing rapidly, there are still some glaring holes, especially with British broadcasters and content delivery services.

The second-gen Chromecast has solved the problem for owners who wall-mount their sets, as it no longer sticks out the back and has a flexible USB cable built-in, but it does still require separate power.

And not having its own user interface, you'll always need a phone, tablet or computer to hand to operate it.

Conclusion

Google's Chromecast is cheap - remarkably so - and interesting. It is the most simple solution for getting Google Play content onto a big screen TV and is a great alternative to Apple Airplay. It does have an interesting, more recent rival in the Amazon Fire TV Stick but the new version has enough oomph to work well for the price.

Price: From £129

Pocket-lintUntitled-1 copy

What is it?

After sticking with the last generation for three years, Apple finally developed a new Apple TV box that is more powerful, has a touchscreen remote control with Siri voice recognition, and access to its own App Store to purchase and download tvOS apps based on their iOS equivalents.

Like the previous version (above), which is also still available to buy, it provides access to Apple movies, TV shows and music bought or rented through iTunes, plus the Apple Music streaming service. And it can search for content across multiple services through the one search bar, bringing up results no matter the source.

READ: Apple TV review: Packed with potential

Main apps

There is already an impressive line-up of applications and games to download and enjoy - many of them free. There are plenty of big name services available, including Flickr and Airbnb.

More importantly though, in video streaming terms, Netflix and Now TV apps are available already - just like on the last Apple TV. TVPlayer and iBox TV UK are present to watch British TV channels through the device. And there are several home media streaming apps, including Plex and Infuse.

There's no announcement on Amazon Prime Instant Video yet. And while there is a BBC iPlayer app on the platform, we're still awaiting ITV Hub, My5 and All 4. In the meantime, you can always stream content through the iPad or iPhone equivalent apps to the box thanks to Airplay.

Like Amazon Fire TV and the Nvidia Shield Android TV, another major aspect to the Apple TV is that it doubles as a great casual games console too. There are plenty of titles already available, some of which almost identical to their dedicated console counterparts, such as Skylanders Superchargers and Guitar Hero Live.

READ: Best Apple TV games: What to play first

Having more power under the hood gives the new Apple TV more oomph to move quicker and offer more features. You can use voice search contextually, for example, by asking the box to filter movies by a genre and then a certain star by saying things like, "Siri find action movies" and then "only those that star Roger Moore as James Bond".

The remote control is also a motion controller, which might make family gaming a little more fun without the need for a full console. Plus, the touchscreen is a great new addition.

It also still performs many of the other functions its predecessor is capable of, including Apple Airplay to stream iPhone and iPad content to the box. Although this time it has better Wi-Fi built in (up to 802.11ac) so should have better range and attain better data speeds on a home network.

Against

There are few main issues with the new Apple TV, although we are disappointed that Apple didn't implement 4K video streaming from launch.

That might be included somewhere down the line (not at 60fps or with HDR thanks to the more restrictive HDMI 1.4 output) but it can only output 1080p at present. Sound is better served though, with Dolby Digital 7.1 support.

Even without 4K, the new Apple TV is an attractive prospect. The inclusion of an actual App Store is a much-needed improvement, although only time will tell whether it will become as jam packed with useful applications as Apple's other devices.

It's worth talking about the price though, with the 32GB model weighing in at just shy of £130. You get the remote in the box, but if you want to use it as a games console substitute you'll also need to buy a third-party Bluetooth controller. And you don't even get a HDMI cable with it - although you can pick one up for around a quid these days.

We suspect those who are already happy within the Apple ecosystem will get the most from it, considering it taps into iCloud, Apple Music and other existing iTunes content. We especially like that you don't have to repurchase games if you have already bought them for iPhone or iPad.

Price: From £150 (including game controller)

Pocket-lintShield Android TV-7

What is it?

Available with the Shield controller included in the bundle, the Shield TV box offers a similar Android TV experience to the Nexus Player, but with much more firepower under the hood so is potentially faster and more powerful than anything else on the market. It is also capable of outputting 4K video in 60 frames per second (soon to include HDR too).

In addition, it utilises an Nvidia chipset that is very capable with gaming, so has a stack of optimisation abilities for games that none of the other rival boxes can match.

READ: Nvidia Shield Android TV review: 4K and gaming meet in powerhouse box

Main apps

Like with the Nexus Player from Google - and modern Android TV sets from Sony and Philips - the Nvidia set-top-box has access to the Google Play content, including its app store, a dedicated app for video and one for music. Google's YouTube service is also represented too, which is important as it's one of the sources for 4K content.

It also comes with Plex and Netflix pre-installed, with the latter capable of Ultra HD streaming.

There are also Nvidia dedicated apps for its different game services, such as the enhanced versions of Android games that require the box's beefier graphical specs to run, the ability to stream games from a local PC, and the firm's own cloud gaming service, GeForce Now.

Thanks to the Google Play Store, hundreds of other apps are available too, including the much-loved free media streaming app Kobi. Disney's streaming service Disney Life has recently launched for it, as too has Twitch.

For

As well as bundle a Shield game controller in the box, which shows exactly where Nvidia's heart lies, the biggest advantage the Shield Android TV has over nigh-on every other competitor here lies in its chipset. It runs on an Nvidia Tegra X1 processor with a 256-core GPU and 3GB of RAM.

Not only does that ensure that gaming is almost console level, but it can output 4K Ultra HD video at 60fps as capably as most can handle 720p or 1080p. It also has a HDMI 2.0 output too - another thing few others sport. It is soon to add HDR support for services that carry it too.

There are two USB 3.0 ports on the device, so external hardware can be added to expand the storage (16GB is available in the starter model), the same can be said through the microSD card slot. However, the USB ports are also capable of accepting any other USB device, such as a keyboard and mouse, or even a wired Xbox 360 controller.

It is also one of the only set-top-boxes certified by Netflix for 4K output. And although there are plenty of apps missing, it can also double as a Google Chromecast, so you can use an Android or iOS device to send other content to it, even if it doesn't support those apps naturally.

Against

In design terms, the Shield TV is very gamer-ish. It looks best standing up when attached to an optional Shield Stand, and its glowing green LED lighting makes it look like a miniature gaming PC. It can't therefore hide quite so comfortably as one of its peers.

That said though, it's still svelte, so if you have an AV cabinet it's easy enough to tuck away.

The Shield Remote control is also an optional extra, so will cost you an additional £40.

Conclusion

There's little doubt that of all the streaming boxes available on the market right now, the Shield TV is the most powerful and most capable. It is the only box currently on the market to offer 4K video at 60 frames per second, which is only available through YouTube at present but there are plenty of codecs on board to cope with other services when they launch.

It is also ideally placed to rule the roost when it comes to casual gaming - something both Apple and Amazon are keen to exploit too. The included controller works on Wi-Fi Direct so has little to no latency and the graphics processor is geared up exactly for games.

If you are looking for something a little more powerful it's definitely worth considering stretching your budget a bit further.

If you think we've missed one or more dedicated movie streaming boxes off the list, please let us know in the comments below. We will be updating this feature as and when we discover new devices that can be added.