Apple has finally, after three years, announced a replacement Apple TV set-top-box and there has been a lot of interest from multiple sectors of the entertainment industry. And Amazon is also following up its successful Fire TV box with a new model.
However, both join a long list of media streaming devices that are already available and simply add a couple more for consumers to rub their chins over, making a considered purchase even harder.
Certainly, their popularity is at a peak. The rise in the number of media streaming services has been scarily rapid in the last couple of years. There are now so many ways to have movies and TV shows delivered to your home, at a variety of subscriptions and fees, that you could never be found wanting for something to watch.
Smart TVs most often provide an easy solution, featuring apps for all the major services, as do Blu-ray players, TV set-top boxes and games consoles. Plus there's always the old practice of hooking up your laptop to a telly. But what if you have none of these, or don't fancy the fuss? What else can you do to ensure you can watch Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Now TV, BBC iPlayer and the other major content providers?
Well, as long as you have a broadband internet connection capable of over 2Mbps speeds you could always invest in a dedicated media streaming box. And they won't even cost you the earth.
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. You can effectively turn your dumb TV into a smart one. And these are the contenders you should consider.
New Apple TV
Price: From $149 (UK price TBC)
What is it?
After three years after the last generation, Apple has finally developed a new Apple TV box that is more powerful, has a new 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 (below) that 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.
It is impossible to list all of the apps that will be available in time for the new Apple TV's actual launch in October, but there will be shopping apps like Gilt (designer clothes for women), Airbnb and many other non-video streaming apps and services.
In video streaming terms, everything already on Apple TV, including Netflix, HBO Go (in the US), Now TV (in the UK) is tipped to be transferred across. There's no announcement on Amazon Prime Instant Video yet though.
But perhaps the biggest inclusion is that of games applications. Guitar Hero Live, Skylanders Superchargers and more are coming and, in many cases, will be fully-fledged versions of their console equivalents.
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 far better inclusion than we've had before.
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.
As the box is yet to launch and we're yet to test it fully, it's hard to say anything negative about the new Apple TV at present, although we are disappointed that Apple hasn't implemented 4K video streaming from launch.
That might be included somewhere down the line (not at 60fps or with HDR thanks to the HDMI 1.4 output) but to begin with it is only promising 1080p. Sound is better though, with Dolby Digital 7.1 support.
We eagerly await proper playtime with the new Apple TV but it does look promising. 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 also worth noting about the price though, as we are still waiting for confirmation from Apple on UK pricing. As things stand, the 32GB model is under £100 as its $149 price tag is around £96 at today's exchange rate. You might find yourself forking out a little more when it is priced over here however.
Apple TV (2012)
What is it?
Even though Apple has now announced a new version of its set-top-box, it is keeping the current model in its line-up at the cut down price announced recently.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 almost here, you might consider holding on.
Google Nexus Player
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.
As it is an Android machine, running a version of Lollipop, 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, All4 and Demand 5. 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.
When it comes to gaming, there is a much bigger selection of games that can be played through the Nexus Player than on Amazon Fire TV, for example. 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.
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.
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.
Amazon Fire TV
What is it?
After enormous success with last year's model, Amazon has updated its Fire TV set-top-box for 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.
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 and 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.
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 and have, mostly, failed. However, as this is not the Fire TV's primary use, it is a nice side bonus.
The newer 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.
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 nullify its use somewhat for you.
It will be interesting to see if Amazon manages to get the catch-up and on demand services from the other major broadcasters (ITV and Channel 4) on board, especially as they are absent from Apple TV. However, in that case at least you can stream content from the terrestrial broadcasters' iPhone and iPad apps over AirPlay. Not so with the Amazon box.
You can Miracast from an Android device however, so that might be a solution for some.
Amazon entered the market with a bang last time out and has returned with a very impressive device this year too. 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.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
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 and Google Chromecast.
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, Plex - for those with home stored content they want to stream - and many more are available on the store. ITV Player and 4oD are still noticeable by their absence.
Bar 4K video, just about everything the Fire TV STB can do the Fire TV Stick can too. It's not as quick in operation, but still trounces the Chromecast and Roku Streaming Stick thanks to having much higher spec processing on board. It also has dual-band Wi-Fi, 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.
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, they 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.
Amazon has come to the dongle market at an opportune point. It has hindsight on its side so has introduced a direct rival to Chromecast and the Roku Streaming Stick that offers better tech inside to ensure a smoother experience all round.
Its price is also very attractive.
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 forthcoming new Apple TV.
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 Demand 5 are present, completing the catch-up foursome. There is an app for Netflix, but Amazon Prime Instant Video is absent.
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.
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.
Unlike Apple TV, the Roku 3 also has apps that can stream media from your home network servers, including Plex. You don't need to have iTunes installed on a PC - or even a PC. 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 come to the UK soon too, 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.
There are a few app omissions, and many of the downloadable channels are junk, to be honest.
The user interface is either basic and sparce 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.
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.
Roku Streaming Stick
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 a 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.
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 is missing again, but you do get Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ITVE Player, 4oD, 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.
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.
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.
It runs on a single-core processor, so is slower to use than some of the Roku devices at the top end of the scale, the Fire TV Stick too.
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.
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 new HDMI version is ideal therefore.
It might not be as quick in operation as the Roku 3, thanks to a slightly less powerful processor, but it still offers an ideal way to turn a TV into a smart one without much fuss. Ideal for a bedroom perhaps.
What is it?
Recently refreshed, the new 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, even presenting the main user interface in similar fashion. A number of key apps, therefore, are included on the box as well as the Now TV service.
Naturally, like the first generation device, the new 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, 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.
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 for £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 similar to Roku, so it could be considered a very entry-level Roku box in many ways.
The new box now also includes USB and microSD card slots too, to playback local media files.
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.
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.
Google Chromecast (2015)
What is it?
Google has 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.
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.
At its launch event, it was also announced that Spotify has finally joined 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.
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 has 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.
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.
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.
And for those on a slightly higher budget...
Nvidia Shield Android TV
Price: $199.99 (UK price TBC - also includes game controller)
What is it?
Already available in the States and expected to come to Europe soon, 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.
In addition, it utilises an Nvidia chipset that is very capable with gaming, so has a stack of abilities with gaming that none of the other rival boxes can match.
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.
The US edition 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, Grid.
Thanks to the Google Play Store, hundreds of other apps are available too, including the much-loved free media streaming app Kobi.
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.
There are two USB 3.0 ports on the device too, 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.
Strangely, as an entertainment device primarily, a remote control is just an optional extra. Yes, you get a game controller and can use your phone or tablet to control the box, but as an Apple TV or Fire TV rival, you'd expect the remote to come packaged. Instead, you have to shell out an additional $49.99 (£32) for one.
One way around that is that the box can also be set to accept HDMI CEC commands, so you can have your conventional TV or amplifier remote to also control the box.
In design terms, the Shield TV is also 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.
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 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.