In this update, the Fire TV Stick 4K has been replaced by the newly launched Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen), which we reviewed in April 2021. The most powerful Fire TV device in the range, the Fire TV Cube adds the capabilities of Echo speakers for hands-free Alexa voice assistance. The Fire TV Stick 4K is, of course, still an excellent choice, particularly if you’re looking for a more affordable 4K streaming device.
A lot of people might be happy with watching regular TV programming using a set-top box, and indeed the quality of content on most TV channels is much better today than it was a few years ago. Movies, sports, music and the news are all there, but the biggest problem with this method of accessing content remains the schedule. You need to tune in at the right time, or make do with whatever is playing when you do tune in.
However, many are now opting for a more convenient way to watch video content — streaming. The easiest way to access video content is through an app on your smartphone, which can either use mobile data or connect to Wi-Fi to access the content you want. But the biggest issue with that is the screen —it’s too small and doesn’t make for a great viewing experience.
That’s where streaming devices come in. These small gadgets only need power and a Wi-Fi connection to fetch online content from free and premium streaming services, letting you access a massive catalogue of quality video content that includes TV shows and movies, while enjoying the viewing experience on your big-screen TV.
Why should you buy a streaming device?
The best reason to buy a streaming device is to enjoy on the big screen the wide variety of content on offer on streaming services right now. While a lot of really good TV shows and movies can be viewed on traditional cable or DTH TV, some of the best new TV shows are being released by streaming services that double-up as production houses; shows such as Narcos, the innovate interactive film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and The Grand Tour, as well as movies such as Bird Box and Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle were released exclusively on streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
Furthermore, popular shows such as Game of Thrones can be watched first on streaming services, even before they are aired on TV in our country. Apart from these, there are also numerous other popular shows and movies that are available to watch on-demand on streaming services, so you can choose when to watch whatever you want to watch. The shutting of movie theatres due to the Covid-19 pandemic has also seen major releases such as Gulabo Sitabo go straight to streaming platforms.
You can even pause when you need a break, or watch an entire series in one go rather than wait and watch an episode every week. The idea of streaming suits anyone with a busy and unpredictable lifestyle.
Streaming devices only need a good Internet connection at home and the right TV to make the most of the features of whatever device you buy. If you have a 4K HDR TV, it would make sense to opt for a device that supports 4K streaming. It’s also worth picking your device based on the streaming services you intend to access; make sure the services you use most often have proper apps on the streaming device you pick.
The best streaming device: Amazon Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen)
Amazon’s most powerful streaming device yet, the Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen) has only recently been launched in India, and is unique for a big reason – hands-free Alexa voice assistance. Combining the capabilities of a Fire TV streaming device and an Echo smart speaker, the Amazon Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen) lets you stream in 4K HDR, and also control the experience and connected device using only your voice.
The Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen) supports the Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos formats for high dynamic range and sound encoding respectively, and runs the updated Fire TV user interface. The streaming device supports all major apps, including Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, YouTube, and Apple TV. While Amazon’s own Prime Video tends to be highlighted on the user interface, it’s easy and convenient to access content from various other services as well, with excellent apps available for the interface.
Priced at Rs. 12,999, the Amazon Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen) is quite expensive, and costs considerably more than the Rs. 5,999 Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. The latter largely has the same capabilities when it comes to core functionality, also supporting 4K streaming, as well as Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.
However, the Fire TV Cube is considerably more powerful in terms of the hardware, and hands-free voice assistance from Amazon’s Alexa makes this worth it for power users. The hands-free functionality works well, and can be used for a number of purposes, including controlling the TV or home entertainment setup.
Although you can connect it to just about any television and enjoy the benefits, the Amazon Fire TV Cube (2nd Gen) is best used with a high-end home entertainment setup that includes a soundbar, or AV receiver and multi-speaker system. You can use the device to not only add hands-free voice capabilities to your existing home entertainment setup, but also as a capable streaming source device that can send the best possible signal to your system.
If you don’t have a 4K or HDR TV, you might prefer the Amazon Fire TV Stick (3rd Gen). It’s considerably more affordable than the 4K version at Rs. 3,999, and was launched in late 2020 with new hardware, and now sports the new Fire TV UI. While the device obviously does not support Ultra-HD streaming like the 4K version, this should be fine as long as you’re using it with a full-HD television.
If you’re looking to save a bit more money, the Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite is priced at Rs. 2,999, and offers most of the capabilities of the Fire TV Stick (3rd Gen) including full-HD streaming and access to all of the apps and services available on the Fire TV UI. Furthermore, the Fire TV Stick range now supports Miracast screen mirroring too.
Runner-up: Apple TV 4K
Many argue that the Apple TV range performs better than the Amazon Fire TV Stick range, and we tend to agree. Picture quality, stability and smoothness of the interface are superior on the Apple TV in our opinion, but the high price of the Apple TV range is what brings it down to runner-up status. The Apple TV 4K is priced at Rs. 15,900 for the 32GB version, going up to Rs. 17,900 for the 64GB version, making it close to thrice the price of the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K.
If you have other Apple devices, this pricing premium could be worth it for you. With support for Airplay, you can quickly and smoothly mirror your Mac or iOS device’s screen on your TV using the Apple TV. Furthermore, with the Apple TV 4K, you can access 4K and HDR content from providers that support it, which includes iTunes Movies, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in India. If you depend on YouTube, the Apple TV range does have an official app; 4K streaming isn’t supported, though.
Others apps are supported as well, including Hotstar, JioCinema, The Washington Post, NDTV, Sony Liv and Zee5, among others. Like the Fire TV Stick, you can also play games on the Apple TV, with a bigger and better catalogue of games available as compared to the Fire TV Stick. And just as the Fire TV Stick lets you stream music from Amazon Prime Music, the Apple TV lets you access your Apple Music subscription to stream audio tracks.
If you don’t have a 4K TV, you can also opt for the Rs. 12,900 Apple TV 4th Gen, which streams at up to full-HD resolution and offers largely the same experience as the 4K variant. However, the general high pricing of the product range makes the Apple TV ideal only if you are highly invested in the Apple ecosystem and don’t mind spending a bit more on the device itself.
Also consider: Xiaomi Mi Box 4K and Mi TV Stick
We’ve seen a bunch of Android TV-powered streaming devices launch in recent months, the best of which is the Xiaomi Mi Box 4K. This Rs. 3,499 streaming device plugs into an HDMI port on your TV and runs Android TV 9 Pie, giving you access to various apps and games from the Google Play store on the big screen. Unlike Google’s own Chromecast series, this is a standalone streamer that functions independently and is controlled using its own remote; you don’t need to use a smartphone or tablet as a controller.
If you want something a bit more affordable, smaller, and better suited to full-HD televisions, the Mi TV Stick is a worthwhile device. Priced at Rs. 2,799, the Mi TV Stick tops out at full-HD resolution, and is ideal if you have a smaller television. Like the Mi Box 4K, it runs Android TV 9 Pie and gives you access to apps and games in the Google Play store.
Most popular streaming services are accessible through the Mi Box 4K and Mi TV Stick, with 4K and HDR content supported only on the former. Both are affordable and capable devices that not only serve to make a dumb TV smart, but can also improve the smart TV experience if your TV doesn’t support certain apps or is no longer receiving firmware updates. Priced at Rs. 3,499 and Rs. 2,799 respectively, the Mi Box 4K and Mi TV Stick are both great ways to get started with streaming.
How we picked the best streaming device
There aren’t too many streaming devices available in India, with the three options above being the only noteworthy devices that you can officially buy in the country. Between these options, most popular streaming services are available through official apps or compatibility.
We’ve also extensively used these products ourselves, and have crafted our recommendations based on our experiences with the products and what we believe are the best in terms of value-for-money and functionality.
Alternatives to these streaming devices
There are various streaming devices available, with many of the most affordable options essentially enabling screen mirroring from smartphones or computers. If you have the option to shop outside India, options such as the Roku range or NVIDIA Shield TV might also be worth considering.
Recent months have seen the launch of affordable compact streaming devices such as the MarQ by Flipkart Turbostream and Airtel XStream Stick. Both of these devices run on Android TV, with the Airtel device further offering access to the Airtel XStream platform. Such devices will come in handy if you don’t have a smart TV, or aren’t very happy with the smart interface of your existing TV.
You can also use a gaming console to stream movies and TV shows, with modern consoles such as the Sony PlayStation 5 and Microsoft Xbox Series X supporting 4K HDR and dedicated apps for streaming services.
You can also buy a smart TV with a good operating system such as Android TV or Fire TV, and not bother with a streaming device at all.Finally, using an HDMI cable to connect your laptop or computer to your TV is the most affordable and arguably easiest way to add smarts to the big screen. You can simply load up content through dedicated apps or a browser on your laptop, and watch it on your TV.
PS5 vs Xbox Series X: Which is the best “next-gen” console in India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.