Best TV Boxes: Apple TV vs Amazon Fire TV vs Roku vs the rest

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So which are the best TV boxes money can buy?

The majority of the market’s major names in the set-top boxes industry have busied themselves in upgrading their digital media devices this year.

What does that mean for the end user?

It means that the user might as well go out in the market and find a ‘need’ to refresh his/her set-top box.

And if a given user is going to do that then it makes all the sense in the world to have a refresher on which 4K media streaming devices are the best in the world right now.

More importantly though, which are the best TV boxes for the user and his/her needs.

Here is Security Gladiators very briefly (relatively speaking) and to-the-point guide on which are the best TV box devices currently available in the market today.

Moreover, we’ll also talk about how should users go about telling the differences between different TV boxes.

Now, for the sake of conciseness and brevity, Security Gladiators would not be giving the reader an exhaustive list of each and every single application that the user may have the option of installing on TV boxes and such devices.

Hence, readers should assume that they can get the likes of,

  • Showtime
  • HBO
  • Plex
  • YouTube
  • Hulu
  • Netflix
  • Any other common online video-playing app that one can install of such devices

on their devices.

That is, until we tell the user something otherwise.

So instead of talking about which apps work for which TV boxes, we’re going to focus on a few (rather handful) of such devices and the key differences in the app and software selections.

We’ll do that for each gadget until we reach the end of this guide.

Apart from that, we’ll also be going to make the decision of sticking to the very premium and top-end TV box devices in each given line (examples include, Roku and Fire TV).

However, we will briefly mention other TV boxes along with these.

Things have changed a ton since the early days of TV boxes.

Now, users have lots of choices when it comes to picking out the best TV box in the market.

Instead, now there are so many good set-top boxes that it isn’t about the box itself anymore.

More than ever before, users now to think harder about the kit that they use instead of the box that they buy.

Moreover, users also have to think about the ecosystem that they may have already invested in a lot.

Let’s not forget the modern digital assistants that many users consider as their best friends.

Functions and features are now more or less comparable.

There are caveats though but they are few in number.

Hence, users need to take a deeper look at the big picture (if that makes sense).

With that out of the way, let’s get to our list of best TV boxes that online consumers can buy at the moment.

Apple TV 4K

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The Apple TV 4K TV box costs around $180 for the version that comes with 32GB of storage.

For the 64 GB storage version, one has to shell out $200.

Key points on hardware specifications

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the key hardware features.

The latest version of Apple TV supports HDR playback and 4K video.

Not only that, it also has the ability to work with the very immersive Dolby Atmos audio standard.

Users of Apple TV have the option of controlling the TV box device with the company’s digital assistant Siri.

Siri can help users to utilize and manage their device more effectively..

Moreover, the digital assistant is also compatible with the company’s Apple Homekit offering.

Users who want to beam premium content to Apple HomeKit can do with the help of Apple AirPlay.

Key points on software features.

Now, let’s move to some of the key software features.

Users who have a desire to get their iTunes shows and movies up there on the big screen with the help of a set-top box should know that the Apple TV box is perhaps the only smart box that has the ability to do that.

Of course, some users would know how to make use of the workaround that we call MoviesAnywhere, but not considering that, Apple TV is about as good as it gets to viewing iTunes content on a big TV screen.

That also means another thing.

It means that the Apple TV 4K box is the one single box available in the market today which can cover anything and everything from Amazon, Google, Apple and the rest.

Our research shows that Apple TV 4k can work pretty seamlessly with various other Apple services and products such as Apple Music.

That is pretty unlike (almost) every other TV box streaming device.

We have also come to know that Apple TV 4k offers users the absolute best specs in a given device like a TV box.

And that too by a long way.

The only other device that comes close to offering similar specs in this form is perhaps Nvidia Shield.

For the end user, all of Apple TV 4K specs mean that the device can offer smoother and faster operation for its 4K playback, apps, and menus.

This is what our research has shown.

Our research has also shown that Apple TV 4K has a lot more potential for games and apps even though the platform developers have not come around to embracing the company’s vision.

Currently, there is no Spotify app for the Apple TV 4K platform and recently developers also shelved Minecraft for the Apple TV platform.

The real sad part is that no one even bothered to notice all of this.

There is the official TV app which makes a good attempt in its bid to unify the user’s searching and watching across multiple devices and multiple services.

From a practical standpoint, it would mean that the user starts to watch a movie on the iPad and then finishes it off on his/her Apple TV.

The TV app currently has support for the likes of,

  • Hulu
  • Amazon Prime Video
  • HBO Now

However, the TV app is still missing YouTube and Netflix from its list.

In order to use these services, the user will have to download other apps separately.

Why would someone want to buy Apple TV 4K?

Well, there are lots of reasons.

Users who have their entire movie collection on the company’s iTunes platform would certainly want to get hold of Apple TV 4K.

Then there is the fact that if a user makes use of a lot of various other Apple entertainment devices and simply has a desire to complete his/her set.

Our research shows that Apple TV 4K is perfect for those users who make use of various screen mirroring applications from Mac OS or iOS.

Moreover, everything that users can accomplish via the screen mirroring app can be viewed via Apple TV.

Examples include, photos and presentations.

If we’re talking about the quality of the video and audio that users are likely to get on their big screen, then users would find relief in knowing that Apple TV 4K offers a 7.1 surround sound and 60 fps 4K.

Our research shows that it is one of the (if not the) best in the business.

Chromecast Ultra

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The Chromecast Ultra costs users around $70.

Key points on hardware specifications

The first thing that readers should know about Chromecast Ultra is that it is now no longer the latest Chromecast device.

However, it doesn’t really matter.

Why?

Because even though it is not the latest, it is still the only one of the whole Chromecast family that has the ability to play HDR and 4K content.

Moreover, for those who need it, Chromecast Ultra also comes with an Ethernet port.

Key points on software features.

Some of our readers might already know this but it never hurts to state the obvious:

Chromecast Ultra is not really a standalone TV box device.

Moreover, the problem with Chromecast Ultra is that it doesn’t have any real user interface.

It doesn’t come with a remote either.

Instead of that, the Chromecast Ultra is pretty much an extension of the user’s laptop, tablet and/or phone.

This fact alone makes Chromecast Ultra fairly simple and easy to use.

However, it is also slightly limited in the sense that the user always requires another device to make Chromecast Ultra work.

No one is disputing the fact that there is a lot of cool stuff that the Chromecast Ultra can do.

And that’s not even counting the obvious stuff such as audio and video streaming.

It has the capability to cast a given user’s laptop display (in its entirety) via Google Chrome.

Users can also make use of Chromecast Ultra in order to mirror an internet-enabled Android device’s display.

Moreover, users can also branch out further uses into photos and presentations.

Chromecast Ultra also allows an easy user interface for visitors who want guest access.

Surprisingly, it works pretty well with the user’s Google Home as well.

All that user has to say is something like “Hey Google, continue to play Netflix on the TV” in order to start streaming.

Our research shows that Chromecast Ultra reigns supreme when it comes to versatility.

As far apps go, the only big gaps that we see over here are Amazon Prime Video and possibly, probably, anything and everything made by a company that we know as Apple.

Hence, users with Chromecast Ultra can say goodbye to Apple Music as well as iTunes movies.

Apart from that, users also do not get any special type of universal search across various other apps either.

Why is that?

It is that way because, in the end, Chromecast Ultra is simply running from the user’s smartphone and/or laptop.

Of course, we appreciate the fact that it has a slideshow screensaver.

Who would want to buy it?

There is no doubt about the fact that Chromecast Ultra is refreshingly pretty much platform-agnostic.

And since it does not have an interface that it can call its own, it is versatile.

Our research shows that this app works with a literal ton of applications on the Android and iOS platform.

Additionally, it also works with Google Chrome on the macOS and Windows platform.

Some believe that Chromecast Ultra has a good number of strings attached to its bow than simply video streaming (which is actually audio and  ).

But most of all, it is pretty cheap relatively speaking.

Users who do not have a problem in living with a TV box device that can’t go beyond 1080p can go with the $35 Chromecast as well.

Roku Ultra

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The Roku Ultra TV box costs users around $100.

Key points on hardware specification

Roku Ultra offers users HDR and 4K support.

It also has support for Dolby Atmos Audio along with bundled JBL headphones.

Apart from that, the Roku Ultra TV box comes with USB storage and microSD expansion in addition to having an Ethernet port.

Key points on software features

The main reason why Roku devices stand out from the crowd is that they are the only premium TV box devices that have no ties to Google, Amazon, and Apple.

In other words, they have the ability to play content for the user from just about any platform or app out there.

With the exception of iTunes, of course,

But that is not all.

Roku Ultra also provides users with plenty of other apps that they won’t normally get to see on various other streaming devices.

We’re talking about apps such as,

  • Local media players
  • Twitch
  • Weather apps
  • Firefox
  • And much more.

The Roku Ultra also offers users a basic but pretty functional search that spans across a multiple number of apps.

That, by the way, also includes the option of voice search.

Apart from that, it also comes with the option of the user plugging headphones into its remote for those who want to engage in private night-time audio listening.

Needless to say, Roku Ultra also comes with that familiar and slightly purple chunky remote.

Users also have the option of customizing their home screens in order to show their favorite feeds that come on top.

It can even create alerts for the user when a specific movie or show gets uploaded or added.

We also recommend users to check out the rest of the official Roku lineup as well.

Roku offers a $70 streaming stick+ along with Roku Premiere which costs $40 and is expected to play HDR and 4K content.

However, both these versions do not come with many of the bells and whistles which the Roku Ultra offers.

Which bells and whistles are we talking about here?

We’re talking about features such as,

  • microSD ports
  • USB ports
  • Ethernet ports

All of these are not available in the two cheaper models mentioned above.

However, as far as the choice of channels go, users get the same regardless of their device.

Roku also offers a high quality of videos across the board.

Why would want to buy Roku Ultra?

People who have a desire to have unrestricted access to as much high quality and varied content as possible.

Moreover, users who do not have a problem with using an occasionally sluggish user interface (of course, we’re basing this on the years of research people have done on Roku devices).

With everything said, there is no point in denying the fact that Roku offers users the most hackable and most open set-top box available in the market today.

These devices are perfect for users who want to extract a bit more value from their Roku streaming device.

It is also suitable for those users who don’t want anything to do with big-name ecosystems.

Roku requires no commitment to any given platform.

Which is great.

Right?

Great.

Amazon Fire TV Cube

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The Amazon Fire TV Cube costs users around $120.

Key points on hardware specifications

Amazon Fire TV Cube offers users support for HDR as well as $K content.

It also has support for Dolby Atmos.

As far as the local storage goes, the Amazon Fire TV Cube offers users an 8 GB one.

It comes with a separate remote and also an Ethernet port in order to ensure users get a reliable streaming.

Key points on software features

Amazon hits it right out of the park with Alexa.

Alexa, the company’s digital assistant, is arguably the most complete and well-integrated digital assistant as far as set-top box go.

Moreover, with Amazon Fire TV Cube users can even make use of voice command in order to change various inputs on their TV.

They can give voice commands in order to turn the TV off and on.

They can even adjust the volume settings.

Though we have to warn users that the actual experience is a bit on the slower side.

Now, behind the digital assistant we know as Alexa, there is the standard and solid Amazon Fire TV user interface.

The company has modded it from the vanilla Android interface.

Users get to consume content from all the big players in the industry with the exception of the iTunes video and/or videos from various Google platforms such as Google Play TV & Movies and/or YouTube.

Users who want to watch a bit of content from streaming sites such as YouTube, will have to first install a web browser.

Additionally, there are a decent number of non-video applications as well.

For example, there are new service apps as well as VPN services.

Amazon Fire TV Cube also offers excellent support for Amazon Prime audio services and Amazon Prime Video especially if we’re speaking in terms of the actual browsing of content right from the top or even via the Alexa digital assistant.

But this is something most would expect of a product from Amazon.

Moreover, users who do not have a trouble in living without their Alexa, the company’s other offer of $50 Amazon Fire Stick 4K, it can be argued, the better choice as far as value for money is concerned.

Who would buy Amazon Fire TV Cube?

People who get a kick out of controlling their set-top box as well as their TV set from nothing but their voice.

If the user is a dedicated and long-time Amazon Prime subscriber then too this product would make much sense.

People who have already made great friends with the likes of Alexa would certainly appreciate this TV box device.

Otherwise, our research shows that there are a lot of other set-top boxes in the market today that offer better features, better specs and better selection of application.

Readers should know that there is a good reason why Amazon Fire TV has not managed to find quite the same universal appeal as the company’s Kindle offering.

Nvidia Shield TV

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This TV box is going to cost users around $180.

Key points on hardware specifications

Just like most of the other options on our list of best TV boxes in the world, this one offers support for HDR content as well as 4K and Dolby Atmos.

However, it only does that in compatible applications.

There is also an Ethernet port available.

Along with that, it has two USB slots.

Users who want more than 16 GB of internet storage space would appreciate the fact that Nvidia Shield comes with multiple USB slots.

Key points on software features

We don’t know the precise reason for it but it seems like Nvidia Shield did not know how to mingle with the big guns in the industry.

That is why it’s Nvidia Shield offering sort of got lost in the big crowd of various other set-top box devices.

But perhaps we are wrong.

Perhaps, Nvidia itself priced its product right out of the market.

However, for online consumers who consider money as a non-existent hurdle, this is the best TV box.

It is suitable for all sorts of Android fans.

Nvidia Shield even feels right at home with a fully-fledged Android TV.

The Nvidia Shield also caters to all the gaming fans who are reading to pay a little extra for a gamepad accessory and Nvidia’s official game streaming service.

The great thing about Android TV is that it offers full access to pretty much each and every service and app out there in the infinite world of the internet.

And that includes services such as Amazon Prime Video.

Of course, it doesn’t support iTunes.

Android TV now also includes a little smart Google Assistant integration as well.

And that’s not all.

It offers even more.

Android TV can even double up as Google’s Chromecast.

In other words, it has the ability to do everything that a Chromecast can and on top of that, it an do some more.

Readers should know that all of this applies to consumers who their go out and get a Nvidia Shield and/or purchase a television that has Android TV on board.

There is little doubt about the fact that the latest user interface update actually makes the entire platform much easier to use.

By that we mean, that users will have a great time in searching for different types of content and then picking up right where they left off the last time.

It even has the ability to act as a genuine Plex server if the user desires that.

There is also an option of Live TV watching with the help of a USB antenna.

This is another extra that users might want to go ahead and just take advantage of rather than think over it.

Who would buy it?

People who have a desire to have the best hardware that is available with a set-top box.

Consumers who love and adore the way Android works would also appreciate this TV box.

Users who are keen gamers would find this to be the best option among the bunch.

Apart from that, users who want to be right at the very top end of the entire set-top box market when it comes to features and specifications, would find that there is no option equal to Nvidia Shield.

In fact, we’re pretty sure that Nvidia Shield is essentially the Apple TV for all those people who have a desire to do stuff with various other non-Apple services and devices.

 

Zohair

Zohair

Zohair is currently a content crafter at Security Gladiators and has been involved in the technology industry for more than a decade. He is an engineer by training and, naturally, likes to help people solve their tech related problems. When he is not writing, he can usually be found practicing his free-kicks in the ground beside his house.
Zohair

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