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How to buy the best internet TV box

By Martin Pratt

An internet TV streamer brings a world of apps to your TV, from BBC iPlayer to Netflix. Find out which model will suit you and your TV.

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There are a number of internet TV boxes and streaming devices available from some of the biggest names in tech, including the Google Chromecast, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV Stick. 

In this guide we'll explain the differences between the popular devices, how much you need to spend and whether it's worth choosing a 4K streamer.

Find out which of the big-name streamers aced our tests in our best internet TV box page.

In this article

Video: how to buy the best internet TV box

Our video demonstrates the key features of internet TV boxes to help you understand how they work and decide which is the best model for you.

Types of internet TV box 

Streaming sticks

Some of the most popular media streaming devices, including the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Google Chromecast, are very small and look more like a USB stick than a traditional set-top box device, such as the Apple TV.

They connect directly into a HDMI port and their small size means they tuck away hidden behind the TV. They may be tiny, but they don't lack any features that larger streamers have. Some need to be plugged into the mains, while others can be powered from one of your TV's USB inputs.

Set-top box style streamers

The Apple TV is the most notable streamer available of this type. It still connects to an HDMI input, but the larger box is designed to sit on your media unit, rather than being hidden out of sight behind the TV.

Streaming sticks are far more common, as they are often smaller, cheaper, but can access the same apps as these larger ones.

Games consoles as streamers

Modern games consoles from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 through to the Xbox One X and Playstation 4 Pro can all access catch-up and streaming apps in the same way as traditional streamers.

Since they are also games consoles and Blu-ray players in some cases, they are typically very expensive. The PlayStation 4 Pro, for example, costs almost 10 times more than an Amazon Fire TV Stick.

A games console isn't worth considering for streaming, unless you also intend to use its other features too.

Pricey options are available, but you don't to spend big on a streamer. Take a look the best internet TV boxes under £40.

How much should you spend on an internet TV box? 

Internet TV boxes are outstanding value. For less than the price of a large delivered pizza you can take home a top-notch streamer that will bring your home into the 21st century - and future-proof it, too.

£15The price of our cheapest Best Buy

Even if you fancy spending a little more and treating yourself, you won't need to spend more than £50.

It is important to consider subscription costs, though. To get the most of some boxes you'll need to sign up to premium content services. They're totally optional, and just how much money you spend is up to you - but it's definitely something worth factoring in when calculating costs.

Best internet TV box features to look out for 

  • Apps - all the streamers we test can access apps, but you need to make sure it has the ones you use most. The majority of the popular ones, such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix are ubiquitous, but if you want access to something more unusual then check it's available before you buy.
  • 4K - if you have a 4K TV then a 4K streamer is essential otherwise you won't be able to watch the 4K content available on Netflix, Amazon Video and YouTube.
  • Full HD - there are still plenty of HD streamers and they are often the cheapest available. Only choose one of these if you don't have a 4K TV and don't plan on getting one any time soon.
  • Voice control - many streamers, including the Fire TV Stick, Now TV and Chromecasts support voice control. Using your voice to search for shows is much easier than grappling woth a clunky onscreen keyboard.
  • DLNA - some streamers let you cast content from a phone, laptop or tablet, so that media on you can display media from your device on your TV screen. 

Is your internet quick enough for streaming? 

Internet TV boxes connect to your TV, but also require access to the internet to work. Most use wi-fi, but some can also support an ethernet cable if you'd prefer a wired connection.

You’ll need a decent broadband connection to make sure streamed programmes are smooth - most manufacturers recommend speeds of around 3Mbps for standard definition content. For streaming in high-definition, you'll need broadband speeds closer to 5Mbps, as well as an HD-ready TV. If you're a real technophile and are looking to stream in 4K then you'll need a very good internet connection - between 15 and 25Mbps is what we'd recommend (plus a 4K TV, of course).

Internet TV boxes compared 

When it comes to streaming TV there's more than a few choices out there. You've almost certainly heard a whole host of names and buzzwords, but what exactly are they? And what's the difference between the big players? Read on for a brief run down of the most popular devices

Amazon Fire TV Stick with 4K and Alexa

  • Alexa voice remote - you can talk to the Fire TV Stick which is ideal for searching for shows to watch rather than grappling with an onscreen keyboard.
  • Features - 4K resolution streaming, access to all the UK's main catch-up apps, control your TV volume with the remote.

Amazon's little streamer is one of the cheapest ways to access 4K content on your TV and it can access almost all of the most popular streaming apps. There's no DLNA though, so you won't be able to cast any content from your tablet or smartphone.

It's a competitive market, with many similarly priced streamers from household names. Is this the model to go for? Find out in our Amazon Fire TV Stick with 4K and Alexa review.

Google Chromecast

  • Phone remote - the apps you use aren't on the Chromecast itself, you get them on your phone instead and cast them to Google's streamer. This means your phone is the remote.
  • Features - Full HD streaming, access to all the UK's main catch-up apps, cheap, display you phone screen on your TV. 

The Chromecast is one of the cheapest streamers on the market and that's partly because it isn't 4K. If you do want to watch ultra-high resolution streaming then the Google Chromecast Ultra would be the better option.

Using your phone to control everything may seem unusual at first, but casting the apps from your phone onto the TV screen is easy, and using your phones keyboard to search for shows is simpler than using a traditional remote and an onscreen keyboard.

Read our review of the Google Chromecast to see if sing your phone as a remote is the best way to access streaming apps.

Sky Now TV Smart Box with 4K

  • Watch Sky TV - various passes, including entertainment, sports, movies and kids, give you access to Sky content that you'd normally need a satellite dish and Sky Q Box for. 
  • Features - 4K resolution streaming, access to all the UK's main catch-up apps, voice control.

The 4K Now TV Box is one of the cheapest 4K streamers available, it's also quite bulky and won't hide away behind your TV like a Chromecast or Fire TV Stick.

There's also the Sky Now TV Stick, which is much smaller and only £15, but it's only Full HD so no 4K streaming.

The Now TV Box is one of the cheapest 4K streamers, but is it better than the best Amazon, Apple and Google have to offer? Here's our Sky Now TV Box with 4K review.

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