As more and more 4K and H.265 content are popping up, it's more than wise to choose decent media players, and the good news is that it doesn't even have to cost a fortune. Don't look any further, and go for one of the options below, or combine them as you like (as I did). Both have their strengths, and both are powerful enough to keep up with new video standards. Do not settle for the basic versions, and invest for the years to come.
Why didn't I consider apple TV? I do not consider it as an open platform, it only supports limited apps, and I refuse the airplay concept because it not only drains the battery of your iPhone/iPad but renders it useless as long as your streaming... So unless you're married to Apple, take the better options.
Amazon Fire Stick (4K version)
The Amazon Fire Stick is the most powerful media player you can find for that price, and definitely the best solution when you're working with a beamer and soundbar/surround system, or prefer working with a remote control instead of using your smartphone/tablet as the main interface.
In my case it's the most crucial component of my home streaming architecture, running my own media library with H.265 content on a plex server without transcoding capabilities.
- supports H.265 in full HD (standard model) or 4K (4K model), as well as Dolby HDR10
- provides a rich interface
- includes a remote control that has a microphone embedded for Alexa voice commands and supports HDMI-CEC Which allows you to turn on your TV set and manage the volume
- supports a smartphone app as alternative/additional remote control
- supports Miracast (windows 10 screen mirroring)
- Bluetooth embedded for additional remote controls, keyboards / speakers / soundbar / surround system, which comes in extremely handy when your beamer house lousy speakers and doesn't have an audio out option
- requires to install an app for each service you want to connect
- underneath is an android OS, which allows you to push android apps to the stick (yet no guarantee they will work as expected)
- wireless only, no ethernet connection available
- can not be used as a Chromecast receiver
- if you take the stick with you and forgot the remote control, you cannot connect to an alternative Wifi connection
- the sticks can be confined to a region. In my case, I have a german market Fire Stick, which doesn't allow me to use my Prime Video account in Belgium, which I can use on my tablet, and even my Chromecast... There is the US and international version of the stick as well
One of my favorite low cost solutions for streaming content to any device (TV, beamer, monitor) definitely is Google Chromecast. On top of that, most smartphone apps support the Chromecast protocol, which allows to offload almost any media stream to any screen, and if that doesn't work, any chrome browser can also cast any website, including any media stream to the player.
I still use the first generation Chromecast connected to a beamer, and although it is a bit 'slow', it still manages to correctly stream Netflix, Prime Video, next to local Media companies and TV providers. Nevertheless, if you are looking for 4K and H.265 support, I strongly recommend opting for the Chromecast Ultra
, which also comes with an ethernet connector, providing even more reliable connectivity. Have you ever thought about cloud gaming? There also is an interesting bundle combining the Chromecast Ultra with a Google Stadia
- Plug and play, zero fuzz streaming capabilities on any HDMI capable screen
- Can offload media streaming from any compatible device, freeing it up, saving battery and allow other actions on your handheld device(eg. mail, chat, Facebook, ...) while continue to stream on the Chromecast receiver
- Very portable solution, combined with the Google Home smart app on your mobile phone to connect to alternative Wifi networks.
- Not a stand-alone player, which means no management interface or remote controller (compared to Amazon Fire Stick)
- Is not capable of logging in to Wifi networks with captive portals requiring user/password. Interested in a workaround?
- Can not connect to an external Bluetooth speaker or soundbar (eg. to overcome the audio limitations of a simple beamer)
Google Nest Hub
A very curious device is the Google Nest hub. It is rather unique, it's cheap, and can be described as a combination of
- a smart speaker supporting the Google Assistant, and music/radio streaming, additionally offering visual support for common questions such as traffic information, recipes, youtube searches
- a Chromecast receiver, but nevertheless with unconventional screen dimensions, which can result in partial images for streaming services that did not anticipate this
- a Google Photos display frame
For me, this makes the Nest Hub the ideal kitchen device, replacing the old AM/FM radio with streaming services (Spotify, Tunein), and even supporting video streaming (as Chromecast receiver) for watching your favorite series while cooking, as well as supporting Google Duo for voice and video calling (for the moment only receiving video, but a version including camera should be underway). It might be a bit too early to really breakthrough, it might get 'stuck in the middle', but I actually like it, and so do my parents, and that means something as well. Just put it in the kitchen to start with.
- Voice Assistant with visual support, Chromecast, Google Duo, and Google Photos combined in a single device
- Futuristic look & feel
- Dummy proof, very intuitive and supports many languages
- it can do a lot but excels at nothing, risking to get stuck in the middle. It has a screen, but rather small. It has a speaker, but not very powerful. It supports video, but only one way. It is a Chromecast receiver but doesn't have the ideal screen dimensions. It has an interface, but not a real menu.