Choosing the best set top box is step one on the way to cutting the cord for good
Luke Bouma • September 25, 2015if( has_post_thumbnail( $post_id ) ): ?>
So you want to break free of your monthly cable bill? The first step to cord cutting isn’t admitting there’s a problem, it’s realizing there’s another solution.
This week, we’ll help you figure out which is the best set top box for you. All of the set top boxes we’ll cover will let you stream content (TV shows, movies, even live events) over the Internet. Each comes with its own unique benefits.
This isn’t the old cable TV model: It’s not one size fits all. There are many great set top boxes to choose from. The brand new Apple TV to the tried and true Roku. The newest 4K Fire TV to the crazy powerful Nvidia Shield.
To help you make that decision here is our guide to the pros and cons of each of the leading set top boxes on the market today.
$149 (32 GB) – $199 (64 GB)
It’s taken some time but Apple recently updated its Apple TV set top box. Among its many new features of the fourth generation product, third-party app support and Siri integrated voice search, along with gaming. These additions make it extremely competitive with other set top boxes on the market.
If you buy movies and TV shows from iTunes, this is the only device that will play them. Officially, at least.
It has an excellent voice search performance with Siri voice assistant built in. She allows you to ask complicated questions such as, “Show me every episode of show ABC in which actor XYZ has appeared.” (Sounds like a fascinating show – Ed.) It also allows you to access your settings, control playback, ask questions about your stocks or the weather, and if you missed the last line of dialogue you can ask, “What did he just say?” and Siri will temporarily turn on closed captioning so that you can read what you missed.
No third-party content stores are allowed on the Apple TV. So, if you have purchased content on Amazon Instant, MGO, Vudu or one of the other content services, you will not be able to access it on your Apple TV.
The Apple TV is twice or sometimes even three times, the cost of a Roku or Amazon Fire TV device. With starting prices ranging from $149 to $199 Apple TV is one of the more expensive set top boxes on the market.
Why choose Apple TV?
If you buy most of your content through iTunes, the new Apple TV is your best option. While it may lack in some areas, the new Apple TV is still the only set top box to officially support iTunes content.
$99.99 (standard) – $139.99 (Gaming Edition)
The new Amazon Fire TV is a powerful 4K Ultra HD set top box with exceptional integration into the Amazon ecosystem. If you only buy your content on Amazon (or if you’re a Prime member) the Fire TV is the best device for you. While it may not have as many third-party apps as the Roku, the Fire TV has a large variety of great third-party apps with a nice line up that grows every day.
The New Amazon Fire TV has an impressive array of features. The Fire TV is the only set top box and stick that easily works in hotels, colleges and universities. The Fire TV also has the ability to play games with a dedicated gaming controller.
Additionally, the New Fire TV comes with Alexa, the voice-powered, digital assistant that lets you speak into the remote to ask for all kinds of information, from sports scores and traffic updates to music choices, which are then displayed on your TV screen.
The New Fire TV voice search doesn’t look like it will be as refined as the Apple TV voice search at launch. Voice search for set top boxes was an idea that really came to the fore with the first Fire TV, though, so we expect to see improvements.
Why choose Fire TV?
If you often stay in hotels, or live on a college or university campus, the Fire TV may be the best device for you. Many hotels and campuses require you to connect to their Wi-Fi in order to log into your set top box. The Fire TV is one of the few devices with a Wi-Fi browser that will make this possible. Most set top boxes do not have a Wi-Fi browser option which can make traveling with them difficult.
The Nvidia Shield, built on the Android TV, is still fairly new, but it is an impressive and singularly powerful gaming and streaming device set top box, and that’s earning it a growing following.
With 3 GB of ram, a powerful processor (NVIDIA Tegra X1), two full size and one miniature USB ports, the Shield is a remarkable gaming and streaming player. If you want a powerful gaming device make sure to check out the Shield.
The Nvidia Shield has no web browser and its $200 price tag is a little steep, especially when compared with the Fire TV or a Roku set top box.
While third-party support is good, especially on the gaming side, it still lags behind the Roku and Fire TV when it comes to third-party apps.
Why choose Nvidia Shield?
If you want gaming to be the main focus of your set top box, check out the Shield. It’s powerful, cheaper than buying a PS4 or Xbox One and also allows access to streaming content.
$99.99 (Roku 3)
The Roku lineup was refreshed just this year. The Roku 3 features a faster processor, voice search and the largest collection of third-party apps of any set top box, which makes the Roku the set top box to beat.
The Roku 3 has a reasonable sub-$100 price tag and a huge library of content available, including a fair bit that’s completely free. Launch of the Roku 4 is imminent.
The Roku also has the largest selection of apps than any other set top box. In the options of where to buy or rent your content, Roku includes Amazon Instant, Google Play, Vudu, MGo, and many more. There are hundreds of great apps to explore on the Roku and many of them are free.
The Roku has had several different versions of its Roku 3, which can be a bit confusing since they all have the same product name. If you are buying a Roku, you’ll want the 2015 Roku 3 with voice search.
Why choose Roku?
If you really want something super easy to use, with a ton of content, the Roku is the right device for you. Just make sure to do your research on the four different versions that are available.
All that is to say…
In the end it really comes down to deciding what you want to do with your set top box and where you would like to get your content. Any one of the options we’ve covered here is a good one. Each set top box has its own shortcomings and killer features.
Your own choice of which set top box is right for you comes down to factors like where you want to get your content from, how much you want to spend and what you see yourself doing most with your set top box. Once you deduce that, you’re well on your way to cutting the cord for good.