Internet-enabled smart TVs sound like, well, a smart idea. After all, who wouldn’t want to stream shows from services like Netflix and Hulu without having to plug in a separate streaming device? But here’s a dirty little secret: They all kind of stink. The built-in software that lets TVs stream shows tends to be as slow and buggy as month-old molasses, and rarely offers access to more than a few streaming apps.
Which is all a long way of saying that, even if you spent thousands on a fancy new set, you’re probably going to want to buy a separate streaming device to help you Netflix and chill. The main players in this field—Roku, Google ($70), Amazon ($40), and Apple ($200)—all produce decent devices with incredibly intuitive interfaces and access to a nearly endless supply of content. But after extensive testing, one device currently stands apart in the pack.
BUY: Roku Ultra, $118; amazon.com
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The Roku Ultra is one of the few streaming devices that can handle 4K content (Netflix has a ton of it—and believe us: you haven’t seen Kevin Spacey furrow his brow on House of Cards until you’ve seen it in 4K) and features a crazy-fast processor that lets you whip through its menus without waiting around. But what really sets it apart from the pack is its software. Roku simply has the easiest-to-use devices, with a universal search function that makes it a cinch to simultaneously scour all your streaming services for a hard-to-find flick, while telling you which apps give it up for free so you don't unnecessarily plop down cash for a movie. What’s more, Roku is the Switzerland of streaming devices, willing to play nice and host services both big (Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu, HBO) and small (there are video services for virtually every niche interest). No matter how obscure a streaming app is, it’s likely available on Roku.
Wins for: Speed, ease of use, and access to a vast selection of content
- A super-fast processor that lets you speed through menus
- 4K capabilities for high resolution
- Access to virtually every streaming service
See the rest of InStyle's 2017 Best of Tech picks here.