Do you remember when cable TV was king? It was so popular that in the poorer parts of town, some residents dug up pavements, hooked into the cables and distributed it free to those who couldn’t afford the subscription.

Not any longer. The convenience of streaming has proven to be a much more powerful force. Media streaming is typically associated with services such as Netflix downloading onto a smart TV, PC, laptop or tablet device when a monthly subscription is paid.

This type of service is today firmly established and along with other streaming services has shaken up TV programming as it has traditionally been known.

What are streaming sticks?

If you know what a streaming stick is then you don’t need to read any further. If you don’t know what a streaming stick is, then read on, you’ll be enlightened and you might even want to use one.
  • A streaming stick is a tiny media player, slightly bigger than an average USB stick. 
  • It can be plugged directly into an HDMI port enabling media streaming from the device. 
  • Because they are small you can slip them in your pocket and take them anywhere. 
  • Streaming sticks aren’t as powerful as a streaming TV box. This means that as you move around the interface it won’t be as fast as you experience on your computer or smart TV. 
  • Streaming sticks also typically lack Ethernet ports that could pose a problem in areas with weak Wi-Fi.

Good points

  • The price of a streaming stick is probably its most attractive feature.  Average prices range from £70 to £15 though some are more expensive. 
  • They are great options for those who don't have a smart TV with built-in streaming apps. 
  • They are also a good alternative for those who don't want a more powerful streaming TV box. 
  • Streaming sticks provide on-demand TV shows so you don’t have bend to the strict schedules of conventional TV.

The downside

They typically last only for a couple of years and tend to become outdated relatively quickly.
Limited storage space, typically about 8GB, restricts software upgrade options. Because upgrades and new apps tend to increase in size, it can be a problem for streaming sticks.

Some of the best streaming sticks

This is a basic view of the most popular streaming sticks to give you some sense of what’s available.  For instance many come with remote controls along with interfaces and apps. We haven’t gone into these details; rather we’ve focused on the top line features that have made them popular.

Apple TV 4K

This is a streaming stick with a serious ultra-high definition kick.
It comes with a host of apps, accessible from the Apple TV’s App Store.
The majority of these include the full range of content streaming platforms, both free and paid-for, live TV services and ported iOS games.
So you’ll have no problem streaming Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, iTunes and other services.
That said, because of its high-end features it costs a lot, typically around £170 plus.

Amazon Fire TV

This streaming stick has just about the widest range of content on offer, especially if you’re an Amazon Prime member.
It presents a lot of Amazon Prime content as to be expected but also offers Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Disney Life, Showtime, HBO and other media services.
You can also add premium channels as and when you want for a low price.

Now TV Smart Stick

Its main selling point is the low cost, about £15 and access to Sky Sports, Sky Cinema, Kids, Movies and Entertainment.
It has a beginner friendly set up and an easy to use interface. It doesn’t provide access to Netflix or Amazon though. 

Roku Streaming Stick+

This is fast thanks to powerful Wi-Fi. It provides access to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Google Play.
It has an accompanying smartphone app, which lets you listen via your headphones wirelessly.

Google Chromecast Ultra

Chromecast Ultra is about as simple as streaming sticks get but you need to use your smartphone or tablet to make it work.
Once you’ve plugged it in to a spare HDMI port, on-screen instructions prompt you to download the Google Home app on your smartphone or tablet for setup.
The app will walk you through the steps needed to get your Chromecast onto your home network, which takes minutes.
The Google Home app suggests popular content, from a wealth of programming that might be of interest.