Which is the best TV streaming device? And which is the best alternative to the Apple TV?

The Apple TV is a fine device, but it's not for everyone - and nor is it cheap. In this article we examine the leading TV streaming devices to help you decide on the best Apple TV alternative.

Best Apple TV alternatives: How does the Apple TV compare to other set top boxes and TV streaming services?

If you're bored of the 60 or so free-to-air channels in the UK, you might be thinking about purchasing a set-top box to gain access to extra content available to stream over the web. Alternatively, you may be fed up with streaming TV shows on your laptop screen and looking for ways to watch this content on your TV. We've assessed the best TV streaming devices and set-top boxes in this slideshow, pitting them against the Apple TV.

Included in this round up are: Apple TV (4th Generation), Roku Ultra, Roku Streaming Stick, Google Chromecast Ultra, Western Digital WD Live, PlayStation 3 & PlayStation 4, Now TV, Virgin Media Tivo, YouView, Freetime and Amazon Fire TV. We also talk a bit about Google's new offering, the Google Nexus Player, although that's not available in the UK just yet.

Best Apple TV alternatives | Best TV streaming devices

The days of spending an evening in front of the television watching live broadcasts seem to be long gone, with people choosing to binge on full series streamed from Netflix, opting to watch programmes and movies they've Sky Plussed, or just catching up with On Demand TV shows via their laptop or iPad.

The popularity of catching up with our favourite programmes online is illustrated by the fact that E4 often broadcasts an episode of a hit TV series online before it's aired on television. BBC Three has announced that it is closing its TV channel and instead streaming its programming online through iPlayer. Will there come a time when we only watch TV this way? Will the airwaves eventually be free of broadcasts?

On top of this sits the new 4K televisions. These offer ultra high-definition quality, but getting hold of 4K shows can be tricky. Set-top services from Amazon and Netflix lead the way, and these boxes can be good-value ways to watch ultra high-definition shows. Apart from the Apple TV, which doesn't support 4K yet.

In this age of TV on demand, programmes can be watched on our laptops, iPads or iPhones, although they may still be watched on the big screen in our living rooms. If you've bought a new television in the past few years, perhaps it is 'smart' - granting you access to a platform of on-demand apps and access to the internet. However, the 'smart' aspects of these smart TVs often go unused, perhaps because the interface is too complicated, or because the TV requires an expensive dongle to get it on to a WiFi network.

Due to the high price of these smart TVs many consumers opt instead for flatscreen HDTVs and connect them to set-top devices such as the Apple TV to access additional content. As long as you have a decent broadband connection, these will grant access to a great combination of free and paid-for streaming services to view on the television screen. Unfortunately most of these set-top boxes don't have the ability to record programmes, as they don't offer PVR functionality.

But the Apple TV, of course, isn't the only TV streaming device available. Here, we've rounded up 14 of the best options to help you decide which is right for you. You might also want to read: New Apple TV rumours

Read next: Apple TV hints & hacks for the ultimate Apple TV setup | Even more tips for the Apple TV

Best Apple TV alternatives | Best TV streaming devices

Best Apple TV alternatives: Best options for streaming, watching On Demand and recording TV

With the death of the VCR we have turned to streaming instead of just recording shows to watch in our spare time. But some just want to be able to record TV shows to watch on their TV at home. Many of the set-top boxes assessed in this article offer no recording functionality, although some do offer access to OnDemand services that could theoretically allow you to catch up with TV shows - although for a limited time. The alternative solution for this group is a DVR or PVR incorporating Freeview or Freesat as these usually have recording functionality.

Alternatively, many modern TVs that include Freeview will allow for recording to an attached hard drive: just buy a hard drive and plug it into the TV via USB. Another way to record live TV is to plug an Elgato EyeTV receiver into your Mac, iPad or iPhone.

For those who already have Sky, upgrading to Sky+ means they gain the ability to record programmes as well as access to on-demand TV including BBC iPlayer, 4OD, Demand5 and other channels' on demand content, including Sky's own catch up TV. For many the monthly subscription prices for Sky will rule out Sky+ as an option, although you could opt instead for Freesat with FreeTime, Sky's answer to the YouView box, or Sky's Now TV (all are assessed later).

If you are able to record TV, a Slingbox will encode the video you have recorded so that it can be transmitted over the web. You can also use it to start a programme recording on your PVR, Sky box or similar recording device. This way you can watch the TV you've recorded at home wherever you are.

For those who aren't concerned about recording programmes when they are broadcast, there are a number of set-top devices available that offer content for streaming or rental. Prices start at just £9.99, but there will be subscription costs to factor in too. Netflix and Amazon Prime both cost £5.99 per month.

Now that you've got an overview of what's out there and what you can get from your TV with these services, read on to find out which of the 13 best streaming devices in the UK suits you. We've started with the Apple TV, but also included the Roku 3, Roku Streaming Stick, Sky's Now TV box, Virgin Media's Tivo, the Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV and more. We've looked at the 'channels' on offer, the price, and the supported file formats, amongs other things.

Underlying all this is the question of whether these set-top boxes are here to stay, or if, eventually, Smart TVs, with the functionality built in, will rule the living room. Is Apple making an actual TV? We used to think so but the plan seemst to have gone cold, for now: New Apple television release date information.

Apple TV 2015 (4th-gen)

Apple TV 2015 (4th-gen)

Price: The Apple TV 4th generation costs £139, which is a lot more than most of the other options here. Still, when Apple first launched its set-top box back in 2007 it cost £199.

The Apple TV has an App Store and supports gaming, so it's more than just a video streamer. But there are a number of alternatives that cost a lot less, as you'll find out by reading this article.

Channels: Apple boasts that there are thousands of films and TV programmes available on the Apple TV - these are available to rent or buy from iTunes. In addition you can subscribe to Netflix (from £5.99 a month). Beyond that the 'channels' on offer are limited, and generally US-focused. See also: How to get US Netflix on Apple TV in the UK

Familiar names include Sky News and the Now TV Sky Sports day pass (£9.99 a day), but when you consider that US users have access to Hulu Plus (subscription), HBO (subscription), various Disney channels, PBS, ABC and ESPN, it's clear that UK Apple TV users have drawn the short straw. Hopefully

The App Store has brought more on-demand services such as iPlayer and 4oD to the Apple TV here in the UK. But Spotify and Amazon Video remain noticibly absent (you can stream media from an iPhone or iPad to your Apple TV though, you just can't use a built-in app for some services). 

Apple's main competition in this field, as you will see if you read on, already offer access to the UK's on-demand channels, so the company really needs to make an effort to improve the Apple TV offering in the UK if it wants to continue to sell it here.

Storage: Two models are available. One with 32GB (£139) and one with 64GB (£179).

File formats: The Apple TV will play H.264 video at 1080p, MPEG-4 video and Motion JPEG. It can also play various audio formats including AAC, MP3, Audible, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV. There is also Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.

Remote control: The Apple TV comes with a Siri remote control, but you can also use Bluetooth keyboards, various universal remotes, and an iOS app to control the Apple TV. An MFI Game Controller can be used to play games.

TV Compatibility: The Apple TV is compatible with any HDTV capable of 1080p or 720p. The TV needs an HDMI port and since the HDMI cable isn't included in the box with the Apple TV you will have to buy one. It does not support 4K resolution.

Can you record: No.

Pros: If you have other Apple products - iPhone, iPad, Mac - there are a number of benefits that can be had from an Apple TV. You will be able to use AirPlay to beam whatever is on the screen of your Apple device onto your TV; you can stream content directly to your TV from your device (music, photos, videos and so on); and anything you have already purchased from iTunes will be available to you, which is the real selling point of this device. You can subscribe to Netflix and other services. A wide range of apps, such as weather services and shops and stores make it much more than a media player. You can play games on it.

Cons: It's a lot more expensive than other options and lacks 4K support. So it's not great for people who just want to watch a wider, and higher-quality, range of television (on the cheap).

Find out more: 5 reasons to buy Apple TV | 5 reasons not to buy Apple TV

Amazon Fire TV 4K (2015, 2nd generation)

Amazon Fire TV 4K (2015, 2nd generation)

Price: Amazon's big entry into the TV streaming media player market costs £79 (we've seen it on offer for £75, though) so is priced to match the Apple TV in the UK. 

Channels: Includes Netflix, Amazon Instant (with 200,000 movies and TV episodes to rent or buy), BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Sky News, Spotify, Vevo, BBC News, BBC Sport, YouTube and various popular games. Games (including The Walking Dead, Minecraft, Flappy Birds and more) require an additional controller which costs £34.99.

Storage: 8GB (+ 2GB RAM)

File formats: Streams in full-HD 1080p, supports HDMI and optical audio-out. 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus surround sound. Android based UI. Supports 4K video.

Remote control: Remote control with a built-in microphone allows control via voice or physical input; games are playable via a separate remote as mentioned above. ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction) is a personalised feature that predicts what the user will watch based on their Watchlist and recommendations.

Can you record: No

Pros: Amazon's streaming video device doubles up as a gaming device. Lots of channels available, including UK-based on demand services. It's 0.7"-thick.

Cons: The uses the device as a means to boost digital content purchases and subscriptions to Amazon's Prime Instant Video store. Amazon Prime is already available on many streaming devices – although not the Apple TV or Google Chromecast. Gaming remote costs extra. No 4OD.

Manhattan Plaza HD-S2 Smart freesat HD Digital Receiver

Manhattan Plaza HD-S2 Smart freesat HD Digital Receiver

Price: Prices start at £49 for the Manhattan Plaza HD-S2 Smart Freesat HD Digital Receiver.

Channels: Includes access to BBC iPlayer, ITV player, 4OD, Demand 5 and there are around 200 Freesat channels available for free including 11 HD channels. You can use the TV guide to access the past seven days content from 26 channels. Also includes YouTube.

Storage: 500GB, 1TB and 1TB Wi-Fi.

Remote control: There is an app that lets you to set recordings and reminders from your iPhone.

Can you record: Yes, you can record any of the Freesat channels. You can also save programmes in 'box sets' and mark recordings so that they can't be deleted.

Pros: Access to many of the On Demand channels.

Cons: You need a Sky dish.

Read next: How to set up Apple TV

Google Chromecast Ultra

Google Chromecast Ultra

Price: Google's Chromecast Ultra costs £69; Chromecast 2 is £30

Channels: The Chromecast includes the Netflix app (from £5.99 a month), YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Google Play Music and BBC iPlayer. Now TV (subscription required) and Blinkbox (pay per view) are also available, as well as additional apps such as BT Sport, YouTube, Vevo, Deezer and also various games.

Google's Play Store is also accessible, so any movies or TV shows you've downloaded will be available to stream. You can also mirror any tab within the Chrome browser, whether using a PC or Mac, or cast most apps to the TV from your smartphone or tablet.

Storage: None.

File formats: H.264 High Profile Level 4.1, 4.2 and 5, VP8, HE-AAC, LC-AAC, CELT/Opus, MP3, Vorbis. The Chromecast Ultra supports 4K video.

Remote control: There is no remote control; you set up your Chromecast via the laptop, smartphone or tablet. There is an iOS app luckily, so you won't have to ditch your iPhone for an Android device.

TV compatibility: It plugs into an HDTV's HDMI port; like the Roko Streaming Stick you also need to charge it via USB.

Can you record: No.

Pros: Tiny, you won't even know it's there. Affordable.

Cons: No 4OD, Demand 5 or iTV player so not as many channels as Roku 3 and Roku Streaming Stick (we'd argue that both Roku options are winning so far!)

Google Nexus Player

Google Nexus Player

In October, Google unveiled its Apple TV rival, the Google Nexus Player. It's not available in the UK yet (we'll update this article as soon as it is) but we've got all of the US-based info for you here so you know what to expect.

Price: $99 (not available in the UK yet)

Channels: The Nexus Player is the first Android TV device. Channels in the US include Netflix, YouTube, Bloomberg, Vevo, Ted and more, as well as Google Play-based channels that give access to content purchased through Google's store.

Storage: 8GB

Remote control: Physical remote with voice recognition, Android app and an additional, optional remote for gaming.

Can you record: No. 

Pros: Gaming capabilities, close integration with Google Play ideal for Android users.

Cons: Not yet available in the UK.

Sony PlayStation 3 Slim

Sony PlayStation 3 Slim

Price: £89.99

Channels: Includes iPlayer, ITV player, 4OD, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Netflix, PlayStation Store, YouTube, TuneIn Radio. You could plug in a PlayTV in to the PlayStation 3 to watch, pause and record Freeview TV channels (unit purchased separately, incompatible with the PS4). Sony has announced that it will launch a cloud-based TV and video streaming service in the US this year.

Storage: 500GB hard disk, optical drive.

File formats: MP4 video is supported. The other video file formats, such as MKV, AVI, WMV, MOV a, MPG aren't supported. It also doesn't play CDs or MP3s. There is a web browser (the PlayStation 4 browser doesn't support Flash currently).

Remote control: Typical gaming remote, no infrared port so won't work with a universal remote.

TV compatibility: HDMI connectivity required.

Can you record: No.

Pros: Includes a Blu-ray player, you may already own one… Also, it allows you to play games, of course!

Cons: Not a dedicated set-top box.

Sony PlayStation 4

Sony PlayStation 4

Price: £259.99

Channels: Includes iPlayer, ITV player, 4OD, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Netflix, PlayStation Store, YouTube, TuneIn Radio. You could plug in a PlayTV in to the PlayStation 3 to watch, pause and record Freeview TV channels (unit purchased separately, incompatible with the PS4). Sony has announced that it will launch a cloud-based TV and video streaming service in the US this year.

Storage: 500GB hard disk, optical drive.

File formats: MP4 video is supported. The other video file formats, such as MKV, AVI, WMV, MOV a, MPG aren't supported. It also doesn't play CDs or MP3s. There is a web browser (the PlayStation 4 browser doesn't support Flash currently).

Remote control: Typical gaming remote, no infrared port so won't work with a universal remote.

TV compatibility: HDMI connectivity required.

Can you record: No.

Pros: Includes a Blu-ray player, you may already own one… Also, it allows you to play games, of course!

Cons: Not a dedicated set-top box.

Roku Streaming Stick

Roku Streaming Stick

Price: £49.99 (can be picked up on sale for around £29.99)

Channels: The Roku Steaming Stick offers access to the same channels as the Roku 3, so is a cheaper alternative that gives access to a huge range of channels including UK-specific ones. Of course, there are some things you'll miss out on.

Storage: None

File formats: Like the Roku 3 it can handle MP4 (H.264), MKV (H.264). Audio formats include AAC, MP3, Dolby Digital and DTS.

Remote control: The included remote doesn't feature the headphone jack or the motion control of the Roku 3 remote, so no playing games here. There's a Roku iOS remote control app.

TV compatibility: Like the Roku 3 the Roku Streaming Stick requires an HDTV.

Can you record: No.

Pros: It's just 3.1x1.1x0.5 inches, plug it into the HDMI port at the back of your TV and forget about it. It offers more than the Google Chromecast. It includes UK OnDemand channels such as iPlayer and 4OD.

Cons: The stick requires a separate power source as it is unable to power itself from the HDMI port. You'll need to plug it into a USB port on your TV, or plug it into a wall socket. The Streaming Stick doesn't offer gaming like the Roku 3.

Sky Now TV Box (2015)

Sky Now TV Box (2015)

Price: Sky's Now TV box costs £9.99 upfront, or you can get it for free if you sign up for the Entertainment Bundle (£19.99 for a 3 month pass), Movies Bundle (£19.99 for a two month pass), Sports Bundle (£19.99 for 2 day passes). A subscription to Now TV/Sky package is required for full use of the box (although you can keep the box and use any of the apps you have downloaded if you cancel the subscription).

Channels: BBC iPlayer, 4oD, ITV Player and Demand 5 are available. Sky Atlantic, Sky 1, Discovery, MTV, Comedy Central, Disney and Fox are included in the Sky Entertainment Month Pass (£6.99 a month). Sky Movies Month Pass (£9.99 a month), and a Sky Sports Day Pass (£6.99 a day ir £10.99 a week limited offer).

Storage: None - it's streaming only.

File formats: Just Sky.

Remote control: There is a remote control provided, there is no iOS app, but you can use the Remoku web app or the RMote Roku Remote iOS app.

TV compatibility: TV with an HDMI port (although it is possible to use a mini-jack to RCA cable)

Can you record: No.

Pros: Cheapest way to get the On Demand channels (iPlayer, 4oD, etc) onto your TV screen (other than just plugging in your laptop).

Cons: No HD content, no official remote app for iOS.

Virgin Media TiVo

Virgin Media TiVo

Price: TiVo 500GB, free; TiVo 1TB, £49.95 activation fee. Plus monthly subscription with Virgin Media (various contracts from £5 a month).

Channels: Record, pause or rewind live TV, Sky channels, seven-day Catch Up TV, hundreds of on-demand movies and shows, UK On Demand including BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4oD and 5 Demand, Netflix.

Storage: 1TB TiVo box (record 500 hours of standard TV or around 100 hours of HD TV); 500GB (250 hours of standard TV or around 50 hours of HD TV).

File formats: Virgin Media only.

Remote control: There is a Virgin TV Anywhere iOS app that can be used to control your Virgin TiVo box, but you'll also gety a dedicated remote.

TV compatibility: HD TV set required connected via HDMI

Can you record: Yes.

Pros: Includes much of what's offered from Sky, plus Netflix.

Cons: Not all homes can get Virgin Media.

WD TV Live

WD TV Live

Price: Western Digital's WD TV Media Player costs £80.

Channels: As with the other solutions, there are a limited number of channels available to UK users but it does feature iPlayer and YouTube, as well as Pop Flix (free classic TV and films). There are a number of Hauppage TV streamers you can use to watch live channels, more info here. Despite being present in previous versions of the WD TV, there's no longer support for Netflix.

Storage: You can stream video, music and photos from external storage and network attached drives, which is one of its biggest selling points for those with large movie/TV collections in digital format.

File formats: You can play a wide variety of file formats including MKV, MP4, XVID, AVI, ISO/VOB and MOV video. Audio formats include: MP3, WAV/PCM/LPCM, WMA, AAC, FLAC, MKA, AIF/AIFF, OGG, Dolby Digital, DTS. It can't play movies or music bought from iTunes though.

Remote control: There is a WD TV Remote app for iOS. You can also attach a wired or wireless keyboard.

TV compatibility: Connect to your HDTV via the HDMI port or use the composite (RCA outputs) to plug into virtually all television sets. The WD TV Live wins when it comes to connectivity with two USB ports, HDMI, composite and optical audio outputs and an ethernet socket for those who don't have the WiFi reach. Plus, you can beam the screen of your Android phone wirelessly to the WD TV thanks to its Miracast support.

Can you record: No, although there is a workaround if you purchase a Hauppage over-the-air tuner. 

Pros: It includes iPlayer, plays multiple file formats, and files can be played from local or network storage.

Cons: Limited channels available and no Netflix!

BT Ultra HD YouView (DTR-T4000)

BT Ultra HD YouView (DTR-T4000)

Price: The YouView box costs from £99.99 without a contract. You can add paid services such as Sky's Now TV. TalkTalk and BT's subscription services bundle the YouView box for free. You will need a Sky dish and installation starts at £60.

Channels: Any of the UK's free catch-up TV channels including iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD, Demand 5, Dave on Demand, Milkshake (Channel 5's children's programming) and the 50+ Freeview HD channels. Some additional content available on demand. Includes seven day scroll back TV for access to catch up TV from the UK's On Demand services.

Storage: ­500GB or 1TB options.

File formats: Uses the Freeview television platform via your television aerial.

Remote control: Yes.

TV compatibility: You need good digital TV coverage and at least 3Mb/s broadband. You need connect the YouView box to your router via the ethernet cable supplied. You connect the YouView box to your TV via the supplied HDMI cable.

Can you record: Yes you can record, pause and rewind live TV, plus there is a smartphone app you can use to set recordings while out and about.

Pros: Includes all the UK catch up channels.  

Cons: There are more channels offered via BT and Talk Talk's subscription deal plus the BBC and ITV have recently announced that they are to team up to develop the FreeView Connect catch up service, which may be competition to YouView.