Here’s the thing about streaming devices. They don’t change a whole lot. They do what they’re meant to do — stream video, and maybe some other stuff — but the underlying tech doesn’t change much. And that’s because the way we stream video hasn’t really changed, either. So the differences are more on the edges. That doesn’t mean we haven’t seen improvements, however. And while our list of the best streaming devices hasn’t changed overall, there definitely are some differences to note this year.
From the outside, the new Apple TV 4K looks nearly identical to the 2021 model. It’s every-so-slightly smaller, thanks to the removal of the active fan (yes, previous iterations had a fan, which you probably never actually heard), but inside that unassuming exterior, you’ll find a handful of small but important improvements.
Most notably, this year’s model comes with an A15 Bionic processor. In other words, Apple TV was overpowered before, and it’s still overpowered, insofar as what you’d need to do things like watch video. Maybe that’s just because it’s easier (and more cost-effective for Apple to use that processor versus something a little older and not quite as good. Maybe it’s required for the inclusion of the Thread and Matter standards, which should let Apple TV serve as a better smart home hub. (Those standards are being adopted by all the major players, including Amazon and Google.)
Or maybe it’s something else altogether. Maybe we’ll one day see Apple TV get serious about streaming gaming. Or not.
Another minor improvement? The remote control now recharges over USB-C instead of Apple’s own Lightning cable. That’s good because Apple’s proprietary standards need to go away, especially for something that you’ll likely only have to charge a couple of times a year. (Now do iPhones and AirPods, Apple!)
And it’s also an excellent workout partner with Apple Fitness+.
And you still won’t find ads anywhere on the home screen. (Don’t make us regret saying that, Apple!)
Another solid example of incremental improvement is Amazon’s Fire TV Cube. It’s still a cube. It’s still a streaming device, married to an Amazon Echo speaker. It still has all the apps and does all the Alexa stuff as before. New, though, is the cloth exterior — to better fit in the Echo lineup, which also sports the same scheme. But the bigger changes come from the addition of an HDMI-in port, and the inclusion of Wi-Fi 6E.
The former allows you to connect other devices via HDMI, like a cable box, satellite box, or gaming console. And once it’s directly connected to the Fire TV Cube, it’ll be able to more easily control that secondary device. When it comes to cable and satellite boxes, Fire TV will be able to integrate live guides into its own user interface (if the hardware is supported), and you’ll be able to control everything without ever leaven the Fire TV input on your television.
That means it’s not really just for streamers anymore, and it just makes the whole experience easier.
The upgrade to Wi-Fi 6E probably is a little selfish on Amazon’s part. The company now owns router manufacturer Eero, which has an excellent lineup of consumer-grade routers that, by the way, now support Wi-Fi 6E. So that just makes sense. But it’s also great for anyone else who has the most recent wireless standard baked into their router — never mind the manufacturer. Faster is better, and that’s especially true since Wi-Fi 6E will give you faster speeds than the onboard 10/100 Ethernet port.