There is no shortage of TV boxes available on the market, from extremely low-budget android boxes to powerful systems that bring you the latest in streaming options.
In the article, I will be looking at the best all-in-one boxes for those looking for a single device for entertainment, games and music for the ultimate TV experience.
Roku Ultra/Now TV
Firstly, we have the Roku Ultra box or Now TV box if you are in the UK. Although the Roku Ultra is available for consumers in the UK. The streaming apps available are primarily for the US audience and not available in the UK. Instead, we can find all the features of the Roku Ultra packaged in the Now TV Smart Box, powered by Sky TV.
Architecture and Apps
The boxes both run on a custom OS which is designed from the ground up to give you a frictionless browsing experience on your TV.
The app library isn't as large or varied as some of the other devices on this list offer but in general, has enough options to keep most people entertained.
A nice feature of the device is that you can access the platform from its respective app on a smartphone, computer or tablet. This does limit you to films and box sets available on the Now TV or Roku platforms but still gives you additional ways to watch content.
Interface and Remote
Whichever version of the box you have, the interface is fairly identical. The UI is simple and easy to navigate and works will on any size TV. The remote control is very simple and compared to some of the other options on the list can feel a little cheap in comparison. The Roku Ultra remote also includes a headphone input, volume buttons and a standby button which can be programmed to your TV, quick action buttons that will open popular apps such as Rokus streaming platform, Netflix or NowTV in the UK. Not all Now TV boxes include these features however, most of the latest boxes will.
The remote and OS can often feel a little laggy and the box, in my experience, the OS is prone to crashing and resetting but still provides a good service given the price.
A note for UK users, many of the forums online are full of people complaining that their Now TV device often has connectivity issues, dropping the connection and stopping films mid-stream. This seems to be a known problem with certain generations of the Now TV box. It appears to be corrected on the later models.
The Roku Ultra/Now TV box is the only device on this list which currently has no support for gaming. Given the huge popularity of the box in the UK this is disappointing but the platform is intended as a video-first device.
The device offers a good variety of film and TV streaming options. Both versions of the device have their own streaming platform, offering a large variety of films and TV box sets. The content available is vast but requires a monthly subscription on top of your existing subscriptions such as Netflix etc.
Now TV smart box includes a selection of live TV channels provided by Sky TV and an aerial input to allow you to watch Freeview.
The Now TV packages split channels and content into "passes" which require a monthly subscription on top of your existing subscriptions such as Netflix etc. Freeview channels, as you would expect, are free. Without the additional passes though, the device feels fairly useless.
The device supports 4K video streaming and voice search for content. This is a nice feature but feels rather basic in comparison to the other options available.
The devices support popular apps for finding music videos such as Youtube and Vevo but do not currently support popular music-first services such as Spotify or TuneinRadio.
I wasn't sure whether to include this device in the list. Given its lack of features and sometimes poor performance, it doesn't particularly offer the best all-in-one experience for the user.
However, given its growing popularity and it's modest cost, it is a good entry-level device for those look at their first foray into media streaming devices for their TV.
At the time of writing this article, the NOW TV device itself costs on £45.99. The additional packages range from £3.99 to £20 a month each depending on your content preferences.
Supports 4K streaming
Supports Freeview in the UK
Live TV Channels
Prone to connectivity issues and crashing
Additional monthly charges
No game or music platform support
As mentioned above, I wasn't sure about adding this device to the list as it doesn't offer a good all-in-one platform. However, if you are looking for some additional content on your TV and don't have the money to buy one of the more expensive devices on this list, the Roku Ultra, Now TV box is a good way to get started. I wouldn't recommend these devices for anyone who already has a streaming box or smart TV and looking for an upgrade as you may be disappointed.
The Nvidia name is no stranger to gamers across the globe. The brand is well-known for delivering hardware and software that powered powerful gaming rigs everywhere.
The Shield TV is one of the oldest all-in-one devices on this list but in no way falling behind even the latest entrants.
Nvidia recently released an updated model of the Sheild TV that offers upgraded hardware and a device option with a smaller form factor.
The device itself has a very attractive form-factor. With a mix of matte and gloss finishes and a sleek LED light in the famous Nvidia green, this isn't a device you will want to hide.
Architecture and Apps
The Sheild TV runs on a modified version of the Andriod TV operating system. The OS itself is very powerful, supporting multi-tasking and side loading of 3rd party apps.
The app store doesn't offer the entire play store catalogue but has a large variety of apps and is being added to constantly. Even with its limited library when compared to the full play store experience, you can find an app for just about everything you would want. If you are looking for something specific and can't find it on the app store, you can easily upload your own APK files by searching online or plugging in a USB memory drive into one of the two USB inputs on the back of the device.
Interface and Remote
The Andriod TV UI is beautiful and I found it one of the most intuitive interfaces to navigate. The Nvidia features such as the GeForce now streaming platform integrates perfectly with the home screen as do many apps found in the app store such as Netflix and Amazon Video.
The pro model comes with both a remote and a game controller. Both feel sleek, well-built and offer no noticeable lag. The latest model offers a new remote design which removes the volume slider which I feel is a shame but has included more features such as quick action buttons to Netflix and fast-forward/rewind buttons.
Both the remote and the controller offer a voice search option and can trigger the built-in google assistant which works very well. You can even use this to trigger smart-home devices and conduct a huge variety of "Ok Google" searches.
The Shield TV integrated with any Google Home devices you already have to allow you to control the device with your voice assistant and vice versa. There is also an Alexa skill which allows you to control the shield via Amazons Alexa device if you don't use any Google Home products.
As you'd expect from a device sporting the Nvidia badge, games are where this device stands out amongst the competition.
The device comes pre-installed with the Nvidia GeForce now streaming platform. The platform allows users to stream games from Nvidia's servers at 4k 60FPS depending on internet connection.
The platform currently supports over 400+ games and allows users to integrate game libraries from Steam, Uplay, Android games and other game libraries. Providing a huge library of games.
Not all games are supported but as the platform is still in Beta, this doesn't seem like an issue as Nvidia are currently offering the service for free. I was able to easily find a huge selection of top-tier games supported by the platform and was rarely in a position where I couldn't find something to play.
The platform offers around 40+ games for free including Tomb Radier, Saints Row 3, Witcher 2 and plenty of other games and supports plenty of popular free to play games like Fortnight, Apex Legends and Destiny 2.
The Nvidia shield felt like the most well-rounded gaming experience. In my opinion, even more so than the games consoles on this list thanks to its huge access to free content, built-in recording/streaming support and access to 3rd party game libraries like Steam.
The GeForce experience also includes an app for PC and mobile devices which allows you to stream your game library to almost any device with a screen. The ability to play Destiny 2 on my phone screen with a cheap android game controller while travelling was a game-changer for me.
The service is not without its downsides. Currently, users are limited to four hours of game streaming. Nvidia has said this is to moderate usage so that all users have a chance to play and reduce the load on servers. This can be a little annoying if you are mid-game and need to close your stream and re-open it again to continue but I feel this is a small price to pay given the platform is offered for free.
A growing issue with the platform is the queues to access servers. As an early adopter of the platform, I never really found an issue with the queuing system. Nvidia only allows access to servers to a limited amount of players at one time. This meant that users would occasionally find themselves in a queue until space became available on a server. This usually only took a few minutes and didn't feel like too much of an inconvenience. However, due to the platforms growing popularity, it isn't uncommon to be waiting long periods in queues now, especially at peak playing times. While this can sometimes feel frustrating, Nvidia is constantly improving the GeForce infrastructure and the issue is unlikely to continue once the platform leaves Beta and officially launches.
The shield TV, while focused on gaming, does not disappoint when it comes to TV/Film streaming. Supporting most major streaming apps such as Netflix, Amazon Video and the Google Play Video. I was spoilt for choice with things to watch. There is also a selection of IPTV and Live TV apps available such as Pluto TV which adds to the experience.
Support for media server apps such as Plex and Kodi make the viewing potential even greater but I felt like the experience available through apps and google play was more than enough. The device also comes with Chromecast built-in, meaning you can stream content from your phone, tablet or desktop.
The Shield TV support most of the popular music streaming services such as Spotify, TuneinRadio, Google Play Musc and Deezer.
The built-in Bluetooth and integrated Google assistant meant I could connect the shield to my soundbar easily and use voice control to play music without touching the remote at all. I was even able to set up smart home routines through some external services so the RGB lights in my room would automatically turn on or change colours when I played music.
The shield TV can be purchased from £140, with costs going up depending on spec, model and whether or not you want the game controller (although I would highly suggest this option).
Huge game library and free content
Great value for money
Good selection of apps via play store
Sideload 3rd party apps
Google Home and Alexa integration
Play game libraries on any device via GeForce now
No monthly subscription - yet!
Queues for servers can sometimes belong
4 hour limit on game streams
Additional game controllers can be expensive.
I have used many steaming devices throughout the years but I find myself constantly coming back to the Nvidia Shield TV. In my experience, it offered the best all-in-one media experience and the best value for money thanks to the huge amount of free content. I would highly recommend the Shield TV to anyone who is looking for one device that can do it all. I now use this device as my main streaming device and in my opinion, I haven't yet found anything which can compete.
One of the newest contenders on the marketplace. The Google Stadia platform utilises the Google Chromecast infrastructure to stream games and content at 4k 60fps, connection permitting. As the platform is still new, it is currently limited as far as content goes but Google is working with partners to increase their content offering.
Architecture and Apps
The Google Stadia offers the most minimal offering as far as hardware goes. The package contains the Google Stadia controller and a 4K Chromecast Ultra.
The platform itself doesn't have apps as such, instead, it relies on the chromecast so you can send content from your phone to the TV. Again, this makes the whole experience feel fragmented and can be rather frustrating.
Interface and Remote
The UI is, in typical Google fashion, very minimalistic. Most interactions such as buying new games or finding new content needs to be done through the Stadia companion app on your smartphone which makes the whole experience feel somewhat disconnected.
The controller feels ok. It doesn't feel like it will fall apart but I think it would become uncomfortable during long playing sessions. The platform doesn't have a remote control yet so the game controller is currently the only option for navigating.
The platform does come with access to some games but to access most of these you will need to pay the monthly subscription which is currently £8.99 in the UK. The biggest complaint I have seen for this platform is the tiny amount of supported games. Given the lack of content, I feel Google may have introduced the monthly subscription model a little early but hopefully, the library continues to grow as more people adopt the platform.
The games have no noticeable lag but I was playing on a fairly robust internet connection. As with all cloud-based gaming platform, the quality of your experience will depend on your network. This is particularly a problem with Google Stadia as the system has no support for ethernet, meaning it has to solely rely on a strong wifi signal.
The platform currently offers no support for third-party game libraries like steam or Uplay and no comment has been made by Google regarding support for these in the future.
As mentioned above, the platform itself doesn't offer any integrated apps but instead relies on the user streaming content from their phone or mobile device. While there is a huge amount of apps out there that offer chromecast support, this does limit your options. I find having to search for content on my phone to cast to my TV a little annoying and is something that I am happy to see as an extra function for a device but as it's primary way of working, it feels like it ruins the experience.
There are plenty of music apps which support the chromecast platform so it was easy to find content to listen to. The ability to change music selection using my Google Home devices saved the experience somewhat and removed the need to use my phone once the initial connection had been established.
Google Stadia hardware currently costs £119 in the UK. While this is a very reasonable cost for the hardware and the included Chromecast Ultra. The platform feels a little lacking without the £8.99 monthly subscription. While this is a fairly low monthly cost, I feel like they have introduced this a little early given the huge lack of content.
Cheap device costs
Play across any device with chromecast support
Very limited content
Requires phone to navigate most content
While the platform shows great potential, at the moment it feels a little unfinished. This is something that could be overlooked but the reliance on a monthly subscription at this point makes the Stadia a no-go for me. There are options out there which provide much better experiences and value for money. I also find the reliance on using a mobile device makes the platform feel a little messy and ruins the smooth browsing experience I would expect if I was looking for an all-in-one device for my TV.
While primarily focused on gaming (obviously!), games consoles have become great all-in-one media platforms over the years. With the inclusion of film/tv streaming services and both Microsoft and Sony looking at creating game streaming services similar to Nvidia's GeForce Now or Google Stadia, consoles are now much more than gaming devices.
Architecture and Apps
Both platforms run custom a customs OS with their own unique app store. With huge selections of apps available on both, you can find most things you are looking for. As is to be expected, you are unlikely to find a better game controller than on a game console. Both feel great and work extremely well. Both consoles also offer remote controls which can be purchased separately to give you a more natural browsing experience while watching media.
The form-factor of both of these devices are much bigger than most devices on this list. While this isn't a problem for most, it depends on the type of setup you are looking for. The additional benefit to consoles is that they also support discs which most streaming devices do not.
It seems rather obvious but both consoles offer robust and well-rounded gaming experiences. With a huge variety of games available and console exclusive games available on both platforms, you won't have any issues finding what you're looking for.
Almost all major streaming services are available on both platforms; Netflix, Amazon Video, Now TV and more.
The ability to insert discs also adds the ability to watch DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. A feature that very few streaming boxes support.
Much like the entertainment apps, it's hard to find a major music service which is not available on either console.
Consoles vary in cost depending on packages and models but you can find an Xbox One for around £195 and a PS4 for around £223. Prices vary throughout the year though and you should always check prices across a few sites to make sure you are getting the best deal.
To get the most out of these consoles though, you would need to purchase the Xbox Live pass or Playstation plus pass. These are usually monthly subscriptions but it is easy to find deals and promotion for these.
Powerful hardware for game and video rendering.
More expensive option
While this will be the most popular choice for most people. Consoles will always be more focused on providing you with the best gaming experience with other entertainment options being more of an afterthought. If your focus is going to be more on the gaming experience then this is probably the best option for you. If you are looking for more of an all-rounder device that offers the best value for money than there may be better options that are more suited to your needs.
The Apple TV has been around for a while now but recently, the tech giant released the Apple TV 4k.
An upgraded version of the Apple TV that supports 4K and has more powerful processors to allows users some exciting new viewing options.
Architecture and Apps
As with all things Apple, the Apple TV runs on a custom OS that works seamlessly with any other Apple products you have. Allowing you to airplay content direct from your Mac or iPhone.
The problem comes when using something outside the Apple ecosystem. The experience can be a little messy for those with Android devices or Windows PCs.
The app store, like android TV, offers a limited version of the app store you can find on other Apple devices but still offers a good selection of content.
The problem here is that certain platform which is not in the Apple ecosystem are not supported including major apps like Youtube! That's right, Apple TV doesn't support the biggest video streaming platform on the planet.
Interface and Remote
As you would expect from Apple, the UI is very clean and user-friendly. The platform can be navigated by a mini-trackpad on the top of the remote or by voice search.
The remote feels very sleek and well made and offers better build quality than most remotes on the market. It is very responsive and comfortable to use. Even the interface is offered up in beautiful 4K resolution, looking sharp and vibrant throughout.
The device tries to upscale content to 4k HDR so you get the best viewing experience on any app. Unfortunately, this doesn't work as described. Videos can appear grainy and colours often appear incorrectly. This is likely something that will be fixed in a future update but for now, it can be a disappointing viewing experience if you are watching content that isn't native 4K.
While the Apple TV does have a small game library these feel very much like an afterthought and are extremely basic. This isn't something likely to change as Apple has already stated that the device is meant to be more of a video-first platform and the games aren't a priority.
Some of the games available utilise the remote's accelerometer to create Wii-like gameplay which is a nice feature but Apple TV is far from a well-rounded gaming experience.
Apple TV offers its own unique content for a monthly subscription. The content is fairly limited at the moment but seems to be growing quickly so don't imagine it being that way for too long.
The device supports many major platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Video but, doesn't support all major platforms such as youtube which is hugely disappointing. This is due to Apple and Googles well-known inability to make partnership deals with each other, however, I think in this case, results in them short-changing their users when it comes to content choice.
As you might expect, the music experience on Apple TV heavily prioritises Apple Music and, until recently didn't support popular music streaming services such as Spotify. This has been corrected however with a recent update which saw Spotify being added to the app store as a native Apple TV app.
You can purchase the Apple TV from £179, a fairly modest price for an Apple product. There is a monthly subscription for Apple TV Plus. The monthly subscription is optional however is highly recommended to get the best out of the experience. This again comes at a fairly modest price for Apple, costing only £4.99 a month.
Apple TV is a well-crafted device and browsing experience. If you are already using the Apple ecosystem and have an iPhone or Mac then this option will probably make sense for you. If you do not use Apple products you may not get the best experience out of the platform.
It is also worth double-checking support for platforms which you use before purchasing. Failing to support platforms such as youtube means that you may find the services you regularly use are missing.
If you aren't sure which is the best all-in-one media option for you, then it is best to decide what is the most important thing for you.
Based on the devices I used the best all in one platform that offered the most options, provided the best value for money and worked best for me was the Nvidia Sheild TV. The device is great for people that want everything in one device and don't want to spend a huge amount of money.
However, if your priority is gaming I would consider a console and if you are a heavy user of the Apple infrastructure that doesn't game too often than Apple TV may be for you but you should check that your favourite apps are available as support is limited.
JAMIE DEL GROSSO
I am an award-winning creative director and innovation consultant from England. I work with various creative agencies, brands and art organisations to develop and deliver break-through creative and innovation concepts.