Cable has fewer and fewer subscribers nowadays, due partly to the younger generation’s increasing disinterest in traditional TV and partly to the growing number of viable alternatives, like set-top boxes. But ditching regular cable doesn’t mean giving up all your shows. If you’re a cord-cutter, IPTV is the best option around, because it enables you to enjoy all your favorite programs, and more.
TV Set-Top Boxes vs. Traditional Broadcast TV
But you may be sitting there wondering what the actual difference is between cable TV and IPTV boxes – are the advantages that significant? Well, the main difference is the broadcasting type. Traditional broadcast television sends out signals received by viewers, who are limited when it comes to programming and times. You only get what the broadcaster wants you to, when they want to.
Set-top boxes (or IPTV) are known as internet protocol television. That’s because you are receiving your broadcasting online, via internet protocol (or IP), which offers you a much more flexible broadcasting type. You get all your programs online, on-demand. That means that you can view anything you want, at any time you want, and you no longer depend on what the broadcaster wants to show, and at what time.
What do you need for IPTV?
In order to access IPTV, you need the TV box that you set up neatly in the vicinity of your TV (it doesn’t need to be on top of it). You’ll also need an IPTV app, and that should work on any device you’re using, so no need to worry about that.
You don’t typically get a box when you sign up with an IPTV provider, so that’s up to you to purchase, at your own cost. However, there are plenty of options, as you will see, at many price-points and with an assortment of features that you may or may not be interested in.
What are the best TV set-top boxes?
Whether you’re in the market for your first set-top box or just an upgrade for your old one, here are 7 of the best set-top boxes available on the market right now.
- Amazon Fire Stick
The product: The Amazon Fire Stick is one of the most popular options in its category, not only because it’s widely available and easily accessible, but because it’s a good product, especially the newest version. The original Fire Stick? Not that great. But the 4K version is among the best.
PRO: This baby comes with a generous 8GB storage space and of course, it supports Alexa, another one of Amazon’s popular products. It doesn’t hurt that the Fire Stick comes at a really good price, too.
CON: Some won’t be thrilled with the Alexa feature, if they’re super worried about privacy and their devices stealthily listening to their conversations. Plus, if you’ve got an older version of the Fire Stick, it’s just not powerful enough to sit at the “best set-top box” table.
Best for: Viewers who are looking for the flexibility of switching between TV and streaming apps, but without the high price tag.
The product: The Nvidia Shield TV is the top of the line when it comes to performance and quality, where set-top boxes are concerned. It comes with an Nvidia Tegra X1 processor, 16 GB or 500 GB storage, and 3GB RAM. You also enjoy 4K HDR playback at 60FPS.
PRO: It’s an IPTV set-top box, but it also supports Android apps. Not only that, but you can use it as a Chromecast, a gaming console, a Plex server, and it can replace your web browser if you need to do a quick Googling while you’re at it. The only thing it doesn’t do is make breakfast, but that update is probably coming.
CON: The quality and flexibility come with a hefty price tag to match. While the product itself is definitely worth it, it may fall outside of a lot of people’s budget. There are cheaper products out there that do the same job.
Best for: Cord-cutters who want only the best all-in-one device and are willing to pay top dollar for it.
The product: MAG boxes are also super popular, with multiple versions being available for streaming IPTV. The 322 is recommended, but the 254 and 256 are not too shabby, either. MAG boxes are ideal for recreating that classic TV experience, no cable subscription needed – if you’re not after Netflix and other extras, that is.
PRO: It’s really simple to use and a lot of providers use and sync well with MAG boxes, including older models. If you already have one of these and get on well with it, there is no need for an upgrade.
CON: MAG boxes can be a little old-school, and the interface looks the part. That doesn’t bothersome, but others may find the lack of play/pause button inconvenient. Plus, you can’t install Android apps on this – if you’re interested in that, look elsewhere.
Best for: People who are uncomplicated and aren’t looking for anything too fancy; just “good enough”.
The product: Another Android box, Dreamlink T2 can even support Android apps that aren’t necessarily dedicated to streaming. Plus, there’s a microSD card slot for increased storage space and USB ports, HDMI ports, and Ethernet ports.
PRO: One of the interesting advantages, on this one, if you’re lacking in space, is the very small size of the box – about the size of your palm. In addition, it’s got a 2160p resolution and 8GB storage capacity.
CON: The CON on this is that it only comes with 1GB RAM, which can be a real problem. It’s just not as much power as some of the other options on the list offer.
Best for: The viewer who wants all the streaming capability of more expensive Android boxes, but isn’t overly fussy.
- Roku 3 Streaming Media Player
The product: A long-standing product, it was only recently that Roku actually became a contender, as previous iterations were not as successful. This one comes with over 2,000 channels and enables online gaming. It can be paired with your mobile device, as well.
PRO: What people like about Roku devices is that there’s a lot of options when it comes to devices, and they are available at different prices (a caveat on that in the CONs, though). This one, in particular, has a really good voice search, too.
CON: As with all the best products, high quality comes at a matching price. The Roku is not cheap, by any means, and that can be a deterrent for a lot of people who can’t afford it.
Best for: Cord-cutters who aren’t quite sure what they’re looking for yet, but would like a wide range to choose from, with different services.
The product: Another product that has had several iterations over the years, Formuler Z8 is the brand’s upgrade of the previous product, Formuler Z7. This version allows for much faster connections to be made via the gigabit port, and there’s an app, as well.
PRO: The Z8 is vastly superior to the Z7, as it brings a lot of changes and upgrades that bring this device into the latest generation of set-top boxes. The user interface is much easier to navigate and the device is much faster, in general.
CON: As for downsides, it’s quite pricy for the average budget, and for the money, you can’t get versions of Netflix or other streaming sites installed natively.
Best for: If you have an older version of the Formuler, you’ll love this new and improved device.
The product: Unlike most other boxes, this one runs on Windows, which is an interesting feature in itself. Beelink has also come out with other similar products, also supporting Windows, so there’s some variety there, for different needs.
PRO: This not only comes with Windows 10, but also has a 512GB HDD, excellent tech specs, USB ports, and a slot for SD cards. It’s hard to beat, really, because this is a high-quality product that’s on top of the heap, with the best.
CON: As always, the price is up there, especially compared to some of the budget versions on the list, so the difference can be a bit jarring.
Best for: The die-hard Microsoft fan who will settle for nothing less but the best quality set-top box money can buy. It’s just the latest gadget to upgrade in their home.
As you can see, traditional cable TV is on its way out, but the replacements are well worth it. It’s easier than ever to have access to your favorite programs on-demand, at any time you want, thanks to the advent of streaming. Luckily, there are plenty of options out there both for IPTV services and for the boxes to enable them, so if you’re looking for your brand new set-top box, one of these 7 is definitely your winner.