Best IPTV box 2019: The best internet TV boxes for streaming TV and movies
Get Netflix and more on the big screen
Smart TVs are on the rise – so you might think that standalone streaming devices such as IPTV boxes are on their way out. But TV interfaces can be awkward and slow, and manufacturers typically stop updating the built-in apps and services after a few years. An IPTV box promises a slick, up-to-date experience, without having to replace your entire TV.
It can give older hardware a new lease of life, too, letting you enjoy Netflix and iPlayer on a “dumb” TV set, not to mention apps like Plex and Kodi. With new features and aggressive pricing, the dedicated box is becoming a more and more tempting option.
The problem is working out which one to buy. Do you want a device designed primarily to work with one streaming service, such as Now TV – or should you choose a more flexible unit that treats all services the same? And what about extras like 4K and HDR video streaming or voice controls? Here’s our buyer’s guide, and our pick of the best IPTV boxes to buy right now.
How to choose the best IPTV box
Streaming devices come in two basic forms. There are boxes that sit next to your TV and draw their power from the mains, and then there are smaller “stick” devices that plug directly into an HDMI connector at the back of your TV, and usually draw their power from a USB socket. Both connect to the internet via Wi-Fi, though some boxes have an Ethernet port as well. It’s largely a matter of preference and convenience as to which format will suit you.
Beyond this, the decision mostly comes down to the apps and services you want. For example, Amazon’s Fire TV devices can stream Netflix, iPlayer, All 4 and Amazon Prime Video, but they don’t support Now TV or Google Play Movies. Sky’s Now TV devices, conversely, will stream Now TV, All 4, iPlayer and a handful of other services – but not Amazon Prime Video, Netflix or Google Play Movies.
It goes without saying that you should check before you buy that your chosen stick or box supports all the services you subscribe to, and any you might want to access in the future. Or, consider a device from an independent manufacturer, like the Roku Streaming Stick+, which will work with all of the major video services.
What about an Android TV box?
Alongside the big-name boxes, there are plenty of Android-based streaming devices out there, often sold at low prices by Chinese manufacturers – but it’s not always clear what you’re going to get. Some run software based on the standard smartphone version of Android, while others are based on the specialised Android TV platform. You may or may not get access to the Google Play store, and you might find that the official apps for things like Netflix aren’t compatible with your hardware.
This might sound discouraging – but if you want to run Kodi then an Android box might be the perfect platform. Kodi has an iffy reputation, but the app itself is perfectly legal, and is a great way to watch video from legitimate sources or from your own NAS drive.
Just be aware that Kodi can also be used to illegally stream films and TV shows from dodgy sites, and some sellers offer “fully loaded” Kodi boxes that come with all the add-ons required to to do so. If you go exploring those capabilities, you might be straying outside the boundaries of the law.
What other features should I look out for?
All the devices listed below will output 1080p (“Full HD”) video, and the more expensive models can also stream and play 4K (“UHD”) material. Some will also support online music streaming services, photo slideshows and smartphone-style games. It may even be possible to stream games from a PC in another room, so that you can play them on the big TV screen in the lounge, with a Bluetooth games controller to give you that authentic console feel.
A final thing to look for is voice control: this certainly beats scrambling for the remote, and can make it a lot easier to choose shows and films from the vast range available. It’s often accessed via a microphone built into the remote control, and some streamers integrate with the Google Assistant or Amazon Echo platforms, so you can issue hands-free commands and use the bundled remote to control other smart devices in the home.
The best IPTV boxes you can buy in 2019
1. Now TV Stick: The best budget streamer
Sky’s streaming dongle isn’t the most versatile option. You get iPlayer, ITV Hub, Demand 5 and All 4, but there’s no support for Amazon, Google Play Movies or Netflix – Sky doesn’t want you watching rival services. You’ll also be disappointed if you were hoping to use Plex or Kodi; the closest you’ll get is the PlayTo DLNA streaming app.
But if you’re just looking for Sky and HBO content – like Westworld, The Affair and Game of Thrones – then the Now TV Stick is an effortless way to get it, in addition to an excellent movie line-up. It’s easy to use, with a handy voice-search remote control, and the hardware is extremely cheap, making it a very tempting deal overall.
Key specs – Type: HDMI streaming stick; Power: USB or bundled mains adapter; Core spec: Not specified; Core apps: Now TV, Sky Store, Sky Sports Box Office, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Demand 5, All 4, PlayTo; Voice-enabled remote: Yes
2. Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote: The best all-round streaming stick
Amazon’s clever little streamer is much more flexible than Sky’s. Not only can you enjoy Netflix and an extensive range of other apps, it’s also quite easy to sideload Kodi and open up a whole world of entertainment possibilities.
The standard Fire TV Stick streams video in glorious 1080p, or for an extra £30 you can get the 4K model with HDR support. Both models come with an Alexa Voice Remote, allowing you to find and play films and programmes across a wide range of installed apps – and if you have smart lights or speakers then you can control them from the remote too. Alternatively, if you have an Echo speaker, you can use this to control the Fire TV stick and keep your hands free.
The interface is slick and easy to get around, and playback is flawless. As long as you can live without Sky services, the Fire TV Stick will more than satisfy most people’s streaming needs.
Key specs – Type: HDMI streaming stick; Power: Bundled mains adapter; Core spec: Quad-core processor, 1GB RAM, 8GB storage, 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Core apps: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Demand 5, All 4, Plex; Voice-enabled remote: Yes
3. Roku Streaming Stick+: The best do-it-all internet TV device
The Roku Streaming Stick+ is a little pricey by stick standards, but it’s your gateway to an unbeatable selection of media services. It’s as happy playing Now TV as Netflix, and Amazon Prime and Google Play Movies are supported too, along with all the big UK catch-up services and plenty of smaller (and often weirder) streaming channels.
It’s easy to use too, with a nice clear interface, and while the remote control doesn’t have a microphone, you can download an app that enables voice control via your smartphone. Throw in excellent playback quality in both Full HD and 4K and you have a fantastic internet TV device with very few compromises.
Key specs – Type: HDMI streaming stick; Power: USB; Core spec: Quad-core processor, 1GB RAM, 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Core apps: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Now TV, Sky Store, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Demand 5, All 4, Plex; Voice-enabled remote: No
4. Globmall X4 4K Android 7.1 TV Box: The best-value Android-based streamer
There’s plenty of low-cost Android TV boxes to choose from, but the Globmall X4 is our favourite. It’s a tiny square unit just 10cm wide, with a microSD memory card slot on one side and two USB ports, an Ethernet port and an HDMI output on the rear. It runs a customised version of Android and includes full access to the Google Play store, although you’re advised to install the recommended versions of Netflix, Kodi, Plex and various other apps (most legal, some slightly shady) from Globmall’s own repository.
Getting your apps set up involves a little more work than some other streaming devices (it’s a whole lot easier if you plug in a keyboard and mouse), and we found Wi-Fi reception wasn’t great, so we recommend you use the Ethernet port if you want to watch 4K streams. Once everything’s working smoothly, though, it’s a rock-solid TV box, with all the flexibility of Kodi and a full range of apps and add-ons, at an excellent price.
Key specs – Type: Android TV box; Power: Mains adapter; Core spec: Quad-core processor, 2GB RAM, 16GB storage, 802.11n Wi-Fi; Core apps: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Kodi, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Demand 5, All 4, Plex; Voice-enabled remote: No
5. Abox A4 Android TV Box: The best Android TV box
The Abox A4 is a little pricier than the Globmall X4, but it has the advantage of running the official Android TV platform. This gives you a much smoother out-of-box experience, and you can download TV-optimised versions of most of the apps you want direct from the Google Play Store. BBC iPlayer is notably missing, but with Netflix, Google Play Movies, YouTube, Plex and Kodi you won’t run out of things to watch, and it’s possible to sideload additional apps from other sources.
The other bonus is a remote with a built-in microphone, allowing you to control the box and search for films and programmes using the Google Assistant. With a quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, performance is nicely responsive, and HD and 4K video quality is as good as you’ll get from any of the big-name streamers. Naturally you don’t get the support and service line-up of an Amazon or Roku device, but if you’re after an Android TV box this is a great option.
Key specs – Type: Android TV box; Power: Mains adapter; Core spec: Quad-core processor, 2GB RAM, 16GB storage, 802.11n Wi-Fi; Core apps: Netflix, Kodi, ITV Hub, Demand 5, YouTube, Google Play Movies, Plex; Voice-enabled remote: No
6. Nvidia Shield TV: The best TV streamer money can buy
This latest version of the Shield TV has been around since the start of 2017, but it’s still the best streamer on the market. Its Tegra X1 processor breezes through 4K and HD video, and also has the power to play great-looking 3D games. There’s support for both Amazon Prime Video and Netflix in 4K, plus BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Google Play Movies, Plex, Spotify and Kodi – and a good selection of other apps available to download from the app store. You can stream games from your PC to the Shield too, or play 4K video from your tablet or smartphone.
The bundled remote meanwhile supports voice control through the Google Assistant, for video streaming apps and any connected Smart Home appliances. Clearly, the Shield costs a lot more than its rivals, but it’s very hard to fault; if you’ve got the cash, the only reason to hold back is the possibility that Nvidia might soon replace it with something even better.
Key specs – Type: Android TV box; Power: Mains adapter; Core spec: Quad-core processor, 3GB RAM, 16GB plus 500GB storage, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Core apps: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Kodi, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, YouTube, Google Play Movies, Plex; Voice-enabled remote: No