Gift Guide: Choosing a streaming device without overpaying

Why watch video on a phone or a tablet when you can get a device for as little as $30 to stream shows on a big-screen TV?

Apple, Google, Amazon and Roku are all competing to be your gateway to online video. Which device you need will largely depend on what services you watch and what kind of TV you have.

Of course, the device alone won’t be enough. You’ll probably want at least one subscription to a video service such as Netflix or Hulu, which charge monthly fees. Others, such as WatchESPN, require a cable TV subscription. Plenty of others — YouTube, for instance — offer video for free with ads, although their selections can be limited.

Here’s a holiday buying guide for the TV-streamers in your life.

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STREAMING BUILT-IN

Smart TVs, game consoles and the TiVo digital video recorder all have streaming capabilities built in. If all you watch is Netflix and Hulu, you’ll be fine with those. But apps for individual channels such as The CW and FX won’t work with every device.

The exceptions are TVs that run Roku or Amazon software or that have Google’s Chromecast technology built in. They tend to have wider app selections, so you might not need a streaming device at all.

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AMAZON FIRE TV

Although Amazon has gotten better about promoting rival services, its Fire TV device is best seen as a companion to the company’s $99-a-year Prime loyalty program. Video available through Prime is prominent. The device has Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant built-in, giving you weather, sports scores, stock quotes and playback controls with selected apps — ask Alexa to forward 30 seconds, for instance.

Amazon’s $40 Fire TV Stick is good for regular, high-definition TV sets.

If you have a higher-resolution 4K TV, you’ll want the regular Fire TV for $70. There isn’t a lot of 4K video yet, but the price difference is small compared with what 4K TVs cost. The regular Fire TV also offers high-dynamic range, which has better contrast and produces brighter whites and darker blacks. Again, HDR video is slowly coming.

Fire TV doesn’t offer apps for iTunes or Google Play video. Fire TV’s remote also lacks volume controls, something that’s becoming standard on streaming devices.

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ROKU

Roku has one of the most complete channel libraries — more than 5,000, many you’ve never heard of. But there’s no iTunes.

Roku’s Express sells for just $30. The $50 Streaming Stick gets you a remote with volume buttons and voice search — though we’re…

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