Streaming media players, which offer access to a world of online content, including movies and TV shows from services such as Amazon Prime and Netflix, have become a popular entertainment option. Not surprising, many of these players have popped up in Black Friday promotions we've seen over the last few weeks.
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So how good are the deals this week?
The price cuts we've seen have been decent, but these players normally sell for less than $100, so savings will be much more modest than on TVs (such as a 40-inch 1080p TV for $119 or a 60-inch set for $498). Still, it's a great time to shave $10 or $20 off the price of a player. (To help you narrow your TV choices, check out Consumer Reports' list of recommended streaming media players, available to subscribers.)
Roku, which offers several models, has been among the most popular streaming media choices for several years now. Those with older TVs who need a player that can connect using analog connections should consider the basic Roku 1, on sale at Walmart for $28, almost half its usual $50 price. The Roku 3—our top-rated player, with a faster processor and some extra features, including an Ethernet port for a wired connection to your network—costs $85 at Best Buy, $15 lower than its usual $100 price.
We consider Apple TV the best choice for those who live in Apple’s world, with a lot of content in iTunes or on the iCloud, and who want to enjoy AirPlay mirroring of the content on their portable Apple devices. Target is chopping the Apple TV's price by $11, to $89. We've seen it for $90 at several other retailers, and if you'll be buying any iTunes content this holiday season you may want to consider Costco, which is bundling a $15 iTunes card with an Apple TV purchase this Black Friday.
Check our Holiday Planning & Gift Guide for suggestions of top-rated gifts and expert shopping advice from Consumer Reports. And find the right streaming media player with our buying guide and Ratings.
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This year Amazon entered the streaming player market, first with its Amazon Fire TV—a set-top-box-style player—and more recently with the smaller Amazon Fire TV Stick. The Fire TV, normally $99, is $85 at Best Buy, and $85 at Staples. While we were tracking prices, Best Buy's price for the Fire TV jumped up to $99, then back to $85. You'll have to monitor pricing to make sure it's on sale when you're ready to buy.
If you feel that even a tiny set-top box is too much to add to your home entertainment setup, there are now several stick-style streaming players that plug directly into a TV's HDMI port, drawing power either from a TV's USB port or via an AC adapter. If you like Roku's wide assortment of content, the Roku Streaming Stick, usually $50, is $40 at several retailers on Black Friday, including Best Buy, Staples, and RadioShack. Yes, it's only a $10 savings, but that's a 20 percent price drop
Another increasingly popular option is the Google Chromecast, which lets you cast content from other devices to your TV. Chromecast normally costs $35, but this week it's $24 at Best Buy, or $25 at Costco, Target, Staples, and RadioShack.
One of the newest stick-styled players is the Amazon Fire TV Stick; though its regular price is $39, it, too, is priced at $24 or $25 at a few retailers this week, including Best Buy and Staples. Oddly, those who order it on Amazon—which hasn't announced its Black Friday price yet—are being told they may not get one until January.
If you've been thinking about adding online content to a TV that lacks Internet capability, this seems to be a good time to buy one. The savings aren't huge, but then again the prices for these types of devices aren't especially high. But we believe that many of these players will be discounted right through the entire holiday buying season.
We'll be continuing our Black Friday and Cyber Monday coverage right through the holiday so keep checking back for our latest updates. And make sure you check out our Top 10 Black Friday Shopping Tips before you head out to buy.
—James K. Willcox
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