The 2020 cord-cutter awards: Best streaming services, devices, and more

While the circumstances were hardly ideal, 2020 was a big year for cord cutting.

Streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ saw their subscriber numbers soar as people looked for ways to pass the time at home, and the temporary suspension of live sports accelerated the decline of traditional pay TV bundles. While not coronavirus-related, this year introduced two major new streaming services in HBO Max and NBC’s Peacock, and we saw some bold attempts to rethink the streaming device with Google’s new Chromecast and the TiVo Stream 4K.

I’ve been writing this weekly column (and newsletter) on cord-cutting through it all, so in accordance with annual tradition, I’d like to cap off 2020 by recounting my favorite developments of the year. Here are TechHive’s fifth-annual cord-cutter awards:

Best new streaming hardware: Chromecast with Google TV

Jared Newman / IDG

At the start of the year, I wrote that unified streaming TV guides would be one of cord-cutting’s biggest trends, and no streaming device delivers on that idea quite like the Chromecast with Google TV.

Instead of making us look through each streaming service’s catalog one-by-one, the new Chromecast presents a unified guide with content from Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, and more. And instead of shunting this guide off to some separate menu, Google made it the focal point of its entire interface. You can still launch individual apps on the new Chromecast, but to do so would miss the point.

Having a birds-eye view of all your streaming services is a revelation, leading to movies and shows you otherwise might’ve missed and helping you get more value from your subscriptions as a result. It should be model for other streaming devices to follow, even if the recently reduced level of Netflix integration is a bummer.

Runner Up: TiVo Stream 4K, whose approach to aggregation is similar even if its execution is a little less polished.

Most overdue device upgrade: Amazon Fire TV Stick

ftvstickhero Jared Newman / IDG

Amazon likes to point out that the Fire TV Stick is its best-selling streaming device, which might explain why the company waited four years to give it more processing power. With the new $40 Fire TV Stick, users no longer have to suffer through excessively long load times and herky-jerky menus. The Fire TV Stick 4K is still the better buy at $10 more, but the standard Stick is a fine alternative for folks who aren’t buying a 4K TV anytime soon. (Just make sure to avoid the cheaper “Lite” version and its less-functional remote.)

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