Best router for streaming: TP-Link Archer A20
The best wireless router for streaming live TV on multiple devices is TP Link’s Archer A20 WiFi Router.
So if you’ve finally decided to dump your cable TV or satellite subscription, congratulations. One of the first things you should buy is a decent Wi-Fi router. You’ll need a modem too. But I’ll get to that later.
You probably have been renting some kind of combination modem and router unit, and haven’t been paying a lot of attention to it.
Have you been wondering why your Internet service is so lousy?
The Archer A20 will definitely outperform a router that you can rent from an Internet service provider.
If your router is fairly new and you’ve found yourself shopping around again, the end of this review has 3 ways to improve any WiFi setup out there. So definitely go through the checklist and consider your options before buying something new.
Why you should buy a tri-band router in 2020
So if you’re just getting into cord cutting, you want a powerful, wireless internet connection.
Netflix and Hulu don’t require a lot of internet bandwidth — even if you are streaming in 4K. To stream Netflix in HD you need about 5Mbps. To stream in 4K — you’ll want about 25Mbps.
But consider this — the avalanche of hardware that has come into your home in the last few years has really changed the demands of a home WiFi network.
Lots of everyday items in your home already use 2.4GHz bandwidth. Baby monitors, garage door openers and Bluetooth earpieces all operate on it. The good part about 2.4GHz is that it can travel through walls and longer distances.
Now you’re adding to those demands with your home entertainment.
A Roku Streaming Stick, Amazon Fire TV, a PlayStation game console, tablets and smartphones are all pulling bandwidth from your router.
With a 5GHz frequency, you’re getting a faster data rate, but at a shorter distance.The Archer A20 has an extra 5GHz band that can connect more devices. So there’s less congestion and competition among your streaming devices.
It broadcasts two bands on the faster 5 GHz bandwidth. The third band has 2.4 GHz of bandwidth for WiFi coverage in areas of your home that are further away from your router.
On the back of the router, there’s a USB 3.0 port, 4 Ethernet ports, a USB 2.0 Port; there’s also a reset button, power button,
There are six antennas on the top.
A blue light show you internet is available. Orange light means internet isn’t available. Once you have the router out of the box, you just need to connect it to your modem, and open either the TP-Link app or pull up the web interface to set up your SSID and password.
Best Wireless Router Specs for Streaming
There are two other features that make the TP-Link AC4000 router stand out.
Band steering lets you use a single network name for all your Internet connected devices. It lets the router decide which devices go on the 2.4 GHz band, and which gets 5Ghz.
Basically, band steering prevents all your devices from hopping onto one band in your network. So let’s say your network name is Fred. Instead of having three network names such as Fred-2.4GHz, Fred-5GHz, and Fred-5GHz-2, you’ll just having a single network name. And yes, it can be Fred.
Band steering is also a common feature on mesh networks. TP-Link calls its version of band steering SmartConnect.
It’s really easy to enable Smart Connect. You can setup and control the Archer A20 settings with a smartphone app or web-based interface. You are literally flipping a switch under the advanced wireless settings.
Quality of Service (QoS) feature for better HD and 4K Streaming
For a few years now, I have also become a fan of QoS, or Quality of Service, where you can prioritize traffic for particular devices.
So if you wanted to make sure your Roku was the first in line for getting WiFi over a smart speaker, or another Internet-connect device, you can regulate that with the Archer A20.
I didn’t really need QoS while testing the Archer A20. I had plenty of bandwidth for about 20 devices including three TVs streaming video. But I did put the settings on streaming to see if there was any noticeable difference. There wasn’t.
With dual-band routers, QoS has been a great feature to have, and it’s one you may want if you’re buying a dual-band router in the $80 to $100 range.
What router should I buy?
If you’re in a smaller home, you can certainly get by fine with a dual band router. But in 2020 and beyond, there is only going to be more demand for Internet connected devices like a Roku or smartphone.
You don’t want to be watching a football game on ESPN, only to have your picture lock up during a high-point in the game. The Archer A20 has a 1.8GHz quad-core processor. So it can handle multiple devices without much of a problem.
A few years ago, I didn’t think too much about what kind of processor was in my router. But now, it’s one of the more important specs to consider.
The other thing I noticed is that the Archer A20 has a really impressive range. I’m in a 2,700 square foot condo that’s divided up into three floors. I have my WiFi setup on the top floor.
No matter where I am in the condo, I can live TV on my phone, stream in 4K or watch over-the-air channels broadcast over my home network. Using the cloud gaming service, GEForce Now, is pretty slick now even though I’m playing one floor below from where the router is located.
Having two strong 5Ghz bands with faster download speeds really made a difference.
The best WiFi router should make you forget that you’re even streaming live TV, or using a lot of bandwidth because you are playing a game.
Buying a router vs renting
The Archer A20 retails for about $192 on Amazon. That may seem pricey to some people. But if add up what you pay in rental fees for a modem and router every year, you might be surprised to learn what you’re already spending.
A cable company typically charges between $10 to $12 per month for a modem-router combo unit.
So the equipment that you buy pays for itself pretty quickly, and you’re going to get much better performance.
(By the way, for a modem I’m using a Motorolla MB7621, 24×8 cable modem, which is compatible with most cable companies in the US that also provide Internet service.)
Setting up the Archer A20
There are two options for setting up and operating the Archer A20. You can use your PC or laptop to set up the router, or you can use TP-Link’s Tether app available on iOS or Android devices.
Either way, setup on the router is pretty typical.
You will need to pick a network, a password and decide whether you want to enable Band Steering (a.k.a. SmartConnect with a TP-Link router) like I mentioned earlier.
I’ve used mobile apps with other routers and mesh systems before. And they are generally useful for seeing how many things are connecting to your router. I like the Tether app a little more because you don’t have to sit down in front of a computer if you want to adjust your settings.
There are some other useful features, too. The speed test is handy. It’s powered by Speedtest.net.
You can see your download speed — which is very important for streaming live TV and Netflix — and your upload stream, which you’ll care about if you upload photos to social media.
The app also gives you a nice summary about your speed rating.
After the speed test, my summary read: “You should be able to stream HD videos and music, play online games and make video calls all at the same time.”
Under the Clients tab, you can see every device connected to the router and which band they’re connected to. The list includes what devices are hardwired to your router.
The HomeCare tab lets you manage profiles for parental controls, anti-virus protection and prioritize what devices should get bandwidth first. This setting is known as QoS — Quality of Service. The Archer A20 has a number of preset options for prioritizing traffic. I chose streaming. There are options for gaming, surfing online and chatting.
So What makes the Archer 4000 stand out?
Having a tri-band router is a good way to keep your devices from competing for bandwidth. The 1.8GHz Quad-Core processor makes handling the demands from multiple devices go a lot smoother.
The Archer A20 has two 5GHz bands that can broadcast up to 1626Mbps — which in reality is a lot faster than most home internet connections. The single 2.4GHz band broadcasts up to 750Mbps.
My one gripe with the Archer A20 is with the parental controls. You can set up a profile for each child in your home, restrict certain actions according to age group and even restrict specific websites.
That’s all great.
The parental controls fall short with the filters and limitations for children under 9. Example: if I wanted to set a daily time limit for a tablet, you can’t go lower than 30 minutes.
So there’s no way to set an iPad or Android tablet for 10 minutes of watch time before it shuts off.
Given the number of studies that support giving limited screen time to children, TP-Link could use a software update to shorten watch time periods.
That said, I was satisfied with all the other options for limiting devices on weekends, weekdays and setting bedtimes when devices certain won’t work at all.
I don’t consider the issue with parental controls a deal breaker. My recommendation of the Archer A20 based on its impressive performance for streaming and handling numerous Internet-connected devices with ease.
Budget pick: Netgear R6400
Not everyone is going to have 15 or 20 pieces of hardware that need a solid WiFi. You don’t need a high-powered router if you’re living in a small apartment and want to stream some Netflix or a live TV service like YouTube TV or even a 4K option such as fuboTV.
My budget pick — the Netgear R6400 — will give you a solid, reliable performance. You can usually find for about $80 or less on sites such as Amazon. It’s an AC1750 router. It’s only a dual-band router.
If you’re in an apartment that’s about 1,500 square feet or less, and have about a dozen devices, you’ll be fine with using this WiFi router for streaming — even in 4K.
There’s a USB 3.0 port on the front, which is nice to have. And two other USB ports. There are four Gigabit Ethernet ports on the back. You can prioritize traffic, just like with the more expensive TP-Link. It’s powered by a dual-core 1GHz processor.
I bought my first Netgear router in 2016, when I cut the cord for the final time in my life, and I still use it sometimes when I’m in between testing out various WiFi routers and mesh systems. It’s proven itself over the test of time, and it’s especially good if you just need to stream in HD on a couple of television sets in a small apartment or home.
If you’re a gamer, you definitely going to want to stick with a TP-Link Archer A20 or another high-performance router.
How to Expand WiFi Coverage
Before you buy anything, you should go over this checklist to ensure your current WiFi setup is operating under the best possible conditions.
Making a few small changes to your current wireless router can improve or expand WiFi, and the quality of streaming in your bedroom or office.
If your router is fairly new, definitely go through this checklist.
1) Check Router Placement
Put your router at the center of your house. If your router is located in one corner of the house, that may be why you’re not getting the best reception in a bedroom or home office on the opposite side of your home. Keep your router off the ground and not hidden in a closet. Sure, a router isn’t the appealing thing to look at. But a TV picture that constantly locks up while streaming Netflix or live TV isn’t that fun to look at either.
2) Update Router Firmware
Believe it or not, a lot of people will buy a router, plug it in and never think about a software update again. It’s a huge mistake. And it can be a real security issues. There are a number of stories online about routers getting hacked because of software flaws.
Some routers will update firmware automatically, but you shouldn’t assume that automatic software updates are happening. So when you’re setting up a router, make sure you look for firmware updates. If you already own a router, go to the manufacturers homepage for your particular model. You’ll often find a firmware updates and important new developments for home networking systems that even came out a few years ago.
3) Use Ethernet or MoCA instead of WiFi
Give some serious consideration to whether you can hardwire your streaming device, laptop or other device to an Ethernet cord. An Ethernet connection always delivers faster Internet speeds than WiFi. Some WiFi extenders and mesh networks systems have Ethernet ports that you can use to improve speeds for streaming, gaming and surfing the web. I also mentioned a MoCa Adapter — which I’ll link to below. That can transform the cable wires in your walls into a high-speed alternative for WiFi. Keep your eyes out for an upcoming review on MoCa and how it works.
So do you already own the Archer A20? What do you think is the best router for streaming in HD and 4K is right now? You got a tip on how to improve WiFi in your house?
Let me know in the comments below.
** NOTE: This review was originally published on Oct. 14, 2017, and has been updated.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble