Which streaming platform has the best screensavers?

A screensaver on Apple TV 4K as seen on television.
Apple TV 4K has the best overall screensaver experience, even if it lacks the widgets offered by other platforms. Phil Nickinson/

Streaming video from providers like Netflix and Disney+ is generally the same as what you’d be doing on platforms like Roku or Amazon Fire TV. Or maybe a little bit of YouTube, or something live on YouTube TV.

However, that’s just scratching the surface of what devices from Google, Apple, Roku, and Amazon can do. In fact, there’s a lot to be said for what they can show on your television – whether it’s the centerpiece of your living room or somewhere in an empty room – when you’re not actively watching a show or movie. In fact, you might get some great images to play in the background.

So let’s take a look at the major platforms: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google TV, and Roku.

To be clear, these are not the only options. Samsung and LG, among other manufacturers, have their own screensaver options that basically turn a television into an electronic work of art. (Especially in the case of Samsung’s “The Frame” TVs, which are mounted almost flush and have optional frames to look like a painting.) But in this piece, we’re focusing on those devices. Those that you plug into your TV, and which are less expensive than buying an entire television.

amazon fire tv

Amazon Fire TV is a huge platform. It is estimated to be on the most devices worldwide, and number 2 in the US, and with the advent of the new “Ambient Experience”, it has possibly the most useful screensaver system of any platform.

Amazon Fire TV ambient experience with widgets.
Phil Nickinson/

The ambient experience is made up of two parts. There’s the background, which is your typical screensaver of sorts, with images – with some motion – that cycle through after a certain amount of time. And Amazon has an abundance of options, all of which take a lot of creativity. They really did a great job, except for one small complaint. You can use your own images to populate things – but you’ll probably soon find that candid snaps not shot in the television’s aspect ratio aren’t as good as deliberately designed art. And you have to use Amazon Photos to bring them into the ambient experience. However, it’s quite simple, and Amazon is generous with its storage.

The Ambient Experience also has 10 widgets you can choose from, all of which are tied to the Amazon ecosystem. They include Alexa Weather, Calendar & Reminders, Cookpad Recipe of the Day, Live TV, Music & Audio, Smart Home Favorites, Sticky Notes, What Should I Watch, What Should I Eat, and Your Delivery. How useful the widgets are depends on how dependent you are on Amazon. The more you use, the better the widgets get. Or you can choose not to use them at all and just keep the background images.

Overall the ambient experience is very good. But there is scope for some improvement in this. The backgrounds, which often contain motion, aren’t as clear or clean as you’ll find on other platforms. This is probably something you won’t even notice unless you’re frequently moving from one system to another. But we do. And we notice. Widgets can also be a little slow sometimes. But this seems like an Android-based user interface issue more than anything.

Then there’s the fact that the Ambient Experience is, for now, only available on the Omni QLED series of Amazon Fire TV or the second-generation Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max. This limits its accessibility, although it only costs $60 before the sale price. And we’d expect the ambient experience to reach more devices, either through software updates, or as new hardware is released.

Decision: Amazon has a great feature here, with lots of possibilities to come.

apple tv 4k

Let’s not mince words here: the Apple TV may have the best set of built-in screensavers you can get, provided you’re using an Apple TV 4K box. (Which, by the way, is still our favorite for the best streaming hardware you can get for your money.)

Hong Kong as seen in the Apple TV 4K screensaver.
Phil Nickinson/

By default, you’ll be presented with the Aerial screensaver, which is Apple’s high-resolution flyover (or underwater, or in orbit) view of all sorts of parts of the Earth. You have a choice of four major categories – Landscape, Earth, Underwater and Cityscape. You’ll recognize some major landmarks like Times Square in New York City, Downtown San Francisco, and Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai. Or you may find yourself trying to figure out what terrain you are flying over in space.

It’s all done with exactly the kind of execution you’d expect from an Apple product, especially one attached to a larger television. You can choose to download new aerials on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. (or never.)

If none of these appeal to you, you have a few more options. There’s also a “Photography from Apple” section, which includes subcategories for animals, flowers, landscapes, nature, and those shot on iPhone. They are extremely dynamic and in high resolution and probably better than anything you have on your phone.

But if you want to put your own photos on your Apple TV screensaver, you can do so. Like Amazon, you have to create albums in Apple Photos. But it is quite easy to do this.

And, yes, the Apple TV aerial screensavers are real.

Decision: No real complaints here. The content is excellent. If we had to find a small point to pick on, it might be that we would have liked to see even more high-resolution aerials. But between Arial, Apple’s static images, and your own images — plus all the ways you can display the latter — Apple’s easily has the best all-around screensaver experience, even if it doesn’t have widgets. Be.

google tv

While Apple has worked hard on excellent video, and Amazon is more about static imagery with some motion added for good measure, Google has long been about photos. This has been true since the early days of Android TV and has extended to various smart displays and now Google TV.

Google TV screensaver as seen on television.
Phil Nickinson/

And this is really at the heart of what helps make “Ambient Display” on Google TV so great. Like the other options above, you’ll need to stay within Google’s ecosystem if you want to use your own photos. But Google Photos remains one of the best Google products after Gmail. This is by default on most Android phones, and it’s not uncommon for people to run it in parallel with Apple Photos on the iPhone.

Once you create an album in Google Photos, you can view that album on the Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max, or Google TV and Android TV. It is very simple.

Or you can go with Google’s own curated albums of photos and artwork. These are excellent options and well worth exploring. You may also see some widgets, but they’re not really as in-depth or useful as Amazon’s.

And the ambient experience isn’t limited to Google’s own hardware. If you have a television or another streaming device running Android TV or Google TV, you’ll have these same options ready. For our money, it’s hard to beat the Chromecast with Google TV for $50. (It’s basically in the same range as the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K.)

Decision: If there’s any quirk to choose from here, it’s that you’ll have to use the phone and the Google Home app to control which albums show up on Google TV. And the Google Home interface is still something only an engineer could love.


Last but certainly not least – given that it’s the most popular platform in the US, number 2 in the rest of the world, and remains super affordable everywhere else – is Roku.

Roku screensaver options as seen on TV.
Roku’s screensaver options are numerous, but you have to search for them. Phil Nicholson/

If there’s one thing Roku has going for it besides price, it’s stability. The platform looks and functions mostly the same as it has for years.

And for years that meant the default screensaver was Roku’s built-in, which, while fun, certainly wasn’t as sophisticated as what Google, Apple, and now Amazon have. The screensavers were more cartoonish than realistic. It definitely fits in with the overall Roku aesthetic and will match the theme you choose for your better Roku experience.

And to be clear, there are many other options now including nature and architecture and what not. You have to dig pretty deep into the screensaver options to find them, but they’re there.

And Photo Streams arrived with Roku OS 11 in March 2022. It’s basically a Roku-powered photos service, not necessarily different from those offered by Amazon, Apple, and Google. It’s just that it differs from the Roku user experience and feels like a third-party option, at least in terms of the TV.

In any event, the way it works is that you use the Roku app to create a photo stream, and you upload images from your phone or computer to populate said photo stream. The cool thing is that you can invite friends and family to join the stream to view and add photos. (Other platforms may do this too.) It’s not the prettiest system, and like Amazon, because it’s not native to a phone, you’ll have to take some extra steps to get around it. But it is not inaccessible.

The images look fine on the screen, but it’s also a very basic slideshow, not taking aspect ratios into account or offering any design other than a single image at a time.

Decision: Roku has more screensaver options than you might expect. Photo Stream is a very minimalist product, but it works.


For the most part, there are no wrong answers here. They’re all different, but mostly excellent across the board.

A lot to like about this space really has more to do with what ecosystem you’re already using. Everything on Apple? You’ll get the best experience with Apple TV 4K and its amazing aerials. Google TV expands photos and makes them more useful on more devices. Amazon’s ambient experience is excellent and will likely continue to improve, and over time it will become available on more devices. Roku – OK, it has the option to show photos. And it’s not terrible. But it also has an uphill battle because it is not known as a photo service.

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