If you came here wondering: What is the best Android TV box? Well, this guide will help you pick the best Android TV box for exactly your needs and budget. We have done intensive research and testing in order to present this buyer’s guide to you. Without further ado, we now present the best Android TV boxes of 2017.
Best Android TV Boxes 2017
|TV Device||Type||Controls||Special Features|
|Xiaomi Mi Box||Android TV||Remote||Voice UI|
|Nvidia Shield||Android TV gaming||Controller, remote||Voice UI, game streaming|
|Amazon Fire TV||Android TV gaming||Remote, controller||Voice UI, multi-search|
|Leelbox T95Z||Android 6||Remote||Kodi optimized|
|Matricom G-Box Q²||Android 5||Remote||Kodi optimized|
|Google Chromecast Ultra||Google Cast client||None||Dedicated casting|
The table above shows you the best Android TV boxes today. We hope it can help you in choosing the best Android TV Box for your needs and budget. We will now move on and briefly introduce Android TV for you so that you can get a better understanding of what it is.
Android TV isn’t just a novel entertainment device. In a broader sense, it’s an ambitious scheme to put content of all types from anywhere onto your TV. An update of the earlier Google TV system, the budding platform is designed to better integrate Android-based content and apps across more than just phones.
Less open but more developed streaming media players like the Apple TV, NVidia Shield, and Amazon Fire TV we review in this guide are quite polished and easy to use, but these are generally limited in their features. conventional Android devices do run a wider selection of apps and content for they can access the regular app stores of Google and Amazon, and we cover a couple of these more generic boxes.
Google’s designers think of the new platform as recharging their effort to bring to TVs and consoles the same content streaming features that conventional Android mobiles already have. That’s why Android TV has been showing up in different smart TV as well as set-top versions over the last year or two. Although Google has stopped selling its Nexus Player, the company is still working to expand its presence beyond mobile ecosystems and recast its brand at the center of everyone’s living rooms, and collaborated with Xiaomi to launch their new Mi Box.
The Android TV platform has been accepted in tech circles but has not yet captured the attention of most consumers. More conventional Android devices run a wider selection of apps and content, as they can access the regular app stores of Google and Amazon, and we cover a couple of these more generic media boxes.
In many ways, this specialized TV-oriented platform is competing directly with other pervasive computing schemes from Google, such as its Google Cast wireless streaming adapters, as well as boxes running (mostly) plain-vanilla Android OS. The models we reviewed here have met the majority of our criteria for a good Android TV or a similar regular Android OS entertainment experience, which we list as follows.
Xiaomi Mi Box – Best Budget Android TV Box
China’s Xiaomi has just started marketing their own take on Android TV in their new Mi Box, apparently as a partner of Google. It has the latest Android TV features and apps, including video and music sources from streaming services such as Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, and Google Play.
This is actually the first device marketed directly by the tech giant in the U.S., and it is relatively unusual for it displays 4K HDR video. Its specifications include the new Amlogic S905X-H quad-core 2GHz ARM processor (Cortex-A53), 2GB RAM, 8GB flash-based storage, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, plus a default Android 6.0 installation (Marshmallow).
At the rear of its small casing are just a few standard ports, aside from a jack for the provided power adapter, comprising one each of HDMI 2.0, USB 2.0, and 3.5mm audio. There is however no micro-USB port that you can use for powering the Mi, using either a regular USB charger or else a spare USB port on your TV as is usually done with many Chromecast-like devices. It’s great that the Mi Box’s included Bluetooth remote does not have an old-school interface full of buttons and is easy enough to learn.
On the voice-enabled remote are the standard power, home, and back buttons, along with a d-pad with the usual controller-style select button in the center. There are additional volume up and down controls as well as a key for activating the voice-command system. It worked fine when we first set up the Mi Box, and continued to connect without issue or interference afterwards. An HDMI cable is packaged as well.
This model supports the newest USH playback standards, including H.265 HEVC MP-10 (level 5.1) format in 4K resolutions at 60fps, VP9 Profile 2, HDR10 (without Dolby Vision). If you have the appropriate subscriptions, you will be able to access just about every digital media file and streaming format available to consumers.
Software and Content
Configuration was quick and easy, with onscreen instructions guiding users through the steps for configuring their devices for their Wi-Fi connections. Similar to other Android TV boxes and most smart TV models, the big screen UI emphasizes discovery and control of content sources. A number of recommended services such as Netflix, Spotify, Vudu, HBO Now, and Hulu will appear upon first use to get things rolling, along with channels such as CNN, ESPN, and Disney via their own installed apps.
It’s a good thing that you can rearrange the Mi Box’s home screen. You’ll be able to put away apps that you have no need for and move items about in order to emphasize those you’ll be using more frequently. The conversational voice-command and voice-search system and its content discovery and management functions are very useful. If you don’t plan to pair a Bluetooth keypad or keyboard to the Mi Box, the voice system can be easier to use than some complex, button-strewn remote, where you must awkwardly input each letter of a search term via a virtual keyboard.
Upon tapping the mic key on the remote’s front, the voice-command system will respond on your TV to let you know it’s ready for spoken input. You can start with a basic string of words like “newest science fiction movies” and the operating system will apply natural-language processing to discern what you want and respond in turn with a selection of films for viewing.
The voice system is also useful for searching the web, in particular weather and news sites. In this manner, its role as a media client extends to also being an internet-enabled assistant for your console. It’s not as polished at integrating various devices as more prominent streaming boxes, but it works well enough with popular models.
Google agreed to partner with Xiaomi on the Mi Box, which may be a sign that the former is working to establish a uniform design experience with established industry players. It’s an initiative for advancing the platform that may pay dividends in the form of tighter control of what is made available on the Play Store version of Android TV. This could ensure a good selection of apps and content that’s better suited to big-screen use in the living room.
There are in particular certain specifications that developers must meet before they can deploy their apps on Android TV’s Play Store. For example, even if a tablet app’s basic operational scheme may be similar, it can’t just be simplistically ported over without a bit more customization and testing. In addition, you’ll need a recent 4K-ready TV model to take advantage of all these features.
Users interact differently with big-screen TV interfaces than with smaller-screened tablets and smartphones. Especially when they’re using conventional remote controls, mice, and keypads that are more popular in such settings than touch-enabled controls. It’s also the case that users are usually located far from their big-screen TVs, and interface design has to account for this difference in usage.
If you’re thinking that this could readily serve up stuff from the regular Play Store that’s available to most Android mobiles, you’ll be disappointed. Like with Apple TV’s version of iOS App Store, the media and app selection on the Android TV version of Google’s Play Store remains a bit limited. Services such as Amazon Video may not yet be available at this time, which will likely disappoint many Amazon prime members.
The system in facts mostly refers to paid apps and other items found on the Play store. This happens even when the movie or music title you’re searching for is already available at lower cost or even for free on cloud services such as Netflix. Now, of course, Google is in business to push its own or its partners’ content whenever possible. But the problem is that this particular iteration of Android TV allows you limited ways of searching for and pulling in selections according to preferences that you can set.
That said, DIY users could always try technical methods for unofficially installing regular Play Store apps or even stuff unapproved by either Google or Xiaomi. The APK file of an app if available can be copied to a remote share or folder like that on USB flash drives, for sideloading in the Android TV filesystem as it’s usually done on rootable Android devices. Users who are already invested in Android’s mobile ecosystem will likely be tempted by its ability to duplicate on their TV screens much of the experience they’re already familiar with on their Android phones and tablets.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Android TV itself as a subset of Google’s mobile ecosystem has its usual mix of issues. The Mi Box’s UI and search functions mostly prioritize first party or Google partner content from the Play Store by generally ranking them at the top of most result tables. Its section for recommendations rarely suggests content of much relevance to what you’re currently experiencing, although the app recommendations can be more useful.
This model can also act as a Google Cast receiver, enabling it to work with applications that support Cast but not Android TV standalone boxes. Compared to Google’s similarly-priced Chromecast Ultra, standalone media players like this have the advantage as they can duplicate the majority of the Ultra’s Cast functions with the addition of Android TV’s richer UI and universal search and streaming features.
We’ve come to appreciate the features of the Mi Box and its competence at making them shine for such an affordable price of $69. The backing of both Google and Xiaomi should give you some confidence that this system will continue to receive updates plus a level of support that’s rarely seen with cheaper Android boxes.
NVIDIA SHIELD – Best Android TV Box for Gaming
As the first 4K-capable Android TV box, the Shield has much to live up to in terms of expectations. It was the first streaming device available to consumers that could manage Ultra HD video streams from the major services. It can link to a 4K-capable TV in your living room and bring you UHD shows and movies in rich 3840 x 2160 resolution from the likes of Netflix, YouTube, or HBO Now.
Few of its current Android TV-based rivals such as the Fire TV or Mi Box could boast of this. Its Shield Portable and Tablet siblings had been unable to compete with dedicated gaming and media mobiles such as Nintendo’s 3DS and Apple’s iPad, and barely registered in the market. But the Shield appears to have the performance and ecosystem qualities needed to wrest a place in the living rooms of demanding consumers.
If you’re looking into Android TV and are considering the Shield, you will need to figure out a few things. First, you’ll have to see whether Nvidia’s Grid streaming services for games makes sense for you. You’ll also need a 4K-ready TV, preferably a more recent model. Then you’ll have to ask yourself if it’s worth emplacing yet another device around your TV setup and spending at least two hundred Dollars for the privilege.
If you’re still positive about the idea after you’ve gone over the current catalog at NVidia, then you should start checking with those who are already using one. Online forums for mobile users are a good source of information, especially on what can be expected in setting up and updating a unit. This box fits the needs of many, and chances are that if you like the available games, you’ll find the Shield worth its relatively high price.
Of course, it might be that you just can’t see if the kinds of games you like would be available on Grid and offer a good gameplay experience, given the limited number of hardcore titles. Maybe it’s your budget that cannot stretch to accommodate a new micro console and gaming library, and perhaps a new 4K TV as well. You could probably save money by waiting for average prices to lower in this category.
Most streaming boxes tend to look similar. Their usually low profile cases can be little larger than box of regular white soap. Some take the form of a circular puck, such as the Nexus Player, while others like the Apple TV or the Amazon Fire TV can look much like a case for high-end audio earbuds.
The Shield’s case can be made to stand along its longer length and features an irregular blend of angular forms and sharp lines. Its shape certainly doesn’t follow the evenly round or flat forms of other set-top boxes. Most buyers will likely get used to its asymmetrical presence.
Along upper part of the Shield near the edge is a capacitive touch power button, plus a broad LED-lit slash of green that glows once the console powers up. To the rear is a plethora of advanced connectivity options, including HDMI 2.0, Gigabit LAN, dual USB 3.0 Type-A, and micro USB 2.0 ports, plus a slot for microSD cards.
This box sports some hardcore specs starting with a Tegra X1 CPU with a multi-core Maxwell graphics unit, 3GB RAM, and standard storage of 16GB that can be supplemented with microSD flash. You’ll probably want to spring for the package with 500GB internal storage if you won’t have the patience for long downloads, though, adding another hundred dollars to the cost. With its newest Tegra processor, the Shield presently offers the most powerful and speediest TV player and media streaming experience that consumers can buy. Only higher classes of gaming consoles such as Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One can do better as well as deliver superior gaming titles and big-screen experiences.
With a fast and modern chipset providing the latest generation of graphics and networking performance, you gain a lot of capabilities as well as options. Not just the latest graphics-intensive titles but also UI elements, screens, and apps load quicker. Once onscreen, they are pleasingly quick and responsive in everyday use. In particular, high-definition videos including the latest UHD releases will show few if any buffering or stuttering issues on fast internet connections.
Included in the package is a solitary controller that can almost be a design meld of the PS4 and Xbox One gamepads. There are the requisite dual inline control sticks, a regular d-pad, a quadrangle of four A, B, X, and Y keys, and dual sets of shoulder switches. The controller’s additional features comprise an intriguing set of ports, including micro-USB for charging, volume rockers by the bottom’s rim, and most importantly, a regular 3.5 mm audio port atop the housing for headsets.
Not everyone will find the controller’s look and feel as pleasing as that of their preferred game controllers, but its conventional design should get most owners aboard and through their games. There is an optional remote that can ordered that has nice and solid feel and like the controller, it has a slider for controlling volumes, although there are no playback controls.
Software and Content
Android TV is the sea in which the Shield’s content swims, and ever since the arrival of the Nexus Player, there have been few good enhancements to the scheme over much of the past year.
Its media menus displayed feature slick interfaces with huge slabs full of visuals. Recommendations appear towards the top of main screen, with discrete rows enumerating setting, app, game, and search items as well as the Shield Hub. This last is where you’ll find the launcher for Nvidia’s Grid services as well as game downloads and streams sourced from locally networked PCs with installed Nvidia GPUs.
The big selling point other than game streaming is the system’s ability to display 4K media, either as files from LAN shares or as streams from Netflix or YouTube. To be sure, it can be challenging to get full 4K streams from Netflix as these require TVs that support HDCP version 2.2 for streaming Ultra HD content.)
On the other hand, UHD streaming media from YouTube is available and much of it can be really stunning to watch, with an almost issue-free experience so long as your internet connection bandwidth is a good match for the Shield’s ability to download enormous files at 125 Mbps speeds. Since Netflix’s 4K trials weren’t available to us then, we had to rely on the demo streams that are gloriously featured in conferences and other events. We’re sure that as long as you have a compliant TV set and 4K content access and enjoy good internet connections, you’ll find selections on Netflix’s site that are as rich and well-defined as any of NVidia’s impressive demos.
As an aside, you won’t have to make a regular HTPC out of the Shield, for Plex server can now be downloaded and installed on the Shield. Shield updates have enabled full server versions to run directly on the box, finding and pulling movies, shows, music, etc. from local LAN shares on your networked computers. The Shield also supports 4K-ready playback at 60 fps as well as hardware-accelerated transcoding of standardized HD and UHD formats such as H.264 and HEVC.
This hybrid media/gaming console can put be through its gaming paces in a trio of ways, starting with games that are locally installed on the device that can be readily played at any time. These are basically Android titles that are customized and certified for big screens. You can then progress to wirelessly streaming titles already installed on locally-networked PC that have compatible NVidia GPUs. You can also avail of Nvidia cloud services, enabling you to live stream games over fast internet connections. Certain titles are playable with the included remote, but realistically the majority will be best manipulated with the standard Shield controller.
As most gamers would guess, streaming games tend to work with the least issues over Gigabyte LAN connections. FPS titles will still see the dropped frames on occasion with graphics-intensive titles like Borderlands. With wired LANS, these tended to occur much less often and with reduced corruption during testing of Nvidia’s cloud gaming services.
Right now, the catalog of locally downloadable game and media is somewhat incomplete but not totally lacking in decent titles from the top publishers such as Hotline Miami. That said, the system’s selection of native apps is still weaker overall in comparison to that for the Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.
Android TV and Media
On the content side, Android TV as a whole still lacks the majority of services from some of the big names in media streaming. In particular, Amazon Prime remains out of sight, while HBO Now still has to come to the NVidia’s box, although a partnership has been recently announced.
This is far from the only set-top device to be deficient in certain services. What makes things seem worse than they are is that its content recommendations aren’t too useful for finding new media of the kinds you prefer. The clean but spare menus have the effect of making the limited catalog of apps appear smaller than it already is.
For instance, if you are watching something on a non-YouTube app, the interface will default to suggestions from the Google Play Store that are irrelevant to whichever videos you’ve been enjoying. Compounding the issue, you will have to wait for updates to its voice-search functions to include Netflix. For game recommendations it tends to do a bit better, but Android TV in general rarely gets this aspect of the user interface right in comparison to its more polished set-top rivals from Apple and Amazon.
Still, Android TV is the first entertainment ecosystem to provide info on movies and shows currently playing in real time. The system already offers particularly good search for associated information from IMDB that many times can result in unexpectedly pleasing options that you’d have never found otherwise. To help tide you over the relative lack of good native apps, you will be able to cast to your TV the screens of the majority of Android and iOS apps that are compatible with Google Cast, particularly the critical everyday services for which native apps aren’t yet available.
Google has to encourage more developers into developing a wider variety of native apps, lessening its reliance on pushing its own and partners’ content via the search and recommended functions. Until that happens, the Shield’s top-class media functionality will not continue to stand above the coming wave of advanced set-top boxes running conventional Android, which are all attempting to overtake it as well as Amazon’s Fire TV in basic streaming features and performance.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The functional design of the Shield may not be totally unique but its appearance differs from most boring set-top designs. Its massive advantage in performance over most conventional Android boxes has earned it the distinction of being the first model capable of streaming local and cloud UHD content to 4K-ready displays.
With its latest-generation ARM processor and plentiful RAM, even the most graphics- and memory intensive Android games should play without stuttering any or UI quirks. The microSD slot of even the lowest-end 16GB model will allow expansion with more flash storage to accommodate a large game or media selection for quick enjoyment at any time.
The list price of its lowest-end 16 GB model is almost twice that of its nearest rivals and more so than lesser-known yet decent Android boxes, and can be higher in the channels when supply is short. Only you can answer whether the added performance, design polish, and large variety of gaming experiences is worth its much higher cost when compared to its rivals.
Owners will also enjoy one of the broadest selections of mobile and desktop-level games on the market, due to its capabilities for streaming media and casting apps from PCs and mobile devices from the local LAN or from cloud content services. It can fully download app and game titles from the Google Play Store.
The Shield is both a set-top streamer box as well as a hybrid gaming console that does many things but only a few of them well. It is more competent at serving and running games from a relatively decent native and cloud selection, but the cloud content services it can access work do well and deliver easy and pleasant entertainment. One thing that you must consider is that to render Netflix UHD content in 4K, you must also have a TV that supports HDCP 2.2 protected-content streams. For the moment, there aren’t many TV models that comply with this level of content encoding, so you will have to look at getting one if Netflix’s best content is important to you.
Although native apps and downloadable media are not all you’d be looking for in an Android TV Box, you can still take advantage of the many hundreds of iOS and Android apps available that can be wirelessly displayed with Google Cast.
Amazon Fire TV – Best Android TV Box for Amazon Prime Members
Amazon’s Fire TV has this cool capability to play movies and shows in up to 2160p resolution. It’s not the first streaming media box capable of 4K playback, for Nvidia’s Shield with its more powerful Tegra X1 processor was first to do so. But it does bring its own set of advantages, not the least of which is its much lower price as well as readily available content.
The Fire TV’s minimalist case houses a quad-core MediaTek CPU that’s said to perform 75% faster than the earlier model. A PowerVR GX6250 graphics card along with 2GB of system RAM provides the system with hybrid media and gaming capability. A good 8GB of internal storage is standard, which can be expanded via microSD to a maximum of 128GB of flash storage. Gigabit LAN provides for the best possible Ultra HD streaming in tandem with dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
The MediaTek system-on-a-chip integrates support for H.265/HEVC decoding. It is incapable of rendering 4K streams smoothly at framerates beyond 30 fps, but does default to smooth 60 fps operation with 1080p streams. For playback of DRM-protected UHD videos, a TV that is compatible with the HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 standards is required. Absent that, you won’t be able display almost all the available 4K content on Amazon as well as Netflix, although most 4K content off YouTube should work fine.
The voice-enabled remote has a layout that hasn’t been improved much from the previous version, but it now operates over a faster Wi-Fi connection in place of Bluetooth. It still features the solid voice-command and voice-search abilities of the original Fire TV and remains dependable and responsive in use.
The remote operates with a pleasing responsiveness through its Wi-Fi connection. When you’re rapidly thumbing through options, the 30 Hz framerate constraints can lead to subtle artifacts appearing as you manipulate the remote. The remote can be used with many of the games available on Amazon that can run on this device, but we suspect that it’s never going to please most users who are out to frag some.
On the other hand, these issues are not evident when you’re actually streaming and watching $K videos that you’ve accessed from Netflix’ or Amazon Prime’s large number of UHD listings. Movies from Netflix would typically start loading and playing smoothly on demand, and this is also the case with 4K content from Amazon’s sites.
Software and Content
The new models run FireOS, Amazon’s own forked version of Google’s mobile OS that has evolved into a practically separate platform. This development is what keeps the entire gamut of Play Store apps and content from being readily available on the Fire TV, and why Amazon had to put up its own app store.
The FireOS designers have mostly emphasized the ready availability of free and paid content from Amazon’s wide-ranging catalog. This clear partiality towards Amazon’s ecosystem is not unlike how Android TV searches emphasize recommendations via Google services. If you aren’t already a member of Amazon Prime, chances are you will end feeling a bit deprived of the Fire TV’s promise.
The responsive Alexa voice-search system is integrated into Amazon’s scheme and works to parse your spoken requests and comply with them. It used to be that it would mostly respond to voice searches with references to movies, music, and other stuff from Amazon Prime Instant or Instant Video. Its developers have been recently refocusing the service to deliver more universal search results, so you can now discover or find items spanning numerous catalogs from the likes of Netflix and Hulu.
On occasion it works in ways that make it seem like it’s still favoring Amazon’s listings, but fortunately the OS no longer defaults to that behavior. For those subscribing to the live TV service of PlayStation Vue, it may be a good idea to use its nice Amazon app, which transforms the Fire TV box into an ad hoc media hub for streaming content from Sony’s and its partners’ sites. This capability is rarely noticed by owners, although If you’re more into gaming , either NVIDIA’s Shield TV or Sony’s PlayStation 4 would probably be better options.
Media and Gaming
The animated tutorial that runs upon first use to list the main features is a good idea. It immediately makes the system more welcoming and accessible and we wish this would appear on more media players. The FireOS UI is uncluttered and easy to use and the large graphics and dark scheme of its screens should not give you trouble, as they are readily viewable from several feet away under most indoor lighting conditions.
The Fire TV enjoys a further advantage in its highly efficient codec, as it is also effective at streaming lower-resolution Full HD content. This Android TV box can efficiently stream 1080p at the half the data transmission rates that normally obtain over most network connections. Full HD videos load faster and render seamlessly and with less lag on slower internet connections, a performance feature that has no real downside any way you look at it.
However, certain UHD files may fail to display properly or not all with the default player or even with the usually dependable VLC app due to the absence of appropriate codecs. The most common ones are already installed, but you’ll likely discover that a few items from your current collection won’t play well even if you course them through Plex server or Amazon’s special version of Kodi that’s built for local playback. Be aware that’s it’s not easy to fix audio sync issues when an external amplifier is in use. There are currently no settings in FireOS to compensate for the feedback lags that can be generated in such set ups.
The Fire TV is good for some light gaming, although what is available in the catalog isn’t going to make you give up your Xbox One or PS4, let alone your PC. There are a few serious titles that offer exciting 3D gameplay, including Walking Dead. You can get a separate Fire game controller that’s similar in design to that of the Xbox, which will be much handier for hardcore stuff. Alternatively, you can step up to the $129 Amazon Fire TV Gaming Edition, which packages the controller in place of the remote.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Amazon’s Fire TV is certainly the 4K streaming media hybrid that offers the best value for the moment, although you will have to accommodate its tendency to point to Amazon content. In addition, you must factor in the subscription cost of an Amazon Prime, without which this device would be constrained. In any case, the subscription itself can be good value as it comes with gobs of free music and videos storage for pictures. You’ll really have to subscribe to take the most advantage of Amazon’s streamer.
The Fire TV is an impressive streaming box for the money, as you get a UHD-ready player to go with some casual gameplay. Most 4K content will play quite smoothly, and oodles of paid HD and UHD content are readily accessible right off Amazon. So long as you have a 4K-ready TV that’s compatible with HDCP 2.2 then the Fire TV would be great choice for enjoying Ultra-HD videos, particularly if you’re a member of both Amazon Prime and Netflix.
That said, if you own a 4K-ready Smart TV with an integrated Android TV module, Amazon’s streaming box would not enhance the functionality of what you already have. Whereas true next-generation Android TV boxes like Nvidia’s SHIELD have a built-in potential to evolve into new roles, whereas this model’s constraints in playing UHD content at 30 Hz points to its future hardware limitations.
Leelbox T95Z – Conventional Android Box for TV
This is a conventional Android box that at present offers one of the most versatile streaming solutions in the market. Like many such generic-sounding products in the market, Google’s Android 6.0 mobile OS underlies the T95Z’s nearly standard Marshmallow scheme for its settings and default app screens.
It’s not the only device that’s being marketed as a powerful media player, but it’s known (along with a similar model from Greatever) for delivering a Kodi-ready experience along with a decent set of features and class-leading performance. A default working Kodi installation is its practical selling advantage, for it enables easy access to all kinds of content beyond the usual commercial sources.
This box features the latest available Android 6.0 version as well as one of newest ARM multi-core chipsets in the form of the Amlogic S912. Until recently, the majority of lower-end devices were using older S805 series chips, but the S912 is a generation faster. The model comes standard with 2GB RAM, which is rare even among mid-range Android TV devices. It’s kind of a minimum these days if you want to run many popular apps without slowdowns or other issues.
Its specifications include the aforementioned S912 Octa-core 2GHz ARM processor (Cortex-A53), 2GB DDR3 RAM, 16GB of EMMC flash storage, wireless Bluetooth 4.0, and dual-band Wi-Fi. Its Mali-T820MP3 graphics unit is relatively fast in its category and promises a pleasurable viewing experience with software updates and good connections. Regular Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) caps a nicely rounded list of features for a generic-sounding streaming media box.
Packaged with the unit are the usual USB power adapter and a remote with standard Android TV functions. The included HDMI cable is a welcome addition. The advantage of conventional Android TV players such as this is that you can find a better Android compatible wireless remote. You can always use your favorite wireless or even wired USB keyboards and mice if needed.
Generic-looking it is not, for the T95Z sports an interesting case design for a set-top player. The look of is rather unique in that it presents a sleek hexagonal form that’s shaped almost like something you’d see in a gift shop. Around the sides are the usual array of connectivity options, namely power, HDMI 2.0, Gigabit Ethernet, optical, and MicroSD connections, and of course dual USB 2.0 ports.
Software and operation
Set up is easy enough to accomplish, the unit only needs to be plugged into a display and paired to Wi-Fi, or you can use an Ethernet connection if you prefer. With these types of players, you have default access to the usual Android apps and content, which are available for download via a regular Google Play Store account. The real news is the default installation of Kodi (version 16.1 when we checked) that is pre-installed along with a suite of common add-on apps such as 1Channel and Exodus. It does come with Netflix preloaded for streaming 4K videos and music off the popular commercial site.
Kodi is justifiably famous for letting its users access streams from ‘unofficial’ sites and pulling all in through a relatively easy-to-use UI. Buyers who are not familiar with the app and its suite of add-ons should research on online. There’s a slight learning curve, and you may have to tweak the default settings with the help of expert forum advice in order to have all video types to play with issue.
As a result of the way Kodi works in retrieving some types of online content, access to certain channels may not be reliable or even feasible at times. Some could be dubious sites that ISPs in their commercial wisdom have decided to block or reduce bandwidth to, i.e. torrential sources of content and other DCMA-unfriendly IPs. Nevertheless, once you get things right and put it through its paces, it will open up your TV experiences like nothing else.
The hardware is capable of flawlessly rendering content encoded in H.265 HEVC MP-10 (level 5.1) format in 4K resolutions at 60fps, which is impressive enough for a standalone player and streamer. It can channel DRM-protected according to the HDMI 2.0 and HDCP2.2 standards. Average in-game framerates peaked in the 35-38 FPS range, which is decent enough for 1080p scenes. For those who are technically-focused, the T95Z attained Geekbench scoring of around 2090, while wireless bandwidth testing reported downlink speeds of about 32 Mbps Down and uplinks of 16 Mbps.
The T95Z performed very well with locally streamed 1080p and 4K video, using Kodi and its capable add-ons. Its powerful cortex-A53 processor and graphics along with its plentiful RAM afford it huge advantages over previous boxes based on earlier ARM designs.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Playback performances are uniformly smooth and pleasing once you’ve tweaked the settings right. Like with similar low- to mid-range rivals, its IR remote can sometimes lag slightly and frustrate your movie watching. You can get around this through the use of more responsive wireless keypads and touchpads. This combination will also prove to be easier for doing searches and scrolling around discovering things on Kodi’s screens as well as those of many other player and streamer apps.
The included Netflix client does require a minimum downlink throughput of around 5-6Mbps to stream official content without buffering or dropping issues. Thankfully, the dual-band wireless connection is more than up to the task, and besides you can always use the Gigabit Lan connection for blazing results.
However, do not mistake this for a high-end flagship device Nvidia’s Shield or even Amazon’s Fire TV. It is not designed nor able to compete with all-encompassing media solutions that have ecosystems tailored to ease consumers into the content streaming world. It costs less than most Android TV hybrid flagships except for Amazon’s Fire TV.
You’ll be pretty much on your own when it comes to maintaining this model, which can be found selling under other labels with similar specifications and pricing. Aside from Amazon user reviews, a few online forums have sprung up around its variants in the market, where you can find some DIY advice on how to configure the unit.
The T95Z is a decently equipped mid-range device with a relatively affordable price that delivers regular local and internet media tasks, using a mostly Android 6.0 scheme that should be familiar enough to ordinary consumers.
Matricom G-Box Q² – Good Android TV Box for the Money
The G-Box Q² is basically a conventional Android box with Kodi functionality that’s designed to bring a wide range of entertaining content to living rooms. Like the Leelbox/Greatever model, this slightly customized set-top was designed to integrate and update well with Kodi server as it was developed and optimized for it. Numerous add-on modules are available that will let you stream your favorite movies and shows from IPs other than the usual commercial sites.
It was until recently among the most advanced and versatile Android TV boxes available. It still features the Android 5.1 OS (Lollipop) that’s found on the vast majority of lower-end boxes featuring mid-range ARM processors such as the Amlogic S805 chipset, which this system is derived from. It does come with a nice 2GB RAM, which isn’t that common among mid-range Android TV boxes and is the minimum if for those who want to run the most popular apps without stutters or slowdowns.
The G-Box Q² specifications include the an S812 quad-core 2GHz ARM processor (Cortex-A9), 2GB of DDR3 RAM, 16GB of flash storage, wireless Bluetooth 4.0, and dual-band Wi-Fi. Its Mali-450 GPU is relatively powerful for its class and is capable of pleasing 4k and 1080p playback and streaming so long as you have fast connections and remember to install the occasional software update.
Included is the usual USB power adapter and a bare-bones IR remote with standard Android TV functions, although it does lack certain dedicated playback buttons. The advantage of conventional Android boxes like this is that you can always use another Android-compatible remote if you so prefer. You can also attach wireless as well as wired USB mice and keyboards for use with a good number of key input-friendly android apps such as games, browsers, and filesystem managers.
Software and operation
In contrast to more proprietary streaming players from Apple or Roku or Amazon, this model is not limited to the official content of particular ecosystems, although it works fine with the Amazon Prime streaming services. You can run your preferred apps and download content from your usual sites. Like with any regular Android mobile OS device, you can tailor the launcher interface and the viewing screens to suit the way you watch movies and shows.
There are the usual power, HDMI, 10/100 Ethernet LAN and dual USB connections as well as an optical port and MicroSD slot. Basic set up is readily completed once the unit is connected to the TV and linked to the internet via fast Wi-Fi or else wired internet connections. With this standard Android TV box, you will have full access by default to all Android apps and content that are compatible and available for download from Google’s regular Play Store. A large amount of internal storage will accommodate native Android apps with few limits and less need for constant transfers between storage spaces.
Like the majority of Android TV boxes that come with Android 5.1.1, the UI presents a mostly standard Lollipop scheme for its settings and screens. The G-Box does sport a new “heads-up-display” as well as a quick launch bar UI for its version of Launcher UI, emulating Kodi’s app interface more closely than Google’s standard Android TV interface. There is a helpful settings menu that offers a number of options to assist users in setting up and familiarizing themselves with the OS and the built-in apps.
A default installation of Kodi (version 16.1) is preset along with a suite of common Android utilities It comes with an Amazon client preloaded that you can use to stream 4K media off the popular site, which is especially useful for Amazon Prime members who have a lot of free content at their disposal. The app will enable you to stream ‘unofficial’ content from a wide range of commercial sites and not so DMCA-friendly sites using a relatively straightforward UI. If you aren’t familiar with Kodi and its range of add-on modules, you can learn how to best configure and use it from the active forums of its online community.
Strengths and Weaknesses
This model itself can play content encoded and streamed in H.265 HEVC MP-10 (level 5.1) formats in 4K resolutions at 30fps. The hardware is clearly not capable of streaming Ultra HD Blu-ray content over local LAN connections for this normally requires transfer rates that routinely exceed 100Mbps, which is beyond the capabilities of either of its network interfaces. This assumes of course that at some point the future, techniques will be developed that will enable you to decode and store UHD titles you’ve collected on your own drives.
Matricom has provided at least two major updates over the past year, and there is an active online community where you can find advice and tips. It performs at a slightly lower level than newer boxes like the Leelbox, but its operational quirks and performance guidelines are well known, having been tweaked for over a year into a relatively stable and smooth-running player. It’s currently on sale for under a hundred Dollars, which is much less than what most full-on Android TV flagships cost except for Amazon’s Fire TV hybrid media/gaming console.
Once updated and configured with Kodi, the Matricom G-Box Q² becomes an affordable yet versatile conventional Android box that can smoothly play 4K-ready content at 30fps. If you’re looking for a more powerful and future-proof streaming media player that will see continuing development, you’ll have to spend quite a bit more.
Google Chromecast Ultra – Best Portable Media Streaming Device for TV
Google’s idea of Chromecast (now Google Cast) is that of a miniature computer that plugs into your TV and wirelessly displays screens of content received from Cast-compatible apps. Like earlier Chromecasts, it works with various computers and media boxes using the proper apps but also supports 4K HDR videos.
It’s meant to stay connected and ready at all times, even though it’s easily moved around to others displays. However, it is not a standalone media player that can store and render content separately, and can only handle media in combination with another computing device that acts both as its remote and processing system. It differs from its primary rivals in that regard, for Roku’s Streaming Stick and Amazon’s Fire TV Stick can be directed by their mobile apps to directly stream content from Netflix, HBO Now, and Sling TV.
The Chromecast Ultra’s dense innards are packed into a small rounded disc that’s slightly over two inches in diameter and about a half an inch in thickness. A short HDMI connection cable is fixed to one side, while the opposite edge features a micro-USB port.
The arrangement of the power supply is somewhat unusual. In place of a standard USB cable and adapter like with previous models and billions of mobile devices out there, the power adapter’s six-foot-long micro-USB cable is attached to one side. The reason for this is that there’s a 10/100 LAN port integrated into the power adapter which you can connect to a wired router. This streamlined design enables an Ethernet option that doesn’t bulk up the main unit.
This is necessary, as wired connections are critical to good performance in 4K streaming media applications. These usually require huge amounts of bandwidths, and HDR 4K video is even more demanding. Although fast Wi-Fi on the 5 GHz band might suffice, you’ll find that LAN connections are usually more reliable at such speeds. The majority of services dynamically adapt streaming quality according to the available link capacity, which means that 4K-resolution streams will not vary as much over wired connections.
Software and operation
Google Home is the newest name for the Google Cast app found on Android as well as iOS mobiles, and you’ll be using it to configure the new Chromecast Ultra. Once it’s plugged in, its name will display on the TV screen television, prompting you to launch Google Home and begin the process. Upon first connection to the internet, a quick and painless update of the firmware will ensure, after which it will appear as a Chromecast device on your network to which you can cast streams with apps that are Google Cast-ready.
And that’s the trick, the Ultra must rely on another smart mobile device which you’ll be use to navigate and playback media that you wish to watch. Your mobile has to be on the same local network that the Ultra is on, and you must use apps that are designed to work with Google Cast, i.e. Netflix, YouTube, and Vudu. However, Amazon Prime’s streaming services won’t be accessible since Amazon’s Android TV app does not support Google Cast.
Compatible apps will feature a Cast icon, which you tap to start streaming whatever it is you’re viewing or playing with to the Chromecast-enabled TV. This can be convenient and it’s simple to do often, but you’ll always need to have your phone at hand to cast any output. As with the previous version, there isn’t any onscreen UI and neither is there a remote, for when the Ultra is inactive only a passive slideshow is shown.
One useful function is the ability of Google Cast to mirror your Android mobile’s screen straight to the TV so long as it’s compatible. Aside from Android devices, you can also use Google Cast-ready programs on your PC to control streams to the Ultra. Certain PC and Mac applications such as Google’s Chrome browser can mirror streaming services as well as your browser tab screens. In this role, it can be quite useful for setting up wireless display links to hotel TVs and conference displays when you’re travelling.
The new Ultra offers much improved performance over the older Chromecast model. Loading and buffering of content is usually more dependent more on network quality than on the hardware doing the streaming. With the Ultra, local video files loaded almost instantaneously and streams started playing almost as quickly, and playback using popular mobiles such Apple’s iPad Air 2 is responsive and reliable whenever network connections are good.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The visual quality of 4K HDR video streaming over the 5 GHz Wi-Fi band is impressive. Popular 4K movies from YouTube started fast and clear, although 4K HDR videos from commercial services like Vudu could take as long as 10-15 seconds to start running. In every case, once playback started we were treated to bright and snappy, correctly rendered video.
The Chromecast Ultra is currently the most inexpensive dedicated media streamer that’s capable of smooth playback of 4K content. Do note that it’s not a standalone solution, you will have to leave Chrome or the Cast-compatible app running on your mobile or PC. However, if all you want to do is redirect an ongoing stream or a Chrome browser tab’s contents to the big screen, the Ultra’s easy convenience and dependable performance are hard to beat for the price. Still, it costs nearly as much as the Amazon Fire TV and other Android TV hubs and boxes that are capable of 4K playback by themselves.
The Chromecast Ultra is capable of working quickly and seamlessly with a wide range of phones, tablets, and PCs. Only the Apple TV can outperform it in terms of display quality and latency, and you’ll have to buy into Apple’s iOS hardware and app ecosystem for that. It may not be a full Android system, but it does perform an important subset of Android’s streaming and mirroring capabilities. For many users who just want to enhance their non-Smart budget TV with a wireless display link, it may be all they need.
A Guide to Streaming with Android TV Boxes
You might want to go over the following aspects when choosing one of the Android TV hybrids or else a more conventional Android box. Do bear in mind the many alternatives are available in this segment: #"http://vbb.jp/?tv=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Android_TV" target="_blank">Android TV device, and we list these in accordance to both users’ needs as well as market availability. The models we reviewed should have each met all or most, and we had made sure to point to any item that a model failed to support or that the manufacturer has not yet made available.
- Android 5.x (Lollipop) or newer
- H.265 Hardware-based decoding
- Minimum 1080p resolutions and 3D functions
- Dynamic Refresh rate switching
- 5.1 Audio pass-through
- Over-the-Air (OTA) firmware updating
- HDMI 1.4 or higher
- USB 2.0
- Dual-Band Wireless
- Ethernet LAN
- The newest Kodi (XBMC) versions
- These features are not all available on each of the devices we’ve reviewed here, which would have simplified things a bit. However, you can go through each review and note those functions and services that each Android TV box does or doesn’t provide, vetting the ones whose feature sets most closely match what you’re looking for in the world of streaming media.
What goes into an Android TV box or conventional Android media box
In answer to the question you’re probably asking, of what makes a box an Android TV device, well here’s our take. Manufacturers design unique launchers and implement proprietary skins and UI elements, providing their own models with a custom look and feel that’s different from that of other Android TV or conventional Android devices. All hope to provide a pleasing experience with their set up while you’re lounging in your living room and facing your big TV from several feet away.
The bigger brands tend to follow Netflix’s screen and operating schemes as these are already widely used, given that Netflix currently hosts the most popular and streaming media services in the world. It makes sense for its rivals to mimic Netflix’s UIs, as new users of their models will then find it easier to learn the built-in functions and specialized apps.
But if you don’t care for the launcher and screens that your new box implements, you can usually find ways to improve the experience. Android is a highly modifiable operating platform, and you can usually find and install another compatible launcher and use that in place of the default. Just remember that there are functional differences between Android TV integrated into a Smart TV and an Android TV player as well as a regular Android media box that you can buy separately, particularly in terms of the available OS updates and the selection of apps.
Between Android TV and regular Android, what gives?
Between these similar platforms, Android TV is the one that Google hopes will become your software media hub. In the past decade, there have been similar attempts by Apple, Roku, Amazon, Microsoft, Sony, etc. to deliver media hubs that consumers would actually use. This is only Google’s second and latest scheme in this segment (not counting Google Cast/Chromecast devices), as their initial Google TV initiative did not make much progress.
Android TV is a specially modified version of Google’s ubiquitous mobile OS, and it’s in their varying system features where you’ll find the difference between an ‘Android TV’ module integrated into a Smart TV or a discrete Android TV player, and a conventional Android media box. The Smart TV modules cannot download every available app from Google’s Play Store without modifications, for official Smart TV apps are customized for use on specific Smart TVs instead of touchscreen devices. For example, Netflix’s Android TV/Smart TV app was designed from scratch for use with remotes in place of touchscreens, and the same goes for all other Android TV apps.
The problem is that Android TV is found only on the latest high-end Smart TVs from around 2015 onwards and similarly on a few advanced Android TV hybrid players such as NVIDIA’s Shield, which tend to be much pricier than regular boxes. It’s therefore a good thing that conventional boxes can provide similar levels of performance along with a useful subset of specialized Android TV features for comparably lower pricing. Those high-end Smart TVs are not exactly affordable and not everyone could use a powerful (and pricey) gaming/media hybrid like the Shield.
Android TV and Apple TV
Like the Amazon Fire TV, the newest Apple TV encourages you to stay within its part of its rich and highly evolved ecosystem, particularly when it comes to hardware and accessories. The good news is that Apple has at last opened development within its app store to anyone who can meet their design and commercial guidelines. Apple also supplies an advanced new touchpad remote, having upgraded their unit to the 802.11ac wireless standard that’s only starting to arrive on higher-end Android TV boxes as well as Google’s latest Chromecast Ultra.
For a home entertainment appliance, Apple is rounding out its Apple TV platform at a faster pace than Google is executing for its Android TV series, although Android TV boxes and their conventional cousins still have a big edge in terms of versatility and wide-ranging content. For a reasonable base $149 price, the Apple TV is a great choice for owners of Apple iPhones and iPads who already have much invested in the rich app and content of the monolithic iOS ecosystem, as well as those who value ease-of-use and smooth shared experiences over the flexibility and power of Google’s varied Android ecosystem.
Android TV versatility
More proprietary streaming schemes from the likes of Apple, Roku, and Amazon compel you to invest in their individual ecosystems and use their apps more or less exclusively. There won’t be as many alternative choices for the apps or content you desire that are not officially available.
Fortunately, you can find ways to install and run Plex server on the majority of these devices. Roku won’t let Kodi in though, and neither will Apple for its own iOS-based Apple TV. With Amazon’s Fire TV, you’ll have to resort to some technically tricky sideloading to install Kodi server and its add-ons. Whereas, you will only need to access Google’s ubiquitous regular Play Store to install Kodi or any of a number of other server apps, on any of the conventional Android media boxes we’ve reviewed here.
To update to later Kodi versions, including the upcoming 17.x builds, you will only need to go to kodi.tv and download the Android APK for ARM, which you will then install with AppInstaller as is the case with Amazon’s Appstore APK.
A quick look at Kodi: #"http://vbb.jp/?tv=https://www.android.com/tv/">Android TV gaming hybrid.
We think the Shield is an incredible lightweight gaming console that offers decent media streaming under the aegis of Android TV. It can display incredible 4K Ultra HD video on most any 4K TV with no issues but for Netflix’s requirement for HDCP 2.2 support in compatible TVs. If price is no object, it is the best Android TV Box that you can find on the market.
If you’re less into gaming and are prioritizing streaming media entertainment according to budget, Xiaomi’s Mi Box can be a very reasonable option, especially given Google’s support. However, both the Shield and the Mi Box can constrained by the new platform’s relative sparse native app selection and tendency to favor paid and first-party content. For that reason, Amazon Prime subscribers may find the Fire TV a more compelling choice when it comes to finding a variety of media.
But like its iOS rival the Apple TV, the Shield has the most potential of all Android-based media players to get past these barriers and breakthrough into a genuine next-generation streaming content and gaming platform.
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