Best Android TV Box

Best Android TV Box

Best Android TV Box

Picking a streaming device can be tough. There’s so many to choose from and it seems like everyone is there to tell you that theirs is the best TV box.
So if you’re looking for your first streaming device, or if you’ve outgrown your current player and want something better, or if you just want a new toy….this article is written for you in mind.
If you’re buying your first streaming media player, I created a perfect starting point to learn more about TV boxes. Or, look here if you’re just looking for a good, cheap Android TV box.

Won’t any device work?
Let me be clear about something: The best streaming media player depends on what streaming services you want to use.
If you’re going to be using it solely as a Kodi box, then the field is open, and you have your choice of TV boxes. But…if you’re planning on streaming a good portion of your content through Netflix or Amazon Prime, then you’re going to be limited.
Netflix only has a short list of devices that can stream in 4K, and Amazon will force you to use their hardware in order to get the best picture quality.
Why? That’s a good question. The short answer is that there are DRM (Digital Rights Management) services which will limit who can see specific content to those devices that run those services. Think about it this way: Would you rather watch a crappy camcorder version of the latest movie or go see it in the theatre? Sure, the cam version is cheaper (i.e. free), but you’re missing out on the experience.
For Android media players, you need Netflix Approval and a Google Widevine Level 1 licence to playback DRM 1080p or 4K video streams. For HBO Now you’ll need a Microsoft Playready licence as well.
Without the right hardware, you’ll never get better than Standard Definition (SD) resolution with those streaming services.
What should I look for?
There are some “must-have” features that you should be looking for in your next Android TV box, so I’ve made this list with those in mind. Note: If you’re wondering What is an Android TV box, click on the link to find out. Each of the devices I recommend will have a list of which features it supports and which ones it doesn’t. Think of it like your own personal shopping checklist. Missing features will be highlighted in red.

• 5.1 Audio Passthrough
• H.265 Hardware Decoding
• Android 5.1 Lollipop (or higher)
• Dynamic Refresh Rate Switching
• OTA Firmware Updates
• 1080p 3D
• HDMI 2.0
• USB 3.0
• Dual-Band Wi-Fi and\or Gigabit Ethernet
The latest version of  Kodi

Not every device on this list will have all of these features. That would make things way too easy. But, the way I’ve set this up, you can decide for yourself which of these features is important to you, and which you can skip this time around.
If you’re just starting out and want to get more information before you choose which TV box to buy, I’d suggest reading

“Getting started with TV boxes.”

The short answer is that there are DRM (Digital Rights Management) services which will limit who can see specific content to those devices that run those services. Think about it this way: Would you rather watch a crappy camcorder version of the latest movie or go see it in the theatre? Sure, the cam version is cheaper (i.e. free), but you’re missing out on the experience.

For Android media players, you need Netflix Approval and a Google Widevine Level 1 licence to playback DRM 1080p or 4K video streams. For HBO Now you’ll need a Microsoft Playready licence as well.

Without the right hardware, you’ll never get better than Standard Definition (SD) resolution with those streaming services.

What should I look for?

There are some “must-have” features that you should be looking for in your next Android TV box, so I’ve made this list with those in mind. Note: If you’re wondering What is an Android TV box, click on the link to find out. Each of the devices I recommend will have a list of which features it supports and which ones it doesn’t. Think of it like your own personal shopping checklist. Missing features will be highlighted in red.

• 5.1 Audio Passthrough
• H.265 Hardware Decoding
• Android 5.1 Lollipop (or higher)
• Dynamic Refresh Rate Switching
• OTA Firmware Updates
• 1080p 3D
• HDMI 2.0
• USB 3.0
• Dual-Band Wi-Fi and\or Gigabit Ethernet
• The latest version of Kodi

Not every device on this list will have all of these features. That would make things way too easy. But, the way I’ve set this up, you can decide for yourself which of these features is important to you, and which you can skip this time around.

If you’re just starting out and want to get more information before you choose which TV box to buy, I’d suggest reading “Getting started with TV boxes.”

nvidia-shield-consoleBest Android TV Box

NVIDIA Shield TV

Honestly, this isn’t even a fair fight.
NVIDIA, the graphics powerhouse behind most of the world’s top performing PC gaming systems, stormed on to the scene in May 2015 with the NVIDIA Shield Android TV console. Unlike the Razer Forge TV, which never really caught on, the Shield has a devoted following of Kodi enthusiasts, developers and causal gamers that have made it extremely popular.
The Shield TV is aimed at the user who want more power and storage from their streaming device than a Roku or Fire TV can give, but don’t need to go into the super high-end streaming devices like the Cyrus Stream Xa or Naim ND5 Xs. It has the high-end Tegra X1 CPU, 3GB of RAM and a graphic processor with a whopping 256 cores!

The Shield user interface is one of the slickest I’ve seen. Google’s official Android TV interface runs on top of Android 6.0 Marshmallow – the only device on this list to use the latest version of Android.

What to love: The Shield TV has most of the items on our checklist. It is also one of the few devices to have 4K Netflix and YouTube streaming. Both the controller and remote fit comfortably in your hands, and both include NVIDIA’s voice search using Google Now. As one of Kodi’s Diamond Sponsors, NVIDIA has the support of Team Kodi, so you can be sure that the latest versions of Kodi will work the way they’re supposed to.

What’s missing: It’s missing Amazon Prime Video and 1080p in 3D. It’s also worth noting that while it has 5.1 and 7.1 audio passthrough, there are some issues getting HD audio passthrough to work within Kodi at the time of this writing. Other services do not have this issue.

Checklist:
·         5.1 Audio Passthrough

·         H.265 Hardware Decoding

·         Android 5.1 Lollipop (or higher)

·         Dynamic Refresh Rate Switching

·         OTA Firmware Updates

·         1080p 3D: Not yet

·         HDMI 2.0

·         USB 3.0

·         Dual-Band Wi-Fi and\or Gigabit Ethernet

·         The latest version of Kodi

The NVIDIA Shield isn’t cheap, but you definitely get what you pay for. It’s not quite the perfect streaming device. But it’s as close as you can get at this point. The 16GB version lists at £228.69, while the 500GB model will set you back £338.95 UK.

Find the best price on the NVIDIA Shield TV at Amazon.com or NVIDIA direct store


minix-neo-u1-2                  Runner Up:

MINIX NEO U1

MINIX has been at the top of our “Best TV Box” lists for the past two years, and only the superb Shield TV kept them from the top spot again this year. It doesn’t pack the same punch as the NVIDIA Shield, but the AmLogic S905 based device did extremely well in our full MINIX NEO U1 review, even beating out the more expensive NEO X8-H Plus in several tests.

As I mentioned, the MINIX NEO U1 comes with AmLogic’s new S905 chipset, a 5-core GPU and 2GB of RAM. As is standard with most Android streaming devices, you’ll have 16GB of flash storage, so you’ll need someplace else to store your media files.
Like all of MINIX’s TV boxes, the NEO U1 has a custom interface which puts most things that the average user would want at their fingertips…or at least on the Home Screen. The interface is configured like “folders” where you can drop your favorite apps for easy access. Unfortunately, the folders can’t be changed. So if you don’t want to see the Gaming folder, for example, you’re still stuck with it anyway.

minix-neo-u1-dashboard

Running the full version of Android means that you can load almost any app in the Google Play Store and it’ll work on the NEO U1. However, the apps may or may not be designed for TV boxes in mind, so keep that in mind. Some apps may be stuck in portrait mode if they weren’t designed for use on a big screen TV.
MINIX includes a custom version of Kodi\XBMC which is optimized for their devices. You can always download the latest version of Kodi if you like, but it won’t come pre-loaded, and the performance may not be as good. One notable feature included in MINIX’s custom XBMC media center is 5.1 audio passthrough within Kodi. At the time of this article, those features aren’t available for this device in the stock version of Kodi. That may just make the NEO U1 the best XBMC box for 2016.
What to love: Full Android OS means you have the most flexibility to install apps of any device on this list. MINIX is a Diamond Kodi Sponsor and has an excellent support system with an active user forumand customer service team. I can’t stress this enough: support after the sale is incredibly important in choosing a device.
Checklist:

• 5.1 Audio Passthrough
• H.265 Hardware Decoding
• Android 5.1 Lollipop (or higher)
• Dynamic Refresh Rate Switching
• OTA Firmware Updates
• 1080p 3D
• HDMI 2.0
• USB 3.0
• Dual-Band Wi-Fi and\or Gigabit Ethernet
• The latest version of Kodi

Find the best price on the MINIX NEO U1 at Amazon.com or Geekbuying.com
What’s missing: Like most other TV box manufacturers, MINIX isn’t recognized by Netflix, so you won’t be able to stream Netflix in HD. Same goes for Amazon Prime Video.


skystream-one

       Runner Up:
       SkyStream One

The SkyStream One is the third, and newest TV box on this list. It replaced the WeTek Core which was one of the most refined devices I’ve tested.
Why the change? If you look at the specs, the SkyStream One runs the same CPU as the NEO U1 above, but it is priced slightly higher. If you think about it, this device is about 50% more expensive than most other S905 TV boxes on the market. And you know how I feel about TV boxes that cost too much. You can read the full SkyStream One review here.

So why is it on this list?
Because it is worth every penny. That’s right. I just said that the Skystream One is worth the extra money.
Here’s why.
Let’s start with the fact that SkyStream is based here in the USA, with customer service team in Florida. If you have a question or a problem, you’re talking to someone in the same country and not halfway across the world. That’s a big deal.
In addition to the local support department and the great community forum, you can also get a few extras that show how committed they are to their customers. SkyStream offers the “SkyStream Care” package which is a quarterly “tune up” for your device and check the apps and add-ons. There’s also a 2-year extended warranty which you can get for $9.99. If the box stops working within the first two years, they send you another one to replace it.
What to love: Support. Support. Support. There’s also a new Android Launcher and new simplified remote that takes a style cue from the Shield TV and Fire TV remotes.
What’s missing: This is going to sound familiar, but you won’t be able to get Netflix or YouTube in HD or 4K on the SkyStream One either. You’ll be limited to SD playback for those apps.

Checklist:

• 5.1 Audio Passthrough
• H.265 Hardware Decoding
• Android 5.1 Lollipop (or higher)
• Dynamic Refresh Rate Switching
• OTA Firmware Updates
• 1080p 3D
• HDMI 2.0
• USB 3.0
• Dual-Band Wi-Fi and\or Gigabit Ethernet
• The latest version of Kodi

Buy the Skystream One direct from Skystreamx.com


amazon-firetv

Best TV Box for “easy setup”

Amazon Fire TV 2

If I had to pick a streaming device to give to my mother, the new Amazon Fire TV 2 would be the one.

But, if you want to get the best quality from your Amazon Prime Video subscription, then you’re going to need the Fire TV since it’s the only player that will stream in HD, along with the Fire TV Stick.

The FireTV runs a proprietary version of Android 5.1, designed for media players. It has the familiar up\down menu system with the main categories on the left hand side.

firetv-os
What to love: Easy setup. Seriously. The Fire TV has a simple, “Plug and Play” interface that even the most technology challenged can feel comfortable with. Full HD streaming for Prime Video, Netflix, YouTube as well as streaming in 4K, when available.
The Voice search is amazing, and with Alexa, it’s only getting better.
What’s missing: The Google Play Store. The Amazon App Store is great, but it doesn’t offer that same level of familiarity and comfort as the Google Play Store. Plus, some apps are curiously absent. If you’re looking for Kodi, for example, you’ll need to side-load it.

Checklist:

• 5.1 Audio Passthrough
• H.265 Hardware Decoding
• Android 5.1 Lollipop (or higher) – Proprietary version
• Dynamic Refresh Rate Switching
• OTA Firmware Updates
• 1080p 3D
• HDMI 2.0
• USB 3.0
• Dual-Band Wi-Fi and\or Gigabit Ethernet
• The latest version of Kodi

Buy the Amazon Fire TV direct from Amazon.com


The Verdict

As I mentioned when I started, the best Android TV box for you, depends on what services you use.

So what do I use? My main device right now is the 16GB version of the NVIDIA Shield, but I have the NEO U1 as a secondary device on my bedroom TV. Both will give me great 4K resolution in Kodi, but the Shield will also let me watch Netflix and YouTube in 4K from the comfort of my couch. It doesn’t hurt that it can also play some games during downtime either.

What do you think? Have anything that you think would be a better choice? Let us know in the comments below.