THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE ANDROID TV BOX
Television has come a long way!
What started as a cumbersome mechanical device in 1923 transformed to CRT television sets decades later. And now, energy-efficient and smart LED and LCD models, packed with interactive web 2.0 features.
The mechanical TV from the 1920s was replaced with the CRT model. The latter was then replaced by energy-efficient LED and LCD models decades later. And now we have smart TVs that boast integrated internet and interactive web 2.0 features.
But recently, TV and entertainment got another massive upgrade:
The Android TV box!
The small box doesn’t look like it does much. But it has revolutionized home entertainment in more ways than one. In this guide, we will look at everything you need to know about the Android TV box. We’ll give you a closer look at what the device does, how to set it up, customization tips, and more.
Welcome to the ultimate guide to the Android TV box.
ANDROID TV BOX: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Android TV boxes are growing in popularity for a long list of good reasons.
These boxes are no more than 5 inches wide, but they pack a lot of punch! When connected to a television set and the internet, an Android TV box can turn an average widescreen TV to a smart entertainment device that allows:
- Surfing of the web
- Watching live streams and broadcasts of sporting events
- Catching the latest TV shows and movies in HD
- Play video games on the big screen
And that’s just a little sample of what lies ahead!
But before we get to the fun part of this guide, let’s try to clear some confusion surrounding the Android TV box.
Android TV And Android TV Box: The Difference
Android TV is a platform developed by Google with a straightforward goal:
To bring the things you enjoy on your phone straight to your TV.
Quick and easy access to your favourite movies, TV shows, and live streams? Check!
Smooth navigation and a smart interface we’re familiar with? Check!
High-definition video content that pops out of your living room? Check!
The Android TV even offers voice control, which is a Google signature. Not to mention the smart TV platform allows you to access and control other Android-powered devices like your phone, smart-watch, and other wearable items.
The release of the smart TV platform in 2014 opened many doors for TV manufacturers. It eliminated the need to build their own TV platforms, custom apps, and app store. Everything is taken care of by Google.
And the best part:
Android TV is an open-source platform!
This means manufacturers have the freedom to customize their smart TV’s content to set themselves apart from the competition. That can be anything from adding information services, weather reports, to newly developed games for the big screen.
Brands like Sony, Samsung, and LG were quick to get to work after Android TV’s release. In CES 2015, the consumer electronics giants unveiled a wide range of television sets - from 4k ultra to more affordable 1080p models, OLEDs and LEDs, and more...many of which run on Google’s television platform.
However, there is one disadvantage with Android TV:
It cannot run every app like your smartphone does.
Android TV is a special version of Android’s core operating system. And the apps it can run are tailored for television viewing, not something you can say for all apps in your phone or the Play store.
Worse, you can only get Android TV if you buy one of those high-end set-top boxes or smart TVs released in 2015 or later.
If you find that too limiting, enter the Android TV box.
These set-top TV boxes run on an Android operating system we are all familiar with, giving older TVs the same features and capabilities minus the steep price.
Just take the Xiaomi’s Mi Box for example.
The sleek and innovative box can turn just about any regular TV to an entertainment powerhouse with features one can find in an expensive Android-powered smart TV like Sony Bravia - from apps made for the big screen, Google Cast, voice recognition, to gaming capabilities.
And guess what? The Mi Box retails for less than $70!
|Features||Android TV||Android TV Box|
|What it is||an open-source developed by Google, bring the things you enjoy on your phone straight to your TV.||Running on an Android operating system, giving older TVs the Android TV features and capabilities minus the steep price.|
|Surfing of the web||Yes||Yes|
|Play video games||Yes||Yes|
|Latest TV shows||Yes||Yes|
|Movies in HD||Yes||Yes|
|Run every app||No||Yes|
|Main brands||Sony, Samsung, and LG, etc||Xiaomi|
|Price range||Hundrands to Thousands||USD30 ～ USD500|
How Is It Different From Other Streaming Media Players?
The market is full of streaming devices similar to the Android TV box - Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Apple TV, and the list goes on.
And they’re great. These media players are easy and intuitive enough to use even for a toddler, have awesome entertainment apps, and backed by known tech brands. But these streaming media devices force you to live in their world. The user isn’t given much of a choice if the app they want isn’t available.
If you want to install Kodi for example, you’re out of luck. In some cases, installing an app outside of the device’s ecosystem is possible - but only after going through hoops. This holds true for thousands of other apps, too.
With an Android TV box however, installing Kodi - or any other app - is ABC-easy. If you’re someone who loves having limitless options for customisation to make the system truly yours, an Android TV box is the best choice!
So What Can You Watch And Do With An Android TV Box?
Short answer: anything you want!
Unlike the Android TV platform, Android boxes works just like your smartphone, allowing you to install apps and personalise content just the way you want it.
The next sections will show you tips and tricks for customisation and app installations. But to whet your appetite, here are just some of the things you can watch and do with an Android box:
- Watch TV shows and movies: Relive the Walter White’s transformation to Heisenberg in “Breaking Bad” or the heart-stopping action of “Avengers.” Your favourite TV shows and movies are just a few clicks away.
- Live streams and broadcasts: For video game enthusiasts and sports fanatics, nothing beats watching the action live from the comfort of their couch.
- Cast from your mobile device: Because, sometimes, the most memorable and touching videos are on your phone. Cast them on the big screen and take a walk down memory lane!
- Play mobile games: Ever wondered what it’s like to play “Clash of Clans” or “Fruit Ninja” on a widescreen TV? With an Android box, you can stop wondering and start playing!
How’s that for functionality and entertainment?
HOW TO SET IT UP - AND A QUICK SIDELOADING GUIDE
Getting an Android box to work is as straightforward as it could get. Connect the box to your TV’s HDMI port. Setup the Wifi as you would using a mobile phone. And that’s it!
Your TV now functions just like an Android smartphone. And personalising the content to your heart’s satisfaction is as simple as logging into Google Play and installing the right apps.
Do you need your TV to double as an alarm clock for free? Check out AVG Lab’s Alarm Clock Xtreme or Alarmy from Delight Room.
Want to catch the latest esports streams and news on the big screen? You can find the official apps from Twitch TV and TheScore eSports.
And if you want to turn your TV to a communication center, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and other messaging apps are just a few clicks away.
The list of possibilities is endless!
A Quick Guide To Sideloading Your Android TV Box
But what if the app you want for your TV isn’t found in Google Play store?
This is when sideloading comes to your rescue. Sideloading is the manual installation of applications which are not available via the usual channels. To sideload an app, you must first allow the machine to accept apps not offered on Play store.
Here’s how to do just that:
- Go into the “Settings” and then to “Security and Restrictions.”
- Once you’re on the menu page, toggle the “Unknown Sources” option on.
- You will get a warning message after toggling, but don’t worry - simply accept it and you’re good to go.
With the settings taken care of, you are now ready to sideload just about any app to your TV.
The easiest way to do this is through the cloud - and this requires a lot of typing. Grabbing a bluetooth keyboard to pair with your Android TV is highly recommended, but a remote or game controller can also get the job done.
The steps for sideloading via the cloud are as follows:
- Install ES File Explorer from the Play store, a reliable file manager and once recommended by many experts as a “must have” Android app.
- Using a computer or mobile phone, download the APK file of the app you want to install and save it on your Google Drive. You can use other cloud storage services like DropBox, but let’s stick to Google Drive for this guide.
- After saving the APK file, fire up ES File Explorer on your TV. Scroll to the “Network” section and select “Cloud”.
- Click the “New” button found on the top right of the screen, select the cloud service you want to use, and log in.
- Next, find the folder with the APK file and select it to start downloading. Once the download is finished, select “Install” from the dialog box that follows.
- The installation may glitch or return a warning message. But as long as the “Install” button is visible and active, there’s nothing to worry about and just click it.
And that’s everything you need to know about setting up and sideloading your Android TV.
Between Google Play store and the easy sideloading guide here, you can expand the utility of your TV box however you like. And in the following section, we will look at the best addons for your entertainment!
KODI AND ANDROID TV BOX - A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN
Different Android box manufacturers will offer different apps.
Apps developed for the big screen like YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, and Plex are staple in most boxes. And if you have subscriptions to the paid streaming services, you’re all good. But when it comes to personalising your TV box’s contents, nothing beats Kodi!
Kodi is often left out in expensive TV boxes and streaming devices. But as you’ll see, Kodi and the Android TV box are a match made in heaven!
An Introduction To Kodi
Kodi rose to popularity in the recent years, and it’s easy to see why.
The free and open-source software was created in 2003 with home entertainment in mind. It transforms any device you can think of into a digital media player, allowing users to pull and stream content straight to the living room.
The software is also compatible with many operating systems like Windows, Linux, Android, OSx, and even Raspberry Pi.
And like icing on top of a fine cake, Kodi also boasts what developers call the “10-foot user interface.”
The UI is polished and optimised that users can watch or read content even from 10 feet away. This means you won’t have to strain their eyes when browsing photos, watching videos, and navigating the software.
Kodi was originally created for the Xbox and was even called the Xbox Media Center (XBMC). Now, the software is being managed by the non-profit XBMC foundation, constantly tweaked and upgraded by an entire community of developers and translators.
Yes, the software is free, regularly updated, and sports a great UI. What’s not to like!?
But what made Kodi a hot commodity is the near-endless choices it provides. The software doesn’t have a curated app store and isn’t held back by licensing, meaning you can download any of the community-developed apps and watch whatever tickles your fancy.
But this raises the question:
Is Kodi legal?
If you’ve been following the news, you may have heard of a trader from Teesside, United Kingdom getting arrested earlier in 2016. His offense? Selling Android set-top boxes fitted with Kodi and several addons.
Pretty scary, don’t you think?
Having the cops breathing down your neck because you own a Kodi-powered TV box is the last thing you want to happen. But you can lay those worries to rest as Kodi, in its most basic form, is 100% legal.
Media players and streaming applications for organising media are a dime a dozen, and Kodi just happens to stand out.
Sure, addons that give free access to pay-per-view content, the latest movies, and even Premier League football murky the waters. But know that accessing paid content for free via Kodi isn’t different from watching movies from websites like Putlocker.
Kodi TV Installation Guide
If you own one of the high-end media streamers like Roku or Amazon Fire TV, installing Kodi can be a little tricky. But for an Android TV box, the installation process is as smooth as silk:
- Fire up your TV and Android Box.
- Go to Google Play store.
- Download Kodi and install.
And that’s it!
If the process above isn’t working for your TV box for some reason, no need to worry. Simply go back to the sideloading guide earlier and that should fix the problem.
After installing Kodi, you’re now ready to customise its content with addons developed by the Kodi community. And if you’re wondering which addons are worth downloading, the next section will get you started on the right track.
“Up” Your Entertainment With The Best Kodi Addons
Addons are packages with features, tweaks, and content which are not present in Kodi’s most basic form. Simply put, the more addons you have, the more stuff you get.
But the list of addons available is growing everyday. Kodi’s repository alone is home to over 1,000 addons for streaming music and videos, playing games, and image organisation. Outside Kodi’s repository, you are guaranteed to find thousands more.
With so many to choose from, picking the right addons for your Android TV box can feel overwhelming. But we’ve got you covered. You only need 5 addons to turn your average TV to a complete entertainment system - and we’ve listed all of them below!
Specto is probably the best and most well-rounded Kodi addon, a title which was held by the Genesis addon. The latter, however, is now riddled with dead stream and links. With Specto, you never have to worry about resolution. The addon lets you watch your favourite movies, TV shows, and documentaries on high-definition - and with subtitles, too!
Note, however, that Specto is a fork addon. In Kodi, a fork takes an application and uses it as a base. This means you need to install addons to the Specto addon to improve and expand its library.
The quality and sheer amount of content this addon delivers is just jaw-dropping. Phoenix is supported by a team of developers and was created by the guys who made Mashup.
The addon lets you watch videos in razor-sharp quality, including live TV from the US and the UK. If you want to finally cut the cord but want to stay current on regular channels, Phoenix is the addon of choice.
With Phoenix and Specto installed, you get the best of cable TV and paid streaming services (like Netflix) for free.
Velocity For Kids
The smorgasbord of videos found in Specto and Phoenix is meant for a wide range of audiences. But if you want an addon that’s built especially for children, check out Velocity Kids. The addon lets you create a folder where you can add, edit, delete, and control content.
With a parent-approved selection of TV shows and movies, you can rest easy knowing your kids are treated to wholesome and entertaining content even if you’re away.
Note: Velocity For Kids is a companion to Velocity. You need to install the latter for Velocity For Kids to work.
Spotify changed the way we listen to music. Gone are the days when you have to put up with songs you don’t fancy, or switch stations until you find something you like.
Spotify premium users gain access to a massive library of tracks along with offline listening. And with playlists for just about any preference, you’re bound to find that suits your taste - wherever you are and whatever your mood.
If you have a premium subscription, SpotiMC is a must-have. The Kodi addon brings all of the perks of Spotify to your TV, and it sports a user interface that’s just as intuitive as Spotify’s.
ROM Collection Browser
Have you grown tired of the realistic graphics common in the latest console and PC games? If you want a blast from the past, ROM Collection Browser is the Kodi addon of choice.
ROM Collection Browser is built from the ground up to run classic games like Pacman, Mortal Kombat, or Super Mario. Perfect for retro-gaming on your TV! The addon doesn’t come with ROM games. But a quick Google search for ROM game files should fix the problem.
For many, Zem TV is their first stop about all things sports. The addon brings streaming content from non-English sources. But its selection of live English sports channels make Zem TV the best sports addon for Kodi. There’s Sky Sports, Astro Supersports, UniTV, and more.
WARNING! 3 THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR WHEN SHOPPING FOR A TV BOX
Not all Android TV boxes are created equal. Some are worth the money. Others are OK. And there are Android boxes that just fail to deliver.
Streaming devices from well-known brands give a lot of bang for your buck. The Nvidia Shield, for example, boasts a Tegra X1 processor, making it one of the most powerful TV boxes in the market.
The machine allows you to play games and stream videos at 4k resolution - and graphics-intensive skins won’t slow down your media experience. And with the Android TV as its operating system, installing Kodi from the Google Play store is a cakewalk.
But there’s one downside:
Nvidia’s 4k HDR Android TV box can cost $200 or more.
Of course, you can find models from lesser-known brands at half the price of the Nvidia Shield. But one must exercise caution when shopping for more affordable models, making sure that quality isn’t sacrificed.
All Android TV boxes are equipped with Android-compatible hardware, which is expected. However, the performance they deliver vary wildly.
Some cheaper models still run on old and slow processors based off of the Cortex A9 and A5 cores. A far cry from the powerful processors found in pricier models.
The GPU of choice for these boxes is often the Mali-400, capable of decoding a variety of video formats and running 1080p videos. The Mali-400, however, is an old GPU and can’t stream 4k content.
And then there’s the problematic RAM and storage. Most of the cheaper machines run with 1GB of RAM and 4 to 8GB of storage. And if you want to save HD video content on the box for offline viewing, you need way more than that!
Not Working As Advertised
Consumers have grown tired of cable TV companies chipping away at their monthly budget, and the arrival of Android TV is more than welcome.
However, this has also opened doors to TV boxes that look sleek - but just don’t work.
A CNet poster complained how a certain Android box sports a stylish exterior, decent hardware, and lists tons of links to movies and TV shows. But none of the links to streaming content work. And when you do find one, the stream breaks. And the remote control? It only functions within 6 feet of the box.
And here’s the worst part:
The CNet poster was blocked from the company’s Facebook page after posting a complaint!
Google TV And Kodi-Compatible?
You can find Android TV boxes that advertise themselves as “Google TV” and “Kodi-compatible.” And this is often misleading!
For starters, the box itself runs on Android - and that’s different from Google TV.
The latter is a smart TV platform launched by Google in October 2010. But the platform was discontinued in 2014, eventually replaced by Android TV.
And as for the Kodi/XBMC-compatibility, this feature is as standard as it can get. Kodi is a cross-platform media player, and any device running on Android can install the software. A TV box that advertises itself as “Kodi-compatible” is touting a function everyone has!
However, compatibility doesn’t guarantee that the user can get the software working properly, especially if the machine is running an old version of Android.
Now, don’t let the three warnings above scare you from buying an Android TV box. But you do want to shop wisely when looking for lesser-priced models.
Always pay extra attention to the hardware components of the box - the RAM, storage, and the processor in particular. While a $100-budget may not be enough for a lightning-fast 4k HDR streaming device, you still want to ensure the machine isn’t running on ancient hardware.
Check out the 3 to 4-star reviews of the box. Spotless 5-star reviews praise the product but often fail to point the shortcomings. Reviews with lower ratings, on the other hand, tend to provide a more objective overview of the product’s good and bad sides.
And last but not the least, go for the Android TV box that’s backed by a rock-solid return policy in case the machine doesn’t work as expected.
Android is the future of TV, and it’s here!
With the right Android TV box, you don’t just upgrade the way you watch television shows and movies. You also “up” the way you play online games, surf the World Wide Web, communicate with family and friends... and things are only going to get better as Android gets an update after another.
In this guide, we looked at everything you need to know about the Android TV box and how to pick the right one for your living room. We discussed:
- What an Android TV box is and how it works
- How to set up the device
- Which apps and addons are “must haves” for your TV
- And how to shop for TV box wisely
We hope that this in-depth guide helps you find the TV box that fits your budget and delivers on its promise. But if you’re still on the fence, that’s OK. If you want to read and learn more about Android TV, our other guides and resources will prove helpful!