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What’s the Best Android TV Box?

I often get asked which TV box to buy, or what the best Android TV box is, and the answer is the TV box that fits your needs for the lowest price point possible. Considering there are around 2 millions apps for Android, they are multitudes of use cases, and you can’t provide a single answer for everybody. So I’ll provide a list of things to look for beside the processor, and three TV boxes that I think are worth considering, before providing alternatives for people who want cheaper devices.

Things to Look for

There are still a few things you may want to specifically look for before purchasing an Android TV box:

  • History of regular firmware updates – If a company provides regular firmware updates, your device is likely to get better and better overtime. The cheapest TV boxes normally follow the ship-and-forget model, so you can’t expect any improvements, unless some community members offer custom firmware. OTA (Over-the-air) updates
  • Support forums – That’s obviously a plus, as the company and other members should be able to help you, especially if it is a common problem.
  • 4K Support – If you want to purchase a device that will support 4K videos, you should look for devices with HDMI 2.0 for 3840×2160 or 4096×2160 output up to 60 Hz. Also make sure 10-bit HEVC/H.265 codecs are supported up to 4K @ 60 fps, and optionally VP9 codec.
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – In case you own an amplifier or A/V receiver capable of handling Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS HD Master, DTS HD High Resolution, or DTS:X, you really need to check the reviews on this site or others, as many devices fall short despite claiming support. So far, I’ve never seen Dolby Atmos and DTS:X supported, but normally they should at least fall back to respectively Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master.
  • Automatic frame rate switching – This is the ability of the device to match the monitor refresh rate to the video frame rate to avoid a phenomenon called micro stutter, which makes the videos not as smooth as it could be at regular intervals, and especially noticeable when the video is panning. if this is properly implemented, e.g. 24 fps videos played using 24 Hz on the monitor, then micro-stutter disappears.
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streaming – If you’re paying for video streaming services like Netflix, you’ll have to make sure they are specifically supported, with Widewine Level 1 DRM necessary, but not sufficient condition for playing the videos at HD or UHD (4K) resolution. Most devices can only stream videos in SD resolution due to the lack of proper DRM and a hard-to-get “Netflix license”.
  • Thermal design and storage performance – Many Android TV boxes have similar specifications, but IMHO, two key design choices are especially impacting the performance between apparently similar devices. Some TV boxes will overheat over time, leading to poor performance after a few minutes, while others with proper cooling will perform the same over hours. Fast storage will ensure the device boots quickly, apps load fast, and the device does not get slowed down while apps are installing or updating in the background.

MINIX NEO U1

 

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Criteria:

  • History of regular firmware updates – MINIX is known to update the devices for about a year or so.
  • Support forumsMINIX forums are quite active, and you should be able to get help from there.
  • 4K Support – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60 Hz is supported, with very good support for 4K 10-bit H.265 and H.264 videos. VP9 is not supported.
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio pass-through is working with the most recent firmware & Kodi/SPMC version.
  • Automatic frame rate switching – OK
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streamingNetflix can only play with SD resolution, and only Widewine Level 3 is implemented.
  • Thermal design and storage performance – The device has a large heatsink with excellent cooling leading to constant performance, and the internal storage is one of the fastest I’ve ever seen in an Android TV box

So as long as you don’t really care about Netflix HD, or HD playback in other premium apps, I’d definitely recommend looking into this product. You can read MINIX NEO U1 review for details, and bear in mind that some bugs have been fixed since my review including HD audio pass-through.

Price: $129.90 shipped on Amazon US, GearBest, GeekBuying, etc… If you buy the excellent NEO A2 Lite air mouse with the device, the price is $149.90.

WeTek Core

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Criteria:

  • History of regular firmware updates – WeTek is providing updates to their devices over an extended period, and their are also one of the rare companies to provide OpenELEC and Linux images for their devices.
  • Support forums – You can get support on WeTek forums, which are also fairly active.
  • 4K Support – HDMI 1.4 up to 4K @ 30 Hz is supported, with decent support for 4K  H.265 and H.264 videos, as long as you don’t try to play 4K @ 60 fps videos. VP9 is not supported.
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio pass-through is working with the most recent firmware with Kodi or SMPC 16.x.
  • Automatic frame rate switching – OK
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streamingNetflix HD is supported as they have all the proper licenses.
  • Thermal design and storage performance – The heatsink is not especially large, but I have not noticed any performance degradation over time during my testing. However, the internal storage is not quite as fast as it could be, so you may experience some slowdowns when installing apps in the background, or when the boxes does other I/O intensive activities.

WeTek Core is more suited to people wanting to watch Netflix in HD, or prefer a pure Linux experience (OpenELEC). You can find more details in WeTek Core review, and just like with NEO U1, several bugs have been fixed since I posted the review close to 6 months ago.

Price: $110.32 via WeTek website.

Nvidia Shield Android TV Box

Nvidia_SHIELDI have not reviewed the device myself, but I can read of lots of praise for it on the net.

Criteria:

  • History of regular firmware updates – Nvidia has provided several firmware updates since the device was released, and version 3.1 even upgrade the Android version to 6.0 marshmallow
  • Support forums – An active SHIELD Android TV board is running on Nvidia Geforce forum.
  • 4K Support – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60 Hz is supported with support for 4K  H.265, VP9 and H.264 video playback.
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio pass-through has been supported since OTA 2.0 firmware (The latest firmware is now version 3.1)
  • Automatic frame rate switching – OK for Kodi and Plex at least.
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streamingNetflix HD & 4K are officially supported
  • Thermal design and storage performance – I could not find reports of overheating or throttling for SHIELD Android TV, and while I could not find the storage benchmarks, I’ve seen reviews saying the device performs well in all conditions.

Nvidia TV box will also be a better than any other TV boxes available so far if you are interested in 3D games. The main downside is the higher price, especially if you don’t happen to live in a region or country where it’s been officially released. It’s also running Android TV by default, which limits the number of apps in the play store. It’s however possibly to install a full (unofficial) version of Android.

Price: $199.99 on Amazon US, going up to around $245 with the gamepad when shipped to the US. If you live in some other countries the total price may go up to $300 to $400 once shipping, US forwarding, and taxes are taken into account.

Other Alternatives for less than $100

While the three boxes above have performance above the rest, not everybody wants to spend $100 or more on a TV box, so I’ll propose some alternatives.

  • MXQ S85 – This box is based on Amlogic S805 processor, and while the manufacturer does not provide direct support, Freaktab provides some alternative firmware, it’s one of the most popular device around (based on the traffic I get), and it was my best value for money TV box at the end of 2014.  So if tyou don’t mind about Netflix HD, 4K videos, and want something decent for 1080p H.264 and H.265 videos, it could be a good choice. MXQ S85 now sells for about $38 shipped.
  • Zidoo X1 II – This device supports 4K video playback of 10-bit H.265, and 10-bit H.264 up to 4K output @ 60 Hz. You’ll also get regurlar OTA firmware updates from Zidoo. However, don’t expect Netflix HD (SD should be OK), and some Android apps may feel slow due to the low-end GPU, so it’s better used exclusively as a media player, rather than an Android mini PC. Zidoo XI II is sold for $49 on GeekBuying, Banggood, or Aliexpress.
  • Raspberry Pi 2/3 Board – I’m not myself a big fan of using development boards as media players, since Android TV boxes price are now so low that you’ll end up paying more with a board once you had the extra accessories, potential codec fees, and the enclosure. In the case of Raspberry Pi 2 board, the VPU is also limited to 1080p30 without H.265 support, except with some hacks that may not work for all videos. Raspberry Pi 3 board does support H.264 1080p60 natively. However, some people disagree, with most of their content being 1080p24 / H.264, so Raspberry Pi board fit their requirements, even with 3D MVC support, and thanks to software developed over the years, they believe think it may be one of the best media solution available. This is a Linux based solution, as Android does not run properly on the boards.A complete media player kit based on Raspberry Pi 2 or 3 would cost $70 to $80.

I hope this post will help some people making an educated choice when purchasing a TV box.

  1. Paulin ARBOUX
    April 25th, 2016 at 13:29 | #1

    Amazon FireTV 4k may also be a excellent choice. It uses a nice SOC : mt8173 (dual a72 + dual a53 with PowerVR GX6250) and looks OK with the requierements.

    FireOS might be a drawback …

  2. RAF
    April 25th, 2016 at 13:33 | #2

    I would add Ugoos to your list, I’m quite impressed by the ROM they provided when upgrading UT3S to Lollipop no more micro stuttering when watching videos (this is the most important thing in my opinion, it’s good to see RK3288 performing adequately after almost 2 years), better performance overall, frequent updates and much better scores in the benchmarks.

  3. xxx
    April 25th, 2016 at 13:37 | #3

    Nvidia is with game pad,have the best gpu over all android boxes,highest license level of drm and all others,the best active silent cooling,best build quality.If you consider what you get together with game pad,it have the best price.

  4. boudyka
    April 25th, 2016 at 14:14 | #4

    I praise the Amazon Firetv 4k too, rootable at the moment, although 4k is limited to Netflix etc, Kodi runs sweet with 1080p x265 content.

  5. Steve
    April 25th, 2016 at 14:49 | #5

    I’d clarify the Raspberry Pi 3 functionality a bit.

    It outputs 1080p50 and 1080p60 over HDMI, with high quality deinterlacing of 1080i Live TV stuff (which isn’t universal on Android TV boxes, with some devices only doing a poor-quality Bob) It also handles VC-1 properly (some other Android TV boxes don’t)

    I’d have read your review as suggesting it only outputs 1080p30 max – which is not the case. It’s a very good platform for Live TV (unlike the nVidia Shield which has limited deinterlacing for instance)

    The Pi 3 has 5.1/7.1 PCM HDMI audio output and Kodi now includes lossless decoding of HD Audio – so you get lossless decoded Dolby True HD and DTS-HD MA audio output now (so unless your amp needs Metadata you get no quality difference between that and bit streaming) If you want DTS:x or Atmos streaming then look elsewhere…

    The Pi 3 also handles interlaced DVDs properly – unlike AMLogic boxes like the Wetek Core which can’t currently play interlaced DVD VOB or ISO content (though they are fine with interlaced MPEG2 in other wrappers) The AMLogic is OK with stuff originated progressive (like movies) but stuff that is natively interlaced (like concerts, 70s/80s European TV etc.) is unplayable.

    If you want 3D MVC replay in Full HD Frame Packed output – then the Pi 3 is the only device on your list that can deliver that. The nVidia Shield has no 3D MVC decode, whilst AMLogic platforms have 3D MVC decode, but can only output in a half-resolution 2D format (HTAB usually)

    I have a Pi3 and a Wetek Core. The Pi 3 is still my player of choice as the lack of interlaced MPEG2 DVD replay is a real issue for me, as I have numerous interlaced DVDs, and occasionally watch 3D content. Put the Pi in a nice box, and use CEC or Bluetooth remote (or IR if you don’t mind adding a FLIRC or RC6 IR USB receiver or similar) and it’s a really good Kodi player. Netflix? Don’t bother 🙂

    There are more powerful platforms with HEVC 2160/60p 10bit hardware decode and 4K output (the S905 boxes for instance) – but I find it amazing that something as basic as DVD playback is still not 100% reliable on them.

  6. April 25th, 2016 at 16:02 | #6

    @Steve
    I had read VideoCore IV GPU was limited to 1080p30 H.264 video decoding. But now I read that Raspberry Pi 2 can play most 1080p 60 video with some hacks (voiding the warranty) -> https://www.raspberrypi.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=101638

    Maybe it’s not a problem anymore on RPI3.

    Edit: OK, this is confirmed on Wikipedia. BCM2837 does support 1080p60, but RPI2 or earlier boards are limited to 1080p30 for H.264.

  7. avra
    April 25th, 2016 at 16:11 | #7

    I would really appreciate similar list but with x86 Windows and Linux SBCs. As far as I know only x86 Kodi and some Windows players can convert 3D movies to anaglyph on the fly (I do not have a 3D TV). 4K is not important to me, but H264/265 and Dolby are. Therefore my ideal x86 SBC would run Kodi (Win or Lin) probably on Z8300, have MAME, some useful background services, and share USB 3.0 or SATA hard disk over gigabit wired ethernet.

  8. adl
    April 25th, 2016 at 21:35 | #8

    The best is zidoo x1 II. Can play 3d mvc.
    For netflix users, can use tv that has integrated netflix. 🙂
    Why to pay more money.

  9. trentbg
    April 26th, 2016 at 00:15 | #9

    The Shield takes it of course, especially for the price of $150 that a lot of people, including myself, payed for it. If you want a problem free playback of any audio and video format, the Shield is what you need, all the rest is a compromise.

  10. Ron
    April 26th, 2016 at 03:56 | #10

    Good ac WiFi reception, with an external antenna, is also an issue to consider when choosing an Android TV box.

  11. April 26th, 2016 at 10:16 | #11

    @Ron
    That’s true, but it’s much more difficult to evaluate WiFi performance, as the experience may vary a lot depending on people environment, router, router firmware, etc… I’d recommend people to use Ethernet instead of WiFi whenever convenient/possible.

  12. massimo
    April 26th, 2016 at 19:26 | #12

    Best Android TV Box for video quality fro local file it’s Himedia with Q10 pro again .
    Best Android TV Box for streamng service it’s shield.

    PS: wetek core can watch Netflix in HD, but audio is stereo limited ( no DD+ 5.1 ) and APP Android TV version must be install manual.

  13. Jack Frost
    April 26th, 2016 at 21:32 | #13

    Indeed, Himedia’s Q10Pro will most like be the best this year has to offer. Surprised it’s not on the list.

  14. mdel
    April 26th, 2016 at 23:54 | #14

    if you’re going for 150e mark, you shouldn’t skip cloudmedia products (they changed their name a few years back), especially “open hour” boxes, at least one of those uses android.

    they have a record of solid (not perfect) software development (and i’m not sure “open” means open source in their dictionary though) but android is new to them and i was told it’s still pretty much “beta”.

    Am i right to understand that “VP9” means youtube HD videos ?

  15. No Ta
    April 27th, 2016 at 04:33 | #15

    For below £30 and Kodi, filmon, iPlayer, All4, iTV hub and UKplay I have tried both a generic M8 OTT Mbox S802 and a Mini M8s Mbox both have 2gb ram. They are fine not latest and greatest but do the job at 1080p. With the rate of change anything bought now will be out of date in 2 1/2 to 3 years. I sold my Dual Core 1.6 ghz RK3066 1gb Android dongle for £12 second hand so once I take that off what I paid for the replacement, £18.00 for 2ghz Quad, 2GB is a bargain.

    The Raspberry Pi boards are fan boy rubbish and the Pi 3 overheats, something the fan boys try to run down but go look for yourself of real world reviews by real world users and not the edited rubbish on the bullying Pi forum.

    You even get people using old intel coolers and fans to cool their Pi 3 boards..

  16. April 27th, 2016 at 13:53 | #16

    @massimo
    @Jack Frost
    Boxes that I have tested are more likely to make it to the list, since it’s difficult for me to comment without actually testing it. The Nvidia box made it because so many people claim its the best, and even one Kodi Android developer said they “cornered the market”.

    Himedia does not seem to have any support forum either, except via third parties.

  17. April 27th, 2016 at 14:03 | #17

    @mdel
    Cloudmedia is OK with their forums and firmware support, but for example their Open Hour does not support 4K @ 60 Hz (with many TVs, nor Netflix HD.

    4K VP9 should allow for 4K YouTube videos, but I think Google only permits devices with “Android TV” operating system to play 4K videos in YouTube Android app (TBC).

  18. H. vom Walde
    May 17th, 2016 at 22:51 | #18

    Two very good Android TV Boxes with Widevine Level 1 are WeTek.core and Rippl-tv V2 both can play youtube, Hulu, Netflix and so on in HD (1080p)

  19. BTam
    August 1st, 2016 at 10:54 | #19

    Thanks for your help. I think I’m going to finally pull the trigger and get one. Your information is very informative and help me decide on my device.

  20. sharon
    August 15th, 2016 at 12:44 | #20

    @massimo
    thanks for you high comments for we Himedia Q10 PRO. Q10 pro is very strong and powerful for the local playback.

  21. ron
    October 25th, 2016 at 16:12 | #21

    I’m really not satisfied with the Wetek Core, too be honest. Have it now for a couple of weeks but already had a number of complete freezes of the system whilst playing netflix. The remote is not really handy. If you start up a program like Netflix you have to hover the remote like a mouse to even get the app to pause, that’s not really intuitive. The on/off button on the box is not working. You have to shut it down through the menu (so when the Core freezes you have no option but unplugging the power cable). Bootup time is really slow. I thought i bought a solid box but sadly i’m quite disappointed and gonna trade it for a different box.

  22. theguyuk
    October 25th, 2016 at 18:08 | #22

    @ron

    Have you given WETEK ear ache ( complained ) ?

    http://wetek.com/support

  23. MonsterBeatz
    November 20th, 2016 at 00:52 | #23

    The Droidbox receives ota

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