Television has completely changed from what our parents-or their parents-knew it as growing up. The capabilities of what a TV can do now are pretty expansive. Then came along TV boxes that have truly changed the whole experience, transforming your television into a less powerful PC or a larger smartphone.
A TV box allows you to install apps, tune in to your local TV channels and even connect to streaming platforms such as Netflix. On top of that, you can also access premium cable channels at no additional cost, but it mostly depends on your location. Google has certainly popularized TV boxes, consequently making Android TV boxes the pick of the pile.
How Does an Android TV Box work?
Essentially, a TV box is a hardware unit that allows you to connect a television to the internet. It works the same way your smartphone does, with a TV set as the display. Primarily, these devices run on similar technology, the main difference coming in the specific operating system. Android TV boxes are undoubtedly the most common, but other options do exist in the market. For instance, Amazon has Fire TV, which runs on its proprietary OS.
Android TV boxes stand out for the same reason their phones are the most widespread globally; flexibility. Since Android is open-source software, various hardware manufacturers are allowed to use it in their units. Consequently, you also get more options for available apps and an overall more customizable experience.
As such, you will probably come across a myriad of choices to pick from. Choosing an ideal cheap Android TV box can easily spiral into a headache. But worry not, we have mustered 5 of the best and most affordable options on the current market, including one that doesn't run on Android.
1. Top Choice: Xiaomi Mi Box S
- Brand New in box. The product ships with all relevant accessories
This is arguably one of the best Android TV boxes in the current market, as far as functionality and price go. This is not to say it's a flawless product, but it has many positive things going for it.
It comes with a default 720p resolution but can be adjusted in the settings for 4K output. It also supports HDR, which we found to improve the overall viewing experience. The Mi Box S runs on Android 8.1 right out of the box, which means you can maximize the expansive Android apps ecosystem, including Google Assistant.
The hardware is just as decent on this Android TV box. It sports 2GB RAM and 8GB internal storage. Its 64-bit quad-core processor is also powerful enough for smooth everyday use, though intensive tasks might take a toll on it. You also get premium Dolby and DTS audio for a fully immersive experience.
2. Budget Friendly: GooBang Doo ABOX A1
The ABOX A1 is meant for buyers looking for a decent Android TV box without spending breaking their wallet. While it doesn't exactly pack the greatest specs in terms of hardware, it's definitely the best budget choice as far as software goes.
It runs on the latest Android OS, meaning you get access to all the latest features from Google. It comes with native 4K resolution, plus a 3D graphics accelerator, taking the viewing experience to a whole new level. While the graphics accelerator is certainly not the most powerful, you still get a ton of performance.
It sports a 2.0 GHz quad-core processor, a penta-core 750MHz of GPU for 3D graphics, 2 GB of DDR3 RAM and a 16GB eMMC drive for internal storage. You do get an option to expand the latter with up to a 32GB SD card. The remote controller could do with a bit of better engineering, as it tends to be flimsy.
3. Great Value: Dolamee D5
Once you have eliminated all the bells and whistles, this is one of the best Android TV box that does exactly what it says on the tin. It has all the features that would be considered necessary for such a device, giving you just the required specs.
It supports 4K resolution, although that does not apply to 3D imaging. It comes with H.265 hardware decoding, a 1.5 GHz quad-core processor, 2 GB RAM and 8 GB of internal storage. The D5 also supports 2.4 GHz WiFi as well as Bluetooth 2.0. Suffice it to say, this is practically all that's really needed to get Android TV boxes to perform.
However, you might need to consider that the storage space might end up insufficient, especially if you install several apps. It also doesn't run the latest Android version, which might lead to incompatibility with some recent apps. Nevertheless, KODI comes pre-installed, which is always a plus. That said, it is worth noting that the D5's biggest draw is the ridiculously affordable price point.
4. Most Reviewed: Roku Ultra
- New! Disney+ and Apple TV are now streaming on all Roku devices
- Power, picture, performance: Roku Ultra lets you stream free, live and premium TV over the Internet; right on your 4K TV; Roku’s top of the line media player with a quad-core processor and our best wireless, Roku Ultra is perfect for heavy streaming in HD, 4K, and HDR
- Ultimate connectivity: No matter what you’re streaming, enjoy a strong connection with dual-band wireless or use the Ethernet port for wired streaming
- Brilliant picture quality: Experience your favorite TV in stunning detail and clarity; Perfect for HD, HDR, and 4K streaming, enjoy picture that’s optimized for your TV with sharp resolution and vivid color
- Take control of your TV: Use your voice to set personal shortcuts for one-touch control, search across channels, turn captions on, and more with the enhanced voice remote; plus, enjoy private listening with the included Premium JBL headphones and TV controls
Roku doesn't run on Android, for starters, making it an outlier on this list, but it is definitely worth the mention. As compared to other Android TV boxes, Roku isn't particularly impressive in terms of hardware specs, but it more than makes up with software.
It comes with a run-of-the-mill quad-core processor and just 1.5 GB of RAM. The internal storage is also a measly 256 MB. You do get dual-band WiFi and Ethernet capabilities, but that's all there is to the hardware. KODI is unfortunately not supported on this device, including a host of games or streaming music platforms. However, Roku Ultra does really excel when it comes to software.
Right off the box, you get access to Roku's own media centre, which opens you up to hundreds of TV channels, movies, and shows. This also includes access to plenty of sporting apps and platforms. This TV box is almost exclusively meant for video streaming, and Roku has really gone to town with this. You also get a dedicated mobile app, which minimizes the need to use a remote control. The ease of use with this unit makes it an altogether great choice for people who are simply looking for a wholesome visual media experience.
5. Best for Gaming: Nvidia Shield TV Pro
- The Best of the Best. SHIELD TV delivers an amazing Android TV streaming media player experience, thanks to the new NVIDIA Tegra X1+ chip. Enhance HD video in real-time to 4K for clearer, crisper visuals using next-generation AI upscaling. 2x USB 3.0 ports for storage expansion, USB cameras, keyboards, controllers, and more. Plex Media Server built-in, 3 GB RAM, and 16 GB storage.
- Dolby Vision - Atmos. Bring your home theater to life with Dolby Vision HDR, and surround sound with Dolby Atmos and Dolby Digital Plus—delivering ultra-vivid picture quality and immersive audio.
- Best-In-Class Design. Designed for the most demanding users and beautifully designed to be the perfect centerpiece of your entertainment center, SHIELD TV Pro levels you up to more storage space, more RAM, the expandability of 2x USB 3.0 ports, and Plex Media Server. Get the best connectivity with Gigabit Ethernet, dual-band AC Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 5.0. The all-new remote is more advanced than ever with motion-activated, backlit buttons—including a customizable menu button. Plus, with voice control, Bluetooth, IR control for your TV, and a built-in remote control locator, you have the most advanced remote yet.
- Unlimited Entertainment. Enjoy the most 4K HDR content of any streaming media player, and access to thousands of apps and games, including top apps like Netflix,YouTube, Prime Video, Disney + and Hulu. Add a game controller (sold separately) and play today’s most popular games like Fortnite and GeForce Now. Even stream from your phone with built-in Chromecast 4K.
- Voice Control. The built-in Google Assistant is at your command. See photos, live camera feeds, weather, sports scores, and more on the big screen. Dim the lights and immerse yourself in your favorite show or music using only your voice. And control your SHIELD hands-free with Google Home or Alexa and Echo.
Let's start by saying that cheap is not what instantly comes to mind when you think of Nvidia Shield TV Pro. But if you really want a true gaming experience when you connect your PC gaming to a Smart TV, it doesn't get any better. We reckon that what you get out of this TV box is somewhat affordable for its price point.
This trailblazing TV box comes stacked with state-of-the-art features. It has an advanced processor comprising of two quad-core CPUs; 4 of them process light tasks, while the other 4 are dedicated to heavy processes, giving you plenty of processing power to go by. A 3 GB RAM subsequently gives you immense processing speeds, while the icing on the cake is the whopping 500 GB of internal storage.
The Nvidia Shield TV Pro features advanced wireless architecture, which means you don't require hardware to connect to the TV. Consequently, you can also stream PC games from the cloud with much ease, on top of the expansive lineup of Android games designed exclusively for this TV box. More so, you also get full Dolby audio and surround sound pass-through for an overall great gaming experience.
It's also compatible with Google SmartThings, making it easy for the user to integrate it into their smart hub. This also extends to various streaming services and TV channels.
Things to Consider in the Best Cheap Android TV Box
Like most other devices you have bought, you need to have a keen eye on technical specs when buying an Android TV box. Realistically speaking, it's quite improbable-but not entirely inconceivable- that you'll find the perfect device. With that being said, you can still look through the generally important features to find a TV box that ticks most of your boxes.
1. Operating System
A dedicated OS is more than just its user interface. It influences optimization and performance in a TV box, especially through how memory is used and OpenGL Support. Therefore, it would only be sensible to get a TV Box with recent versions of their respective OS, ensuring that you more than likely get optimal performance. It is worth noting that a TV Box functions just fine on any operating system, but you certainly get the most out of it with an up-to-date OS.
Just as important, you should factor in whether you want to connect your TV box to your home's smart hub. Some smart devices tend to be incompatible with one another, mainly based on operating systems. If you are keen on integrating your new Android TV box into your smart hub, its OS version should be compatible with the rest of the devices.
2. Audio Passthrough
Audio passthrough, basically, is a feature that enables a home theatre receiver to decode audio files that have been formatted for other devices such as a PC through the TV box. To put it simply, this feature enhances the sound quality of the device's media centers. Some of the options don't come with this feature out of the box, but those that have KODI are almost guaranteed an audio passthrough. This is a great feature to have, but not necessarily essential. You'll be just fine without it.
3. Dynamic Refresh Rate Switching
Dynamic Refresh Rate refers to the speed at which a display processes and projects the media currently playing. In other words, the number of times a display refreshes per each second it's on. Generally, 60Hz is considered the sweet spot since the human eye cannot detect blinking at this frequency. At this refresh rate, your eyes cannot perceive the speed at which the screen redraws images.
However, some videos are not coded to 60 fps. Watching a 30Hz video on 60 Hz is not particularly appealing to the eye. Dynamic refresh rate switching means the TV box is equipped to automatically make up for any frame rate differences, leading to a more natural and pleasant visual experience altogether.
Any buyer who ends up with a TV box that doesn't have this feature inbuilt can manually tweak around the frame rate.
It goes without saying that you'll need at least three ports in an Android TV box. For starters, you need an HDMI port to connect your unit to the TV. Preferably, you should go for an HDMI 2.0, which has a bandwidth of 18Gb/S. You also need an ethernet port to connect to the internet. We recommend Gigabit Ethernet for its high data transfer speeds, hence less buffering when streaming videos. While these two are the most essential, you can also look at USB options to access content from a flash disk or a portable hard drive. So far, USB 3.0 is the best the industry has to offer.
This is an open-source media platform that brings together all your audio and video activities, from YouTube and music streams to DVD. Therefore, you get all your media entertainment from a single program. Since it's open-source software, you'll find it on a host of TV boxes on the market.
Unfortunately, KODI is somewhat restricted on Apple devices. While you can install it on a Mac without too many challenges, having it on an iPhone or iPad is one of those things that require the hand of the tech-savvy.
Frequently Asked Questions about Android TV Boxes
1. Are android boxes legal to use?
Yes! As you have probably discerned by now, an Android TV Box is pretty much a smartphone without a display. Basically, this is just a streaming media player running on Android. As long as it has been bought legally, you really have nothing to fret about. But you can keep an eye on add-ons, which sometimes are subject to legal implications.
2. What video formats do Android boxes support?
There's no concrete answer to this question since supported formats are mainly contingent on TV box's chipsets. However, these are the typical formats that most units support.
- MPEG 1/2/4
For unsupported formats, you can always install software that decodes your media to the appropriate format.
3. What are the internet speed requirements for an Android box?
Most TV boxes will perform pretty fine with a basic internet connection. But as you would expect, the faster your internet connection, the better the viewing experience, especially when streaming videos. Typically, 5 Mbps is sufficient for everyday viewing, as long as you don't experience regular and significant downtimes.