Television has been with us for a long time. It’s been just over 90 years since John Logie Baird first demonstrated the technology and over those decades TV has reinvented itself over and over again.
In recent history, premium television has been dominated by cable set-top boxes or satellite systems. Your TV is digital, but it’s delivered on a dedicated system meant only for that purpose.
But things are changing. The general purpose broadband internet we all use now can finally handle the sort of data volumes you need to watch Robocop in HD. The good one that is, not the new one.
It’s called internet streaming video and it’s likely to become the future of TV, so it’s good you’re here!
What Does That Have to Do With Android TV Boxes?
Good question! An Android TV box is one of the ways you can get access to internet streaming video on your TV, instead of watching it on a phone, tablet or laptop. It’s also far more elegant than trying to hook any of those things to a TV.
With an Android TV Box, you can get access to just about all the streaming services you can think of.
It’s called an “Android” TV Box because it runs the same Android operating system as most smartphones. It also has the electronic guts of a smartphone, but lack the screen. That’s what your TV’s job is in this arrangement. You also use a remote or wireless keyboard and mouse to operate your Android TV, since your television probably isn’t a touchscreen.
Is An Android TV My Only Choice?
Of course not! There are plenty of alternatives. Apple has the Apple TV for one. Which is a great little device and probably a better choice if you’re already invested in the Apple ecosystem. Any apps, music, compatible games and movies that you’ve already bought will be available on an Apple TV immediately.
Amazon has their Fire TV, which technically also runs Android, but a heavily-modified version that only works with Amazon-approved stuff.
If you have a Playstation or Xbox hooked up to your TV you also already have a streaming box that will support the most popular streaming apps.
Finally, you can get “smart” TVs with a streaming box built into it. It could even be an Android TV Box, but obviously, this only makes sense if you’re in the market for a whole new TV and don’t just want to add streaming to your current set.
So Why An Android TV Box Then?
In a word: freedom.
If you decide to throw in with Apple, Amazon, Sony or Microsoft you only get to play in their little walled gardens. You can only access the apps they approve and the services they let in.
If you use an Android TV Box you can modify your software, add third-party apps and services without Big Brother looking over your shoulder all the time.
It also gives you way more budget flexibility. All the other providers generally charge more for their TV boxes and only give you a limited number of models to choose from. Often only one!
With Android TV Boxes the system is open, so anyone can make their own box. This means that you can get ultra-cheap, barely functional Android boxes or ultra-specified ones that can handle complex games and 4K video with ease. The choice is entirely yours.
So What About the Apps Then?
Assuming that you’re new to the whole streaming internet thing, which I am in this article, you’d want to start with a few mainstream apps.
The first and most obvious one is Netflix. These guys are still the undisputed kings of streaming TV and the current market leader. Lots of great original content and a big catalog of movies and TV series.
Next up is Hulu, who are the Pepsi to Netflix’s Coca-Cola. Here you’ll find newer TV series, a somewhat weaker movie lineup and original content that’s rather hit and miss.
It’s not weird for people to combine both of these services to get almost everything of consequence.
There’s also HBO GO which is the premium network giant’s grudging acknowledgment that the internet is going to eat its lunch. It’s a bit pricey, but their shows are some of the best TV ever made, so it may be worth a try.
These are all very vanilla and safe options. You just download the app, plonk your credit card details in and off you go. But you can do that on any streaming box, so what’s there off the beaten path?
Do You Grok Kodi?
The poster child for Android streaming boxes is Kodi. It started out as software for the original Xbox console, but now it’s the most popular home theater app on Android. With Kodi, you can get access to all sorts of interesting live and on-demand streaming content. Some of it is free and some needs a bit of cash.
You can also access pirated or otherwise illegal content with Kodi, but not by accident and certainly not out of the box. You have to be deliberately naughty to walk down that road!
Picking a Winner
The main downside with Android TV boxes also stems from their main strength. The fact that anyone can make one and that the software platform is basically open means that there are a lot of junk products out there.
I mean a lot.
It can be both daunting and frustrating to figure out which Android TV box you should buy, which is probably what chases most people into the arms of Apple or Amazon. It’s actually not that confusing though and with a little guidance, you can easily spot the Android TV box that’s right for you.
To make it even easier I’ve rounded up a bunch of likely candidates and wrote reviews for them to give you a leg up. So feel free to head on over there and find your next TV tech fix!