What are the best Android TV box and media boxes in 2018? our selection

         

        Whether watching Netflix on their television or playing video games, the multimedia boxes have more than ever the coast and become for many essential accessories. Xiaomi, Nvidia, Google and its Chromecast or Amazon with its Fire TV Stick, many references are available and it can be difficult to decide for this or that product. Our guide will help you to take stock.





       In France, the multimedia box market is dominated by the boxes of Internet access providers. These are interesting to be included in the subscription to your operator, but these solutions are not necessarily the best solutions when it comes to Android box. Whether it is to offer a first-class gaming experience or a much superior multimedia experience, here is a brief overview of Android TV multimedia boxes.

Nvidia Shield TV: the inevitable
Two years after its initial launch, Shield TV quickly became a staple among a wide audience, establishing itself as the benchmark solution for Android TV 4K and HDR.

Interface and choice of applications


Although Android TV can be criticized for its aesthetics and ergonomics, the Shield TV is still a good example of stability and tracking. up to date. From this point of view, the comparison with TVs Android TV is totally fortuitous, as the gap between the two platforms is significant in terms of optimization and performance.



       On the other hand, and despite very slow beginnings, Android TV now offers an extremely interesting catalog of applications . The video services offer offers access to many VOD / SVOD platforms (Amazon Video, Google Movies, Netflix , OCS ...), but also to TV channels via Molotov and myCANAL , without forgetting YouTube and dailymotion. For streaming music services, the main needs are covered with Deezer, Google Play Music, Spotify or TuneIn Radio.

The game offer can also attract a certain audience for some occasional games, or even more with GeForce Now (at least for fiber users ...), but the Shield is also and above all an excellent solution to indulge in gaming, with emulators such as RetroArch and ClassicBoy to review its classics on NES, SNES, GameBoy, Megadrive, etc.

Features and settings
The Shield TV offers a number of features, be it the ability to cast content from a smartphone with support Chromecast , Bluetooth that allows both to play music or to pair a headset or a joystick , not to mention compatibility with DLNA, Samba and NFS servers via multimedia applications.

The case also stands out through GameStream and Steam Link technologies, which offer users the ability to stream their PC game library to the living room TV.

Multimedia playback

In terms of multimedia support, the Shield TV ensures the highest compatibility. Privileged partner (and sponsor) of Kodi , the Chameleon brand was treated to a special treatment with a fully optimized version of the Media Center application. Some bugs are still in the game, but nothing necessarily crippling in most cases.





       The majority of HD and 4K video file formats are played back, auto-framerate is supported, support for HDR10 and HLG formats is assured, as well as Dolby True HD, DTS-HD, Dolby Atmos and DTS: X audio signals for audio-video amplifier users. It's the same for playing music and pictures.


Kodi is obviously not alone, Plex assures just as well this role for multimedia files stored on a NAS server, just like SPMC or Archos Media Center in a different register. Only downside, most of these applications do not support the automatic change of framerate (except SPMC), it is necessary to go into the settings menu to manually change the frequency depending on the content you want to watch. Simple, but not very ergonomic.


Why is Nvidia Shield TV recommended?

  • It is compatible with 4K HDR
  • It can act as a game console
  • It is compatible with Android apps and games and includes Chromecast and Google Assistant
  • It has important catalogs of games, video services and streaming music services


Xiaomi Mi Box S: the newcomer

On the side of the famous Chinese manufacturer, there are also Android TV solutions. After several versions of TV box, Xiaomi is back with a new model that brings some interesting news: the Mi Box S .


Interface and applications
The Xiaomi Mi Box S is a minor update to the Chinese TV's famous Android TV box. Unlike its predecessor, it natively embeds the latest version of Android for Android TV, namely Android 8.1 Oreo. The interface is very fluid and it is very easy to navigate the menus with the remote control.



     The remote has been redesigned for this new version. It adds a touch "Netflix" to access in no time the famous streaming service, a touch "Live" to view more easily TV channels via a third application, and the key that looks like a microphone allows to use the Google Assistant function to control your TV box, but also all your connected objects, using your voice.

La Mi Box S propose également son lot d’applications qui lui permettent d’offrir une expérience complète sur votre téléviseur. On retrouve globalement une expérience similaire au modèle précédent, avec toujours l’accès aux différentes plateformes de streaming comme YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon Video ou OCS, mais également les chaînes TV classiques via l’application Molotov TV ou encore myCanal, bien entendu.

It does not come with a gamepad (sold separately), but it is quite possible to enjoy Play Store games. With its SoC Amlogic S905X quad core  and 2GB of DDR3 RAM, it offers slightly better performance than its ancestor for a significant gain in fluidity at stake. The Mi Box S also offers 8GB of storage to install directly. your various applications.

Features and settings
The Mi Box S offers some nice features, starting with the new integration of the Google wizard. Through the dedicated key on the remote control, you can do voice searches to ask your box to find a specific type of film (action, horror, romantic, etc) or play a particular style of music. You will also be able to control your different connected objects, such as adjusting the brightness of your Philips Hue bulbs or the temperature of your Netatmo thermostat, for example.

With built-in Google Cast, it's easy to stream content from your smartphone with the Smart Cast feature. The Xiaomi TV box also has WiFi 802.11 b / g / n (WiFi 4) to connect to your home network, but also provides connectivity via Bluetooth 4.2 LE + EDR for pairing various accessories, including the remote that came with it.

Multimedia playback
The Mi Box S supports 4K H.265 at 60 frames per second, 4K VP9 and 4K H.264 at 30 frames per second. It is also compatible HDR and HDR-10, and supports video formats MPEG1, MPEG2, VC1, DivX 4, DivX 5 in Full HD at 60 frames per second. It does not have to blush in the transmission of audio signals thanks to its Dolby Audio and DTS-HD compatibility, and even includes a 3.5 mm jack.



     Now that the Mi Box S is certified by Netflix with the dedicated button on its remote, the streaming application now offers 4K and HDR mode on most of its content. A problem often pointed to the old model that was blocked in Full HD.
For users more accustomed to Plex, the application that creates a local Netflix home by fetching your files from your server and transmits them by encoding them to create a catalog of content, know that it is also present on the Xiaomi mi Box S .

Why choose the Xiaomi Mi Box S?

  • An Android TV box with a lot of features
  • Google Assistant integration
  • 4K, HDR, HDR-10 compatibility
  • A practical remote control


Apple TV 4K HDR: the apple solution

The Cupertino company will have taken its time, but the Apple TV 4K has all the appearance of a "game changer". More than in the past, Apple is targeting a public fond of streaming programs, who want to replace the TV decoder of their ISP by a third-party media player.

Interface and choice of applications


     Despite its young age, Apple's expertise in interface and user experience is undeniable (whether we like it or not) compared to Android TV. As on the iPhone and iPad, the interface is fluid, ergonomic, easy to handle and aesthetically pleasing. We quickly find his bearings.
Apple's desire to encourage the user to barter his TV decoder for his box materializes here through the TV application, which acts as a unified interface to access the programs of TV channels or VOD services / SVOD, without the user needing to open one by one each application. A real vision of new ways of consuming content.


    The choice of applications is more or less identical to what is found in most cases on Android TV, whether VOD / SVOD services (Amazon Video, Netflix, OCS, iTunes ...), TV channels and catch-up programs (Molotov, myCANAL ...), the inevitable YouTube, not forgetting Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify and TuneIn Radio for music. Note also the desire of Apple to care for its customers and put the forms, by offering a free version 4K HDR (subject to availability) movies already purchased in HD on the iTunes Store.

Features and settings

Beyond the integration of 802.11ac and Bluetooth Wi-Fi modules, and the inevitable AirPlay, which simplifies the dissemination of photo, video and music media from an iPhone, iPad or Mac, the Apple TV offers some interesting features, such as the possibility of associating a pair of Airpods, and the Siri voice assistant.
Regarding the settings, although the manufacturer has made some efforts, including the ability to change the frame rate, the change must be done manually, the user must search through the settings to pass a rate from frame to frame in the absence of auto-framerate function. A situation certainly identical to the Shield of Nvidia, but against the current of what one can expect from an Apple product.

Multimedia playback

Although it targets a very different audience than most other presented solutions, the Apple TV 4K provides the essential with Plex or Infuse, which can read its library of multimedia files. In addition, it offers excellent video and audio quality now that it is Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos compatible, provided you have the necessary equipment at home.
The box is making its own with the recognition of color spaces, a more technical subject that deserves that we are interested, but I will return to more in a dedicated test. However, for those looking for a complete multimedia solution, with auto-framerate , or a USB port to connect a hard drive, it will be better to go on its way.

Why opt for the Apple TV?

  • 4K HDR compatibility
  • The presence of Siri
  • The TV application that provides access to TV channels and VOD / SVOD services
  • It offers a wide range of applications as for Android TV boxes
  • Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos compatibility



The alternatives


Amazon Fire TV Stick: The Standalone Dongle


Amazon's Fire TV Stick is a dongle that connects directly to HDMI on your TV, much like a Chromecast . Nevertheless, its use is totally different. Comes with a remote control , you do not need your smartphone or tablet to use it: the Fire TV Stick is completely autonomous. So you can leave your phone alone to enjoy the different web services.
It has the operating system Fire OS that integrates all Amazon services such as Amazon Prime Video that allows access to several popular movies and series or Amazon Music to listen to music. Obviously, you have to subscribe to Amazon Prime to take advantage of these services ... Rest assured, it also gives access to a rich catalog of applications available through the Amazon App Store which includes games, but also applications like Molotov TV , YouTube, Netflix , etc.



It is equipped with 8 GB of storage and allows you to watch 720p or 1080p content up to 60 frames per second. However, we regret the 4K incompatibility.

Why buy the Amazon Fire HD Stick?

  • Totally autonomous, without the need for a smartphone to use it
  • Groups all Amazon Prime services
  • The catalog of the Amazon App Store (Netflix, Molotov TV, etc;)
  • 8 GB of internal storage
  • Full HD compatibility

Chromecast 3: the reference in the field

Chromecast 3 is a simple revision of the previous model. It incorporates Bluetooth, but also more power for WiFi 5 GHz: the antenna has been improved to increase the gain from 2.1 dBi to 4 dBi, doubling the signal strength. This helps to better capture if your router is not in the same room as your Chromecast. Google ecosystem requires, it is obviously compatible with devices that work with Google Assistant.

Although its interest is now greatly limited compared to most of the solutions discussed in this article, the Chromecast is nonetheless reference. This is a practical solution if you simply want to cast content from your smartphone or tablet to access a larger screen Netflix, YouTube or myCANAL, for example.

Note that unlike the second model in the range, it can play 1080p Full HD video at 60 frames per second.




Why take Chromecast 3?

  • More power with WiFi 5 GHz
  • Its compact and discreet side
  • Full HD 1080p video playback at 60 fps



TVs Android TV

Although some manufacturers have considered it a miracle recipe for the fragmentation of Smart TV OS, three years later the Android TV experience on TVs leaves a bitter aftertaste. Between promises of unkept updates, bugs of all kinds, missing features and stability issues, not to mention the weakness of embedded SoC, we can say that users have largely wiped the casts.


Nevertheless, the improvements made by both manufacturers and Google are optimistic about the future of the OS. All is not perfect, far from it, but the curve of evolution suggests a real better. Not necessarily difficult given the starting point will say some.

If your needs are limited to just watching streaming content, casting your holiday photos on TV or watching the last season of Game of Thrones in MKV, an Android TV may be enough. In contrast, multimedia playback performance leaves TVs far behind a Shield TV (not to mention the Zappiti) because of slowness and lack of certain features sought by purists. It is also better to forget about gaming ... totally and definitely, unless you limit yourself to casual titles that are not very greedy.