I’ve seen tens of thousands of electronic gadgets.
Back when I worked for that big retail electronics store, I saw cool, new stuff every day. Computers. Game systems. Televisions. Stereo components.
I loved seeing it all because I would imagine all the things I could do with them. I pictured how much better my life would be if I had that new gadget.
As much as I geeked out over how much RAM something had, or what kind of video codec it could play, that wasn’t what what really mattered.
It was really about what I thought that new gadget could do for me.
You see, what I found working in retail was that people don’t want to read spec sheets. They want to know what it can do for them.
So in this article, I’m going to show you some of the Android TV box uses and benefits that you may not have thought about. Things that, once you know about them, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them.
Watching movies with Kodi or Plex
I’ll start with the easy one. This is probably what got you thinking about a TV box in the first place.
Whether your content is streaming or local, the main thing you’ll want to do with a TV box is…well…watch TV.
Recently, I found out that 58% of you reading this site get most of your content from streaming, rather than using the content that you already own.
Think about it. You’ve got a lot of DVDs and Blu-ray movies sitting on your shelf at home. It doesn’t matter whether you use Kodi vs Plex, or anything else for that matter, your Android TV box will let you stream the content that you’ve already got.
New music through Pandora or Google Music
I’ve been a cord-cutter for over a decade, but the first “cord” that I cut wasn’t a cord at all. It was radio.
Over-the-air radio always frustrated me because it played the same ten songs over and over again each hour, in between about 20 minutes of commercials. I tried Sirius XM radio, but I never got hooked on it. It always felt expensive for what I got out of it.
I wasn’t exposed to anything new. My music collection got stale.
I’m sure you’ve heard of Pandora and Spotify. They’re premium (or freemium) streaming services that let you customize your music tastes while still getting exposure to new music. But did you know that Google offers the same service?
I switched from iTunes to Google Play Music a few years ago. I still have access to all the music that I own – Google keeps a record of what songs I have and I can play them anytime, on any device. I also get custom channels of music that I can play anytime. One of my favorites is the “A-List Soundtracks” which is great when I’m at work and need music without lyrics to help me concentrate.
With access to thousands of new songs, as well as TV shows and movies, maybe we should start calling it an Android media box instead.
International news and TV
This is one of my favorite Android TV box uses, honestly.
If you’ve been following this site for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me say that I’m originally Canadian but now live in the USA. For years, it was really hard to get access to any Canadian broadcasting. I would have to get news podcasts through iTunes, and some video content through cbc.ca or tsn.ca websites. But I could only see them on my PC or laptop.
Now, there are plenty of official international apps to let you watch TV on an Android box. And it’s not just limited to Canadian content either from CBC. There are apps from the BBC, ARTE, NHK, and many, many others. No matter where you live, there’s an app to make you feel at home.
Turn your TV into a digital photo frame
Remember the digital picture frame craze a few years ago? They were THE hot item because suddenly you could give mom or grandma a rotating supply of hundreds of pictures of you and your cute puppy. Hopefully, Grandma’s still using it. I know I’ve given digital picture frames to my parents and they’re now sitting in a box in the closet.
Digital photo frames may have had their day in the spotlight, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t still want to see our pictures. What you can do is use Daydream mode to show either specific albums or your entire collection of photos on your big-screen TV. For more active viewing, you could plug a flash drive into one of your video ports and flip through pictures with friends. If you wanted, you could even load an album full of undersea pictures for a “no-maintenance” aquarium or even a fireplace scene for the holidays.
Cheesy, I know, but Netflix has entire channels dedicated to that kind of thing. Somebody’s got to be watching them, right?
Browse the Internet with Chrome
Surfing the Internet on a TV remote isn’t much fun. Even if you have an air mouse, the experience can be more frustrating than anything else. The stock Android TV box browser is..well…it’s pretty bad. But, most TV boxes will let you upgrade that basic browser to Google Chrome.
That’s when the fun begins.
With your Google account, you can choose to sync your bookmarks from your PC or phone to any device that you sign in to. So if you have sites that you visit frequently, you won’t need to type them into your TV box every time you want to visit them. If your remote has a voice search command, you can even jump straight to the webpage without typing anything in.
One caveat though, at the time I write this, you can’t get Chrome on an official Android TV device like the NVIDIA Shield or Google Nexus player. Sorry.
Netflix and YouTube in HD and 4K
YouTube: Making it easy for people to waste incredible amounts of time since 2005.
It’s a little scary when I think about how much time I’ve spent on YouTube lately. It’s all because I can get it in full HD on my living room TV with my NVIDIA Shield TV. Watching Jimmy Fallon or Stephen Colbert on my living room TV is a great way for me to relax after work.
The official apps are available on every Android device, but getting 1080p or 4K could be a challenge. It doesn’t work on every TV box, but there are a select few that will let you stream Netflix and YouTube in 4K. The rest will be limited to standard definition because of the limitations that Netflix and YouTube put on the devices. If this is a big thing for you, make sure that your device is one of them.
Live TV with HDHomeRun
Warning: Some assembly is required.
HDHomeRun is one of the coolest gadgets I can think of. They are making it easy for cord-cutters to still get access to their local live TV channels without having a cable subscription.
And they’re doing it with a new twist on old technology – antennas.
Remember antennas? If you’re older than a certain age you might remember a pair of rabbit ears on the top of your parent’s old TV set. The quality was iffy at best, and you needed a different antenna for each TV you had.
If you plug an amplified antenna, like a Mohu, into your HDHomeRun, then suddenly you’ve got access to all of your local channels. HDHomerun plugs directly into your home network, so any device can access it – even your tablets and smartphones. For more, check out my article on how to stream live TV with HDHomeRun.
Live Sports on your Android media box
Just because you broke up with your cable company doesn’t mean you have to miss out on live sports.
Live sports is one of the biggest cash cows for the cable networks, so they’re jealously guarding access to it. But, it’s not as locked down as it used to be.
You can get official apps like WatchESPN, CBS Sports, NHL Center Ice, MLB.tv, UFC.tv, and many more. I have to warn you, they’re not free and some are still locked down behind a login from your cable provider. But, if you’re resourceful, there are still ways to get your live sports fix without a cable TV subscription. FuboTV has a ton of live sports. Check out my FuboTV review here.
Digital Signage player
If you’ve got a small business, are you still playing a cheap video loop on a DVD player?
That DVD loop plays like a bad commercial from the 1980’s. Is that the image you want to give your customers?
Digital signage is everywhere lately. You can’t even go into a Wendy’s or Target without seeing menus or interactive video loops that grab your attention. If you’ve been thinking about giving your business a little marketing upgrade, then here’s how to do it.
Your Android TV box can serve as a basic digital sign player. It doesn’t have as many features as a commercial-grade digital signage player, but it’ll let you try it out and see if it’s right for you and your business.
Gaming on Android TV box?
Everybody loves playing games. Over the past few years, gaming has shifted from the intense, massive games on a Playstation 4 or Xbox One to more casual games that you can pick up and put down whenever you have time. Casual gaming has taken on a whole new life thanks to games like Angry Birds (remember that one?).
Your Android TV box can play any game that your smartphone or tablet can play. Asphalt 8 Airborne takes on a whole new life when your screen is 60 inches and not 6 inches.
If you’re looking for more intense games, then you should be looking at the NVIDIA Shield TV which not only has it’s own library of great titles, but it can stream games from your Windows PC. Imagine leaving your PC in the bedroom while you’re playing on your living room couch.
More Android TV box uses?
How do you use your Android media box? Have you come up with other great uses? Leave a comment below and share it with us!