What Is An Android TV Box? [TV Box 101]

People ask me all the time…What is an Android TV box and why do I want one? On this page, you will find all the answers that you need. What exactly is an Android TV box? How is it different from other streaming devices? What can you do with it? And why might you choose Android over competitors on the market?

What Is An Android TV Box?

An Android TV box is simply a TV box running the Android operating system. This is the same operating system as the one running on your smartphone, tablet, and millions of other devices throughout the world.

Usually, the operating system is slightly older than the OS running on your phone; it might be Android 9 or 10, for example, but pretty much all of the apps you can run on your Android smartphone, you can run on your Android TV box.

Quick Look At Our Top Pick:

Best Android TV Box – NVIDIA Shield

  • Powerful Chipset
  • 4K compatible with major streaming services (Netflix)
  • Voice command and smart home integrations
  • Advanced gaming functionality

OK, But What Is A TV Box?

You’ve probably heard a lot of different terminology being thrown around sites, forums, and social media groups. These may include:

  • Streaming media device
  • TV box
  • TV stick
  • IPTV box
  • Set-top box
  • Media streamer
  • HTPC
  • Kodi box
  • Android TV box – this is my personal favorite!
They’re all basically the same type of device – something that gets content from your home network or the internet to your television.

Which Android TV Box To Buy In 2022

NVIDIA Shield TV
1Best Android TV box
NVIDIA SHIELD
  • 5.1 Audio Passthrough
  • OTA Firmware Updates
  • The latest version of Kodi
Fire TV Stick 4K
2Best for 4K streaming
FIRE TV STICK 4K
  • Voice control
  • Smart home integration
  • Unlocks Netflix and Prime Video in 4K
Dynalink Android TV Box
3Best for Google Interface
Dynalink Android TV Box
  • Android 10 operating system
  • Google Assistant voice remote and skin
  • 2GB of RAM and 8GB of ROM
QPLOVE Android TV Box
4Best for Customization
QPLOVE Android TV Box
  • Android 10.0
  • 4 GB RAM & 64 GB ROM
  • Bluetooth 5.0
Amazon Fire TV Cube: Where To Buy & Who Should Buy
5Best for Smart Integration
Amazon Fire TV Cube
  • Access to 4K Ultra HD Content
  • Tens of thousands of channels
  • Hexa-core CPU 2.2GHz + 1.9GHz, GPU 800MHz

If You’re New To Streaming Devices And TV Boxes, This Is The Place To Start.

Which Android TV Box To Buy In 2022

The terminology may seem confusing, but don’t worry: I’m here to guide you through some of the basics. My goal is to make this a good starting point for anyone who wants to learn more.

Think about the differences between these devices as the differences between MP3 players.

Remember MP3 players?

A long time ago, it seems, I worked in a “big-box” electronics store. No, not the blue one. I worked at the red one that closed its doors back in 2009. Back then, we had thousands of people coming into the store looking for iPods.

But, like iPhones, they didn’t make enough to go around so we had to sell what we had…and what we had was a lot of generic MP3 players.

When people came in asking for an iPod, the first question we would ask was, “Do you want an Apple iPod, or are you looking for an MP3 player?”

That usually resulted in a confused look. Most people thought they were the same thing.

We had to take the time to educate people on all the other options they had. A lot of times, an iPod really was what they wanted, and that was cool, but a lot of other people just wanted the best device. In those cases, the best device often didn’t come with an Apple sticker in the box.

All these boxes and streaming devices are pretty much the same thing. A TV box, a media streamer, and a set-top box are all pretty much the same thing, just with different names.

Why So Many Different Names?

When you look at this picture, what do you call it? Hint: it probably depends on where you’re from.

Where I am, in North America, these devices are normally called streaming devices or streaming media players. Sometimes they’re mistakenly called Roku boxes, even though they may be made by Amazon, Apple, or one of the many other manufacturers I will cover. Let me give you an example of something similar.

Depending on what part of the country you’re in, you call that sugary, carbonated beverage “pop,” “soda,” or even “Coke” (even when it’s not Coke). People generally understand that “pop” and “soda” mean the same thing, but asking for a “Coke” from someone who calls it “soda” will typically get you a Coke, not a list of flavors to choose from. Similarly, unless it’s actually a Roku you’re talking about, calling it a Roku box can create confusion for you and the person whom you’re talking to, and reduce the number of options you find if you’re shopping for a new device.

In Europe, they’re generally called Kodi boxes due to the popularity of installing Kodi in addition to some of the streaming add-ons that are available. They can also be called IPTV boxes because it’s much easier to find an Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) service on that side of the Atlantic than here in the U.S. To put it simply, IPTV is a way to get live TV over the Internet.

If you’re in Asia, chances are you’ve heard them called TV boxes. Personally, I also prefer calling them TV boxes. It is a more generic term, sure, but the device can do so many things that it just makes more sense.

One last thing. You can also see the term mini-PC. TV boxes can certainly be considered a mini-PC, but I think that lumps them into a category they don’t quite belong in. A mini-PC can also include any small-format computer like an Intel NUC (Next Unit of Computing). They can usually do everything your desktop PC or laptop can do. Some TV boxes can replace your desktop, but they’re the exception, rather than the rule.

What Can An Android TV Box Do?

An Android TV box basically brings the functionality of your smartphone to your big screen. What does that mean?

You can download apps such as Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video, and more, and stream their content directly onto your TV (as long as you have a paid subscription for their premium services).

You can watch live TV through a number of live TV streaming apps, such as Sling TV or Hulu, or you can even connect an antenna to your box to pick up local channels.

You can download music apps such as Spotify so that you can listen to music via your TV set up.

You can install sophisticated media library applications such as Kodi and use them to stream content free from the internet. Yes, you can get the latest premium movies and series, but this is a legal gray area. You can learn more about Kodi here.

If you have a sufficiently powerful Android smart TV box, you can use a game simulator to play Playstation, Xbox, and PC games on your big screen. Some of these more powerful boxes can also use voice control and integrate your TV into your smart home system via Alexa or Google Assistant.

What Makes It An Android TV Box?

It should now be pretty clear what the difference is between an Android TV box, Apple TV, Roku box, and other brands. They are hardware produced by different companies that run different operating systems but deliver generally the same services.

It is pretty much just like the difference between the latest Samsung phone running an Android OS, iPhone running an iOS, and a Windows phone using a WP-OS. They all achieve pretty much the same thing but use slightly different hardware and software approaches.

The purpose of the TV box is to make it as easy to access your favorite content on your television as it is on your cell phone. You can access the likes of Netflix through its native app for Android, making it a more seamless and enjoyable experience.

Netflix is one of the world’s best streaming services, so having their interface work seamlessly on your big stream is a priority.

The different TV box operating systems have different launchers, which have a different look and feel when it comes to using your favorite apps and navigating between them.

Android TV boxes come with the MINIX launcher as standard, but since Android is an incredibly customizable operating system, if you don’t like the launcher that came with your device, in most cases you can simply add a new one and start using that launcher instead.

There’s one important thing to remember here, though:

THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ANDROID TV AND AN ANDROID TV BOX.

Wait…what?

Follow along, because here’s where it could get a little confusing.

Android TV vs TV Box

At the I/O conference in 2014, Google launched Android TV. It’s a system that organizes your content into one platform for easy organization and searching – including Google’s own voice search functionality. You can find out all about the official Android TV here.

If that sounds familiar, it should.

Android TV is Google’s attempt to run your media hub. We’ve seen similar efforts over the years from Microsoft (Xbox), Sony (Playstation and connected Blu-ray players), Roku, Amazon, Apple, and the list goes on and on.

Android TV is the second attempt from Google in this space; the third if you include Chromecast. Google TV was their first attempt at ruling your living room, but it never really caught on.

The difference between Android TV and an Android TV box lies in the operating system itself. Android TV is a special version of the core Android OS. Android TV can’t run every app, at least not without rooting your device, but the apps that it can run are specifically designed to be run on your television rather than a touchscreen.

Why Is That Important?

Well, let’s use Netflix as an example. If you’ve used Netflix on your smartphone or tablet, you’ll remember swiping up and down to scroll through the list of genres. Once you find what kind of movie you’re looking for, you can swipe left or right to see what’s in that genre.

How Exactly Do You Swipe On Your TV Set?

You can’t, so the Netflix Android TV app was built from the ground up to use the remote control rather than a touchscreen. It’s the same for every other Android TV app.

What’s The Catch?

You can only get Android TV on higher-end, newer smart TVs and on a handful of high-end TV boxes like the NVIDIA Shield.

Not everyone can afford a new high-end TV or need something as powerful as the Shield, though, so Android TV boxes offer similar performance, minus a few features, for a fraction of the cost.

Who Should Buy An Android TV Box Instead Of A Roku, Apple TV, Or Fire TV?

Who Should Buy An Android TV Box Instead Of A Roku, Apple TV, Or Fire TV?

There’s usually only one question left by this point: What should I buy?

Well, that depends on you, and what you want it to do.

Streaming devices like the Fire TV (stick or cube), Roku, and Apple TV are great. I have nothing against them, as they’re extremely easy to use. I gave my eighty-year-old mother a Roku 3 and she was able to learn how to use it in a few minutes. Does it do everything that my NVIDIA Shield does? Absolutely not. Can it run every app like my MINIX Android TV box can? Nope.

ANDROID TV BOXES GIVE YOU FLEXIBILITY

With a streaming device like Roku, you have to live in their world, their ecosystem, and run their apps. You don’t have much of a choice if the app you want isn’t available.

Thankfully, Plex is available on most systems, but if you want to run Kodi on your Roku, tough luck. The same goes for your Apple TV. If you want to install it on your Fire TV, you’re going to have to jump through some hoops and sideload the app manually.

If I want to install Kodi on an Android TV box, all I have to do is go to the Google Play Store and click install and the same goes for hundreds of other apps as well.

Android smart TV boxes do have their drawbacks. They can be time-consuming to set up correctly, and they may need to be tweaked on a regular basis as new firmware comes out.

Regardless, if you’re the type of person who loves having the option to install whatever you want and tweak your system to really make it yours, then you’re just the person who should get an Android TV box. If you’ve just bought your first box, then you’re going to want to see our Android TV box setup guide to get you up and running fast.

Is A Fire TV Stick An Android TV Box?

Yes and no. The Fire TV Stick is a streaming device made by Amazon. While its operating system is based on Android, it is actually a proprietary version of the system made by Amazon, which they call Fire TV.

This does create issues at times, as you have to download apps from the Amazon App Store which has a more limited selection than the Google Play Store, but all the important apps are there. The interface also prioritizes content available via Amazon, even if it is available cheaper (or free) elsewhere.

Nevertheless, Fire TV Sticks are an incredibly popular choice as they are one of the most affordable and functional TV streaming devices. We even recommend the Amazon Fire TV Stick as one of our top choices. Read our review of the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K.

How To Set Up An Android TV Box

As mentioned above, you can read our complete guide on setting up an Android TV box here but the process is very simple.

  • Connect your device to a power source.
  • Connect your device to your TV via HDMI cable.
  • Follow the on-screen instructions to connect your device to your Wi-Fi network (or to your network via ethernet cable).
  • Log into your Google account. Yes, you need a Google account to set up your TV box.
  • Start downloading and installing apps just like you would on your smartphone.

FAQs About Android TV Boxes

What Channels Are On The Android Box?

You shouldn’t really think about your TV Box as coming with “channels.” It is not the same thing as a cable subscription. It is a device that lets you cast the other services you want to access – such as Netflix and Prime TV – on your television screen. It doesn’t really come with any channels included; you have to procure these yourself.

Most of your favorite TV channels, such as ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, NBC, and PBS, all have streaming services so you can access their programming without the need for a TV antenna or a cable subscription. Simply go to the website for your favorite channel and they will explain how to access it. Most of them have handy apps in the Google Play Store.

Can You Watch Normal TV On An Android Box?

Yes, because there is an app for that; or more accurately, several apps. Again, your Android box is just a tool for streaming content. It is up to you to find the content you want to stream.

All the big TV channels have apps available that let you stream their channels live and also catch up on what you have missed. There are also services, such as DirecTV,  that bundle a few popular channels together for streaming on your box. These feel a lot like cable TV but are delivered via your TV box rather than a cable.

How Do I Use An Android TV Box?

TV boxes are designed to be easy and intuitive to use, much like your smartphone. In general, all you really need to do is plug your TV box into your internet router, then into your television, and the interface will appear on your screen.

The box, which usually comes with a dedicated remote, will then take you through the simple setup process to get you to download your favorite apps. Many of the most popular apps, such as Netflix and YouTube, will already be installed.

Downloading and setting up apps on your TV box is pretty much the same as on your phone. If you want to do something different, like change your launcher interface, some more complex steps are required.

One of the great things about Android is that there are so many enthusiasts out there figuring out how to get the most from the system, so you should be able to find help and instructions with just a little Googling.

Do I Need An Android Box If I Have A Smart TV?

Smart TVs are televisions that come with a lot of the functionality of TV boxes built in. You can even buy a smart TV that uses the Android TV OS, so for most people, if you have a smart TV you don’t also need an Android TV box. The Android box is unlikely to add much more functionality than you already have.

Is There A Monthly Fee For An Android Box?

An Android TV box is a one-off purchase of the hardware and software, much like when you buy a computer or a gaming system. You don’t have to pay any ongoing fees to Android TV, but that does not mean that an Android TV box is free to use. Like your cell phone, your TV box is pretty useless without a good internet connection.

Also, your Android TV box is hardware that lets you access content on your TV. While you don’t need to pay monthly subscription fees for the box, you may well need to pay them for the content. If you want to watch Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, or other services on your TV box, you are going to need to pay those subscription fees.

How Much Is An Android Box?

The hardware portion of an Android TV box can set you back anywhere from $20-$200 depending on the quality of the box that you choose to buy.

The most expensive boxes have powerful chipsets that will allow you to stream content in 8K and play sophisticated games. They have voice control, smart home integrations, and services such as Google Assistant. They also have the necessary certificates to let you watch streaming services, such as Netflix, in 4K. You should probably expect to pay at least $100 for all of these features.

Budget boxes these days tend to be powerful enough to let you stream in 4K, but the small companies that make them can’t get the certifications to unlock 4K content on the major streaming services, so you will find yourself watching Netflix and Prime Video in regular HD. You can read more about how that works here.

You will also find that cheaper boxes don’t have voice command capability or smart home integrations. They also tend to have limited storage space and RAM. This means that they can run a bit slow when you use heavy applications, and you can fill them up quickly if you download a lot of content.

What Should I Look For In An Android Box?

What you should look for in an Android TV box depends on your priorities. Are you interested in the best quality picture? Do you want a rapid response so there is no waiting for programs to load or buffering content? Do you just want something cheap to stream Netflix? If you know what you want to do with your device, you can prioritize what you need.

As a general rule, look for a box with a recent version of the Android operating system (certainly nothing older than 7) so that it will not become dated too quickly. Other priorities should be a quality processor, as this often dictates speed, and enough space to store and manage your favorite applications. On top of this, if you have a 4K TV and want to take advantage of its picture quality, choose a box that can deliver 4K as well.

Do You Need Internet For An Android Box?

Yes. An Android TV box lets you stream programming on your television, much like you do on your phone. Just like your cell phone, then, it needs an internet connection to stream or download to watch later. If you want to get the most out of your TV box, you will need a strong internet connection.

The Verdict

An Android TV box is one of many devices available to convert your television into a smart TV, so you can stream all of your favorite content directly to your big screen.

It works with the Android TV OS, very similar to that of Android smartphones, but there are also alternatives available such as Roku TV and Amazon’s Fire TV.

We prefer the Android TV box over other brands because it offers lots of options for flexibility and customization, rather than tying you down to a proprietary operating system.

Do you have other questions about Android TV boxes? Leave them in the comments section below.

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