An Android TV box allows you to stream shows or movies onto any TV, including those that don’t have smart capabilities.
Android TV boxes are a little less common in the UK compare to across the pond, with many of us choosing the smaller streaming stick over these bigger TV boxes.
A smart TV stick and Android TV box work much in the same way; by plugging into the back of a TV so that you can wave goodbye to watching all your favourite shows on your tiny tablet screen.
However, as the name suggests, all Android TV boxes run on the Android operating system, rather than those designed by Apple or Roku.
In this guide, we will do our best answer the most common questions about Android TV boxes including how they work, whether they’re worth the money and list some of the most popular Android smart TV box brands.
What is an Android TV box?
An Android TV box is a streaming device that you can plug into your TV to be able to watch streaming services, such as Netflix, which are typically only available on portable devices such as laptops, tablets and phones, or on smart TVs. These TV boxes are also sometimes known as streaming players or set-top boxes.
How does an Android TV box work?
Much like a NOW TV Stick or Google Chromecast, an Android TV box plugs into the back of a TV via the HDMI port. However, once plugged in an Android TV box will look and feel different to a NOW TV Stick or other devices because they operate on different systems.
The Android operating system can also be customised so while brands like Nvidia and Xiaomi use the same basis for their streaming player, the homepage will likely look very different.
Once the box is set up, various streaming services and apps can then be accessed on your TV, rather than on a tablet or laptop, and no casting is required.
Can you watch normal TV on an Android TV box?
The streaming services, on-demand services and apps you can access will vary depending on the brand of Android TV box. For example, the homepage of the Amazon’s Fire TV devices has a live TV tab where you can access apps to watch TV including BBC iPlayer, All4 and My5.
Many of these apps require you to create an account, but are free to watch. However, if you want to watch live football on an Amazon Fire TV Stick that does require a Prime Video membership, which costs £3.99 a month.
Android TV box or smart TV stick: which is better?
Smart TV sticks have become increasingly popular due to their small size and portability. Android TV boxes, on the other hand, tend to be bigger and a little more difficult to hide on a TV stand.
The size of the device can correspond to how powerful it is. For example, many of the most popular Android TV boxes offer 4K streaming or gaming capabilities, while this is only offered on mid-range or more expensive smart TV sticks.
However, even most 4K smart TV sticks are considerably cheaper than an Android TV box. The starting price for an Android TV box is £80 and it can go as high as £200. When smart TV sticks can be as cheap as £30, it is easy to see why you might choose a smart TV stick over a more expensive TV box, especially when both devices are primarily used to give a new lease of life to an already old TV.
Therefore, it largely comes down to weighing up your budget against streaming quality how powerful you would like the device to be.
If it is just for a small TV in the spare room, a smart TV stick like Roku Premiere would do a fine job for £39.99. Otherwise, you may prefer to invest in a device that’s powerful enough to game on or have more sophisticated voice recognition technology like the Amazon Fire TV Cube or Nvidia Shield TV Pro.
Popular Android TV boxes to buy in 2021
Interested in buying an Android TV box? Here are some of the most popular Android TV boxes available right now.
Nvidia Shield TV Pro
With Dolby Vision and Atmos, the Nvidia Shield TV Pro streams in 4K HDR. Google Assistant is built-in to allow you to control your TV with your voice. And if you’ve tried out previous Nvidia Shield devices, you’ll be pleased to know that this Android smart TV box is 25 per cent faster than its predecessor thanks to the Nvidia Tegra X1+ processor.
Amazon Fire TV Cube
A smart TV stick and Amazon Echo smart speaker combined, the Fire TV Cube is Amazon’s most powerful TV device. A great option for anyone with more Amazon subscriptions than they can keep track of. Read our full Amazon Fire TV Cube review.
For those looking to spend a little less, the Amazon Fire TV Stick offers access to the same apps, channels and streaming services in HD streaming quality.
Xiaomi Mi TV Box S
You may be more familiar with Xiaomi’s phones than TV boxes but the Xiaomi Mi TV Box S gives you access to a range of apps including Netflix, YouTube, and Google Play. This Android smart TV box offers 4K streaming and built-in Google Assistant means you can navigate the TV box via voice commands.