Why Am I Craving an Android TV Box?

Mari Silbey —  April 29, 2013

Archos TV Connect with Google Play Store on Android Jelly Bean

We got a new flat-screen TV for my house in December of 2009, and we’re not likely to upgrade any time soon. That doesn’t top me from wanting to add a little after-market action, however, and for some inexplicable reason, I find that I’m craving an Android TV box for my living room set-up.

Brad over at Liliputing is reporting that TP-Link will soon launch the TPMini in China, and it looks to be similar to the Archos TV Connect announced just before CES. The Archos box hasn’t made it to retail yet, but several hands-on reviews have me wanting to give it a try when the hardware does hit stores.

Both the Archos device and the TPMini run Android 4.1 and let you access the Google Play store on a TV screen (unlike official Google TV hardware). The TV Connect comes with a camera and a funky wireless remote control, and will sell for about $130. The TPMini also comes with a camera, but it uses a mobile app for control instead and is expected to retail (in China) for $56.

Why do I want an Android box? I honestly have no idea.

Netflix is the only TV app I use (via a Roku box), and I can’t honestly see myself checking email or playing Peggle on the flat screen. (Hell, I never even use the Verizon TV widgets to check traffic or weather.) But, there’s something about getting to try any Android app I want on my TV that has me lusting after another retail set-top. I’d probably go for the cheaper TPMini if I could get it shipped from China, but I might even shell out the extra cash for the Archos product if that was my only option.

There are very few gadgets that have gotten me excited lately. For whatever reason, the idea of an Android TV box is proving to be an exception.

25 responses to Why Am I Craving an Android TV Box?

  1. I have been patiently waiting for an Android based (Either GoogleTV or Vanilla Android) device for my Living Room with enough horsepower to support robust local file playback capability (Ala XBMC or WDTV), plus online services like Netflix/Hulu/Spotify/Pandora.

    The only device that gets close to this was the old WDTV live, but their online apps don’t have the speed and polish that Roku has and the box has been discontinued.

    http://www.wdc.com/en/products/products.aspx?id=330

  2. I have been wanting the same thing as Philmatic. At the same time I always come back to TiVo because after using them for so long the playback feels the most natural. As a result I am never happy with the trickplay functionality when I compare players back to PyTiVo pushed/pulled content on the TIVo.

  3. The official Google TV hardware does give access to the Google Play app store; the core problem is that most app developers set their app manifests to require a touchscreen, so they don’t show up in the app store on Google TV devices, even though there’s no real reason for 99% of apps to require one.

  4. Why? I’ll tell you why. Because Microsoft and Apple have both dropped the ball so far with regard to tv apps.

    Microsoft has (once again) has blown it in the living room. They should have shipped a $99 Xbox with no optical drive and no Live sub needed. They also should have opened up app development like they do with Windows.

    Where’s Apple? They should have done the same with AppleTV right after iPad shipped. Let devs create apps for AppleTV using iOS and patch in the features (such as Siri) as they become available.

    Android was so quick to overtake smart phones, it’s a logical assumption to think it will do the same with televisions. Sadly, I don’t think that is a focus of Google right now. The Google TV experience is still pretty bad.

    I’m happy with my limited but awesome Roku for the foreseeable future.

  5. I can see the demand mainly for content ubiquity – I can do everything I can do on my Roku on Android (except for Amazon Prime), plus WatchESPN, YouTube, embedded website streams, and simple/sane local media streaming. And because of the Android reach, third parties are likely to come to Android before they come to something like Roku.

  6. I’ve tried many, many, many set top boxes. Not Xbox, since I don’t want to pay for Live to access my paid content providers. I haven’t had a TiVO in years, since $15 for a fancy programming guide still seems way out of line with reality. But of the rest, things like WDTV, Roku, AppleTV, and a few near-no-namers (Patriot ring a bell), I like my Vizio Google TV box the best. It is criminal that they still don’t have Hulu Plus support, but to be honest, I don’t pay for Hulu Plus anyway, so it doesn’t affect me.

    The latest update is pretty good. Hitting guide once brings up their app, which let’s you browse currently on shows by category, plus browse through instant streaming choices, it supports Amazon, Netflix and HBO, two of which I have. Hitting guide twice will bring up your regular cable TV guide.

    The best feature, is that it has HDMI IN/OUT. So when the wife watches TV, she grabs the regular remote, and never to switch inputs. She can just ignore it as if it wasn’t there.

    I think Google TV has a lot of promise, but it’s crazy how few (quality) apps there still are. I have PlayOn, which bridges the gap a bit, but there are countless apps on Android that are a check box away from being on Google TV.

  7. I’m with you on this. I’ve had my eye on a Android miniPC of sorts that uses the RK3066 (http://www.laptopmag.com/review/stick-computers/android-mini-pc-rk3066.aspx) or RK3188 chip (http://liliputing.com/2013/04/tronsmart-mk908-quad-core-android-tv-stick-performance-video.html), has HDMI, USB and bluetooth support. The surprising thing that kills me is that is CAN’T access the Google TV apps, so Amazon Prime Streaming is still off limitis. My Panasonic Plasma has Amazon with Viera (and basically nothing else) but it’s slow as heck and would love the android interface. I imagine using it for video streaming, youtubing, video chatting and watching files I have downloaded or filmed myself. Just haven’t jumped the gun yet…

  8. XBMC already supports local file playback on android. Specifically, with the “Pivos Xios DS” android STB. It’s $110 at amazon. The Ouya game console will support XBMC also.

    Obviously these devices are running last-gen cellphone SoCs, so they can only play HD video that can be offloaded to the GPU, so you won’t be playing any funky formats on it. No WMV files, probably no old divx files, etc. But all those MKVs and MP4s will work fine.

    I found them to be generally unsatisfactory experiences compared to a HTPC with a fast intel non-atom CPU, but they do have the distinct advantage of being much, much cheaper.

    Personally, I’m running a roku3 with Plex in my bedroom. It doesn’t do local playback at all, but the Plex server running on the aforementioned HTPC takes care of that and seamlessly transcodes media for the roku. Everything works great. The roku supports netflix and amazon too, which XBMC does not (amazon broke XBMC streaming very recently, unfortunately).

  9. @PaladinTom
    I’m with you in regards to wishing that Apple TV would have it’s own app store. I have a Roku, as well, but, overall, most of what is there is junk. Some of the commercial apps like HBOGO, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, etc. look nice but the vast majority of them are junky look apps with junky content. Even the supposed popular Weather4Us (I think that’s it) isn’t much to look at and is a bit clumsy with the control.

    That being said, it sure seems like people could develop better apps for the Roku. I just don’t understand why they don’t.

    Sort of along the same lines as the thread’s topic: One thing I really want is an iOS or Android aftermarket stereo for my car. It should have Bluetooth, WiFi, LTE, GPS, and AM/FM HDRadio built in and allow for a SiriusXM tuner to be plugged into the back. I don’t need a CD player. Maybe equip it with 128GB (or more) of SSD with the idea that it could sync to your iTunes (or whatever) library and keep your music local but then could run whatever apps you like.

    Aftermarket stereos today, though they have swooshing graphics and flying dolphins displayed on the screen, are pretty klunky when it actually comes to using the interface. Something like an iOS/Android iPad/tablet like device but taking advantage of the rest of that double-DIN space (tuner, SSD, etc) would sure be nice.

  10. My first forray into the jungle that is Android set top boxes will be the Ouya (http://ouya.tv/) XBMC will be able to run on it and it has decent horsepower for games. Should be a fun little experiment.

  11. I did a quick search and couldn’t find any IR sensors that work on Ouya. Those things will of course come sooner or later, but until they do you’ll need to use the Ouya controller, which is… less than ideal.

    HDMI-CEC is supposed to work, but your TV needs to support it.

  12. I have a number of streaming devices including:
    Google TV via a Logitech Revue
    2 Rokus
    Western Digital Live
    Netgear Nero TV
    3 TiVos (original Series 3, TiVo HD, & Premiere)
    HTPC
    Honestly I like the HTPC and Premiere best and I would pick a low end HTPC over all the streaming devices.

  13. “Why do I want an Android box? I honestly have no idea.”

    Because you’re a meth addict, and your house is already really, really clean?

  14. My house is never, ever clean enough.

  15. I have hopes for MiiPC, which is currently funded and trying to hit stretch goals on Kickstarter. They’re touting “super smooth” playback and full Play Store compatibility for $99. (Their hook is a collection of parental control features, but that’s irrelevant to me.) I haven’t kicked in yet, but I’m thinking about it as a Boxee Box replacement.

  16. I have an MK808 with a Logitech K400 keyboard and love it. I did install a custom ROM and there are reported wifi issues… But I hear the 809 addressed the hardware issues.

  17. I picked up a refurb Sony SMP-N200 for like $40 at some point, and I must say its pretty great. Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, Hulu+, Youtube, Sony for video services plus USB local playback. Plus it has both HDMI and component and built in wi-fi.

    Some kludge in the interface and no HBO-GO are my only complaints.

  18. Meh, they all suck. I wish they didn’t.

    Probably best to just follow Chucky’s advice–buy an Apple Mini, and run Plex. Until there’s a better solution.

    Why nobody has successfully tackled the TV App Store thing is a bit of a mystery. I assume there are good reasons… things that work on touchscreens don’t abstract well to a remote with a limited number of keys, media companies hate open platforms, etc. But you’d think somebody would have taken a really good whack at it by now, and Google is still just playing around with it and Apple is still sitting on their hands. Hey, maybe Microsoft will open the XBox store this year, though I kinda doubt it–with game consoles being (huge) loss leaders they probably want to make their money back via $60 games as long as that market still exists…

  19. “My house is never, ever clean enough.”

    In that case, you obviously need to try some Meth™. And an Android TV box.

    —–

    “Probably best to just follow Chucky’s advice–buy an Apple Mini, and run Plex. Until there’s a better solution.”

    Three inputs. A TiVo, a Roku, and an HTPC cover the bases. And maybe a Blu player too, if you don’t rip ‘em to your video jukebox. That’s what’ll get all the stubborn stains out of your fabrics. We don’t need no stinkin’ Android TV box.

    (And yes, I do prefer the Mini for the HTPC, both cuz it runs the flagship Plex client, and also because I speak AppleScript, which allows me to have the flexibility to script an edge-case lean-back interface using the under-appreciated Sofa Control. But if I were a Windows person, I’d assume it could all work on that side too.)

    “But you’d think somebody would have taken a really good whack at it by now”

    Content rules the roost. That’s why no one can really get a good whack at it yet. And that’s also why you need the HTPC on one of the inputs, to get around the edge-cases with the tinker’s advantage.

    (Though a Roku and Plex Media Server running elsewhere on the LAN is the poor-man’s solution to cover some of the HTPC bases.)

  20. Bad news on the FCC nomination. I’d vote early and often for a dead ferret if it ran on the Democratic line, but I’m very much not a fan of the current POTUS. Goddamn post-partisan schtick.

    Julius was no saint, but I predict we’ll all end up missing him greatly, given what I expect is coming down the pike. A lobbyist for the cableco’s and wireless providers? It’d be nice to have a real Democrat in the White House…

  21. In fact, there are many Android TV Box or Dongle available in the Market. They all can watch the online Live TV content or VOD, Checking Emails, Playing games (not for touchscreen games). In fact, it can install any apps from Google Play. Please choose for Pad version, not choose the version for mobile phone. We are an Android TV Box and dongle manufacturer from China. please check our product from our company website android-elec.com .

  22. The problem is that most of these android tv boxes is that they don’t come with any preloaded xbmc add ons. This forces the user to spend lots of time finding all of the best and useful add ons. I was looking for a plug and play system.

    I found the SkystreamX on Amazon and have been very happy with the experience. No wifi issues, no bugs or laggy performance. Just an awesome Android and xbmc experience right out of the box.

    They also have a 1 year no questions asked warranty.

    I highly recommend this box.

    http://www.skystreamx.com

  23. The best Android TV Box by far is the SkystreamX. It has a dual core 1.5 Ghz processor, Mali 3d graphics processor, 1 Gb Ram, 8Gb internal memory, Preloaded with all of the good XBMC add ons and Android 4.2.2.

    Android TV Box

  24. I think It doesn’t do local playback at all, but the Plex server running on the aforementioned HTPC takes care of that and seamlessly transcodes media for the roku. Everything works great.