There was a time when dedicated media boxes were popular. What these devices do is to let you plug an external storage device and watch multimedia files directly on your TV without computers. The drawbacks of these media boxes are that they run on proprietary software which may not be that user-friendly, and the box might not support many file formats.
Once the Android OS proves to be an effective open-source UI that easily plays numerous file formats (limited by available downloadable apps), makers start using this OS to run on TV boxes.
The advantages of a media box running on Android OS are:
- Ability to install thousands of Android apps
- Familiarity of Android interface
- Established hardware specifications
- Consumer confidence of Android OS
- Interface is not optimised for non-touch input devices
- Slightly costlier than proprietary-OS TV boxes
Several big brands have manufactured Android TV Boxes and have gained some popularity. ACRyan Veolo, Logitech Revue, to name a few. They are priced at a premium, backed by better Launcher UI and after-sales support. As a price-conscious buyer, I decided to try out unbranded MIC (Made in China) Android TV Boxes. The risks are poorer interface design, limited (or no) after-sales support, and lower perceived hardware quality.
The one I bought has the following specs:
CPU: Amlogic 8726-M, 800MHz (Cortex-A9)
Operating System: Android 4.0
Resolution: 1920x1080 pixel
RAM: 512MB, DDR II
Supported File Formats:
Video: MPEG1/VCD(DAT, MPEG, MPG) up to 1920*1080; MPEG2/DVD(VOB, MPEG, ISO,TS, M2TS) up to1920*1080; MPEG4(AVI, DIVX3-6, XVID) up to 1920*1080; H.264(AVI,TS, M2TS, MKV) up to 1920*1080; VC-1/WMV up to 1920*1080; RV8/9/10(RM, RMVB) up to 1280 * 720P
Video Subtitle: SMI, SRT, SUB, SSA
Audio: MP3,WMA,WAV,OGG, AAC
Photo: JPEG, BMP, GIF, PNG, TIFF
IR: Infrared remote control sensor
USB: 4 x High speed USB2.0 host
Supports up to 2TB external HDD
SD/ MMC/ MS card reader (does not support microSD with SD adapter)
Mouse/Keyboard: Supports Mouse and Keyboard via USB, or 2.4GHz wireless Mouse and Keyboard via 2.4GHz USB dongle
Ethernet: 10/100M, Standard RJ45
Audio 2.0V+/-0.2V( 10k Ohm load); S/N>=85dB
Video: YPbPr: 480P/720P/1080P; HDMI1.3: up to 1080P
Video: 1.0V+/-0.1V( 75 Ohm load); S/N>=55dB
Power: Input: 100V-240VAC; Output: 12V, 3A
Size: 118 x 118 x 27mm
Product weight: 350g
What I like about this Android TV Box:
It works like an Android device. There is no learning curve, no surprises on the look and feel. The good thing about using an Android device is: if you don't like any of the pre-installed apps, just download and use another one.
Plenty of connectors. 4 USB ports is splendid. One port is used for my wireless keyboard-mouse, another port to power up my USB speakers, the third one for external HDD. Then there is also Wi-Fi and even RJ45 LAN connector to let you connect online easily. This small box is all you need to upgrade your home TV to a "smart TV".
Remote control. The remote comes with dedicated short cut buttons to trigger settings like volume control, or apps like music, video, photo.
Supports third-pary USB drivers. Most branded tablets are rather particular about third-party device supports. Generic MIC devices are usually easy to work with these "unofficial" device. For this Android TV Box, I can easily plug a Bluetooth USB dongle, or a Logitech Wireless Keyboard-Mouse like MK220 (pictured below).
Problems when using the Box:
Popping sound when audio stops. Whenever the audio stops, the Android box would let out a loud "pop" sound. It annoys the hell out of my wifey.
No power switch. Oddly, there is no power switch, so the only way to turn the device off is via the mains.
Does not support microSD on SD adapter. The device doesn't read the microSD card when connected with SD adapter. But a normal SD card works well.
Does not support USB 3.0 HDD. When plugged using the USB 3.0 cable, the Android box does not detect my Western Digital 2.5" Passport Essential HDD. But when I switched to a normal USB 2.0 cable, it works.
Why not Get an Android Tablet?
An Android tablet would be of better value as opposed to an Android TV Box, as you can still use the tablet when not plugged to TV. But a tablet generally lacks multiple connectivity options, and costs a lot more than a TV Box.
The closest versatile tablet that attracted me is AC Ryan Tab 7 tablet, selling for about $215 with 8GB RAM, USB Host, microSD, HDMI port for display-out. Of course, there are a lot of China-made tablets for you to choose from, with varying quality and after-sales experience.
At less than S$200, getting an Android TV box is a small price for visual luxury, especially when plugged to my home projector for a home theatre experience. It boots faster, plays my video files smoother, connects to the Internet with lesser fuss, compared to my previous Lenovo Q110.