Want an Android TV box? Read this first.

A typical Android TV box

As we’ve already shown, there are plenty of ways to watch English TV in Portugal. The most popular method by far is to stream TV over the internet. In our opinion, the best results are achieved by using an Android TV box.

What is it?

An Android TV box is a small, usually plastic, device about the size of two cigarette packets which plugs in to a TV, generally via HDMI. It runs the Google Android operating system which allows you to install various apps. It’s these apps which you use to stream TV. Most boxes come with a small remote control allowing you to operate them much like you would a DVD player.

How does it work?

In most cases, the Android operating system software is the same as that used on Android smartphones and tablets. You connect the box to the internet, using a cable or WIFI, and install apps using either the Google Play Store or the built-in browser. Once you’ve installed an app, the app will use the internet connection to deliver content to your TV. If you have content you’ve downloaded, you can also copy this to the box and stream it to your TV. This applies to movies, music and photos. You can even play games and surf the internet on your TV from the box.

Fully loaded with empty promises

It seems almost impossible these days to search shopping sites or social media for an Android TV box without being bombarded with adverts for “fully loaded” boxes or “kodi” boxes or “free international TV” boxes. These adverts are all scams. You’ll end up paying double the amount you need to for a box that’s full of apps you’ll either never use or which don’t work. If you’re really lucky you might even be conned into paying a sizeable monthly fee to receive 3000 channels of live TV you’ll never watch because all the streams were taken down just as your favourite programme was about to start.

That’s what this little guide is about – helping you avoid the empty promises and save money.

What should you buy?

Stay away from the “fully loaded” boxes and look at the specs of each device. The four important things are the chip, the RAM, the storage space, and the Android version.

Note: technology moves so quickly that it’s likely some of this information will be out of date by the time you read it. Use this as guide for 2017.

Chip

The processor, or chip, is the thing that will decode the audio and video in the stream you’re watching and deliver it in a decent quality. The better the chip, the faster the decoding process. This means you can watch high definition streams without any pixelation (note: this also depends on the speed of your internet connection – see later). The chip is often inadvertently tied to the amount of RAM in an Android box, so if you choose a box with more RAM you’re likely to get a better chip too.

You’re basically looking for a chip that can decode the following types of video:

  • H.264
  • MPEG-2
  • VC-1 / WMV9
  • HEVC (H.265)
  • VP9 (4K)

Now, you may not need all of these as your TV might not support them anyway (for instance 4K). However, the cost difference between a chip that supports all types and one that doesn’t is negligible and it’s best to have some future-proofing built in where possible.

There are thousands of chip types. To keep it (really) simple, look for a 4 core (quad core) or above running at around 2GHz.

RAM

RAM is the amount of memory available for running programmes to use. The more the better but you don’t need loads as too much will result in some never being used. Many boxes come with 1GB or 2GB RAM. This is fine for most things but we’d recommend 3GB or 4GB (for future proofing). 3GB is really the minimum if you want to run IPTV with an electronic programme guide (EPG). You don’t need to go above 4GB if you’re just streaming TV (if you want to play graphics-intensive games you’ll need 8GB or more).

Memory (storage space)

Storage space is the amount of room you have to install apps and save files (movies, music, photos, documents, etc). Many boxes come with 8GB of memory. We recommend 32GB or more. There is no upper limit – the more space you have, the more stuff you can store. However, if you want to store loads of content you’d be better off looking at a separate USB hard drive which can plug into the Android box (it’s much cheaper and much more reliable).

Android version

Android TV boxes come with the Android operating system pre-installed (as you would expect). However, because the hardware specs are not standardised by Google (they are being updated with better components by manufacturers all the time), they don’t receive Android OS updates in the same way that smartphones and tablets do. Often, this means that whichever version of Android is installed on the box when you buy it, that’s the version you’re stuck with. The problem with this is that as apps get updated, you may find they no longer run on the version of Android you have installed. Thus, it’s best to try and get a box with a recent or current version of Android. We recommend Android 6.0 or above.

Others

Other things to look for which help but aren’t super-important are:

  • Number of USB ports and USB 3.0 connectivity
  • WIFI 5.8GHz (802.11ac)
  • Bluetooth 3.0 or above
  • SPDIF Audio out
  • HDMI 2.0 (4K)

Where should you buy from?

If at all possible, buy online. It’s far cheaper. An Android box with the specs we’ve recommended here will cost around 70€ online. Expect to pay at least double that in a store.

We don’t recommend eBay, Facebook or OLX as places to buy these boxes – simply due to the amount of rogue sellers. Amazon is good, IF they will deliver to your address (in Portugal). Banggood is also good, despite being a Chinese site (we’ve used them ourselves).

Other things to consider

Internet connection

Your internet connection plays a huge role in the quality of streaming, whether it be live TV or pre-recorded. You need a minimum of 4GB continuous download speed to receive HD without buffering. You can get away with 1GB download speed for SD streaming (it may buffer occasionally). Also consider your data allowance. An HD stream will use around 3GB of data per hour. An SD stream will use around 1GB of data per hour. A 4K stream can use more than 5GB of data per hour.

Amazon Fire Sticks

Amazon fire sticks are hugely popular. Mainly because they are cheap – around 35€. They are cheap for a reason – they have 1GB RAM and 8GB storage. If you really want to go the Amazon route, consider the Fire TV box instead. It’s 2GB RAM with 8GB storage. We personally wouldn’t use either.

Nvidea Shield

The Nvidea Shield is the only Android TV box that offers the true Android TV experience, as it uses a special Android TV operating system as opposed to the normal Android system. It’s often quoted on review websites as the best box to buy. This may have been the case a year ago but it’s not anymore. It has 3GB RAM and 16GB storage but costs over 150€. There are much cheaper and more powerful options available.

 

We hope this guide is useful. As always, if you need any help or would like more specific detail, please contact us.