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While many of the latest televisions ship with smart features for watching online content, you don't have to buy an expensive new TV just to get a better streaming experience. Many manufacturers have taken advantage of Google's open-source Android operating system to build set-top boxes of all shapes and sizes. As a result, it's never been easier to access services like Netflix or Hulu or watch your own video content on the big screen.
Looking for a way of streaming 4K HDR content on your fancy new television, but don't need all the other bells and whistles of an Android TV box? The latest model of Amazon's Fire TV Stick fits the bill perfectly.
Plugging into the back of your television, this budget device offers a lot for the price. Over half a million TV episodes and movies are available across Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, and other sources, with support for 4K HDR 10+ and Dolby Atmos sound.
Content from sites like Facebook, Reddit, and YouTube is also available on the Fire TV stick via their respective apps, and with a bit of work, you can browse other websites as well.
Unsurprisingly for an Amazon product, Alexa support is built-in and lets you search for content using your voice as well as accessing the large library of Alexa skills.
The small remote has volume, navigation, and other basic buttons, and can also control connected accessories like a soundbar.
When it comes to premium Android TV boxes, there's one that stands out above the rest. The Nvidia Shield TV is a high-end device, with quality components that offer an unmatched set of features.
As well as streaming high-definition 4K HDR content from the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, the box supports Dolby Atmos and DTS-X surround-sound passthrough to let your movies sound as good as they look.
The fun doesn't stop with just watching your favorite movies and shows, however. There's also a high-end computer graphics card in the Shield TV box, which lets you play many video games without needing to connect a console or computer. A good Bluetooth controller comes in the box.
Titles like Fortnite, Assassin's Creed, and Grand Theft Auto are available using Nvidia's GeForce Now game streaming platform, as are a variety of Android, Wii, and Gamecube games (the latter two via an emulator).
The Nvidia Shield also has full Kodi and Plex support, so you can play your own library of audio and video content just as easily as streaming it. To that end, it's also possible to connect a USB stick or hard drive to the box to add extra storage.
Many smaller manufacturers produce inexpensive Android TV boxes, and there often isn't much difference between them. But this Easytone model has a few features that lift it above the rest.
Running the latest version of Android (8.1), the box uses a four-core RK3328 processor combined with 4GB of RAM to deliver speedy performance even when streaming 4K video. 32GB of inbuilt storage provides plenty of space for whichever set of Android apps you prefer. There's support for both Ethernet and 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi to connect it to your home network and the Internet, but no 5Ghz wireless support.
In addition to the standard ⅛" audio jack that connects the box to your TV, speakers, or headphones, the Easytone device also has Bluetooth capability. This allows you to listen in private with Bluetooth headphones, or stream audio to a Bluetooth speaker without worrying about messy cables. There's also a bundled remote control for controlling most functions.
With better specifications and features than most Android TV boxes in this price range, the Easytone is a solid value option.
If you just want to add basic streaming capabilities to an old TV and really don't want to spend much money doing it, check out the Amazon Fire TV Stick. For just $40, it's the easiest and cheapest way to get Netflix, Prime Video, and most other streaming content.
Setup is about as easy as it gets: simply plug the stick into an HDMI port on the back of your TV, hit the power button on the remote, connect to the Internet, and you're good to go. Browsing the web can be done via the Silk and Firefox browsers. Using the remote and on-screen keyboard to navigate and enter text can be a bit cumbersome, but Alexa voice support is included. You can say something like "Launch Netflix" or "Play Game of Thrones" and it will do exactly that.
Don't want to miss out on your favorite shows just because you're away from home? Sure, you could just download an app for your phone or tablet, but if you know you'll have access to television, this little Pendoo X8 Mini is an inexpensive alternative.
Measuring just 3.2 x 3.2 x 0.7 inches and weighing just 3.5 ounces, it's small enough toss into your luggage or even a small overnight bag.
Despite its petite dimensions, it's powerful enough to stream HD video. Both audio and video content can be sent over either its HDMI port or via the Miracast and Airplay wireless technologies built into many modern televisions or speakers.
Other specifications are standard for inexpensive Android TV boxes like this, with a quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of inbuilt storage. It has both Ethernet and 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi support, and having a card reader and USB-A slots built into the device means you can expand the available storage via an SD card, memory stick, or hard drive.
The MXQ Pro ticks all of the usual boxes when it comes to an entry-level Android TV box—quad-core CPU, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage—but it's the flexibility and speed that make it more interesting than similarly-priced competitors.
In addition to the unit, you'll get a remote control in the box for controlling all of the standard functions, and the MXQ streams media seamlessly with virtually no lag or buffering delay.
Unless you plan to stream everything you watch over the Internet, you'll likely want to upgrade the inbuilt storage. Fortunately, that's easy to do via the SD card reader or one of the three USB-A ports.
Connectivity is handled by either Ethernet or 2.4Ghz Wi-fi, and the device comes preloaded with several useful apps, including Kodi, YouTube, Netflix, and others.
You'll pay a bit more for the Minix Neo U9-H+, but it's not hard to see why. This high-end Android TV box bills itself as "the ultimate home theater experience." Unlike the makers of many cheaper boxes, the company regularly updates the firmware for its home theater devices. Coupled with solid build quality and reliability, this means you'll likely be able to keep using the U9-H+ for several years, which certainly justifies the higher initial cost.
The box has support for both Ethernet and dual-band Wi-Fi networking. On the audio-visual side, there's an HDMI 2.0 port, plus SPDIF and a pair of ⅛" sockets. Three USB-A ports and an SD card reader let you expand the storage from a relatively paltry 16GB, and there's support for both 4k and HDR10 content.
One of the best features of the MINIX NEO U9-H+ is the bundled "air mouse", a gyroscopic wireless remote that lets you control the on-screen pointer simply by moving it around. A QWERTY keyboard on the back of the remote allows you to easily enter text when searching for content.