Which Android TV box should you buy?


The market for Android TV isn’t especially wide. While it’s the built in operating system on smart TVs from a number of manufacturers like Sony, there aren’t a ton of discrete set-top boxes running Google’s TV software. Still, you’ve got options. Here, we take a look at some of the best of them.

Shield TV Pro

Nvidia’s Shield TV Pro is, by just about any metric, the best Android TV box you can buy. It’s capable of 4K HDR output (along with pretty impressive upscaling for sub-4K content), it runs a number of exclusive games like Nvidia’s ports of Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, and it can even be used to host media for running a Plex server. While the 2019 model doesn’t include the gamepad that was bundled with the previous generation, it does come with a new-and-improved remote control. Nvidia also has a great reputation for keeping its Shield boxes up to date.

The $200 Shield TV Pro has seen stock shortages this year, so if you see it’s available, you’ll probably want to jump on it.

Shield TV

The non-Pro Shield TV is smaller, less expensive at $150, and works just as well for streaming 4K video. You’re forfeiting compatibility with high-end Android ports of PC games (due to a gig less RAM) and the ability to run a Plex server, but it offers the same great media streaming experience, fancy upscaling and all. We gave it our Most Wanted award last year.

JBL Link Bar

Need a new soundbar and a new Android TV box? Roll those two purchases together with the JBL Link Bar. At an MSRP of $399, it’s the most expensive option on this list, but it’s also a very clever one: it adds Android TV, vastly improved sound, and several HDMI inputs to your existing setup.

There are some sore spots, though, as Stephen noted in his review. For one, storage is capped at four gigabytes — and there’s no option to expand. Streaming apps are relatively lightweight, but it’s still a frustrating limitation. The remote also occasionally doesn’t respond to inputs. But if you’ve got the need and the money, it’s a great option.

AirTV Mini

The cheaper of last year’s Shield TV devices is discreet, but it’s not quite dongle small. Sling’s AirTV Mini, on the other hand, is just a bit bigger than a Chromecast, hiding behind your television with ease. You don’t have to subscribe to Sling to get one, although you do get $25 of Sling credit with your purchase. It’s eighty bucks.

Reviews on the AirTV Mini are lukewarm, though, so unless you need a tiny Android TV box right this second, you might want to wait to see what’s up with Google’s forthcoming leaked “Sabrina” device — which should be a similar form factor — before you buy.

Xiaomi Mi Box S

Xiaomi’s Mi Box S is a popular choice, and with good reason. For $60, it offers a lot of the same features as pricier options, including 4K HDR streaming. It’s still getting updates, too. If you’re just after a no-frills Android TV streaming experience at a fair price, the Mi Box S could be for you.

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