Android TV and Kodi, 2015’s Ultimate Home Theater Streamer on a Budget.

A TV revolution is well underway, no longer are our viewing habits a prisoner to Free To Air, Network or Cable TV. Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services are tuning us into this revolution and streaming devices are key to unlocking the stream. Serving all of your modern media needs streamers are the set top box of the future ready to stream today. Combine these modern streamers with Kodi and you have an affordable way to access unbelievable amounts of content at the click of a button.

This does leave the tricky question of which streamer to hook up to that flat panel display? If like us you use Kodi (formerly XBMC) to stream media on a daily basis then the question becomes a little more complicated and then a lot simpler. The following is our journey of discovery to find the perfect Kodi streamer for around $200.

Highpants-Kodi-Streamer-media

For us here at Highpants Kodi (Kodi media center software) has typically been run on a Windows PC. A combination that is still by far the most powerful media center setup, but it is expensive and can be complicated. With the view to setting up a new streaming device under our TV for around $200 we started to examine the other options.

Gaming consoles can do a great job as streamers with many of the most popular streaming services available along with TV style remote controls. Here at Highpants we think the X-Box makes a better media center machine but you probably shouldn’t choose a new console for that reason, go with the content. At over $400 neither console is an option for this project, although Foroza 6 may makes it tempting.

The new generation of Android streamers appear to be a far more affordable way to run Kodi and stream in amazing new ways. Android now offers apps for most of the popular streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu (and others) along with gaming, web browsers and social media, Android streamers have caught our attention.

Highpants-Kodi-Streamer-kodi-helix-14.1For our selection process the key criteria is of course the ability to run Kodi, this eliminated many of the popular streamers on the market at the moment. The Roku 3, Apple TV and Chromecast are the leaders in the field but all are a closed shop unable to install Kodi without hacking the gadgets.

The Amazon Fire TV is an amazingly popular option for streaming but there are a number of downsides that eliminated it from the list for us. Without HEVC compatibility and lack of access to the Google Play Store the Fires are limited in our eyes. However if you are an Amazon Platinum member the Fire TV should be a tempting option once the updated version is available.

Putting all of these other streamers aside what are the options for Kodi compatible Android streamers? What streamers would we throw our cold hard cash down to purchase? After much research we have refined our choices down to four gadgets that can be split into two categories; Android streamers with Kodi pre-installed and Android Streamers that require manual Kodi installation. Of course Kodi can be installed on almost any unlocked Android gadget but the gadgets listed here are by far the most powerful and feature rich. Here are our 4 Android Kodi streamers of choice in no particular order.

Minix NEO X8-H Plus

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Minix produce many outstanding little black boxes with large antennas, both Android and Windows streamers. At $199Neo X8 is expensive but also very capable with XBMC integrated out of the box.

Under the hood is Amlogic’s (4k) Cortex-A9r4 processor, 8 core Mali 450 GPU, 2GM of RAM and 16GB of eMMC memory for storage, a much faster storage technology that allows the smoothest UI experience possible. Dualband 802.11 ac Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet provide plenty of bandwidth for those huge 4K files. The Amlogic chipset also includes hardware decoding for 4K H.265 / HEVC files which is key to smooth 4k playback.

Highpants-Kodi-Streamers-MINIX_Neo_X8-H_plus2The Neo ruis Android 4.4.2 KitKat OS which provides access to Google Play Store with its millions of apps and games. Being generic Android apps and games not all with scale up to big screen TV sizes but there is plenty to try.

The Minix Neo X8 also has the benefit  of being available in many retail outlets, you will pay a price premium though. Here in Australia JB Hi-Fi stock the Neo on their shelves for $270 AUD.

If no fuss Kodi setup and compatibility with the latest HD files is important then the Neo is an excellent option as long as you aren’t too price sensitive.

Reference: Minix Neo X8-H Plus

The Matricom G-Boxes

Highpants-Kodi-Streamers-G-Box-MX2Integrating Kodi out of the box the Matricom G-Box is well known for ease of use and fast evolving software. The G-Box Midnight MX2 made a name for itself as the go to guy for Kodi streamers back when Kodi was known as XBMC a number of years ago. In fact they were so popular that a number of knock-offs have appeared so you need to be sure you are getting your G-Box from Matricom, use the Amazon link from their site to be sure.

Two G-Box models are currently available from Matricom; the MX2 which is a continuation of the original G-Box that isn’t so powerful but at $79 it is great value for a well-rounded Android streamer that comes with Kodi integrated. The second and newest Matricom streamer is the G-Box Q, a curvier more powerful streamer that is a little more expensive at $109 USD but much more powerful.

The MX2 includes an Amlogic A9 Dual Core Neon CPU with Quad Core Mali-400 GPU. 1GB of RAM and 8 GB of Flash provide working memory and storage. 4 USB 2.0 ports, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and a 10/100 Ethernet Port connect the G-Box to the outside wide. HMDI 1.4 port and SPDIF audio port keep the A/V flowing to your TV. While the MX2 will play most digital media files it is limited when it comes to newer HD files.

Highpants-Kodi-Streamers-G-Box-Q-1The G-Box Q being Matricoms latest offering comes with more power and extra future proofing features. Crammed inside the curvy little Q is an Amlogic s802 Quad Core CPU with 8 core Mali-450 GPU, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of Flash storage. 2 USB 2.0 ports, BlueTooth, 10/100 Ethernet and Broadcom 5G 802.11 wireless connect the Q to everything. The Q will handle most any HD file you throw at it including the latest 4k files.

The Q is also jumping on the game streaming bandwagon with Matricom introducing their HyperStream gaming technology that will stream games from PC’s running an Nvidia’s video card.

Both streamers run Android 4.4.2 KitKat OS that provides all of the Google Play Store goodies expected. Over the air updates keep Kodi and the system up to date.

Highpants-Kodi-Streamers-G-box_QThe G-Boxes offer amazing value for money, especially the Q which may be even quicker than the more expensive Minix. Both G’s offer an easy way to get Kodi setup and streaming fast.

The Matricom Q is rated by many in the Kodi community as the best Kodi streamer there is, bar none. It’s hard to argue when you consider the ease of use, features and incredible price.

Reference: Matricom

Nvidia Shield Android TV

Highpants-Kodi-Streamer-shield-android-tv-stillWith a Teraflop of number crunching power under the hood the Shield Android TV is the most powerful of all Android streamers. Powering Nvidia’s latest gadget is its latest X1 chipset, a little waffer of silicon that gives it more powerful than many low end Windows PC’s. All of this power is put to good use with the Shield TV offering impressive output capabilities, 4K output at up to 60FPS using H(264) of every kind.

Underneath the hard angles and flashy lights the Shield contains 16GB of Flash storage and 3GB of RAM. The Tegra X1 system on a chip contains dual Quad Core CPU’s and a 256 Shader GPU. Connecting the gadget to the outside world are 2 USB 3.0 ports, HDMI 2, Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac Wi-Fi with 2×2 MIMO antenna’s for ultra-fast wireless networking. A MicroSD slot is included for memory expansion and quick access to your latest digital camera handy work. The coolest feature though has to be the headphone jacks on both the game controller and remote.

Highpants-Kodi-Streamers-NVidia-Shield-Console-with-Tegra-X1Running Android TV as the operating system gives the Shield access to Google Play Store apps and games designed to be used on big screen TV’s. Gaming in general is covered in spades with Android and Shield optimized downloads. Grid game streaming is pre-installed with Nvidia’s cloud gaming service offering free gaming at the moment. PC game streaming is also available if you have a decent (GTX 650 or better) Nvidia graphics card in a PC on the local network.

Priced at $199 the Shield TV (game controller included) is expensive, but it is also the most power streamer and the only one capable of handling 4K HEVC files along with full 7.1 surround sound output. Its actually powerful enough to double as a cheap PC with the addition of a wireless keyboard  and mouse, an Android PC maybe but still better than Windows RT.

Setting up XBMC/Kodi on Android TV streamers is a little more complicated than simply installing a Play Store selection. You will need to choose your flavour of XBMC (I stick with the standard Android edition but other custom versions have been produced to run on Android) copy the version to a memory stick and install the software from there. Then the usual repository and plugin setup process needs to be followed. See instruction video here for setting up Kodi on Shield TV.

Reference: Nvidia Shield Android TV

Razor Forge TV

Highpants-Kodi-Streamers-Razor-Forge-TVPriced at $99 the Forge TV provides compelling value while offering features very similar to more expensive options. Like the Shield the Forge uses Android TV which provides more TV optimized apps and games. Chippery inside the Forge includes the very snappy Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 Quad Core CPU (2.5GHz) along with an Adreno 420 GPU. 2GB of RAM and 16GB of Flash storage. Forge connects to the outside world via BlueTooth 4.1, Wireless 802.11ac 2x and Gigabit Ethernet. Ports include HDMI 1.4 and a single USB 3.0.

Gaming options are well covered with local gaming through downloaded games and soon Razor will be adding PC game streaming from any PC on the local network. 4 controllers can be hooked up at once for multiplayer gaming and Razor have the Turret wireless Gaming Lapboard and Mouse available to go with the Forge TV.

Priced at $99 for the box alone or $149 with a controller included the Forge TV is good value considering the power under the hood but it lacks any compelling reasons to jump on-board.

Reference: Razor Forge TV

Conclusion

For us here at Highpants the best Android streamer available is the Shield TV since we don’t mind getting our hands dirty with a manual install of Kodi. It’s the one we chose and once its broken in we will post a full review. With more horse-power than a basic laptop, Android TV OS and gaming options galore it has it all. The Matricom Q is an immensely impressive second choice, so tempting we find ourselves contemplating ordering the Q as well as the Shield to have a head to head battle, stay tuned.

In this brave new digital world content is king and access to this content is limited only by the little gadget you choose to put under your TV. Choose the right streamer and you can say to the world give me all of your media for I Am Kodi.

Reference: Tech Report – Nvidia Shield Android TV Review
Reference: Razor Forge TV
Reference: Matricom G-Box Q Homepage
Reference: Minix NEO X8-H Plus

Reference: Android Central – Shield v Nexus v Forge
Reference: TechHive – Streaming Hardware