There are plenty of ways to stream content on your television, and if you get one of the best Android TV boxes, you can make sure that the experience is as fast, seamless, and enjoyable as possible. Android TV boxes allow you to instantly access all of your favorite video and music apps, along with some light games, without going out and buying a completely new TV. There are a few different options to choose from, with these being the best of the best.
What are the best Android TV boxes?
Our overall pick has to be the Chromecast with Google TV when it comes to the best Android TV boxes. In almost every regard, the new Chromecast is basically perfect. It has 4K HDR streaming with support for Dolby Vision/Atmos, a great remote that’s easy-to-use, and comes in at an incredible price. However, the star of the show is the special Google TV software that’s layered on top of Android TV, offering new features and an upgraded design that we think you’ll love.
If you aren’t thrilled with what Chromecast has to offer, another solid pick is the NVIDIA Shield TV. Its higher price may turn some potential buyers away, but it makes up for that with a faster processor, 4K upscaling, and a more premium remote.
Last but not least, it’s also worth considering the very similar NVIDIA Shield TV Pro. It’s almost identical to the regular Shield TV, but you’re benefitting from extra RAM/storage and full-size USB ports. This one also doubles as a SmartThings hub, which is a great touch if you have a lot of SmartThings-enabled gadgets in your home.
Although there aren’t a ton of Android TV boxes available to buy in 2021, the one that easily stands out as the best of the bunch is the Chromecast with Google TV. No matter how you slice it, this latest Chromecast ends up being a perfect streaming companion for just about any living room.
On the hardware/spec front, everything you need for high-quality streaming is here. The Chromecast offers 4K HDR streaming, supports Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos and has a processor that keeps things running smoothly for most tasks. The remote is a little lacking in buttons, but it’s incredibly well-built and offers good utility in a sleek and compact form factor.
Where the Chromecast gets a big edge over the rest of the options on this list is how it’s running the new Google TV interface. While it’s technically powered by Android TV, Google’s added this new Google TV software on top of it to create a brand new experience. As a result, everything is much more visually appealing, all of your apps work just the same, and the new home pages are designed to curate everything from your streaming apps so you can more easily find something to watch. Our testing has a much better user experience than regular Android TV, and the Chromecast is the only way to get it right now.
Making all of this even better is the Chromecast’s price. So not only is it the best Android TV box on our list, but it’s also one of the most affordable. Talk about a win-win.
The biggest downside of Chromecast is that some users have reported various bugs and glitches since its debut — such as freezing apps and entire system crashes. It doesn’t seem like everyone is being affected by these things, but if you plan on picking up the Chromecast, it’s something to consider beforehand.
Bottom line: In the world of Android TV boxes, the Chromecast with Google TV easily stands out as the best one to get. Its hardware is more than capable, but the thing that puts it over the edge is its unmatched software and highly competitive price.
Google did a lot right with the Chromecast, but if it doesn’t seem like a good fit for you, another option to consider is the NVIDIA Shield TV. The Shield TV is one of the most compact Android TV boxes you’ll find, starting with its hardware. In fact, it’s not a box but more of a small tube. As a result, it’s tiny, out-of-sight, and easy to hide regardless of your entertainment setup.
The Shield TV has all of the streaming tech you could ask for, including support for 4K HDR content, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos. It also uses AI upscaling to convert HD content into 4K for an even crisper image than before. There’s an Ethernet jack if you prefer a wired connection for faster streaming, along with a microSD card slot for quickly expanding your storage.
Another big draw to the Shield TV is that it can access GeForce Now — NVIDIA’s cloud gaming service that allows you to play fully-fledged PC games right on your television.
Bottom line: In the world of Android TV boxes, the NVIDIA Shield TV easily stands out as one of the best ones to get. It has incredibly powerful specs, outstanding 4K upscaling and works with NVIDIA’s GeForce NOW cloud gaming service.
If you like what you see with the NVIDIA Shield TV but want something that’s even more capable, the Shield TV Pro could be for you. It has everything that makes the regular Shield TV great, including 4K HDR streaming, 4K upscaling, Dolby Vision and Atmos, and more.
The physical hardware for the Shield TV Pro is considerably larger, and there’s a reason for that. If you have a lot of smart home gadgets under the SmartThings brand, you can use the Shield TV Pro as a hub for all of them. It also has two full-size USB ports on the back, connecting external storage devices, over-the-air antennas, and keyboards. On top of all that, the Pro has more storage and RAM than the regular Shield TV — 16GB vs. 8GB and 3GB vs. 2GB, respectively.
The increased price and size of the Shield TV Pro make it a tougher sell than its non-Pro sibling, but for power users that need their Android TV box to do as much as possible, it’s a fantastic choice.
Bottom line: The Shield TV Pro is much like the regular Shield TV above, though it comes with a few notable upgrades. For a few extra dollars, going Pro gets you more RAM and storage, full-sized USB ports, and allows the box to function as a SmartThings hub.
There have been rumblings about Google releasing a new streaming dongle that would finally put the old Chromecasts to rest. The new Chromecast with Google TV (HD) shares the same design and includes the same remote as its counterpart of the same name.
Despite looking the same, this new version is less expensive due to Google’s decision to limit the streaming resolution to 1080p. It’s also a bit surprising to see this version released a couple of years after the original version, without really bringing anything else new besides the aforementioned downgrade.
Regardless, if you’re looking for a cheap way to enjoy what Google TV has to offer, then this new Chromecast is perfect. It helps that it retains all of the same functionality as practically every other Chromecast that has been released. This means you can still cast from your phone or Google Chrome, or rely on the apps from the Play Store to stream your favorite movies.
Bottom line: While there’s a bit more competition now, the new Chromecast with Google TV (HD) is a fantastic choice for those who want to add Google’s interface to their existing TV.
The onn. brand might not be something that you recognize unless you regularly shop at Walmart. But you might want to start paying attention, at least with the onn. Android TV UHD Streaming Device. Long name aside, this box is the most affordable way to get into the world of streaming powered by Android TV.
You’ll enjoy a stock Android TV experience, meaning that you won’t have to worry about annoying and intrusive ads telling you to sign up for Walmart+. But almost as good as the streaming device itself is the included remote. In addition to your normal TV controls, the remote offers four shortcuts for some of the best streaming services, along with a dedicated button for Google Assistant.
Unfortunately, with a streaming device this affordable, there are some concessions that need to be made. And the biggest issue that you might run into is 8GB of non-expandable storage. Those who only rely on streaming services will likely be fine, but you’ll need to look elsewhere if you plan on watching downloaded content.
Bottom line: With the onn. Android TV, this streaming device is extremely affordable, offers 4K UHD playback, and even has support for Dolby Atmos. Unfortunately, the storage is limited to 8GB and you won’t find Dolby Vision support.
As much as we love the NVIDIA Shield TV and Shield TV Pro, we also understand that they might be way too expensive for many shoppers. If you happen to fall into that group, we recommend going with the TiVo Stream 4K. Despite being a lot cheaper, the Stream, 4K from TiVo, still supports 4K HDR content, works with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, and comes with a voice remote for easy access to the Google Assistant.
The biggest draw to the TiVo Stream 4K (other than its low price) is access to its exclusive TiVo Stream app. TiVo makes personal recommendations of shows and movies to watch based on your own tastes and preferences in the app. In the process, the Stream app also houses access to all of your other streaming services so that you can access them in one convenient place. It’s not quite as seamless as the Google TV experience. However, the Stream is an excellent pick if you want the traditional Android TV interface while still getting high-quality content recommendations.
TiVo Stream is also where you’ll find a collection of free channels from the likes of Pluto TV, Tubi, Cheddar, and Tastemade. Of course, if you have a subscription to Sling TV, you’ll be able to watch it in the TiVo Stream app, too.
Bottom line: Want an Android TV box on a budget? The TiVo Stream 4K isn’t as feature-rich as the Shield TV, but it delivers all the basics while keeping more money in your wallet.
How to pick the best Android TV box
You have a few choices available to you when shopping for an Android TV box, but overall, the Chromecast with Google TV stands out as the clear winner. It gives you a ton of features, amazing software and comes in at a very reasonable price.
In regards to watching movies and TV shows, the Chromecast is a champ. It handles 4K HDR content without breaking a sweat, and thanks to its support for both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, you can ensure that your picture and audio quality are as good as it gets.
What makes the Chromecast unique from other Android TV boxes is it features the new Google TV software. Google TV is layered on top of Android TV and curates all of the shows and movies from your various streaming apps into one place. It takes out the usual hassle of juggling between multiple apps just to find something to watch, and it’s a genuinely useful addition that you won’t find anywhere else.
1. What is Android TV?
First thing’s first, a brief overview of what Android TV is at its core.
Android TV is a special version of Android that’s designed specifically for televisions. It’s technically the same software that powers your Samsung or Pixel phone, but you’ll notice that it looks considerably different. The user interface has been optimized specifically for the big screen, so it looks and feels the way it does.
You can download various apps on Android TV, including Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, and NBC’s Peacock service. Some basic games are available to download, which can be fun if you’re looking for another way to kill some time. The last and biggest missing piece from Android TV’s content library was the Apple TV app. Fortunately, it has been available on Android TV for quite awhile now.
There are a couple of nifty tricks Android TV has up its sleeve that you won’t find on many competing smart TV platforms, the first of which is Google Assistant. Just like you have Google Assistant baked into your smartphone and smart speakers, it’s also integrated into Android TV boxes. Just press the microphone button on the remote that comes with the box you buy, and you can ask the Google Assistant to control smart home devices, bring up your calendar, start streaming a specific show, and a lot more.
Android TV boxes also double as Chromecast targets! So if you’re browsing the Netflix app on your phone and find something you want to watch, just tap the Chromecast icon, and it’ll be sent to your Android TV just like that. You can even mirror your entire phone screen if you want to show off an app that doesn’t natively support Chromecast, which is pretty darn cool.
2. Why should I buy a streaming box instead of an Android TV?
When shopping around for an Android TV box, you may notice that you can buy a full-on television that comes with Android TV software already built into it. These can be handy if you’re in the market for a new TV and know you want it to run the Android TV interface, but they’re also a much larger commitment than going with an Android TV box.
Android TV boxes are considerably more affordable than the best Android TVs, making them a lot easier on your wallet. If you’ve already got an excellent non-smart TV, a TV box is a cheap and easy way to rectify that instead of shelling out the big bucks on an Android TV. It’s also a great way to get familiar with the operating system if you’ve never used it before.
Alternatively, if you get an Android TV box and it turns out that it isn’t a good fit, it’s much easier to return a small box instead of a giant TV. Android TV boxes also tend to have better processors and get more reliable software updates, especially with ones like the Shield TV and Shield TV Pro.
3. How does Android TV compare to Roku and Fire TV?
If you aren’t thrilled about any of the choices on this list, you may want to consider shopping for streaming boxes powered by a different smart TV platform — specifically, Roku and Amazon Fire TV.
Roku is the most popular software out there for smart TV interfaces, offering robust options for both streaming boxes and televisions with Roku built-in. Roku benefits from having many more available hardware options in both of these regards and supports more apps. Android TV’s app selection is a lot better today than it used to be a few years ago, but Roku still has many smaller apps/channels that you just can’t get on Android TV.
Amazon Fire TV is right behind Roku in terms of popularity. While it doesn’t have many different hardware choices for Fire TV boxes, the available ones tend to be considerably cheaper than the top Android TV picks. It also benefits from having Amazon Alexa built-in, which functions as Google Assistant does on Android TV.
4. Can you tell me more about NVIDIA GeForce Now?
We mentioned NVIDIA GeForce Now a couple of times throughout this article, but if you’re still a little confused about what it is, here’s what you need to know.
GeForce Now is a service that allows you to play PC games on virtually any device by streaming them over the internet. Similar to how you stream movies and TV shows from Netflix, GeForce streams video games. It works with various free-to-play games and ones you’ve purchased through platforms like Steam, with some of the supported titles including Fortnite, Just Cause 4, Control, Rainbow Six Siege, and tons more.
You can use GeForce Now for free, but you’ll only have one-hour gaming sessions if you do so. However, once that hour is up, you can just hop back into your game and start playing for another hour (and so on). There is a paid tier, and this gives you access to longer continuous play sessions, priority access to GeForce Now servers, and RTX support for even better-looking games.
Android TV boxes are a fantastic way to stream endless content on your television easily, and as you can see, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get one. So whether you decide to pick up a Chromecast or the TiVo Stream 4K, you’ll have a capable and reliable gadget for streaming the day away.