TV boxes such as Roku, Fire TV and Western Digital are more popular than ever. What exactly is a TV box? What does it do? Most importantly, why should you buy one? A TV box is a small electronic device that connects to your television, transforming it into a Smart TV. While most TVs these days already use smart technology, a TV box can expand the capabilities of your television, turning it into a less powerful version of your computer, or a larger version of your smartphone.
From your TV box, you can download apps, watch local TV channels, connect to streaming apps such as Hulu and Netflix. Depending on where you live, you may even be able to connect to premium cable channels at no extra cost, especially if your TV box uses KODI software.
Although many of the TV boxes we will consider in this article are Android TV boxes, we will also be looking at Roku and Fire TV, among others.
While all of these TV boxes run via similar technology, they have different operating systems and thus, different user interfaces. For example, Apple TV runs the mobile iOS format, whereas Fire TV runs off Amazon’s operating system, instantly connecting you with Alexa.
Things to Consider
When it comes to buying an Android TV box, you need to pay close attention to its technical specifications. There are a lot of different factors to consider, and unfortunately, there isn’t an “ideal” TV box that has everything you’re looking for. By familiarizing yourself with some of the more important features in an Android TV box, you can make a smarter purchase for your home and family.
1. Operating System
Like all advanced electronics, TV boxes run using a dedicated operating system. The OS is much more than aesthetic appeal and a lineup of apps, however. The OS affects the optimization and performance of your TV Box such as memory utilization and OpenGL support.
The operating system of your TV box also affects any smart hubs you may have in your home. Since not all smart devices are compatible with one another, make sure your TV box works with the rest of your smart technology. If you use Amazon Alexa, you’ll get the best performance results from a Fire TV. If your home is connected through Apple technology, you’ll need an Apple TV for compatibility.
A TV box will be functional no matter which operating system you choose, but make sure you buy one with an up-to-date OS for improved performance. And if you have a smart home, you’ll enjoy greater synergy if your TV box uses the same OS as your smart hub.
2. Audio Passthrough
Audio passthrough is a feature that allows the sound of a video file – such as a Blu-ray that has been ripped to PC to “pass through” the TV box and onto a home theater receiver, which is better able to decode and translate the compressed sound files.
In other words, audio passthrough is a feature designed to make your movies, TV shows and even music sound better. While not all TV boxes are equipped with audio passthrough, the feature is frequently found in KODI due to its versatility, and some TV boxes even have 5.1 audio passthrough. This feature isn’t essential for everyone but it’s a good thing to keep an eye for.
3. Dynamic Refresh Rate Switching
Dynamic Refresh Rate is another technical term you may or may not be familiar with. Dynamic refresh rate refers to how quickly your TV or computer processes and projects what you’re viewing. 60Hz is considered to be ideal, because at that refresh rate, the human eye can no longer detect blinking, or how fast the computer redraws the images.
Unfortunately, not all videos are coded to 60Hz, and when you’re viewing a movie rendered at 30Hz on 60Hz settings, it’s not going to look very good. Dynamic refresh rate switching allows the TV Box to automatically compensate for the difference in frame rate, syncing the lower frame rate of your movie with the higher frame rate of your TV for better visual appeal.
For this feature to work, however, you will have to ensure that your software (such as KODI), your hardware (Android, Fire TV, etc.) and your television itself are equipped with dynamic refresh rate switching. If just one of them does not have the feature, you will have to manually adjust the frame rate.
4. HDMI, Ports and WiFi
For the sake of economy, I’m lumping a variety of important ports together in one category, such as HDMI, Ethernet and USB. While these ports have little in common with one another, they are all very important to your TV box.
Easily the most important of these ports is your HDMI port. If you have a 4K TV and want to watch TV at 60FPS, then you’re going to need HDMI 2.0. HDMI 2.0 has a bandwidth of 18GB/second , compared to the 10GB/second bandwidth of HDMI 1.4. While the earlier HDMI model can process 4.0 video, the performance and quality will be better with a more modern HDMI.
Also important is a Gigabit ethernet cable. Gigabit Ethernet is the most advanced Ethernet connection, and provides superior data transfer for less buffering during video streams. You also want to look for devices with USB 3.0. Data transfer with USB 3.0 is ten times faster than USB 2.0, so if you’re streaming video files from a flash drive or portable hard drive, you’re going to want USB 3.0.
KODI is to your TV box what OpenOffice is to productivity software or what Mozilla is to internet browsers. Just as OpenOffice offers a facsimile of Microsoft’s industry-leading word processing and data analysis software and Mozilla provides a welcome alternative to Chrome, Edge or Safari, KODI is an open-source media center that serves as a hub for all your audio and visual activities, whether it be watching YouTube, streaming music or playing a DVD.
Because KODI is open source, it can be installed to almost any TV box. KODI is a comprehensive software program that can function on your phone, tablet, TV or other electronic device, including NAS. In effect, KODI is a media hub that compiles all of your media entertainment into a single, easy-to-use program. And because it’s open source, it can be customized almost endlessly to your preferences.
One thing to bear in mind, however, is that KODI does not work nearly as well with Apple devices as it does with other operating systems. While KODI can be installed on your Apple computer, getting the software installed on your iPhone or iPad is a lot trickier. Unless you’re pretty tech-savvy, you’re probably not going to get KODI to work on your iPhone.