TV boxes in comparison: quick streaming at the touch of a button

TV boxes are used to enable streaming offers from small monitors such as laptops or tablets to be shown on large TV sets. In addition to the price, the hardware installed in the TV box also plays a role when it comes to choosing the right device.

What is a TV box?

A TV box is a device that you connect to a TV set to watch any streaming content directly on the TV. To use the box, only an Internet connection and a charger are required – all media content will already be available on the TV. A TV box should work with new TVs as well as older models.

By using a TV box, you can turn a normal TV into a smart TV that plays videos in 4K.

Note

The abbreviation “4K” stands for 4,000 horizontal screen pixels. Compared to the resolution in full HD with 1,080 pixels, videos in 4K are almost four times as sharp. The resolution in 4K is also known as ultra-HD (ultra-high definition).

Streaming boxes are slightly larger than TV sticks. What is compromised in size is made up for in power. What you’ll be able to stream via a TV box ultimately depends on the manufacturer and model, the installed software, and on the operating system. For example, Apple offers several apps different to those on Android TV boxes, or the Fire operating system from Amazon. However, well-known and frequently used apps can be used with all TV boxes. These include:

  • Apps to stream films as part of a subscription: Amazon (Prime) Video, Netflix, Hulu, HBO
  • Apps to access TV channels online: DirectTV, SlingTV
  • Video media libraries of TV stations: NBC, CNN
  • Apps to stream music: Deezer, Spotify and alternative service providers, Amazon Prime Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music
  • Video portals: YouTube, Vimeo
  • Internet radio stations
  • Games apps
Note

Some boxes also include a feature for recording live streamed content, either to internal and external storage media, or to a paired cloud. Thanks to this, you’ll never miss a single show.

Installing a TV box: quick guide

If you want to set up a TV box, you don’t need any in-depth expertise. The box can be set up in just a few steps, requiring only an Internet connection and an electric power outlet:

Step 1:Connect the unit to the TV either directly via an HDMI connector or HDMI cable.

Step 2: Connect the streaming box to the mains plug using a USB cable, and plug the power supply unit into a power outlet – the box can also be powered via a USB port on the TV, but this is not recommended if you want to play 4K content smoothly – mains power is the best way to go for ultra-HD.

Step 3: Connect the TV box to the Internet, either via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable, and stream content using the apps built into the user interface or download new ones.

In addition to the HDMI connection, a TV box has various other connections, for example for a USB stick or an external hard disk such as a microSD card. External storage media is also useful for storing recorded content if the internal memory of the box is no longer sufficient.

Most TV boxes come with a remote control. some models are also equipped with voice control. The user decides whether to search for content manually or use voice search. TV boxes like those from Amazon can also be operated via the associated app. In this case, the smartphone or tablet functions as a remote control. Some devices can be expanded to include a wireless keyboard with an integrated touch pad. This makes searching for content even easier.

Note

TV boxes should not be confused withstreaming sticks. The latter are very compact and can also be used while out and about. The more powerful processors of TV boxes, on the other hand, have better picture quality, but are less transportable. Their better performance is reflected in the higher price.

What should you be aware of when buying a TV box?

Which hardware components are important depends on your preferences. Regardless of personal preferences, however, using a powerful processor such as a dual- or quad-core processor is recommended. Weaker processors can be made up for to an extent by a larger RAM.

If you want to record content, you should make sure you have enough storage space – or alternatively make sure that you are able to add external storage. In general, it is better to have a bit more memory than too little. If you want to convert your TV box to a game console from time to time, you should find out which accessories are compatible with your box.

Existing subscriptions, on the other hand, shouldn’t play an important role in choosing a device. If you already have an Amazon Prime subscription, for example, it might a good idea to buy a Fire TV box, but this should not restrict your choice, because all Prime content can also be streamed via other boxes. The best way to decide is to look at the preferred hardware components, and perhaps to test the user interface of various devices, either at a friend’s or in a shop. This is the only way to find out which streaming box is best for you.

A comparison of the best TV boxes

The selection of TV boxes is as extensive as that of TV sticks. Amazon and Apple have been offering their own TV boxes for several years now, and they have been continuously revised and updated to offer ultra-HD and optimised user interfaces. Other providers are following suit.

Below you will find a comparison of Amazon’s Fire TV Cube, Apple TV 4K, NVIDIA SHIELD TV, Thomson THA100, Xiaomi Mi Box S, MINIX NEO U22-XJ, and the Xilibod H96 Max TV Box, looking at the features and the pros and cons of every box.

Features

Amazon Fire TV Cube

Apple TV 4K

NVIDIA SHIELD TV

(PRO)

Thomson THA100

Xiaomi Mi Box S

MINIX NEO U22-XJ

Xilibod H96 Max TV Box

Price

£75

£169-189

£110-150

£60-65

£45

£125

£40-55

Weight

43,4 g

425 g

127 g / 250 g

170 g

149 g

255 g

380 g

Remote control included

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Voice control?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes/no

Wireless connection to other devices

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Bluetooth

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Wi-Fi

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

HD 720p, 1080p?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Ultra-HD/4K?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Processor

Hexa-Core processor(Quad-core with up to 2.2 GHz and Dual-core with up to 1.9 GHz)

A10X Fusion Chip with 64‑bit architecture

NVIDIA TEGRA X1

Amlogic S905X2 Quad Core ARM Cortex-A53, 1.8 GHz

Quad-core-Cortex-A53 processor

Hexa-Core processor (Quad Core Cortex A73 + Dual-core Cortex A53)

Quad-core processor (Cortex-A535)

Internal storage

16 GB

32 or 64 GB

8 or 16 GB

8 GB

8 GB

32 GB

16, 32, or 64 GB

RAM capacity

2GB

3GB

2 or 3GB

2 GB

2GB

4GB

2 or 4 GB

Does it need an external power supply?

Yes, via micro USB

Yes, via lightning cables

Yes, via micro USB

Yes, via mains

Yes, via micro USB

Yes, via micro USB

Yes, via mains

Amazon Fire TV Cube

The Amazon Fire TV Cube (2nd generation) is a performance-strong device of the Fire TV range from Amazon. In addition to the ultra-HD resolution, the Amazon box also supports HDR (High Dynamic Range) streaming. This means that the image is evenly illuminated, richer in contrast, and brighter overall when streaming series and movies.

If you use the TV box from Amazon which can be remote-controlled with Alexa, you will soon find that although the focus is on Amazon’s own content, neither a Prime membership or a subscription is necessary to use it. You can easily access external apps via the box. If you only want to use Amazon services from time to time, you can also borrow movies from their library, or buy individual titles.

Functions:

  • Supports resolution of 2160p, 1080p and 720p with up to 60 fps
  • Streaming in 4K/ultra-HD quality and HDR is possible without any issues. A requirement for this is a suitable TV that can play videos on Ultra HD.
  • The box has 16GB storage capacity and a working storage of 2Gb combined with a Hexa-Core processor (quad-core with up to 2.2 GHz and Dual-Core with up to 1.9 GHz) that allows for Ultra HD streaming.
  • The box supports Wi-Fi standards 802.11a, b, g, n, and ac as well as Bluetooth 5.0 and LE.
  • Ethernet support with included Ethernet adapter

Selection of apps:

  • Video streaming apps for Amazon Prime and other services by prominent TV channels and video platforms such as Hulu, YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix or similar alternatives
  • Music streaming apps like Spotify and Apple Music
  • Internet browsers like Firefox or Silk
  • Games
  • Lifestyle apps such as yoga and Pilates apps or calorie counters

Price:

  • The Amazon Fire TV Cube is available for approximately £75. Additional costs may incur for subscriptions.

Format of the box:

  • Dimensions: 38 mm x 142 mm x 16 mm
  • Weight: 43.4 g (without batteries)
Pros Cons
Remote control included Not compatible with Apple devices
16GB storage Very big in size
Alexa integration  
Additional costs are optional, and don’t affect the use of the box  
Wide selection of apps for videos, music, and gaming  
Streaming possible in ultra-HD and 4K  

Apple TV 4K

Another frequently used streaming service comes from Apple. Apple’s TV box is designed to fit close to the TV, like a Blu-ray player. Apple’s box enables the streaming of music and videos (in Ultra HD). Like Amazon, Apple uses HDR which portrays images brighter and features more details.

The Apple TV box displays an overview of all installed and favoured apps on its user interface. You are free to install any streaming apps. It also includes Apple’s iTunes store, where users can buy and rent music and videos. The home screen of the TV box is updated as soon as the user adds new apps and content.

Functions:

  • The Apple TV box delivers video content up to 4K in quality.
  • The A10X fusion chip processor (64bit) ensures smooth streaming; the box has a storage capacity of 3GB.
  • Internal memory of 32GB or 64GB
  • For the Internet connection, the device provides an Ethernet connection and a Wi-Fi adapter (802.11ac dual-band).

Selection of apps:

  • Numerous free and paid apps are available via the box, while in Apple’s iTunes Store, users can also buy films and series.
  • Another practical feature is the TV app for iPhone and iPad to synchronise content with the TV box, giving you central access to all installed apps – no matter on which device.
  • An advantage of iTunes content is that Apple automatically makes movies and shows that users have already purchased in HD quality from iTunes available in 4K as soon as they are available – at no additional cost.
  • Game apps (optional with Apple Arcade subscription)

Price:

  • The Apple TV box is available in two versions that differ in their storage capacity. The 32GB model costs £169, while the 64GB box costs £189.

Format:

  • Dimensions: 98mm x 98mm x 35mm
  • Weight: 425g
Pros Cons
Remote control included Expensive
Integrated Siri voice control No USB ports
Extra costs are only for optional add-ons, and do not affect the usability of the box  
Wide selection of apps for videos, music, and gaming  
Ultra-HD and 4K streaming possible  
Internet connection possible via Wi-Fi or Ethernet  

NVIDIA SHIELD TV

The NVIDIA SHIELD TV box provides high definition 4K entertainment and HDR technology. For a realistic and sharp picture, all you need is a suitable TV. The NVIDIA SHIELD is an Android TV box, and therefore uses an Android operating system with integrated Chromecast. The advantage is that the box can also be operated via Google voice control. The Pro version of the box in is also suitable as a game console, and it is sold as a set with a game controller and more internal memory. Besides video and music streaming, many other practical features are available.

Functions:

  • The device supports 4K HDR videos, as well as ultra-HD video. 4K HDR videos and gaming are also supported by the device.
  • The box contains the NVIDIA TEGRA X1 processor, a 2 to 3GB (Pro) working memory.
  • 8GB or 16GB (Pro) of internal memory.
  • The device obtains Internet via dual-band WLAN standard 802.11ac or via a Gigabit Ethernet connection.

Selection of apps:

  • NVIDIA offers an extensive selection of apps for video and music streaming, including subscription services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, as well as free services such as YouTube, Vevo, and the media libraries of many private and public TV stations.
  • Common Google apps for music and movies
  • Both device options come with a two-month Premium membership with TV streaming service Zattoo.

Price:

  • The two versions of the NVIDIA SHIELD TV box not only differ in terms of storage capacity and accessories, but also in price. The standard version costs around 110 pounds, the Pro device about 40 pounds more.

Format:

  • Dimensions: 165 mm x 40 mm x 40mm (Standard) / 26 mm x 159 mm x 98 mm (Pro)
  • Weight: 137 g (Standard) / 250 g (Pro)
Pros Cons
Remote control included Standard edition does not have USB connection
Integrated Google voice function and Alexa support Doesn’t offer its own streaming service
Wide selection of apps and games  
4K and ultra-HD streaming is possible  
Internet connection possible via Wi-Fi and Ethernet  

Thomson THA100

Like many other TV boxes, the Thomson THA100 is equipped with Android operating software. It is a versatile and compact UHD streaming box. Other plus points include intuitive operation as well as good picture and sound. Thomson relies on a remote control that forwards all commands to the TV box via Bluetooth and thus simplifies navigation and app selection.

Owners of the Thomson THA100 can expect a clear start menu that can be customised to their own taste and with their favourite apps, just like the well-known video-on-demand providers. The integrated Chromecast function makes it easy to watch movies and series from your smartphone on the TV screen.

Functions:

  • Users of the Thomson THA100 can surf the Internet via dual-band WLAN as well as Ethernet. A LAN connection can help ensure the connection to the Internet remains stable during streaming.
  • The manufacturer Thomson has installed a quad-core Cortex A53 processor and 2 GB of memory in the model.
  • An internal flash memory with 8 GB is available to the user for applications and content, which can be expanded via the slot for microSD cards.
  • A Bluetooth voice remote is included in the scope of delivery.

Selection of apps:

  • Thanks to the integrated Google Play Store, numerous apps for video and music streaming are available for free download at any time. These include subscription services like Netflix, Prime Video, DAZN, and Disney Plus, as well as free services like YouTube, Vevo, and the media libraries of many private and public TV stations.

Price:

  • Compared to the other devices presented, Thomson’s TV box is especially impressive due to its very good price-performance ratio. It is cheap but doesn’t deliver less performance because of this. For about 60 to 65 pounds, the user is able to watch videos in 4K/Ultra HD.

Format:

  • Dimensions: 110 mm x 110 mm x 22 mm
  • Weight: 170 g

 

Pros Cons
InexpensiveOnly a few sound outputs  
Streaming in Ultra-HD/4K as well as HDR possible Occasional jerkiness with series and movies from media libraries
Large app selection for videos and music  
Remote control has integrated voice function  

Xiaomi Mi Box S

The Xiaomi Mi Box S is also an Android TV box. It supports HDR video and ultra-HD playback. Like the other models presented, the TV box from Xiaomi fits sleekly into any room and doesn’t take up much space. With a stable Internet connection, the device streams videos quickly and in high resolution. Xiaomi delivers the device with a Bluetooth voice remote control, which forwards all commands to the Mi box and displays the results on the TV. If you prefer the manual search, use the keyboard of the remote control instead.

You can choose from numerous on-demand programs that can be accessed via apps. View the latest news, listen to the radio, or use the box as a game console – all this is easily possible with the device.

You can use Google Chromecast to stream the content on other devices without needing a cable. If the display of a smartphone or tablet is too small for a slideshow, for example, the content can be transferred to the bigger TV screen.

Functions:

  • The Xiaomi Mi Box S supports 4K resolution and HDR video.
  • The device is equipped with a quad-core Cortex A53 processor, 2GB RAM and 8GB internal memory.
  • Xiaomi uses dual-band Wi-Fi technology that supports the 802.11a, b, g, n and ac standards.
  • If you want to use your Mi box as a gaming console, you can optionally purchase a Mi game controller.

Selection of apps:

  • Wide range of free apps available via Android user interface MIUI
  • Streaming services like Netflix or Amazon and TV channels for live streaming
  • Apps for video platforms like YouTube or Vimeo
  • Music apps of online radio broadcasters and other service providers like Spotify or Amazon Music
  • Good range of gaming apps

Price:

  • At around £45, the TV box from Xiaomi is available at a very good price-performance ratio compared to other models like those from Apple or NVIDIA.

Format:

  • Dimensions: 95 mm x 95 mm x 16.7 mm
  • Weight: 149 g
Pros Cons
Remote control included Doesn’t offer its own streaming service
Integrated voice control  
Wide selection of apps and games  
Streaming in 4K and ultra-HD  

MINIX NEO U22-XJ

With the TV box from MINIX you can stream videos in ultra-HD and HDR. The high picture quality creates a home cinema experience. The box is enabled for 4K streaming via the Android operating system. It can be connected to the internet via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable.

The unit is equipped with a remote control, but it does not have a voice function. Another disadvantage is that some apps with the associated remote control are very difficult to use. MINIX therefore offers the separately available remote control MINIX NEO A3, in which a small keyboard and many more function keys are integrated.

Functions:

  • The MINIX NEO U22-XJ TV Box streams ultra-HD videos. It supports 4K and HDR quality.
  • Top performance is supported by the Hexa-Core processor (Quad Core Cortex A73 + Dual Core Cortex A53), 4 GB RAM and 32GB internal storage.
  • The device can be connected via dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac or LAN.
  • Shipment includes a remote control. Its functions can be extended with a separate remote control or via touch pad.

Selection of apps:

  • The TV box from MINIX supports a wide range of apps for video and music streaming.
  • Media libraries from private and public TV channels can be used via their respective apps in the Google Play Store, and YouTube and Vevo are also available.
  • Owners of the MINIX NEO U9 box can use existing streaming subscriptions by installing the appropriate app from the provider and logging in with their account – such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Zattoo, or HBO.
  • The App Store also offers a wide range of apps for gaming.
  • If you want to watch content from your smartphone or tablet on the TV screen, you can transmit the content wirelessly to the box and then to the TV via Miracast.

Price:

  • The price for the box is about £125 – it is in the middle of the price range compared to the others in this article.

Format:

  • Dimensions: 128 mm x 128 mm x 28 mm
  • Weight: 255g
Pros Cons
Wide gaming and app selection Simplistic remote control – an improved version costs extra
Ultra-HD and 4K streaming Doesn’t offer its own streaming service
Internet connection possible over Wi-Fi and Ethernet  

Xilibod H96 Max TV Box

This streaming box also works with the Android operating system. This means that all apps are available in the Google Play Store. The box is equipped with a quad-core processor, which is the prerequisite for being able to play Ultra HD videos.

The TV box comes with a remote control, but it does not have an integrated voice function, which could mean that it takes much longer to operate the TV screen. If you still want to navigate through the apps quickly and intuitively, you can optionally connect an external mouse or keyboard via USB.

Functions:

  • Stream series and movies in 4K Ultra HD - either via dual-band WLAN (802.11a, b, g, n, or ac) or via Ethernet
  • TV box with a quad-core processor (Cortex-A53) and either 2 or 4 GB of RAM
  • Internal memory with 8, 16, or 64 GB capacity
  • The box is operated via the included remote control. This has all the functions included that are important for the home entertainment experience.

Selection of apps:

  • All popular apps available for the Android operating system, including Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Netflix, DAZN, numerous news channels, and public and private TV station media libraries.
  • The TV box serves as the basis for surfing the Internet via the TV screen.
  • Those who want to watch their content from the smartphone or tablet on the TV screen, but without additional cables, can use the Miracast function.

Price:

  • The Xilibod H96 Max TV box is sold for around 40-55 pounds.

Format:

  • Dimensions: 100 mm x 100 mm x 20 mm
  • Weight: 350 g
Pros Cons
Inexpensive No in-house streaming offer
Option to connect a USB mouse or keyboard Integrated mouse function for remote control takes some getting used to
Large app selection for videos, music, and gaming  
Streaming in Ultra HD/4K as well as HDR possible  

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