If you shopped online in the past two years you may have seen that there are many TV Boxes for sale that come with some great specifications (on paper at least) and are very affordable. On Amazon, eBay or other stores that sell Chinese electronics you can find an Android TV Box with 4GB of RAM and octa-core CPUs for less than $100. All of them promise 4K video playback, HDR and many other features, however, I would recommend you stay away from them. In this article we will detail why buying such a device is not worth it and give you excellent alternatives that will satisfy your streaming needs without hurting your wallet.
1. It does not run Android TV
When you are buying an Android TV Box that has the only purpose to be connected to a TV and add new functionality to it, you won’t be judged if you expect the device to actually run Android TV, the version made by Google specifically to be used on a TV, without a touchscreen. However, most Chinese TV Boxes run the phone version of Android. This causes some problems in day-to-day usage. Not all applications can be used without touch input. Because of this, when using the remote, navigation between the application’s menus can be extremely difficult or impossible altogether. Furthermore, some applications are only built to run in portrait mode. The TV is in landscape so some application will have the image rotated 90 degrees which makes them unusable. Another downside is that most Chinese Android TV Boxes come with a pre-installed application launcher that is buggy, hard to use and offers no customization options. The launcher can be changed with ease, but you should have to do that to have a working system. In short, without a mouse and a keyboard, most such devices can’t be used properly.
2. No updates from the manufacturer
If you look at the specs sheet on many of these devices you will see good hardware: 4GB RAM, 32GB internal storage, octa-core CPU, and so on. However, many of the devices come with Android 7.1 or 8.1 at best. Sadly, that is the only version that the TV Box will have. Support after sale is close to non-existent for these brands. You won’t get security updates and you won’t get any major Android version updates. If you are lucky, there may be some bug fixes in the first few months after the device is released on the market, but nothing more. Sadly, even if you get some bug fixes, there will be others in the system that won’t get a patch. One example that I frequently saw across multiple manufacturers is a complete freeze of the system from time to time. You are watching a movie and all of a sudden the image stops, you get no sound and the device does not respond to input. The only ways to get things up and running again is to unplug the power source in order to force a restart.
3. No Widevine L1 => No Netflix in FullHD or 4k
This is not something available for all Chinese TV Boxes, but it is something to take into consideration and at least make sure before buying that the device comes with Widevine L1. This is something that has to be done from the factory and if it does not come pre-installed, you won’t get it later on with an update. Without this, many applications that use DRM won’t work properly. A big name here is Netflix that won’t play movies in FullHD or 4K resolution. Many Chinese brands will have a hacked version of Netflix installed in order to bypass this, but this means you won’t get updates for the application either.
4. Slow hardware
When you are buying a device with an octa-core CPU and 4GB of RAM you are not expecting the thing to be slow. And for the first few minutes, while you are still in the application launcher or settings menu, everything will be fine. However, once you open up multiple apps or start to use the TV Box for more intensive tasks, the slowdown is obvious. This is because even though the specs look good at first glance, the components used are of low quality. Not all RAM is made equal, even if it has the same capacity. Some run at a higher frequency than others which results in smoother transitions between applications. Also, just having an octa-core CPU does not mean it is very powerful. All sub $100 TV Boxes use low-frequency RAM, high write/read speed memory and low-budget CPUs with a mediocre GPU. Once you open a 3D game on the device you will encounter lag, stuttering or freezing. The only usage of such a device is and always will be video playback.
### 5. Cheaper and better alternatives
All I’ve written here is based on experience, not just speculative opinions. And I won’t be a good tech writer if I did not give you alternatives. Yes, you can always go for an Amazon Fire TV or an nVidia Shield. But what if those devices are not available in your country or are out of reach for other reasons. Here comes Xiaomi to the rescue. The Xiaomi Mi Box S offers almost anything you can wish for in a TV Box. Yes, the hardware is not as powerful as the other Chinese devices, but the software is far better. You still get a decent octa-core CPU and 2GB of RAM. Internal storage is pretty limited, at just 8GB, but more than enough for a few apps. If you need more for movies and stuff you can attach an external hard drive. On the software side it comes with Android TV, the version made precisely for use on big screens. It is Google licensed, with Widevine L1 and Chromecast. That means that you can use Netflix without any problems, you can stream content from your smartphone and you can use the Google Assistant. All this for less than $80.