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

Nowadays, watching series and films online is part of everyday life for most young people. TV guides are becoming a thing of the past, as is being bound by a TV schedule. Usually when people say that they watch television, they aren’t referring to conventional television, but streaming a film or series from the media libraries of Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and so on. As the popularity of watching programs in this way increases, so does the use of laptops and computers for watching TV – but their screens are often no way near as good as a conventional TV screen. How to unite the two? A TV box provides the solution, as it allows content to be streamed directly onto a TV screen, instead of over a laptop or desktop.

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. 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. If streaming in 4K quality is very important to you, make sure that your TV can display videos in ultra-HD before buying a TV box – the box itself won’t enable a TV to stream in 4K if the TV hasn’t got this display capacity.

Streaming boxes are slightly larger than streaming 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, Amazon Prime Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music
  • Video portals: YouTube, Vimeo
  • Internet radio stations
  • Games apps

These are just a few examples; the actual selection of possibilities is huge. It is also possible to access the photos you may have on cloud storage systems and view them on your TV – holiday snaps can be viewed by the whole family as a slide show, for example.

Probably the biggest advantage of a TV box is that, unlike with conventional television, you’re not dependent on live content. Although some apps offer the option of watching certain TV channels live, the real advantage of a TV box lies in the on-demand services. This means that you can start and stop content at any time. The device remembers where you stopped the video, and resumes from that point when you start watching again.

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

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:

  • Connect the unit to the TV either directly via an HDMI connector or cable (these are inexpensive and readily available if you don’t already have one)
  • 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
  • Connect the TV box to the internet, either via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable, and stream content using the apps built into the homepage, 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. 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. However, some models are also equipped with voice control, and some TV boxes can also be operated via an app, such as Amazon’s Fire TV box. In this case, a smartphone or tablet functions as a remote control.

Tip

TV boxes should not be confused with streaming sticks. The latter are very compact and can also be used on the road. 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 plan to save content, you should make sure you have enough storage space – or alternatively make sure that you are able to add external storage. 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 shops.

A comparison of the best TV boxes

The selection of TV boxes is as extensive as that of TV sticks. Providers such as Amazon or 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 optimized user interfaces.

Below you will find a comparison of Amazon’s Fire TV box, Apple TV, Nvidia Shield Pro, Xiaomi Mi box, Minix Neo u9-H, Rveal 2 Media Player, and Leelbox Q3, looking at the features and the advantages and disadvantages of every box.

Amazon Fire TV box

The latest generation Amazon Fire TV box is smaller than its predecessors, and can be easily hidden behind any TV.

In addition to the ultra-HD resolution, the Amazon box also supports HDR 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, 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:

  • The Amazon Fire TV box supports 720p, 1080p, and even 2160p resolutions
  • Streaming in 4K/ultra-HD quality and HDR is possible without any issues
  • Like the Fire TV stick, the box has 8GB storage capacity – but also a more powerful quad-core processor (1.5 instead of 1.3)
  • Amazon supplies a remote control with integrated Alexa voice control for control (alternatively, the free Fire TV remote control app is available in the app store for Android and iOS, so you can operate the TV box via your smartphone)
  • Amazon offers various accessories for the TV box including game controllers and an adapter for Ethernet connection – but it is also Wi-Fi compatible
  • To use Fire TV, the box must be connected directly to the TV via a HDMI connection at the back of the TV taking up no space (alternatively the box can be placed at a distance with an extra HDMI cable)

Selection of apps:

  • With the Amazon Fire TV box, users can choose between Amazon content, TV stations, video platforms such as YouTube or Vimeo, and other paid providers such as Netflix
  • Music streaming is also possible via apps such as Spotify; you must have an Amazon account to access music apps, but these can be used for free (be aware that some apps and content are not free, especially for non-Prime members, while Prime subscribers are automatically provided with all included content after logging in)
  • With Firefox or Silk browsers, users can also surf the internet directly via the TV box
  • For gaming lovers, Amazon's app store also offers games
  • Sports fans will find various fitness apps, yoga apps, and pilates apps on the app store

Price:

For $54.99, the Amazon Fire TV box is twice as expensive as the compact stick alternative, but the box offers much more power.

Format of the box:

Dimensions: 65mm x 65mm x 15mm

Weight: 87.1g

Pros Cons
✔ Remote control included ✘ Use of Prime content costs extra
✔ Additional virtual remote (via an app)  
✔ 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  
✔ Internet connection via Wi-Fi and Ethernet possible  

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. Just like Amazon, Apple’s box is HDR enabled.

The Apple TV box displays an overview of all installed and favored 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.

Functions:

  • The Apple TV box delivers 4K video content in up to 2160p resolution
  • The A10X fusion chip processor (64bit) ensures smooth streaming; the box has a capacity of 3GB, and an internal memory of 32GB or 64GB
  • A Siri voice remote control is included, meaning the TV box can be controlled via voice commands too
  • For the Internet connection, the device requires a standard Wi-Fi connection
  • Apple's online store offers a range of accessories, from replacement remote controls to wireless gaming controllers and headphones

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 synchronize 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

Price:

The Apple TV box is available in a few versions. The 32GB model without ultra-HD or 4K costs $149, but if you want more storage, you will have to buy the Apple TV 4K, which starts at $179 for 32GB, and the 64GB box costs $199. If you want to sync your content with your iPhone, iPad, or other Apple devices, just log in with your Apple ID. Extra purchases must be paid for. These are not included in the purchase of the box.

Format:

  • Dimensions: 98mm x 98mm x 35mm
  • Weight: 425g
Pros Cons
✔ Remote control included ✘ Use of new iTunes content costs extra
✔ Integrated Siri voice control  
✔ 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. The NVIDIA SHIELD is an Android TV box, and therefore relies on Google software – with the advantage 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.

Functions:

  • The device supports 4K HDR videos, as well as ultra-HD
  • The box contains the NVIDIA TEGRA X1 processor, 3GB of memory, 16GB of internal memory in the standard version, and 500GB in the Pro model
  • A remote control with integrated voice control is supplied with both boxes, while the NVIDIA SHIELD TV box Pro also includes a SHIELD game controller
  • The device connects to the internet via dual-band Wi-Fi 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
  • NVIDIA also offers popular Google apps for music and movies
  • With a powerful graphics card, NVIDIA GameStream technology lets you stream games from your PC to your TV

Price:

The different versions of the box are priced as follows:

  • Shield (remote only, 16GB): $179
  • Shield (with game controller and remote, 16GB): $199.99
  • Shield Pro (With Game controller and 500GB storage): $299.99

Format:

  • Dimensions: 98mm x 159mm x 26mm
  • Weight: 250g
Pros Cons  
✔ Remote control included ✘ Using the GEFORCE NOW games costs extra  
✔ Integrated Google voice function ✘ 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    

Xiaomi Mi Box

The Xiaomi Mi box 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 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 Cast to stream the content on a smartphone or tablet directly onto your TV through the Mi box. 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.

Price:

  • $69

Functions:

  • The Xiaomi Mi box supports 4K resolution and HDR video
  • The device is equipped with a quad-core Cortex A53 processor with 2GB RAM and 8GB internal memory, which can be extended by external storage media
  • Xiaomi supplies its TV box with a remote control that works via keyboard and voice control
  • If you want to use your Mi box as a gaming console, you can optionally purchase a Mi game controller
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 U9-H

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, and is an Android TV box. It is 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 A2, in which a small keyboard and many more function keys are integrated. The newer A3 model also has a voice function, but these newer remotes must be purchased separately.

Selection of apps:

  • The TV box from MINIX supports a wide range of apps for video and music streaming but does not offer its own content, such as the Amazon box, so that the app selection of the MINIX-Box is limited to external providers
  • 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, 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 $140 – it is in the middle of the price range compared to the others in this article. Some users may find the range of functions of the remote control insufficient, but the MINIX NEO A3 AirMouse is voice control-enabled – it does cost an extra $20, however.

Format:

Dimensions: 127mm x 127mm x 27mm

Weight: 240g

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 WiFi and Ethernet  

Rveal 2 streaming media player

The Rveal 2 is another Android TV box, meaning that all apps are available in the Google Play store. The box is equipped with a powerful processor, which is the prerequisite for playing ultra-HD videos.

In addition to adding online content from various apps, you can also add pictures, music, and videos from external hard drives connected to the box.

Functions:

  • Rveal 2 streaming media player allows you to stream series and movies in 4K ultra-HD – either via dual-band WLAN 802.11a, b, g, n or ac or via Ethernet
  • The TV box is equipped with an Octa-Core-Cortex-A53 processor, 2GB RAM, and an internal memory of 16GB
  • The box is operated via the associated Rveal Backlit Air Mouse Remote & Keyboard which has all functions that are important for the home entertainment experience
  • The remote control is equipped with buttons for shortcuts, a mini keyboard on the back, and a voice input
  • The TV box is also available as a set with a small keyboard with integrated touch pad
  • Both sets are the same price

Selection of apps:

  • The Rveal 2 streaming media player gives you all the popular apps available for the Android operating system, including Amazon Prime video, YouTube, Netflix, Skype, numerous news channels, and public and private TV broadcasters
  • The app store also offers a wide selection of games, radio stations, and music streaming services
  • You can also use this box to surf the internet on your TV screen – check your news feed on Facebook, get the latest weather report, receive video calls, and play online games

Price:

The Rveal 2 streaming box is quite expensive compared to the devices from other manufacturers presented here. It costs around $295 for the box and a remote control.

Format:

  • Dimensions: 127mm x 127mm x 27mm
  • Weight: 240g
Pros Cons
✔ Remote control included ✘ Doesn’t offer its own streaming service
✔ Integrated voice control  
✔ Wide selection of apps and games  
✔ Ultra-HD and 4K streaming enabled  

Leelbox Q3

Like many other TV boxes, the Leelbox Q3 is an Android TV box, but unlike many others it offers 3D viewing. Bluetooth, smartphones, tablets, and other devices can be linked to the box to synchronize content. 

Functions:

  • Users of the Leelbox Q3 can surf the internet via Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection
  • Leelbox has installed an Octa-Core-Cortex-A53 processor with 2GB RAM in the model and has an internal memory of 16GB
  • A standard remote control is included, which is basic, without voice control, but does the job

Selection of apps:

  • With the Leelbox Q3 you can access YouTube, Picasa, Flickr, Facebook, and popular video streaming apps, but also media libraries of TV stations and news channels to Netflix and Amazon Prime
  • The box can be wirelessly connected to other devices via the Miracast app, making it possible to transfer pictures and other contents from your cell phone to the television
  • Radio stations, music streaming apps, and games can also be found in the Google Play store

Price:

The TV box from Leelbox is cheap compared to some of the other devices presented, without compromising on performance. The box costs around $65. The Leelbox is equipped with the same processor as some of the much more expensive devices, the only difference is in the remote control, which doesn’t have its own keyboard or voice control.

Format:

  • Dimensions: 127mm x 127mm x 25mm
  • Weight: 480g
Pros Cons
✔ Remote control included ✘ Doesn’t offer its own streaming service
✔ Wide selection of apps and games ✘ No voice control
✔ Ultra-HD and 4K streaming  

An overview of the best TV boxes

Features Amazon Fire smart TV box Apple TV 4K NVIDIA SHIELD TV Xiaomi Mi box MINIX NEO U9-H Rveal 2 streaming media player Leelbox Q3
Price $54.99 $149-199 $179-299 $69 $140 $295 $65
Remote control included? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Voice control? Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes No
App control? Yes No No No No No No
Wireless connection to other devices? No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Bluetooth Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Wi-Fi? Yes (Ethernet also possible) Yes (Ethernet also possible) Yes (Ethernet also possible) Yes Yes (Ethernet also possible) Yes (Ethernet also possible) Yes (Ethernet also possible)
HD 720p, 1080p? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ultra-HD/4K? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Processor Quad-core-processor 1.5 GHz A10X fusion chip with 64‑bit architecture NVIDIA TEGRA X1 Quad-Core-Cortex-A53-Processor Octa-Core-Cortex-A53-Processor Octa-Core-Cortex-A53-Processor Octa-Core-Cortex-A53-Processor
Internal storage 8GB 32 or 64GB 16 or500 GB 8GB 16GB 16GB 16GB
RAM capacity 2GB 3GB 3GB 2GB 2GB 2GB 2GB
Does it need an external power supply? Yes, through micro-USB Yes, through lightning cables Yes, through micro-USB Yes, through micro-USB Yes, through micro-USB Yes, through micro-USB Yes, through micro-USB
Further costs after purchase? No No No No No No No

The TV boxes presented differ greatly in price. The Amazon Fire TV box, the Xiaomi Mi box, and the Leelbox Q3 are available for less than $100, while the NVIDIA SHIELD TV and the Rveal 2 streaming media player cost around $300 – the difference in price for the NVIDIA device reflects its potential as a gaming device. All manufacturers promise streaming in 4K/ultra-HD quality, powerful processors, and sufficient RAM. Some models also come with a remote control that can be operated either by keyboard or voice function.

Ultimately, you should consider which functions are important to you, and what you prioritize. If you need a device that works as a gaming machine, you may want to consider the NVIDIA box, but if this is not important to you, you could save yourself a couple hundred dollars – the best TV boxes can be customized to suit your streaming needs once you buy them, but make sure you check out the hardware specifications before purchasing as these are difficult or expensive to change.