Looking for the best device to run Kodi as your TV set top box?
There are thousands of options out there that all look great, so how does one know what will work great and what will be a big disappointment?
In this post, I will walk through my top criteria for the best media player devices to run Kodi, and show you my hand-picked recommend devices.
Criteria for the Best Kodi Boxes
Since 2014, I’ve been helping millions of people get the best TV-watching experience out of Kodi. Plus, I’ve always been a big tech geek. So, I know a thing or two about picking out the right hardware for the job.
There are several things to consider, and I’ll share them with you now.
Price – Best Bang for the Buck
While this if first in my list, it is absolutely not the most important. The reason why I put it here is because a big discrepancy in prices between different platforms can affect your starting point.
That’s what happened here. While Kodi runs on just about every device, the best value for your money is with Android devices. Sure, you can argue that a Raspberry Pi is the best bang for the buck, but I’m looking for a minimum performance benchmark which the Pi falls below.
So, since I primarily wanted to look at Android devices, that gives a better frame of reference for the following criteria.
RAM / Memory
The amount of memory or RAM (Random Access Memory) that comes with a device is extremely important.
An Android device with 2 GB is barely enough. 3 GB or 4 GB is much more adequate.
Since we’re looking at Android devices, we need to look at how up-to-date the software is. What version of the Android OS is it running? Here’s a quick recent timeline of Android version release dates.
- Android 5 Lollipop – November 2014
- Android 6 Marshmallow – October 2015
- Android 7 Nougat – August 2016
- Android 8 Oreo – August 2017
- Android 9 Pie – August 2018
- Android 10 Q… – Later this year (2019)
Android vs Android TV
There is a big misunderstanding out there with the phrase “Android TV”.
Many Kodi box makers and sellers have flooded the Internet with the keywords “Android TV” when, in fact, they are running basic Android on a box that is intended to use with a TV.
But, did you know that Google makes a separate type of Android called “Android TV”? Android TV follows Android’s version numbers (above), but Android TV looks and feels completely different from Android. It’s built specifically for use on set-top boxes that use a remote instead of a touchscreen.
Most of those Kodi box makers have loaded stock Android and built their own launcher to try and make it usable with a remote control.
But, in my opinion… “Android TV” is awesome! It fits this use case so much better.
Just look at the difference between them…
Android with custom launcher:
A few of my friends have bought Android TV devices recently and they all LOVE them!
Design & Build Quality
This is really subjective, I know. But, it’s important. If you’re going to have this thing sitting on your entertainment center, it should look good. If you’re going to be using the remote control, it should feel good.
This may sound strange to most of you, but I do NOT want a “fully-loaded Kodi box”. I don’t even want Kodi pre-installed on it.
Why? Because in most of these cases, they’ve installed a “Kodi build” which is a package of usually tons of add-ons, a custom skin, and who knows what settings. I hear from too many people who bought a fully-loaded Kodi box, and then one day everything stopped working, and they had no idea how to fix it.
I want a nice, clean, stock Android TV or Android device that comes with the Google Play Store. I can take it from there and install Kodi myself. Then, I can take a fresh install of Kodi and install only the add-ons that I want. And you can, too, by the way. Just follow my Complete Guide to the Ultimate Kodi Setup.
Another thing to consider is which added features it comes with. I’ve listed some common features added on, but many are not necessary. It’s up to your preference.
Display Features (4K or HDR)
If you’ve got a 4K TV that supports HDR, then you should probably look for these features. Otherwise, you won’t care.
Voice Search & Control with Google Assistant
If you’re looking at an Android TV device, then it might come with a voice remote which lets you talk to the Google Assistant on the Android TV device. You can use it to search, launch apps, change the volume, and so much more.
If your phone supports Google Cast, then you can take any cast-enabled app and put it up on the TV. It’s like having a Chromecast built into the Android TV device.
- HDMI is standard, but it does have versions that support some of the higher-end features. For instance HDMI 2.0a supports high bitrate video and audio to allow for features like 4K and HDR
- Wifi band options are 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. 2.4 GHz has longer range with slightly less bandwidth while 5 GHz has more bandwidth for higher speeds while sacrificing on range. Which one you are using is up to your Wifi access point, but the device will need to support 5 GHz in order to take advantage of it.
- Bluetooth is an option that is sometimes available on these boxes. If you are interested in connecting a Bluetooth headset or something like that, you should consider this.
My Hand-Picked Android Set-top Box Recommendations
#1 – nVidia Shield
The King of Android Set-top Boxes
Ask anyone who know… the nVidia Shield is the undisputed king of Android TV set-top boxes. Everyone I know who has one loves it.
- Top notch performance (CPU, GPU, RAM, etc)
- Real Android TV with Google Play Store
- Voice remote with Google Assistant
- Chromecast built-in
- Optional game controller for playing games from the Google Play Store
#2 -Xiaomi Mi TV Box S
The Budget-friendly Alternative to the nVidia Shield
The Xiaomi Mi TV Box S is another real “Android TV” device just like the nVidia Shield, but this one is significantly cheaper. With that cheaper price, you do get a bit less performance, but this still runs well and displays 4K video without a problem. If the hefty price tag of the nVidia Shield is “shielding” you from buying it, this is a great alternative.
- Real Android TV with Google Play Store
- Voice remote with Google Assistant
- Chromecast built-in
#3 – Amazon Fire TV Stick
The most popular cheap streaming device
The Amazon Fire TV Stick has been a wildly popular device for a long time. It comes with Amazon’s own forked version of Android, but at its core, it’s still Android. So, you can sideload Android apps that you can’t get in the Amazon app store… like Kodi for instance. I regularly use a Fire Stick to run Kodi, and while it’s a little bit slower than other higher-powered devices, it still works fine.
#4 – Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
The high-performance big brother to the most popular streaming device
For just $10 more than the Fire Stick, you can get the 4K version which is packs much more power than its little brother. This has a bump in CPU and GPU to support features like 4K and HDR video, 7.1 Dolby surround sound, and an overall snappier experience.
Buy an Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
#5 -HK1 Max 4K
Budget Android (not Android TV) Box with Latest Android and Good Specs
If the real “Android TV” experience is not that big of a deal for you, then a stock Android with the custom TV launcher is probably the way to go. I’ve looked a bunch of them, and this is my favorite.
- Lots of spec configurations (4 GB) for great performance
- The latest Android version 9.0
- Unique design, circle, front LCD clock
- Options for a backlit keyboard remote or a gyroscope voice remote with Google Assistant
Share Your Suggestions
Leave a comment below to let me (and others) know what is your favorite media player device for streaming Kodi.
7 thoughts on “The Best Kodi TV Streaming Set-Top Boxes of 2019”
I messed around with Android TV boxes for years. Finally bit the bullet and got a Shield. Never going anywhere else again
That’s what I keep hearing from everyone I know who owns one!
I own a shield. I am currently looking to replace it. Kodi relies on a large amount of RAM to eliminate BUFFERING. Even the shield does not possess enough, unfortunately, as much and disappointing it is for me to say after having bought it. All of my laptops and desktops loaded with 32GB of RAM handle what ever stream comes their way but watching the same programs on Shield they fall off. I have even added xml pages to enhance Shields capacity but to no avail. For those , like myself who are looking for the ultimate in bufferless streaming…..keep looking.
Craig, I’m going to have to disagree with you here, and I’m sure many other Shield owners would do the same thing.
You can’t compare RAM on a desktop computer with RAM on an Android TV device. The operating system overhead is way different.
Also, the ability to stream is not affected much by RAM. For instance, I stream all the time to my 2nd generation Fire Stick which I believe only has 1 GB of RAM… and it almost always streams flawlessly with no buffering.
Now, scraping for links is a different story… that will take much longer on a low powered device than on a high powered desktop. But, once the stream opens, they both play it exactly the same.
So, if a 1 GB RAM Fire Stick can stream fine, then your nVidia Shield should be more than fine. I have numerous friends that own nVidia Shields and they all rave about them, how they run like a dream. Everything is very fast.
So, this makes me think you must have something else going on with your setup. It could be the add-on you’re using, maybe lack of Real-Debrid so you get slow streams, or maybe it’s a shoddy wifi connection.
I hope you continue to troubleshoot to figure out the real problem because I don’t think the nVidia Shield is at fault. If you figure it out, please let me know what it was.
You can go through my troubleshooting checklist if you haven’t already…
Amazon shows a newer version of the shield that is round. Would that one, or the pro version be preferred? It almost seems as if the pro version is currently cheaper.
The pro version is definitely better, more like the power of the original shield, but kicked up some notches. The new round tube version of the Shield has less power than the original, but is more affordable.
You forgot the Mecool boxes! In my experience, the hardware and software are very good quality. I think all of them run Android TV now. They’re not for people who want to hack or root because they are very locked down. That’s a good thing. They are the only one of the Chinese boxes to become fully certified. To be fair, most of these certifications came out after you wrote this post. Many have Level 1 Widevine which allows Netflix and Amazon to play in 4K. Some of the boxes have been partially certified for awhile and Netflix was the last hold-out. It is now available in 4K on the KM2.