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Best Kodi/XBMC streaming boxes 2017: the best hardware for Kodi streaming
Update: It looks like the situation with TVAddons might not be as bad as some had initially feared as the organisation has recently clarified that the law firm that is currently holding its domains is separate from the one currently suing it. As always, be careful with which Kodi add-ons you choose to install.
Original article continues below...
If you want to stream content to your TV, then Kodi (or XBMC, as it used to be known) is just about the best bit of software for the job. With a big, friendly user interface, support for loads of streaming formats and services, Kodi is a joy to use.
As well as allowing you to stream video and music files over a local network, the software also includes the ability to install plug-ins to stream from a variety of services including Amazon Prime Instant Video, Spotify and YouTube.
One of Kodi's main strengths is that it is available for a huge number of platforms, including Windows, macOS, Linux and Android. The downside is that Kodi doesn't make its own streaming box (no, the official Kodi Raspberry Pi case doesn't count), so you need to find your own device to run it on.
There are plenty of boxes available with Kodi pre-installed, but you have to be careful. So-called 'fully loaded' Kodi boxes, come with lots of add-ons that give you access to pirated content. Unsurprisingly, there's a huge crackdown on these types of boxes, with the EU declaring them illegal.
The better option is just to buy a compatible set-top box and install Kodi on it yourself. Here, we've rounded up the best collection of clean set-top boxes that you can add Kodi to. For each, we've tested how easy it is to get Kodi, how smoothly it runs, and how each copes playing 1080p or 4K video.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick has long been a top streamer for Kodi users. With the 2017 version of the Fire TV Stick, things are even better. A faster processor makes the media streamer 30% faster than the old one, according to Amazon. There is also built-in Alexa support (although this doesn't work with Kodi), and the device is only marginally more expensive than the original.
Installing Kodi on the Fire TV Stick is a bit of a pain, as the app is not listed in the Amazon app store. Instead, you have to sideload Kodi. Once installed, the Fire TV stick is exceptional.
- Check out our guide on how to install Kodi on a Fire TV Stick
Via the Bluetooth remote, it's quick to navigate through the menus. While the older Fire TV struggled a little to navigate Kodi's menus smoothly, the new model has no such trouble with the default skin.
There's only 1080p support from the Fire TV's HDMI output. Testing, we found that our 1080p videos played smoothly; 4K videos launched and were downscaled, but we soon ran into buffering problems as the Fire TV struggled to keep up with the high quality video.
If you don't care about not having 4K and want a small, simple device that can handle 1080p Kodi, as well as Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video, this is the device to buy.
Read the full review: Amazon Fire TV Stick
The Amazon Fire TV is a top choice for anyone that wants a great all-rounder. At its heart, this media player is an excellent choice for Amazon Prime Instant Video and Netflix, supporting both services in 4K with HDR, but the power to play Ultra HD content means that the Fire TV is also rather good for Kodi.
As with the Amazon Fire TV Stick, Kodi is not available through the official app store, so it has to be sideloaded. This is slightly annoying to do, but not overly difficult. Once installed, Kodi can be launched quickly from the main menu.
- Check out our guide on how to install Kodi on the Amazon Fire TV
Kodi runs beautifully smoothly on the Fire TV and takes just a few seconds to load. Amazon's excellent Voice Remote is great for navigation and connects via Bluetooth, so you don't need line of sight; voice commands are not supported in Kodi, though.
We tested using 1080p and 4K videos, with both playing smoothly. The Fire TV has 802.11ac Wi-Fi built in, but if your home network isn't fast enough to play video without buffering, there's an Ethernet port, too.
While streaming is the easiest option, the Fire TV has a microSD card slot so that you can load this up with movies. Given the media player's small dimensions, you can load it up with content for travelling.
If you want Kodi in 4K, but want access to other streaming services, too, the Amazon Fire TV is the box to buy.
Read the full review: Amazon Fire TV
The Nvidia Shield is the most powerful Android set-top box that we've reviewed. It's designed with all types of 4K home entertainment in mind, from Netflix to the latest games via Geforce Now. Unsurprisingly, this power makes the Nvidia Shield one of the best boxes for Kodi.
Running Android TV on Android 6.0, the Nvidia Shield is one of the easiest boxes to configure Kodi on. With Google Play reconfigured for your TV screen and remote control, rather than a touchscreen, installing Kodi was an absolute breeze; in fact, we didn't have to type anything, since we were able to use the voice search provided by the remote control to find the Kodi app.
Kodi started in just a couple of seconds, with the box recovering from standby in a similar amount of time. There are no lengthy waits with the Nvidia Shield.
Once in Kodi performance was exceptional, with super-smooth menus and animations across the board. The menus and interface were easy to navigate using the excellent bundled remote control, too.
We tested 4K and 1080p videos, with both streaming smoothly. The Shield could also easily downsample 4K video to fill a 1080p TV, too. We had no problems using the built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi; if your network signal isn't strong enough, there's an Ethernet port in the back.
Considering the small size of the Nvidia Shield, the performance is phenomenal. If you don't care about the gaming content, the Amazon Fire TV is better value for 4K playback; if you want the absolute best performance, this is the media streamer to buy.
Read the full review: Nvidia Shield
Want 4K, but don't want to pay over the top for a box that can handle it? You need the Android-powered Seguro Trongle X4.
There's always a slight fear that bargain-basement products have severe limitations, but the Trongle X4 is refreshingly good, with only the minor annoyance. Measuring just 110mm square with a height of 17mm, the Trongle X4 is also one of the smallest set-top boxes that we've seen.
Wi-Fi is built in, but the X4 couldn't see our 5GHz 802.11ac network, so could only connect via 2.4GHz. The connection was painfully slow, so we recommend using the Ethernet connection at the back instead.
As the X4 runs full Android 6.0, the Google Play Store is built in, making it straightforward to install Kodi (or other Android apps). As the play store is designed for touch, navigating it with a remote control is a little painful. It's handy that the remote has a Mouse button, so you can move an on-screen pointer to make selection a little easier, though. Once installed, Kodi can be pinned to the front screen, making it easy to launch; the only thing you have to wait for is the X4's 25s boot time, as there's no fast standby mode.
The X4's HDMI 2.0b output supports HDR10 and HLG HDR processing, along with Ultra HD resolutions, so you'll easily be able to play the best-looking content on this box.
After all of the latest updates had downloaded and installed, Kodi ran smoothly on the X4, quickly connecting to our shared folders. We tested both 1080p and 4K films, with all playing smoothly, thanks to the 2GHz quad-core Amlogic S905X CPU. Buffering becomes an issue over Wi-Fi, but we had no such problems when using Ethernet. There's even a microSD card slot (up to 32GB), so you can store content locally and carry the X4 around with you, making it great for holidays. The Amazon Fire TV and Nvidia Shield are slicker for 4K, but this is a good budget option.
The Raspberry Pi 3 is a brilliant little computer for all types of projects, and its diminutive size makes it an attractive option for building a tiny Kodi media centre. The Raspberry Pi Foundation makes this easy, too, with NOOBS supporting two pre-built options: LibreELEC and OSMC. We've used OSMC for this guide.
Once installed, the Pi 3 boots into OSMC and runs you through a quick configuration wizard before moving to Kodi. After that, the Raspberry Pi 3 takes around 20s to power on. OSMC gives you a custom skin designed for the Pi, although you can switch back to the Classic option. We recommend avoiding over-complicated skins, as the Pi may struggle to run them. As it stands, the default skins work well, but the animations are only just on the right side of smooth. It's also worth buying a fast microSD card so that the Pi 3 boots quickly and remains responsive.
Thanks to its quad-core CPU, we found that that the Raspberry Pi 3 could handle 1080p videos easily. There's no Ultra HD support from the HDMI output, and the Pi 3 can't downscale 4K movies. With our test 4K footage, the Pi showed a broken image and became very jerky to use. Given the 802.11n Wi-Fi built into the Pi 3, you may find that you need to use the wired Ethernet connection if your wireless network signal isn't strong enough and you get buffering issues.
The Pi 3 comes without a case, so you'll need to budget for one. It doesn't ship with a remote, either, although you may be able to control Kodi using an HDMI CEC-compatible TV's remote; the smartphone app is otherwise the easiest method.
If you have a Raspberry Pi 3 already, it will make a decent 1080p Kodi media centre. If you don't have one, the Amazon Fire TV Stick is a better choice, and cheaper considering it comes with a remote and doesn't need a case.
Read the full review: Raspberry Pi 3
The Emtec GEM Box might seem like a good choice for Kodi, but we'd only recommend it if you've already got the box itself lying around. Running Android 4.4, the GEM Box is not compatible with the latest builds of Kodi, and the Google Play Store doesn't show the software as available for download.
Instead, you have to install the Complete Kodi Setup Wizard, which gives you access to older versions of the software. From here, we could install Kodi 15.2 Isengard instead. It's fiddly using to Google Play Store to install the Setup Wizard, and we had to flick the switch at the bottom of the game controller to move between normal and mouse mode in order to select the search box and installation options.
Kodi 15.2 ran smoothly enough on our GEM Box, and we soon had it set up to stream content. Full HD content played without trouble. The GEM Box doesn't have a 4K output, nor can it downsample 4K video; our Ultra HD video just crashed the media player, and we had to cycle the power. Struggling with larger video files shows that the quad-core processor is a little behind the times.
We had no problems streaming videos over either the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi or Ethernet connections. If you want local storage, the GEM Box can take a microSD card, for locally stored video. That can make the diminutive GEM Box a handy device to carry around.
The issue with the GEM Box is its price and out-of-date operating system. If you have one already, being able to install Kodi is useful; if you want to buy a new Kodi box, look elsewhere in this guide.
The PC is the most versatile platform on Earth, so why not use it to build your very own Kodi box? Yes, the total cost will outstrip that of the other models here, but you'll get a more powerful unit that can run more than just Kodi.
There are lots of options to go for, too. The simplest is to buy a pre-made mini PC. We tested on the excellent, but not widely available, Asus VivoMini VC65. This tiny computer measures 197 x 196 x 62mm, so will easily squeeze underneath your TV. There's even a version with a built-in DVD drive, too.
The other option is to build your own computer - check out our guide on how to build a console-sized gaming PC for a good guide. The benefit of the second option is that you can specify the exact PC you want, so that it can even play the latest games.
There are a few things to watch out for. First, integrated graphics on Intel processors only support an HDMI 1.4 output. That means you're restricted to 4K at a jerky 24Hz; you have to use DisplayPort to get the full 60Hz in Ultra HD. For that reason, you will need a mini PC with a dedicated graphics card that has an HDMI 2.0 output.
You don't get a dedicated remote control with most PCs, but the control options are huge: you can use a wireless keyboard, game controller or the smartphone app, amongst others.
This is probably the most expensive method on this list, but the resulting satisfaction from having built an HTPC entirely yourself is worth the effort it takes several times over.
Monday, September 25, 2017 - 11:31