Assassin's Android Box Comparison

AssassinHTPC

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Sep 25, 2013
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Android Box Comparison

I get asked many times for suggestions on what inexpensive Android box people should use for streaming their stored content or internet content to various (we call them secondary) locations.

Before continuing understand that there are known issues with these low priced android systems. Some you might not notice, some you may never experience, and others you might not really even care about.

Overall, I can tell you from personal experience, for a main viewing area HTPC these systems still have a good amount of way to go but for what I call secondary viewing locations (bedrooms, kitchens, tv rooms, etc.) these make very affordable and good extenders.

However there are known issues that these have: Obviously the cheaper priced ones with less flash storage and ram may experience these more:

Some of them are:

Lip-sync issues with 3D ISO's (H.264/MVC) & VC-1;
Occasional crash if you try to skip ahead in VC-1 video
23.976, rendering (most do 24.00)
Some macroblocking & pixellation
Random, but nasty crackles & pops in HD audio (my poor speakers)
3D ISO stutters (due to bandwidth or headroom likely) & microstutters (due to improper framerate)
Both have some ghosting with 3D
Increased microstuttering with excessively long playback times.

There are many different boxes available on the market at tons of price points. Most of these are actually manufactured by only a couple companies and then re-branded by dozens of different Chinese export firms who then ship and sell them in the US and sell via Amazon and Ebay. Most Chinese factories will let you re-brand anything if you buy their minimum quantities they ask. So while some might claim they are "the best" most are exactly the same with just some re-branding done.

I tested a dozen different streaming devices of various specifications and have some results and my suggestions are below. You can find a detailed dissection of almost all of these by clicking on the review link beneath each one but I wanted to do a very basic general detail about just the overall look and feel of these systems as a normal person might use them on just a general every day basis.

What this Comparison Guide is: A VERY basic overview of some of the different Android boxes available on the market. This is not a detailed technical overview of each of the boxes. More of a guideline based on general user experience. We've linked detailed reviews of several of the boxes below where applicable as well for any of you that are interested.

Assassin Words of Wisdom: "Don't pay too much attention to the speed of the processors in the android systems. There are some throttling concerns caused by heat issues with the S905 which gives it some microstuttering issues and the RK is 8 cores as opposed to S905 Quad core so it all about equals out in the end (although I'm always partial to more cores).

Comparison



Assassin Quick Reviews of Each:

MXQ:

For $35 this little guy was pretty good. There was a lot of library drag when trying to scroll through a 500 movie library. But it was pretty reactive and performed and played everything when asked. Its Single band wireless will hurt its performance some if trying to do this wirelessly and had a very basic remote. This is a good one to benchmark the rest from. Playback choked a bit on some larger files and it didn't like it much when you did too much (like skip ahead a lot or try to do a couple different things at once). It was very basic. But at $35 it does what its asked.
Review

K1 PLUS:

This thing was light. Very light. My iPhone was heavier than this. It might just of been me but it felt cheap and low quality because of how light it was. And my HDMI cable got stuck in the back of it and ripped off the connector (but I was using the cheap HMDI cables that came with these devices so that might not have been 100% its fault). It performed ok. Nothing exceptional and not much cheaper than the $35 MXQ option. I didn't notice much performance difference with the extra GPU core or the 905 vs. the 805. Does have 4x USB's however which is the most of any unit tested. It did lag its cover art when scrolling through a 500 movie library.
Review

EM95:

The EM95 performed fairly similar to the the MXQ and K1 but has a nice little LCD display on the front that gives it a feel of being a little higher end. It reacted pretty quick to commands and adding movies to the library and streaming videos. A good unit but with a single band wifi might limit some applications. It did lag its cover art when scrolling through a 500 movie library.
Review

Z4:

With double the Flash Storage (16 GB) and double the RAM (2GB) the Z4 is the cheapest option to get you into what the 8 core processor or what we call the sweetbspot of the 16/2/8 setup for the android boxes. At only $80 its our second place finisher and a great option. It did lag its cover art when scrolling through a 500 movie library but performed well.
Review

Element Ti4:

The Element Ti4 is from a USA based company that has proven good technical support. It doesn't have an 8 core CPU but the performance difference notice is minimal (if at all) but still has 16GB of Flash and 2GB of RAM which helps its keep up its performance. If you are worried about getting a dud or being left out to dry and like the idea of a company with American roots then this is a good option. It did lag its cover art when scrolling through a 500 movie library but performed well.
Review

Zidoo X6:

Our third place option. Has some good bells and whistles like a phone remote control app and some custom options on the main screens and things you can do with apps. However, its performance was similar to the Z4 and for and at $30 more we don't think the phone app is worth it.
Review

HiMedia H8:

The H8 blew our minds from the very beginning. With an aluminum chassis it had a better feel to it and a much better remote (one that didn't feel cheap and actually felt like a remote). Everything about this little box felt higher end and all the performance was a little quicker and sharper. If you have never played with a dozen other android boxes you might not been able to feel the difference. But after testing the rest of the field, this one outperformed them all hands down. Everything felt sluggish and old after testing this. And when we used this the first time after some of the others it felt like an i5 was pushing it. When a 500 library was loaded and scrolled through it kept up with the cover art and responded beautifully to everything we asked it to. If you are on a tight budget you should get the performance you want from some of the others but if you want something that just plain works, and works well...then get this.
Review
 
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