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Set top boxes compared
Set top boxes compared
Video: Set top boxes compared
Video: Which Set Up Box is Best on your Smart Tv | technoZee 2023, February
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Small, compact, inconspicuous and still packed with technology: Set Top Boxes are real entertainment powerhouses that, thanks to the Internet, streaming services and a constantly growing range of infotainment and game apps, also turn old TV sets into Smart TVs. We took a closer look at the small multimedia all-rounders. Our comparison shows you the advantages and disadvantages of the most famous boxes.

Table of contents Table of contents The best set top boxes in comparison 2019

  • What is a set top box?
  • Advantages of a set top box
  • Purchase a set top box
  • Set top box and smart home
  • 5 best set top boxes 2019
  • overview
  • Conclusion

Table of contents Table of contents The best set top boxes in comparison 2019

  • What is a set top box?
  • Advantages of a set top box
  • Purchase a set top box
  • Set top box and smart home
  • 5 best set top boxes 2019
  • overview
  • Conclusion

What is a set top box?

Literally translated, set top box means nothing other than "add-on device". For this reason, DVD players or game consoles were previously referred to as set-top boxes. Today, however, the bulky term is usually understood to mean small technical geniuses who expand the range of functions of TV sets with regard to the smart home, for example by integrating new connections. This also includes the expansion with new technical possibilities, such as the streaming of mobile phones or PC content or the integration of entire multimedia platforms, such as the Apple Itunes Store via Apple TV or Prime Video using Fire TV.

What are the advantages of a set top box?

The equipment features of the set top boxes from different manufacturers may differ greatly in some cases, but the advantages of the boxes are fundamentally the same.

  • More function at a low price: With a set top box, the range of functions of existing devices can be expanded considerably without having to replace components or the entire device. This means that streaming services and multimedia apps can also be used on older TVs. The new purchase of a Smart TV is no longer necessary. The boxes also offer new features, such as voice control or the integration of smart home applications. After all, the processors of the compact devices are usually more powerful than those of the TV sets. The boxes thus offer a good increase in performance and are usually significantly cheaper than a new television. But be careful: Of course, the TV set must be able to keep up with the performance of the set top box. It is of no use, for example, if the box can resolve 4K, but the television does not accept this.
  • Space saver: Due to their compact design, set top boxes are extremely space-saving. The Chromecast from Google is only about 6 cm small and disappears completely behind the TV. But even larger models, such as the nvidia Shield (L 15.9 x W 9.8 cm x H 2.6 cm), should easily fit in most TV boards.
  • Plug & Play: Connect, done, go. This is the concept of set top boxes. A large and complex installation is generally not necessary. Configurations, such as the connection to the home WLAN, are usually clearly explained with the help of step-by-step instructions on the TV screen.
  • Software and system enhancements: Apple is known for its good system performance, but unfortunately also for high product prices for iPhone, MacBook and Co. With the Apple TV, the entry into the Apple universe is possible even without the purchase of an Apple computer or smartphone possible. The same applies to Amazon's Fire TV, which enables perfect integration into the world of Alexa and Prime Video, or to the Chromecast from Google, which offers maximum connectivity to the Google Home system, for example. Although many applications can also be retrofitted with the help of apps, such as the "iTunes Movies & TV Shows" app from Apple or Amazon's "Prime Video" app, full compatibility can usually only be achieved with the appropriate hardware, i.e. the respective one Manufacturer's set top box can be reached.

What should you pay attention to when buying a set top box?

Smart TV boxes offer a performance and comfort gain for home entertainment. So that the joy of your smart helper is not spoiled, you should consider some important aspects when buying.

  • LAN connection: Usually set top boxes are connected to the Internet via WLAN. However, some models also offer the option of a wired connection via LAN cable. This is often not only faster and less prone to failure, it also works if you want to switch off your WLAN, e.g. B. at night or to reduce radiation.
  • Connections: In addition to a LAN connection, a set top box should also have a USB connection, with which you can connect a USB stick with the latest vacation photos or a camera to the box. Another useful interface is Bluetooth. It can also be used for data exchange, but also enables the connection of headphones or other Bluetooth audio devices.
  • Performance: Games, 4K image resolution and smooth video streaming require maximum performance from your set top box. Very cheap models can run out of steam. So, especially if you have high demands, pay attention to a powerful set-top box that has at least a dual-core processor, or even better, a quad-core processor, in which four processors provide the necessary performance.
  • Internal storage: If you want to install many apps on your set top box or save your own pictures and videos on the smart helper, you should make sure that you have a box with enough storage space.
  • Compatibility: Google, Apple and Amazon have managed to create their own hardware and software world. Of course, corresponding programs can also build bridges between these worlds, but the best possible compatibility is usually only achieved with the hardware and software that suits the respective system. For example, you can stream the screen of your Mac on the Apple TV with just a few clicks, while streaming a PC surface is only possible via detours. Google’s Chromecast in turn only allows streaming if the Google “Chrome” browser has been installed beforehand. Amazon's Fire TV offers a good range of functions even without Amazon's "Prime Video" streaming service, but you can only get the best entertainment in combination with an Amazon Prime subscription. Before you buy the Set Top Box, therefore, inform yourself in detail about how well it can be combined with your other devices and your personal preferences.
  • Model variants: Set-top boxes are revised by the major manufacturers at regular intervals so that they can keep up with the latest innovations in the booming area of ​​home entertainment. However, it is not always necessary to buy the latest model. If, for example, the image resolution is not the decisive factor for you or if your TV is not able to display images in the latest 4K image standard, you do not need a set top box that complies with this standard. Often, previous versions can offer similar comfort, but at a significantly lower price. (Example: The Apple TV HD with a price of 159 euros is significantly cheaper than the latest model with 4K technology for 199 euros).

Set top box and smart home: what is possible?

Start a new episode of your favorite series on TV or just change the music playlist by voice command? The options for integrating set top boxes into the smart home have been getting better and better for years. But there is a big but. Because most boxes only offer good compatibility in the manufacturer's own environment. So the Fire TV can be easily connected to Alexa and the Chromecast with the Google Assistant. With Siri, the Apple TV has Apple's own voice control and the Apple HomeKit system. If you want cross-vendor compatibility, you won't find anything. Only the Nvidia Shield and the Xiaomi Mi Box can be controlled with both the Google Assistant and Alexa. In addition, the set top boxes offer more and more possibilities to control other smart home devices such as sockets or lamps.

Nvidia Shield
Nvidia Shield

Set top boxes are compatible with many other devices.

Photo: Nvidia

The 5 best set top boxes 2019: a comparison

The best-known manufacturers of set-top boxes all come from the United States, or more precisely from Silicon Valley (Apple and Google) and from Seattle (Amazon). With Nvidia, another US manufacturer is also entering the market. Finally, the Chinese technology group Xiaomi is also stimulating business by offering the Mi Box, a set top box that is as affordable as it is powerful. We took a closer look at the boxes from the five manufacturers.

Fire TV Stick 4K

With the Fire TV Stick, Amazon has brought high-resolution 4K technology into embroidery format for the first time. The cheapest stick in comparison, which Amazon describes itself as the "most powerful streaming stick", is a real powerhouse despite its compact dimensions. Thanks to its quad-core processor, it also has the new Dolby Atmos sound format in addition to high-resolution images.

However, the compact design has one catch: A USB connection is completely missing, a LAN connection is only possible with the help of the Amazon Ethernet adapter, which is attached to the mini USB charging socket of the stick.

It goes without saying that the Amazon stick works best when used with Prime Video and Alexa. But even without other Amazon features, you get a large selection of infotainment apps with the stick. Compatibility with Windows and Mac, however, is expandable. PC and Mac newbies should therefore be faced with a real challenge when it comes to streaming from the computer screen, which even technology freaks can only bridge through detours with third-party applications.

benefits disadvantage
Cheap box in comparison No USB connection
High performance LAN connection only with adapter

Compact stick design

Streaming from PC and Mac

only about technical

Detours possible

Alexa compatible
  • Particularly suitable for: The stick offers the best performance in combination with the Amazon voice assistant Alexa. Prime Video fans also have access to a large media library with series, feature films and live programs.
  • Alternatives from the manufacturer: Those who can do without 4K technology get the predecessor of the 4k stick, the Fire TV Stick, for 39.99 euros.
  • Rating (Amazon): 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • Price (Amazon): 34.99 euros
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

Google Chromecast Ultra

The sleek, circular design of the compact Chromecast Ultra makes a modern and functional impression. However, it cannot hide the fact that this set top box lacks some important features. So there is neither an ordinary USB port nor a slot for memory cards. Google Chromecast is the only box in comparison that has no internal storage option. However, this does not seem surprising when you consider that Google wants to motivate its users to manage data, above all via the in-house storage solution "Google Cloud". Data protection experts shouldn't like this strategy.

The performance of the stick is acceptable in the course of the test. Streaming from a PC or smartphone works easily and largely without delay thanks to the app or Google Chrome browser.

The integrated LAN socket provides additional stability when streaming. With the "Google Assistant" voice control, the stick can be conveniently controlled by voice. The selection of entertainment, information and game apps is gigantic thanks to the selection in the Google Play Store.

benefits disadvantage
Compact design No USB connection
Easily stream from PC

and Mac with Google Chrome

Internal memory is missing
Large app selection
  • Particularly suitable for: The Chromecast shows its strength especially in combination with the Google Assistant and Android devices. But the stick also shows good compatibility when used with Apple products. Thanks to the convenient transfer of PC screen content via Google Chrome, the Chromecast can also be used in smaller offices, for example to expand the monitor or to play presentations via a projector.
  • Manufacturer's alternatives: The Google Chromecast without 4K image performance is already available from Google for 39 euros, which is half the price of the Chromecast Ultra. However, a LAN socket must then also be dispensed with.
  • Price (Google Store): 79.00 euros
Google Chromecast
Google Chromecast

The Set Top Box from Google convinces with a modern and elegant design.

Photo: Google

Apple TV 4K

Apple has a particular strength, which is also a clear disadvantage of Apple technology: the extreme unity of the system. Apple works best with Apple. So if you have a Mac or an iPhone, you can also control the Apple TV with a few clicks or swipes, stream content via Air Play or display photos on the set top box.

Outside of the Apple world, however, the performance drops significantly. Even though PCs and Android smartphones can be connected to the Apple TV via software and app, the range of functions and features are then significantly less than when used internally by Apple. For example, the Photo Stream function, in which images are automatically synchronized between the various Apple devices, is not available and the Remote App is only available in Apple's App Store.

Overall, the Apple TV 4K offers strong performance that enables quick control and smooth entertainment. With 32 GB or optionally 64 GB, the Set Top Box also offers the largest internal memory in comparison. Control is just as intuitive with the supplied remote control as with the remote app. Android users have to switch to third-party apps. Voice control with Apple's Siri works well, but fewer functions are available than with Amazon's Alexa or the Google Assistant.

The app selection in the App Store is large, but smaller than in Google's Play Store.

benefits disadvantage
High performance Low compatibility

outside of the Apple universe

Largest internal storage Siri voice control has

fewer functions than

Alexa or Google Assistant

High purchase price
  • Particularly suitable for: The Apple TV shows its true strength in an Apple environment, i.e. in combination with iPhone, iPad, MacBook or Mac. Although the set top box also works well with Android and Windows devices, compromises in compatibility and performance must then be accepted.
  • Manufacturer alternatives: In addition to the version with 32 GB internal memory, the Apple TV 4 K is also available with 64 GB memory for an additional charge of 70 euros. Also available is the Apple TV HD, which works without 4K technology and is equipped with 32 GB of internal memory. It is currently available for 159.00 euros (Amazon price).
  • Rating (Amazon): 4.6 out of 5 stars
  • Price (Amazon): 199.00 euros
Apple TV 4K
Apple TV 4K

Nvidia Shield

With the "most advanced mobile processor in the world" according to the manufacturer, the Nvidia Shield actually offers extraordinary performance that is unusual in this dimension in the area of ​​set top boxes. However, this is not surprising when you consider that Nvidia specializes primarily in the development of graphics and gaming hardware.

Unsurprisingly, the Nvidia Shield Set Top Box can be controlled not only with an ordinary remote control, but also with the gaming controller supplied.

Control via smartphone app and voice control with Google Assistant and Alexa is also possible. Two USB ports enable the connection of all kinds of USB devices.

On the other hand, it is not possible to stream screen content, regardless of whether it is a Mac or PC desktop.

The Android operating system is intuitive and clear and offers a large selection of apps. At 199 euros, the Nvidia Shield is the most expensive box in comparison. In view of the great performance, which should be interesting for everything for game enthusiasts, the price is okay. However, if you only want to use the box for streaming, you can find cheaper alternatives.

benefits disadvantage
Extremely powerful

processor

Most expensive box

compared

Control with

Gaming controller possible

No streaming from PC

and Mac possible

High compatibility

to gaming platforms

2 USB ports
  • Particularly suitable for: The Nvidia Shield was primarily designed for gamers and is therefore highly compatible with gaming portals and interfaces. The use as a pure streaming box is easy and convenient, but the purchase price seems a bit high.
  • Manufacturer alternatives: Currently not available.
  • Rating (Amazon): 4.2 out of 5 stars
  • Price (Amazon): 199.00 euros
NVIDIA SHIELD TV Media Streaming Player
NVIDIA SHIELD TV Media Streaming Player

Xiaomi Mi Box 3 S 4K

In our comparison, the TV box from the Chinese provider Xiamo may initially seem like an underdog due to its unknownness. The good equipment and solid performance of the box and the comparatively low purchase price make the Mi Box an interesting set top box alternative.

The largest box in comparison, which is equipped with an Android operating system, can be operated with remote control as well as with Google and Alexa voice control. Due to its independence from Google, Apple and Amazon, the box has good compatibility. So it can be paired with almost all smartphones. A Google account is still recommended to personalize content and receive recommendations. Operation is simple and intuitive, but there are sometimes sluggishness and delays.

benefits disadvantage
Solid performance Only 8 GB internal

Storage

High compatibility USB 2.0 only
Occasional jerking
  • Particularly suitable for: Due to the independence from the requirements of the top dogs Amazon, Apple and Google, the Mi Box is highly compatible. Thanks to the solid basic equipment and the adequate performance, the Set Top Box can be recommended as an inexpensive all-rounder.
  • Manufacturer alternatives: Currently not available
  • Rating (Amazon): No information
  • Price (Amazon): 61.00 euros
Xiaomi Mi Box 3 S 4K
Xiaomi Mi Box 3 S 4K

The best set top boxes 2019 at a glance

Fire TV

4K stick

Google

Chromecast Ultra

Apple TV

4K (32 GB)

Nvidia

Shield

Xiaomi Mi

Box 3 4K

Price

34.99

Euro

(Amazon)

79.00

Euro (Google Store)

From 199.00

Euro

(Amazon)

199.00

Euro

(Amazon)

61.00

Euro

(Amazon)

processor Quad-core, 1.7 GHz

(4 cores)

not specified A10X Fusion Chip

(2 x 2 cores)

Nvidia® Tegra®

X1 processor

(2 x 4 cores)

Cortex-A53

Quad core

64 bit

(4 cores)

resolution 4K 4K 4K 4K 4K
Sound

support

Dolby

Atmos 7.1

not specified Dolby

Atmos 7.1

Dolby

Atmos 7.1

Dolby

Atmos 7.1

LAN

connection

With

adapter

Yes Yes Yes With

adapter

USB data

connection

No Micro

USB

No 2x 1x
Bluetooth Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Voice

control

possible

Yes

(Alexa)

Yes

(Google)

Yes

(Siri)

Yes

(Google +

Alexa)

Yes

(Google +

Alexa)

More available

Storage

8 GB 0 GB 32 GB /

64 GB

16 GB 8 GB
Weight 53.6 g 34 g 425 g 250 g 499 g
dimension

(in mm)

99 x 30 x 14

(case only)

58.2 x 58.2 98 x 98 x 35 159 x 26 x 98 304.8 x 304.8 x

304.8

Streaming from

Mac

According to app

installation

Via app +

Google Chrome

Yes No not specified
Streaming from

Windows

To

Software installation

Via Google

Chrome

To

Software installation

No not specified
rating

(Amazon)

4.5 / 5

Stars

not specified 4.6 / 5

Stars

4.2 / 5

Stars

not specified

Conclusion: three top dogs and two all-rounders

Choosing entertainment electronics is not just a matter of rational considerations, but also a matter of personal preferences. So it is partly a matter of taste whether the performance of Google, Amazon or Apple products looks more convincing. Fire TV, Chromecast and Apple TV all show their strengths when dealing with the hardware and software of the same company. So if you rely on Apple, you won't regret buying an Apple TV. Google fans will appreciate the functions of the Chromecast and Prime Video fans will have easy access to the Amazon media library with the Fire TV. The Nvidia Shield, which appears too expensive as a pure set-top box, and the Mi Box as a real all-rounder, however, are system-independent.

If you are looking for a cheap and versatile entry into the world of TV boxes, you will find a good set top box with both the Mi Box and the Fire TV Stick. Performance and performance fans, on the other hand, should take a closer look at the Nvidia Box and the Apple TV.

Norbert Becker

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