An affordable Media Center
Don’t have the budget or patience to build your very own HTPC? Want a home entertainment system that just works? Do you have excess gadgets just gathering dust in your drawer? Let’s put them to good use. Again.
First, you’ll be needing the following:
- An Android Box
- A TV with HDMI slot/s
- An Android phone (preferably with IR capability)
- An external hard drive
- Internet connection (Ethernet or WiFi will do)
- Twist-tie or wire-wrap (or anything similar)
As of this writing, the minimum resolution for android boxes is 720p. Most of the newer models available locally have 1080p. Higher resolution will allow for a more fluid viewing without the stuttering. Streaming and playing local video files will also be smoother with such feature.
Two gigabyte of RAM is ideal as it will allow you to execute apps better. A 1GB model would only hinder you of certain apps (and multi-tasking, if need arise).
C. Storage Space
Internal storage space of 16GB is desired for a more flexible machine. This is irrelevant if you would only use this set-top box to play locally stored files via an external hard drive. But if you will use this set-top box mainly as a streamer (YouTube, Netflix, HOOQ or iFlix), you would need eight gigabyte of internal memory. A 16GB space would be ideal if you’d wish to include casual to moderate gaming on the side.
Ports are essential for any peripheral extension you’d wish for your set up. Commonly, such boxes have two USB slots and one HDMI port with one USB OTG port. A three USB slot model is important if you would like to include gaming and/or work in your use.
First USB port will go to your external hard drive. Second port will go to the bluetooth dongle of your IR remote (which will be discussed later). Third port will be available for either a wireless keyboard/mouse combo or a gaming controller (or a second external hard drive if you wish).
High-End Android Boxes
- Minix Neo U1 or Minix Neo x8H-Plus (links to follow)
- MX Pro or MX4 (links to follow)
Entry-level to Mid-range Android Boxes
- Minix Neo x5/x5 mini, x7/x7 mini and x8
What I am using: I just recently upgraded from a Minix Neo x5mini to the new Neo U1. I preferred this as I have two separate external hard drives and I need a third one for the remote dongle.
This set up doesn’t need a smart TV. If all else, this set up will make your non-smart TV smarter.
You can use any TV that can do a minimum of 720p under 60Hz. But for a more acceptable result, 1020p under 60Hz. Such resolution comes from 32″ and higher TV sets.
At least one HDMI port is required for your android box. LED TVs will actually save you electricity (and a slightly better viewing experience).
Safe bet: Any TV models from 2014 onward.
What I am using: A 2013 Samsung 32 inch TV hanged on the wall (with cables hidden behind it).
Despite every box coming with a dedicated IR remote controller, it pays to have a more flexible device on hand. With that, you can use any android phone as a remote controller. You have three kinds of remote control that you can use, alternating, even.
IR Remote: remote app actually using infrared
Bluetooth Remote: remote app requiring bluetooth radios
AP/WAN Remote: I really don’t know what else to call it due to the fact that it uses 2.4Ghz access point/WAN connection. So if you have a router, you can actually use it like a mouse even without an actual internet connection.
Devices that have IR blasters:
- HTC One models (m7, m8 and m9/+)
- LG G2, G3, G4 and V10 (all the variants)
- LG GFlex/Flex2 and GFlex Pro
- Samsung Galaxy S4, S5, S6 (all variants)
- Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 and 4
Most of these devices have proprietary IR remote apps.
Bluetooth Remote would simply require that you pair your remote/device with your machine.
AP/WAN Remote would need an IP address for your machine. It helps if you designate DHCP on your router (so as to avoid varying IP addresses every time you try to scan for your machine). More on that, here.
What I am using: From LG G2 to G3, I have been using the stock remote control app that comes built-in with my device. This makes me locked on stock or LG UI custom rom. Which is not really a problem compared if I lost the IR app it comes with.
External Hard Drive
Actually, there is not much to say here. External HDs have come a long way, and more and more storage space manufacturers have provided affordable high capacity hard drives for us.
I am currently using Globe Telecom’s plan 1999 for 7Mbps (with a lifetime HOOQ and Spotify premium). It hits on five to six megabytes per second at the minimum.
Streaming over Netflix requires at least a 3Mbps while Youtube adjusts depending on available bandwidth.