There are a lot of posts asking about streaming devices. I thought it would be a good idea to try and make a post to summarize what’s available. I’ve mostly tried to summarize what’s readily available in the NZ market rather than relying on importing devices. That means that Roku is not discussed as it’s not really suitable for the NZ market.
I’m also deliberately not addressing Smart TVs as they change too quickly and the support for them can be bad. If your TV works fine for your needs that is great, don’t buy something else. If the apps have stopped working then keep going.
There are 3 main ecosystems that are available in NZ. Tv OS (Apple), Android TV (Google) and Chromecast. Google certified Android TV boxes can also be used as a Chromecast so if there is no native app then you can generally cast to Android TV from a native app.
There are also a couple of special devices like Vodafone TV I’ll talk about separately.
I am deliberately not talking about Android boxes that can be connected to your TV. These devices run the phone version of Android. Generally you can’t run Netflix on these and they have all sorts of strange quirks as they are running hacked software. If you need to read this you shouldn’t consider one of these boxes.
Generally if there is a streaming app being produced it will be released on the Apple TV. The only real exception to this is Google Play Movies. You can play the content but it involves a work around.
Chromecast is also very widely supported. It’s not universal but it’s pretty close.
Android TV doesn’t have quite the same range of native apps (but it’s still pretty good). Google assistant works as you would expect and it does have something else that other platforms lack. Kodi.
For those who are not familiar with Kodi it came from a project called XBMC, which was a universal media player for the original X Box. Kodi is a platform which allows users to play content from local, network and streaming sources. Kodi does not run on Apple TV.
As well as it’s native features Kodi has a framework which allows anyone to build an Add On. This has enabled all sorts of clever things like IPTV clients, Streaming add ons for many services (TVNZ on demand, Sky Sports Now, etc etc). They are generally not official and could stop working at anytime but the community is incredibly active and supportive.
Kodi has a mixed reputation as there are a lot of illegal streaming add ons available, it is usually the platform running on the dodgy boxes sold as having free Sky, Foxtel and Movies. If you buy one of these boxes you are a pirate and they could stop working at any time.
This isn't an issue with Kodi but rather the pirates making these plugins and pirating the content.
If you do use Kodi and want NZ services there has been some great work done by Matt Huismann. I can't link to his site but a quick google search will help you.
You can watch live TV on a streaming device. Kodi supports IPTV via add ons and you can run apps like GSE IPTV on Apple TV and Android TV. There is a really informative thread here with more information.
Chromecast. Typically these cost around $70 on special.
It’s a small, cheap dongle that attaches to your TV. What is not to like? For many people nothing, it’s the perfect device. For me it isn’t. When I sit to watch TV I want to use a remote control to browse or search my content, not do it via my phone. YMMV but often people will first buy a chromecast before upgrading to other devices.
This costs between $300 and $400. Apple TV has the widest app support and generally does what it does very well. You can have multiple app store accounts on one device and therefore run international apps as well as the one from NZ. Being an Apple device it gets regular updates and is well supported.
Voice search works but Siri isn’t supported in NZ. There are work around as it is supported in Australia.
There are a couple of limitations though. The first is the remote. The Apple TV remote has a touch pad rather than conventional buttons. This makes fast forwarding or rewinding content very fast but it is very polarising. Some people love it, some hate it. Try and have a good play in the store as you do reply on the remote. Voice search works well for me as well.
It also has limited CODEC support. It does not support YouTube in 4k. Google uses a proprietary format for this and the Apple TV doesn’t support it. They do support Dolby Atmos (but only on the 4k version) but no other HD formats.
If you are going to pay for an Apple TV buy the 4k version, even if you have a 1080p TV. It is quite a bit faster and will likely be supported longer by Apple. If all you are doing is streaming just buy the 32GB version. If you want to load a lot of big games you might need the 64GB version but it’s pretty unlikely IMO.
For most people I recommend the Apple TV. It isn’t perfect but it is the device I use nine times out of ten. It’s also the device I bought for my Mum as it only runs native apps, so I don’t have to support it much at all.
Xiaomi MiBox S
This is the basic Android TV device that I use and recommend. It’s a limited device with 8GB of storage and 2GB of Ram but it is cheap at $130, has a really decent remote and generally works pretty well. It is faster and has a better interface than Android TV on my Sony TV and I like the device. It currently runs Android TV 8.1 and gets semi-regular updates.
It isn’t as fast as something like an Nvidia Shield or an Apple TV 4k but it plays HD audio and tops out at 4k HDR @60fps so it can hold it’s own. You can plug a USB hard drive into this and I take mine away when we travel to play cartoons for the kids.
If you buy an Mi Box, and ethernet is available, do yourself a favour and but a USB to ethernet adapter. It’ll give you a generally more reliable experience. I use and recommend the UGreen USB 2.0 version as the Mi Box only has a USB 2.0 port. Have a look here for more information.
If you want to tinker with Kodi or can’t stretch to an Apple TV this is a good device.
This is like a Mibox on steroids. I haven’t owned one of these but the feedback I have read is mostly very favourable. Very fast, well supported and very capable. You are looking at $300-$400 to buy one of these locally in NZ but you can import for less.
There are a few versions of this device. The currently sold versions are the 2017 version with 16GB of storage and 3GB of RAM as well as a couple of 2019 versions. The basic one looks like a tube and has 2GB of Ram and 8GB of storage while the Pro version has 3GB of Ram and 16GB of storage.
These are by far the best android tv devices on the market, with lots of codecs and maximum flexibility due to Android. You get a gigabit ethernet port and a beast of a device. You can use this as a plex server but I wouldn’t as you would still need network or local usb storage. As always there are a few caveats.
The remote on the 2017 isn’t very good although reviews I have read say that the new one is better. I haven’t owned one of these but a number of users on Geekzone have said they hate the remote. It’s also pretty expensive and for most users I would say the Mi Box is fine.
Dish Smart VU X
This is a very small Android TV box with a nice trick – it has a freeview App. I bought one of these for my mother in law and she is pretty happy with it. For $130 it’s a cheaper device. You have the play store so you have access to all the native Andoid Apps as well as Kodi. It is a but gutless though.
Only 1GB of ram so performance can be a bit sluggish as well as sometimes running a bit hot. My other concern with this is that support could be a bit lacklustre as it’s being produced by a smallish company. It’s software is also pretty buggy. If you are considering one take a look at the thread here. https://www.geekzone.co.nz/forums.asp?forumid=83&topicid=243399&page_no=1
If I had the choice I’d buy a Mi Box S rather than one of these.
Vodafone TV Gen 2
Firstly even though this is a Vodafone device it runs on any ISP and doesn’t have subscription fees. There is no issue using one of these on Spark or any other ISP
I haven’t owned one of these but it’s a cool idea. It doesn’t run Android TV but a special version of Linux. This means that it’s app library is limited but it has a very cool concept.
It supports live IP streaming as well as having a 72 hour buffer of live channels and 500 hours of cloud PVR storage. If you primarily want to watch New Zealand TV and want included PVR functionality this is a good device. You can add sky channels and various other services.
The PVR doesn’t work perfectly as there are some rights limitations and the device is still pretty new. There have been a heap of bugs but Vodafone have been working pretty hard to get these sorted.
I love the idea of this device but it’s still pretty early in it’s implementation
If you are considering buying this take a look at the thread here: https://www.geekzone.co.nz/forums.asp?forumid=40&topicid=254293&singlepage=yes
Fire TV Stick
This is Amazons streaming device running it’s custom flavour of Android. It does not have access to the play store but you get access to the Amazon store as well as being able to sideload normal Android Apps. At $79 for the basic Edition it is amazing value. It is only 1GB of Ram with 8gm storage but it runs ok. The 4k version is has 1.5GB of RAM and is better but less readily available in NZ.
If you like the Amazon UI this is a good device but it will always push you in the direction of Amazon services first. I hate the UI but the quality is good and it works well. You get Alexa onboard as well.
If you are in the Amazon camp this is a very good device with a nice remote.