I adore the simplicity of Android TV-based set-top streaming boxes. I have a couple of them at home, because they’re incredibly easy to use, quicker to get started and a lot less fuss than starting up a console or having to slog through a sluggish Smart TV interface. With a simplified remote, they’re the easiest and quickest way to watch YouTube or Netflix, or fire up Spotify for a bit of auditory escape.
With the expansive local growth of digital streaming services, along with the continued roll-out of Fibre and 5G, there’s never been a better time to completely cut the cord. The current consoles, smaller HTPCs and underpowered laptops are just fine for use as media centres, sometimes you want something smaller and decidedly simpler. Something that just works.
It’s this quest for simplicity that’s seen devices like the Apple TV, Roku, Nvidia’s Shield TV and Xiaomi’s Mi Box come in. the locally-supported Mediabox MBX4K Ranger has been available on the market for a few years, but we’ve recently been sent one for review, so we’re reviewing it. It’s a very similar box to the swathe of available Android TV boxes; a nicely designed little box stuffed with an Amlogic S905X-based SoC, paired with 2GB of RAM. While that seems a paltry amount of memory, it’s adequate for what these streaming boxes set out to do.
Giving the Mediabox a bit of a leg up on something like the simpler Mi Box is the range of ports. While the Mi Box is a Wi-Fi Only affair, the Mediabox has an included Ethernet port, an SP/DIF port for optical audio, a 3.5mm audio out, a Micro-SD slot for expandable storage and two USB ports to the Mi Box’s one.
In the box, you’ll also get a Bluetooth remote control that’s styled like just about every other Android TV remote with minimal buttons, an HDMI cable and a power adapter; these, along with an internet connection and a few subscriptions are really all you need to be up and streaming. You’ve got a circular arrangement of four directional buttons accompanied by an enter key, a home button and a back button. There’s also a button for Google Assistant, along with a microphone on the remote so you can ask it for recommendations – like the latest action movie, or to play specific things like songs, albums or movies – and if they’re available in your services or library, they’ll start playing. It’s a neat gimmick, but I’m not big on talking to my tech.
Set-up on these devises is usually a breeze, especially if you’re already entrenched in the Android ecosystem. By running the Google app on your phone during setup, it’ll magically beam your Wi-Fi settings and Google account info to the device without you having to type in much beyond a pairing code. From there, setting up accounts within different streaming services is a doddle, and you can use your phone not only as a secondary remote, but also as a keyboard, to make text input easier.
When I set these devices up – something I’ve done countless times – I usually just do a bit of DNS shenaningans, install all of the local and international apps and services I use, and go about my business. That’s where I ran into the first problem with the Mediabox. After installing Netflix, I got slapped with an error saying that Netflix was not compatible with this device, and I swore I saw some sort of Netflix branding on the packaging. Upon actually reading the manual, it seems that yes, the device will run Netflix, but with a massive caveat. You’re not meant to install Netflix. Instead, after 20 or so minutes of it being on it automagically gets Netflix and Amazon Prime apps pushed to the device. The version of Netflix that’s installed has updates blocked, but it works. Mostly.
What this means though is that while the Mediabox has all the necessary Google certification, it doesn’t have the requisite certification for Netflix, which requires an awful lot of fiddly paperwork, and a dedicated Netflix button on the remote. Instead, what you’re being pushed is years old build of Netflix that’ll run without the certification. You’ll not get the latest Netflix updates – which include playback improvements and compatibility fixes and the like – giving you a slightly neutered Netflix experience. Netflix playback can be a bit more stuttery than I’d like. If you do ever delete that pushed version of Netflix, getting it back on there is a bit of a process – because the external, slightly shady side-loaded App Store Aptoide doesn’t go that far back anymore and it all becomes a bit too technical for the average user. I happened to delete the Netflix App before doing a factory reset in my testing, and was unable to restore Netflix. Several times I mailed the local support channels and used their one-site chat, but got no response at all. I get that we’re still in lockdown, but my experience to date hasn’t been great, especially given that I already own a few similar boxes that just work better.
Most everything else works as expected, but if you’re looking to use the thing specifically for Netflix, it’s hard to recommend – especially when similarly-priced locally-available alternatives like the Mi Box and the Ematic Android TV Box have the required Netflix certification. The Ematic even has the same port configuration and sells for a few hundred Rand cheaper, making that a no-brainer option.
The Mediabox is available for R1499. You can find out more details here.
Last Updated: June 8, 2020