Best Cheap Alternatives to the NVIDIA Shield TV (2019) Android Central 2021
The NVIDIA Shield TV (2019) is hands down one of, if not the, best Android TV set-top box you can buy, offering a great mix of features for cord cutters and gamers alike. However, all that greatness comes at a fairly high price. If you're looking to save some money on your next streaming box, your best bet is the Xiaomi Mi Box S, but we've rounded up a couple of other options as well.
- Best Overall: Xiaomi Mi Box S
- Best Value: Roku Ultra
- Best for Alexa: Amazon Fire TV Cube
- Best Streaming Dongle: Google Chromecast Ultra
- Best Android TV Alternative: Ematic Jetstream 4K
- Best for a Low-Profile Fire TV: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
Best Overall: Xiaomi Mi Box S
The Xiaomi Mi Box S is the best option for those wanting the full Android TV experience at a lower price point. Featuring decent specs and compatibility with 4K TVs, this is an affordable option for anyone looking to stream content from the most popular services available from the Google Play Store — Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, YouTube, and so on.
Given the price and the compatibility, it might seem like a no-brainer but the Xiaomi Mi Box S does have some shortcomings. While it offers support for 4K content, it struggles to stream in 4K without considerable lag. As writer Harish Jonnalagadda explains in his full review, the Mi Box S simply doesn't have the hardware power to fully support 4K streaming and that's a disappointment.
Another annoyance is having to turn the box on just to use the Chromecast functionality. Having said that, if stuttering 4K streams isn't a dealbreaker for you, the Xiaomi Mi Box S is a perfectly affordable alternative to the NVIDIA Shield TV.
- Runs on Android TV 8.1
- Handles 1080p content with ease
- Built-in Chromecast and Google Assistant functionality
- 4K streaming is laggy
- Mi Box needs to be turned on to Cast
Best Value: Roku Ultra
Roku is a popular streaming platform that's been used in many smart TVs, and the Roku Ultra represents the best that Roku has to offer for cord cutters.
The Ultra is the latest streaming box from Roku that supports 1080p, 4K UHD, and HDR10 content. It ships with a remote that's a jack-of-all-trades. It features a headphone jack for private listening (along with a complimentary pair of earbuds), offers support for voice search, and includes a built-in speaker for the times when it gets lost in a couch cushion. Simply press the remote finder button on the Roku Ultra and your Roku remote will chirp out its location in your home.
There's support for all the expected streaming services, local news programming, and hundreds of private channels streaming content of all varieties — the true strength of the Roku platform. The only downside is that it's not running on Android so you don't get access to the Google Play Store. Also, while there's support for Dolby Atmos, Dolby Vision is not supported.
- Full support for 4K UHD and HDR10 content
- Remote control jam-packed with useful features
- Platform offers great support for apps
- Comes with earbuds
- No support for Dolby Vision
- No support for Android apps
Best for Alexa: Amazon Fire TV Cube
Amazon's Fire TV Cube is a great choice for anyone who's heavily invested in the Alexa ecosystem. The latest streaming solution from Amazon supports 4K Ultra HD streaming and includes everything you love about Alexa baked right in.
The Fire TV Cube offers a bit of everything that makes Amazon's smart home offerings so appealing. You get an improved set-top streaming box that also works as a smart home hub for your other connected devices. It also still works as a voice-controlled Echo speaker when the TV is not in use.
For those reasons, it's the best option for anyone already baked into the Alexa ecosystem. Unfortunately, it lacks the support for Google Play services that Android users love about the Shield TV.
- Support for 4K UHD and HDR10+
- Support for Dolby Vision and Atmos
- Use Alexa for voice searches and
- Acts as Echo speaker and smart home hub when TV is off
- Limited support for gaming
- No support for Google Play services (aside from YouTube)
Best Streaming Dongle: Google Chromecast Ultra
The Google Chromecast Ultra is not a fully-fledged streaming box like the other options on this list, but it still functions well for most streaming situations using just your phone. The Ultra also supports 4K HDR streaming, where available, and also offers functionality with Google's Stadia game streaming service.
There's no remote here, just an HDMI dongle that connects at the back of your TV and lets you cast apps from your phone (or from a Chrome browser on a computer) to your TV. This makes the Chromecast one of the easiest streaming products to set up and use, but not having physical controls can cause headaches if the media controls disappear from your phone's notification shade.
The Chromecast Ultra is not as feature-laden as the other options on this list, but it is a Google product so it plays nice with Google Play and can be controlled by Google Assistant.
- Supports 4K HDR content
- Easy to set up and use
- Works with Google Assistant and Google Stadia
- Not a full-featured streaming box
- Media controls can disappear while you're streaming
Best Android TV Alternative: Ematic Jetstream 4K
While there are a lot of different devices you can use as a streaming box, there aren't as many that are powered by Android TV. The Ematic Jetstream 4K is another option for those with a budget in mind, but it packs quite the punch. In addition to already being powered by Android TV, the included remote sports a few useful shortcut buttons, including a dedicated Google Assistant button.
As for the playback itself, the Jetstream is certified with 4K HDR video playback, so your movies will look crisp. There's even the added benefit of the Jetstream supporting Dolby Audio, so you'll get a great picture and fantastic sound which will go hand-in-hand.
While there are a few extra benefits such as a microSD card slot, the Jetstream itself is only equipped with 8GB of storage. And while having 4K HDR support is awesome, this Android TV box does not feature automatic video refresh rates, which can cause some choppiness in certain instances.
- Supports 4K HDR content
- Supports Dolby Audio
- Included remote includes useful shortcut buttons
- Works with Google Assistant
- microSD slot
- Bluetooth 4.2 is a bit outdated
- Does not feature automatic video refresh rate
- Only 8GB of storage
Best for a Low-Profile Fire TV: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
If the Fire TV Cube is the set top box replacement, then the Fire TV Stick 4K is a low-profile and fun alternative. The included remote can not only control your television, but it also works with the Fire TV Stick to give you access to the world of Amazon Alexa and all of the possible skills.
The Fire TV Stick 4K supports 4K UHD, Dolby Vision, HDR, HDR10+ and even Dolby Atmos, which should cover just about any content that you come across. If you're watching a great movie that's rather loud, just pair your favorite Bluetooth headphones to the Fire TV Stick 4K and watch your movies without waking anyone up.
Those who need more than just a Wi-Fi connection will have to rely on Amazon's Ethernet Adapter in order to take advantage. Unlike similar streaming stick options, the Fire TV Stick itself may be a bit too big to plug directly into the HDMI port on your TV. Luckily, Amazon does include an HDMI extender in the box if that ends up being the case.
- Supports 4K HDR content
- Supports Dolby Vision
- Can use remote to control smart home
- Can be paired with Bluetooth headphones
- Must use adapter for Ethernet connections
- May need to use a dongle to plug into the TV
We'd still recommend the NVIDIA Shield TV (2019) as the absolute best option for Android TV streaming (with all the gaming goodness thrown in as a cool bonus), but if you're looking to save some coin while still getting a similar user interface and access to the Google Play Store, we'd suggest the Xiaomi Mi Box S as an affordable option.
The Mi Box S costs less than half of the Shield TV (2019) and it manages to offer decent hardware and compatibility with all the streaming services you're interested in. The remote has Google Assistant baked in, giving you the ability to play your favorite TV shows and movies just by issuing voice commands.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Marc Lagace is the Apps and Games Editor at Android Central. He's been a gamer for most of his life and took a university course on Video Game Theory — which he aced! You can reach out to him on Twitter @spacelagace.
Harish Jonnalagadda Harish Jonnalagadda is the Regional Editor at Android Central. A reformed hardware modder, he now spends his time writing about India's burgeoning handset market. Previously, he used to ponder the meaning of life at IBM. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.
Andrew Myrick is a regular freelancer at Android Central and iMore. He has been a tech enthusiast ever since the original iPhone was released and continues to flip-flop between devices. You might as well hook him up to an IV filled with coffee to get him through the day. If you have any questions, you can find him on Twitter @andymyrick, and he'll get back to you.
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