Everyday we get people coming onto our forums and asking what we think is the best set top box hardware device for running XBMC? It has been kind of a tricky answer for a while and we’ll explain why soon, but basically now that there are several different options which have been around for a while and work well, we thought it would be a responsible time to let our visitors know what we recommend using in order to maximize on your XBMC home entertainment experience. You’ll want to read this before you buy another hardware device for running XBMC as it makes a huge difference if your device lacks in performance.
We’ve tested pretty much every box out there and this assessment is basically being made from a newbie standpoint. As far as we’re concerned, the best hardware is the one that works best out of the box, that requires the least effort to get setup, and runs the most reliably. It was actually quite clear which hardware option was the ultimate best for running XBMC at the current time, so we don’t really recommend going with any of the lesser quality devices until those manufacturers have stepped up their game and made something more worthwhile to the consumer.
Before we get started, we’ll list you the different Android-powered devices that we’ve tested prior to coming to any conclusions. We tested the Pivos XIOS DS, OUYA gaming console, Jynxbox Android HD, G-Box Midnight MX2, The Little Black Box, as well as several other Geniatech models and random Android boxes. Most of the devices failed our general consumer satisfaction tests quite miserably, meaning we’d be really pissed off if we were to have purchased one for ourselves, or even worse perhaps for a family member who would end up calling off the hook for technical support.
The one thing that was quite clear in all of our tests: the OUYA gaming console is far superior to any Android based hardware device on the market, hardware and software-wise. Definitely the only device that we’ll recommend to anyone right now. It’s an esthetically beautiful looking device that’s actually quite tiny, the remote controller is easy to use and even features a built-in touchpad, and it works flawlessly. It even has a custom build of XBMC for OUYA available directly through the device’s software menu right off the bat, no technical experience needed whatsoever, just click the install button from the OUYA play store. It plays the video beautifully, even HD contest works great.
You can purchase an OUYA device directly from OUYA through their Amazon store, or you can go to purchase one at any Best Buy in the United States, you definitely won’t see any of the other hardware we tested sold at any Best Buy store. We received ours within a week and as soon as we opened it, it took less than 15 minutes to get it all up and running, with XBMC installed and fully configured with the popular XBMC HUB Wizard Addon as well. Definitely the best hardware option considering it’s the only one that we’ll recommend to anyone, and the lowest cost of any of the devices we tested at the $99 price tag. They are even an official sponsor of the XBMC Foundation’s development.
Aside from the OUYA, there’s always the Rasperry Pi available, but the problem with that device is that it’s definitely not newbie friendly, and it’ll end up costing you hundreds of dollars by the time you’re done purchasing all the additional accessories needed such as infrared remote control dongle, wireless controller, memory card, and plastic casing. It does run very well as well, but will require quite a bit of technical knowledge in order to get up and running, and if there’s a problem it’s not as easy to fix as a simple factory restore.
Lastly, the Apple TV 2 is still one of the best devices as far as XBMC performance goes, but it still should not be seen as better than the OUYA because of a simple downside: you’ll need to jailbreak the device, and if you have a problem with your jailbreak, it might not always be able to be easily fixed in the future. Everytime Apple releases a new firmware for the device you need to wait for a new jailbreak to be released (unless you are very good with technology and instructions) before you can factory restore it, sometimes this could take months or longer. If you’re looking to purchase an Apple TV 2 device, you should make sure that it has already been jailbroken, untethered that is, otherwise you might end up with a useless device for a few months.
To sum things up, we don’t recommend going with any hardware device other than the OUYA unless you’ve seen something with your own eyes that you prefer. We did a lot of testing and every other option failed miserably and wouldn’t be something that we would even use in our homes, especially since the OUYA is the lowest priced option as well. It’ll probably be a while until other Android hardware manufacturers step up their game, in terms of both hardware specifications and the firmware customizations needed for the devices to run properly. As usual, if you have any questions, feel free to ask at our Discussion Forums and someone will be glad to lend a helping hand. This article reflects the opinions of umOuch and Don Draper, and not necessarily the entire team.