We’ve seen little media boxes passing through Stuff‘s portals from time to time. They’ve almost always been a hard sell, at least for the team, because we’re a spoiled bunch who should have their toys taken away. But with the rise of streaming video, a media box makes more and more sense.
You’ve got several choices when it comes to streaming media. A notebook computer, smartphone, or tablet will suffice for a spot of Netflix, you could use a console (if it connects to the ‘net, it’ll have Netflix and YouTube) or you could get yourself a Smart TV and download the app on there. That’ll cost you, though. A lot. It’s possible to build a little media streaming PC, using a Raspberry Pi if you’re after compact and you don’t fry electronics by looking at them, or you could buy a ready-made solution. Like the imaginatively-named Mediabox.
Black and red all over
We’re not going to give the Mediabox grief over its name, though. That’s what it does. You might as well complain because someone called their smartwatch the Watch (looking at you, Apple). And, as far as media streamers go, the little black-and-red box won’t look out of place next to your screen in your lounge. It’s largely subdued, with just a splash of red to liven things up. The design is simple, with ports tucked away on the two sides that will be mostly out of sight. That means that your cabling will also hang off the back, where it can be unsightly without anyone seeing it.
Construction, of the box as well as its included remote or ‘air mouse’, is pleasingly solid. It’s not going to survive having a brick dropped on it but nor will anything else that size with a CPU in it. Or the average foot. It’ll do just fine for the very occasional knocks and bumps you will get having it located near a television screen.
Put on some specs
The inside is as solidly put together as the outside, though it’s a touch cheaper than you’ll find in something like a Samsung smartphone and tablet. Honestly, that’s not surprising, as the Mediabox only clocks in at R2,000. Can’t see you picking up a Qualcomm-sporting device for that price. Instead we’ve got internals made chiefly by MediaTek, the other horse in the mobile processor race.
Inside is a MediaTek quad-core running at 1.5GHz, with a Mali M450 GPU. WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, USB, and a microSD slot take care of your connectivity, though you could also opt for an Ethernet cable if your home is wired for it. There is some internal storage available but don’t get too excited. Stick to the ports. Technically you could play mobile games on this thing, given that it’s using an Android OS for most of the heavy lifting, but we can’t recommend it. Mostly because it’s a silly idea and also because of the little item down below.
That remote control we mentioned earlier? If the Mediabox has a fatal flaw it resides in this little piece of battery-powered plastic. Batteries are included, by the way, and the controls are easy to use and nigh-impossible to misinterpret. But…
We’ve seen this particular problem with other gesture controllers, up to and including LG’s mighty smart TV remotes. Having the pointer stay on track can be a chore, as it seems to wander out of alignment while you’re using it. Long story short, you’ll often find yourself compensating for the pointer’s movements which can be tiring for the wrist. If you’re just going to hit Netflix and then binge it’s not onerous but initial setup and lengthy navigation can be fatiguing. Still…
The gang’s all here
If there’s a way that you want to watch something it should be possible with the Mediabox. The Netflix, ShowMax, DStv Now, and SuperSport apps are all installed from the outset, as are Red Bull TV and Kodi. No matter how you stream your shows (provided you have a login for them) you’ll be able to watch on your chosen screen (which will need an HDMI or Component port). As long as you have an internet connection, that is. Without one, the Mediabox is just a box that sometimes plays content from a flash drive.
You can also check on social media, should masochism strike and you find yourself wanting to update your status using that unwieldy remote. We’d stick to the media itself. Just one problem, though… the Mediabox maxes out at streaming in 1080p. If you’re connecting this to a 4K TV… actually, you’re not going to connect this to a 4K TV. A 4K TV will do all of this anyway. Forget we mentioned it.
If you’re using the Mediabox to upskill a dumb TV rather than splashing out on a(nother) Smart TV for your home then you’re going to be well served. It’s small enough to hide anywhere, attractive enough that you don’t really have to conceal it and, best of all, it’ll do just what it says on the box. It’ll play all of your media, whether you’re streaming from one of the local subscription services, YouTube, or playing back media from an external storage source. Pity about the annoying little controller, though.