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Streaming apps: Apple TV v Android TV boxes

Reader James Lee wrote in to askST about the video-streaming apps on Apple TV compared with the ones on Android TV boxes. Tech reporter Vincent Chang answers the question.

Apple TV is a stand-alone media player that runs the tvOS operating system. In addition to content from Apple's iTunes Store, it offers videos from content providers such as Netflix, YouTube and Eleven Sports. Apple TV can also run selected games and apps from the App Store, as well as stream music from Apple Music with a paid subscription.

Android TV is a TV platform from Google based on the Android operating system with an interface optimised for television sets. It is used by Sony smart TV sets and media players such as the Nvidia Shield TV. Its Google Play Store offers access to a curated selection of apps. You can also rent or buy videos from the Google Play Store. Video streaming apps include Netflix, Kodi, YouTube, Crunchyroll and Viki while the Spotify app offers music streaming.

Despite being called Android TV boxes, most of these devices do not actually use the official Android TV platform.

Instead, they are based on the mobile Android OS found in smartphones and tablets. Their manufacturers typically create custom interfaces to make these devices more user-friendly for TV sets, though, more often than not, they still require a mouse and keyboard or a remote control with an air mouse feature for input. Examples include the ViewQwest TV 5 and the AC Ryan Veolo 4K+.

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As they run the standard mobile version of Android, these TV boxes have access to a wider variety of apps compared with the official Android TV platform. But many of these apps are not optimised for large TV screens and hence provide a poor user experience.

Their manufacturers may also sideload or install Android apps that are not found in the official Google Play Store, such as Mobdro and Showbox. The legality of these apps is debatable, as they offer videos from sources that may not have the proper licensing in Singapore.

Some of these apps or TV boxes may even ask users to subscribe to their services for their content. I would not recommend paying for them as their servers may be taken down by the authorities for copyright infringement. A recent crackdown in Thailand and Malaysia took down an illicit streaming service called Expat.tv, affecting an estimated 50,000 consumers in Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Indonesia.

To find out more about media players, check out http://www.straitstimes.com/tech/verdict-on-four-of-the-latest-media-streamers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2017, with the headline 'Streaming apps: Apple TV v Android TV boxes'. Print Edition | Subscribe