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A long time ago I wrote about how you could turn your dumb TV into a smart TV using a T.V Box. It was a brilliant idea that I somehow never got to implement mostly because my laptops have an HDMI port . At some point however the pain of having to fumble with an HDMI cable everytime you want to watch something gets to you.
So I made the choice to finally buy my first T.V box. I hoped into a kombie and went into town and got the shock of my life. None of my favorite techstores had TV boxes in stock even though they were stocking every Chinese phone under the sun.
I decided to try Dipleague groups and classifieds sites and got another nasty surpise. Several individuals were selling boxes from several years ago with 512MB of RAM and other rubbish specs for prices north of $100! Some of these boxes come with Android 4.2.2 to match.
Gearbest to the rescue
I decided to wait for the Black Friday sale and pounced on the cheapest box I could find. I got the SCISHION V88 for $22 on promotion and paid $1 in shipping costs you will not find a cheaper device than this. The device comes with the following specs:
|CPU||RK3229 (RockChip QuadCore)|
|Maximum Extended Support||32GB|
|Decoder formats||H264 and H265|
|Video Quality||Up to 4K 30fps scaled to up to 1080P output|
|USB Ports||4 USB 2.0 ports|
|SD Card Slot||1|
The device comes with an infrared remote control but you can use an air keyboard and mouse combo if you want. You can get these for $9 from Gearbest.
The device supports YouTube videos up to 720P. I have a 1080P T.V so my work around if I need a higher resolution is to use youtube-dl. The device comes with a custom version of Kodi called RKMC which thankfully does not come with any illegal addons as has become the norm these days.
You also get a Netflix app, GMail and Facebook apps. While the first one is a must for some it’s hard to do email and Facebook on your TV unless you have the aforementioned keyboard. I quickly uninstalled these apps. In my tests the TV box could indeed play videos up to 4K at 30fps. Basically this means this box can handle most of what you can throw at it including 3D movies.
I had my concerns about the 1GB RAM but it never became a problem as you will not really be multitasking much on your TV. My SmartDNS Proxy VPN and DNS apps installed like a charm. I could even install and use Korean Drama on it. Since I have managed to wean my wife from African Movies I did not dare to install iRokuTV and risk her relapsing. Google Play Movies also works like a charm.
I could not get the Hulu app to work on this TV Box and I think I have an idea why. It is also the same reason why you cannot install the stock version of Kodi from the Google Play Store. This device comes with a Rockchip processor and while that works almost all the time there are some caveats.
While this is an ARM processor it uses a non standard video API which complicates development. To reduce bugs Kodi have decided to abandon all custom patches. Rockchip have their own version of Kodi called RKMC but this is a fork of the ancient version 16 RC which means addons such as subtitle downloaders will not work. Newer versions of Rockchip now use a standard API which means they do not have the problem but the 3229 CPU which comes with this box is one of the old ones.
While I could never get Hulu to work there was an easy fix for Kodi. I simply downloaded FTMC a patched version of Kodi that is more modern. To be fair the preinstalled RKMC is an excellent player that is elegant until you want to use the latest Kodi addons which will not work. Those who want to play videos and such will find it capable. You can also install MX Player from the Play Store and get excellent results.
The second hurdle I encountered was that the box will not play videos encoded using Google’s VP9 codec. The only way a box with such humble specs can play HD content is through hardware decoding and this box does not come with the VP9 decoding support. When you attempt to play such a video the box attempts to use software decoding and the results are horrible. It’s like listening to a drowning cat.
This should not be much of a problem as you are unlikely to encounter VP9 videos in the wild. The only place you are going to find them is on YouTube and that is unlikely to be a problem for you as YouTube offers multiple encoded streams anyway. The YouTube app will automatically select the supported encoding for you.
When dowloading videos using using youtube-dl use the following command:
youtube-dl --no-overwrites --continue --restrict-filenames --verbose --verbose --print-traffic --write-sub --format 'bestvideo[height<=1080][ext=mp4]+bestaudio[ext=m4a]' URL
Make sure to replace URL with that of the video you want to download. This will download videos up to 1080P plus the best m4a audio. It is a useful command even if you are not using the box. You can tweak it to suit your needs for example replace 1080P with 720P.
To buy or not to buy
This is the cheapest box around and it comes with excellent video playing support. You can play music or video from your SD card or USB stick. You even get 4GB of ROM to work with. If you get the keyboard you can have a lightweight computer for less than 30 bucks so yeah you should be buying this.
A similar device can be bought locally for $100 at least. So even if you are paying premium for the USD you are going to be making massive savings. I paid $6 duty on my device so in any case you are not going to pay more than $40 for this device. So it’s a no-brainer for me. To fully enjoy this device you need a TV with an HDMI port obviously.