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Retro gaming has seen a major resurgence in popularity over the last decade. Gamers who grew up playing classic games on consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, PlayStation 1, and more are now interested in revisiting the games they loved from their childhood.
Thanks to emulators that can mimic the hardware of retro gaming systems, it’s easier than ever to play all your favorite classic games right from modern devices. And one of the most convenient ways to set up an emulation station is by using an Android TV box.
Android boxes provide an easy and affordable way to transform your TV into a retro gaming center. With the right Android box, you can install emulators for a wide range of retro gaming consoles and enjoy your favorite retro titles with the convenience of an all-in-one emulation station.
In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about choosing the best Android box for emulation. We have tested and reviewed the top options on the market today to help you find the perfect Android TV box for your retro gaming needs.
- The Nvidia Shield provides the absolute best performance for emulation with its powerful Tegra X1+ processor.
- The Amazon Fire TV Cube is a very solid mid-range option with good processor specs and built-in Alexa voice assistant.
- Budget-friendly picks like the Turewell T9 and MECOOL KM9 Pro offer great emulation capabilities at lower price points.
- Optimal RAM for emulation is 2GB or higher – 4GB is ideal for multitasking and N64/PlayStation 1 emulation.
- Make sure to choose a box with enough storage for your ROM libraries – 16GB minimum, 64GB+ recommended.
- Connectivity features like USB ports, microSD, Ethernet, and dual-band WiFi 5/6 determine expansion options.
- Controllers designed specifically for Android like the Gamesir T4 Pro provide a better experience than typical TV remotes.
Processor: Nvidia Tegra X1+
Connectivity: HDMI, USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet, Dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth
Without a doubt, the Nvidia Shield is the top choice for an Android box when it comes to emulation performance. Powered by Nvidia’s powerful Tegra X1+ processor and 3GB of RAM, the Shield absolutely dominates when it comes to running demanding emulators like Dolphin (GameCube and Wii), PCSX2 (PlayStation 2), and Citra (Nintendo 3DS).
In terms of connectivity, the Shield TV supports HDMI 2.0 for 4K HDR output, USB 3.0 ports for storage expansion, gigabit Ethernet for lag-free online play, and the latest WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 standards. The included Shield Controller is ideal for gaming with its ergonomic design and ability to act as a wireless remote.
Some other advantages of the Shield TV include GameStream support for streaming games from a compatible Nvidia-powered PC, along with GeForce NOW for cloud gaming. The Shield also runs a very clean, optimized version of Android TV with constant updates from Nvidia.
Overall, while it is one of the more expensive options, the Shield TV’s superior performance and perfect feature set make it the top choice if you want the absolute best Android TV box for emulation and gaming.
- Top-tier emulation performance from Tegra X1+ processor
- Excellent native Android TV experience
- Multiple USB and expansion options
- Great wireless connectivity with WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0
- Shield Controller optimized for gaming
- More expensive than competitors
- Base 16GB storage is lower than some alternatives
Amazon Fire TV Cube
Processor: Hexa-core processor
Connectivity: HDMI, Micro USB, Infrared, Bluetooth, Dual-band WiFi
The Amazon Fire TV Cube is a unique option that combines the capabilities of a Fire TV 4K streaming device with built-in Alexa voice assistant features. This makes it a very compelling choice as an emulation box thanks to its good specs and hands-free control.
With a hexa-core processor and 2GB of RAM, the Fire TV Cube can run most emulators like RetroArch without slowdowns. The 16GB of internal storage is decent for a starter game library, and you can expand via the microSD card slot or attach external USB drives.
Setting up emulators on the Fire TV Cube is easy since it runs Fire OS, a fork of Android. This also allows you to install third-party apps outside of the Amazon App Store. The Fire TV Cube supports 4K, HDR visuals, and Dolby Atmos audio via its HDMI output.
Controlling your games hands-free with Alexa voice commands is a nice perk of the Fire TV Cube. You can launch games, adjust volume, and more without needing a controller. The Fire TV Cube remote also has dedicated media buttons for convenience.
At just $120 MSRP, the Fire TV Cube gives you excellent emulation capabilities plus smart assistant features at a fair mid-range price point.
- Powerful hexa-core processor and 2GB RAM
- microSD card slot and USB support for expansion
- Alexa smart assistant features for hands-free control
- Affordable price for the hardware specs
- 16GB storage is limiting for large ROM libraries
- Fire OS limits some Android TV functionality
- No Ethernet port
Processor: Allwinner H616 Quad-core
Connectivity: HDMI, USB 2.0, Micro SD, Ethernet, Dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth
For shoppers on a tight budget, the Turewell T9 is a fantastic value Android TV box that can handle emulators with ease. It runs on a quad-core Allwinner H616 processor with a generous 4GB of RAM to keep performance smooth.
Out of the box, the T9 comes with 32GB of storage which provides ample room for your game ROM libraries. And you can expand storage via the microSD slot or two USB 2.0 ports. For network connectivity, this box includes Ethernet, dual-band WiFi 5, and Bluetooth 4.1.
The T9 ships with Android 9.0 giving you full access to the Google Play Store for downloading emulators like RetroArch, PPSSPP, and more. It also works well with streaming apps and comes preloaded with apps like YouTube, Netflix, and Prime Video.
Considering its affordable $55 retail price, the Turewell T9 gives you a ton of value and will handle most emulators without breaking a sweat. For casual retro gaming, it’s a budget-friendly option to consider.
- Quad-core processor and generous 4GB RAM
- Preloaded with Android 9 and Google Play Store
- Excellent value and performance for the low price
- microSD and USB expansion options
- USB 2.0 ports limit connection speeds
- Won’t match Nvidia Shield performance
- Remote feels cheap
MINIX NEO U9-H
Processor: Amlogic S905X3
Connectivity: HDMI, Optical Audio, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, Micro SD, Ethernet, WiFi 6, Bluetooth
The MINIX NEO U9-H is a premium Android TV box with great specs for emulation. It packs the fast Amlogic S905X3 processor with four cores clocked at up to 2GHz. This gives it plenty of power to run intensive emulators without lag or dropped frames.
A generous 4GB of RAM ensures excellent multitasking capabilities as well, allowing you to switch between apps and games fluidly. Storage is an impressive 64GB out of the box, providing ample room even for large ROM collections. Expand via the USB 3.0 port or microSD slot.
Connectivity on the MINIX NEO U9-H is fantastic. It includes HDMI 2.1, USB 3.0/USB 2.0 ports, micro SD, Ethernet, WiFi 6, and Bluetooth 5.0. This gives you blazing fast wired and wireless performance, future-proofing this device.
It runs a clean build of Android 10 with MINIX’s optimizations for streaming and gaming. This box can handle anything from intense 3D games to 4K HDR media flawlessly. Overall it’s a premium option
Mecool KM9 Pro
Processor: S912 Octa-core
Connectivity: HDMI, AV, Optical Audio, 2 x USB 2.0, Ethernet, Dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth
The Mecool KM9 Pro is a very solid mid-range Android TV box that offers great performance for emulation. It packs an octa-core S912 processor from Amlogic that delivers smooth gameplay across various emulators.
You get a generous 4GB RAM out of the box, which is perfect for multitasking and handling more intense emulators like PSP and N64. It comes with 64GB of internal storage as well, giving you room for large game libraries without needing to add external storage right away.
Connectivity on the Mecool KM9 Pro includes HDMI, AV, optical audio, dual USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, WiFi 5, and Bluetooth 4.1. The wired connections ensure low latency gaming while streaming and Bluetooth provide versatility.
This box runs Android 9.0 giving you flexibility to install emulators or other apps from the Google Play Store. It also comes preloaded with apps like Netflix, YouTube, and more for media streaming. You get a voice remote in the box as well.
At around $100 retail, the Mecool KM9 Pro hits the sweet spot of performance, features, and value making it one of the top choices for emulation.
- Octa-core CPU and 4GB RAM offer great emulation performance
- 64GB internal storage for large game libraries
- AV, Ethernet, WiFi 5, and Bluetooth connectivity
- Excellent value and performance for the price
- Still lags a bit behind the Shield TV in raw power
- Some units suffer from wireless stability issues
- No USB 3.0
Processor: Quad-core ARM Cortex-A53
Connectivity: HDMI, USB 2.0, Micro SD, Ethernet, Dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth
If you’re looking for an affordable Android TV box strictly for emulation, the Ematic Jetstream is a great budget choice. It runs on a quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU which is sufficient for running retro emulators smoothly.
You get 2GB of RAM out of the box which handles multitasking well for basic emulation. Storage is 16GB internally, so you’ll want to add a microSD card for larger ROM collections. It supports USB external drives too.
For connectivity, you have the essentials covered including HDMI, USB 2.0, Ethernet, WiFi 5, and Bluetooth 4.2. Picture quality is solid with 4K video support and HDR passthrough.
The Jetstream ships with Android 9.0 giving you access to all the key apps and emulators on Google Play. It also comes with a voice remote for convenience.
If your needs are simple and you just want a basic box for casual retro gaming, the Ematic Jetstream gets the job done on a tight budget.
- Quad-core CPU provides decent emulation performance
- microSD expansion slot to add more storage
- Ethernet and dual-band WiFi offers flexibility
- Very affordable price point
- Only 2GB RAM struggles with multitasking
- 16GB storage fills up fast
- Feels a bit laggy at times
Processor: Amlogic S905X3
Connectivity: HDMI, AV, USB 2.0, USB 3.0, TF Card, Ethernet, Dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth
The A95X Max is a value-packed Android TV box that delivers solid performance for retro gaming emulation. It runs on an Amlogic S905X3 quad-core ARM processor with speeds up to 1.9 GHz, giving you good performance across various emulators.
You get 2GB of DDR4 RAM in this box which allows for decent multitasking capabilities. The 16GB of internal storage is on the lower side, so adding a microSD card is recommended. It supports USB drives via the USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports as well.
Connectivity options on the A95X Max include HDMI, AV, Ethernet, WiFi 5, and Bluetooth 4.1. This covers the basics you need for responsive wired and wireless gaming and media streaming. It also supports 4K video output.
This box comes with Android 9.0 giving you full Google Play Store access for downloading emulators. It also comes preloaded with Kodi for media playback. The bundled remote is Bluetooth-enabled for low latency input.
For just $60, the A95X Max gives you very solid emulation performance and connectivity in a compact package making it one of the top budget picks.
- S905X3 quad-core processor great for retro emulators
- microSD expansion and USB ports
- 4K video support
- Affordable price with good performance
- Only 2GB RAM struggles with heavy multitasking
- 16GB storage fills up fast
- Remote feels cheap
Xiaomi Mi Box S
Processor: Quad-core Cortex-A53
RAM: 2GB DDR3
Storage: 8GB eMMC
Connectivity: HDMI 2.0a, USB 2.0, Bluetooth, Dual-band WiFi
The Xiaomi Mi Box S is an inexpensive Android TV streaming box that can also handle basic game emulation. It runs on a standard quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 processor with 2GB of DDR3 RAM. This provides enough power for simple emulators.
Internal storage is just 8GB so you’ll need a USB drive for any meaningful ROM storage. It supports USB external hard drives along with Bluetooth gamepads and other accessories.
This box only includes the basics for connectivity – HDMI 2.0a, one USB 2.0 port, Bluetooth 4.2, and dual-band WiFi. There is no wired ethernet which could cause issues for low latency gaming.
The Mi Box S runs Android TV 9.0 with Google Play Store access and Chromecast built-in. The compact design makes it easy to set up in your entertainment center. Voice controls are supported through the remote or Google Assistant.
At $80 MSRP, this is one of the most affordable Android TV options. But the lower specs hold it back for serious emulation. Casual users will appreciate the simplicity and Google ecosystem integration.
- Inexpensive Android TV streamer
- Easy setup with Android TV and Google Assistant built-in
- Compact, portable design
- Low internal storage requires external drive
- Lackluster specs can’t keep up for advanced emulation
- No ethernet port
What Should I Look for When Buying an Android TV Box?
An Android TV box is a small device that runs the Android operating system and allows you to stream content to your TV. They provide access to thousands of apps, games, movies, TV shows and more. With so many options on the market, it can be tricky to know what to look for when purchasing an Android TV box. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the key factors to consider before buying an Android TV box.
One of the most important factors to evaluate is the hardware specs of the Android TV box. You want adequate power and performance to run apps, games and video smoothly. Here are some key hardware specs to look for:
The processor, also known as the CPU, handles all of the calculations and processing for the device. Look for an Android TV box with a quad-core processor or higher. Popular options include:
- Amlogic S905X
- Amlogic S905X2
- Amlogic S905X3
- Rockchip RK3318
The higher the number of cores and processing speed (GHz), the better. This ensures smooth video playback and app performance.
RAM (memory) is used to run multiple apps and tabs at once. For the best experience, choose a box with at least 2GB of RAM. 3-4GB is even better for optimal multitasking.
Storage determines how many apps, games, videos, photos and files you can download to your device. Go for at least 16GB of internal storage. Models with 32GB or 64GB offer more flexibility.
Many boxes also include a microSD card slot to expand storage. A high capacity card like 128GB can dramatically increase storage space.
Video & Audio
To take advantage of your 4K TV, go for a box that supports 4K video output. This will allow you to stream ultra high definition content.
Make sure the box has support for modern audio formats like DTS, Dolby Digital and Dolby Atmos for surround sound. An HDMI port that supports HDMI 2.0 or higher is ideal.
Look for boxes with built-in 802.11ac dual-band WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2 or higher. This allows you to connect wireless peripherals like gaming controllers. An RJ45 ethernet port offers a wired internet connection option.
Android TV boxes run various versions of the Android OS. Look for a box running Android 8.0 Oreo or higher. This ensures you get the latest features, interface and security updates from Google.
Android 9.0 Pie and Android 10 Q are ideal. Avoid older versions like Android 6.0 Marshmallow unless the device will be updated.
Brand name boxes from Xiaomi, Nvidia, Google and others will often have a cleaner software experience compared to generic brands running older Android versions.
The included remote control can greatly impact your TV box experience. Look for remotes with the following features:
- Voice control – Remotes with built-in Google Assistant or Alexa allow hands-free voice commands.
- QWERTY keyboard – A full keyboard on the back makes entering text for search easy.
- Customizable buttons – Programmable buttons let you launch favorite apps with one press.
- Gaming controls – Some remotes have a tilt sensor or built-in gamepad for a better gaming experience.
- IR blaster – Allows the remote to control your TV’s power and volume.
- Rechargeable battery – Avoid remotes that need disposable batteries to be environmentally friendly.
- Minimal buttons – Less buttons makes the remote simpler to use for streaming.
Here are some bonus features to consider when choosing an Android TV box:
- USB ports – USB 2.0 or 3.0 ports allow you to connect peripherals like webcams, mice, keyboards, external storage and microphones.
- MicroSD card slot – As mentioned, allows you to expand storage. Choose a box with SD 3.0 for faster speeds.
- HDMI ports – Multiple HDMI ports allow you to directly connect soundbars, amplifiers or extra displays.
- OTG support – Enables connecting external drives, controllers and more with an OTG (on-the-go) cable.
- Gaming controller support – For playing games, opt for a box compatible with popular controllers like those from Xbox, PlayStation and others.
- HDR 10 – High Dynamic Range (HDR) 10 support provides more vivid colors and contrast. Great for HDR-enabled TVs.
- Dolby Vision – Dolby’s advanced HDR format for enhanced picture quality. Requires a Dolby Vision certified TV.
- AV output – For connecting to older TVs, an AV port enables composite video output.
- Ethernet port – For a faster and more stable wired internet connection. Helpful if WiFi is spotty.
Content and Apps
A major reason for purchasing an Android TV box is access to streaming services, movies, TV and apps. Be sure the box offers the content and apps you want before buying.
Popular streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and HBO Max should be available. Look for Google Play Movies & TV for renting new release movies.
Also check for free streaming TV services like Pluto TV, Tubi TV, Crackle and others. These give you tons of movies and shows to watch for free.
Fans of live sports should ensure their box gets major sports apps like ESPN, NFL Sunday Ticket, NBA League Pass and MLB.TV. WWE Network and UFC Fight Pass offer wrestling and MMA.
For streaming music, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube Music, SoundCloud and TuneIn Radio should be supported. Plex can provide access to your personal music library.
In addition to media streaming apps, also consider what other apps are available like:
- Web browsers like Chrome and Firefox for general internet usage
- Social apps like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit to stay connected
- Education apps like YouTube Kids and Khan Academy for learning
- Productivity apps like Microsoft Office for work on the go
- Gaming apps like classic emulators to play retro games
The Google Play Store should come preinstalled for access to thousands of Android apps and games. The Amazon App Store also provides a large selection of apps.
Having both stores ensures you get the widest range of applications possible on your Android TV box.
Avoid going with a generic no-name Android TV box brand. You want to choose a brand known for making quality devices backed by good customer service and software support.
Recommended brands include:
- Nvidia Shield TV – The gold standard. Powerful performance with frequent updates.
- Xiaomi Mi Box – Affordable with good hardware and software.
- Google Chromecast – Integrates well with Google services and the Assistant.
- Amazon Fire TV – Seamless Amazon Prime Video and Alexa integration.
Going with an established brand gives you peace of mind that your box will have the latest firmware, security patches and app support. They generally provide better technical support as well.
Android TV boxes range widely in price from $50 to $500+. Consider how much you’re willing to spend and what you intend to use the box for.
For video streaming in 4K HDR, a mid-range box from Xiaomi or Chromecast starting around $100 is sufficient.
For serious gaming or if you plan to use the box as an entertainment hub, invest more in a premium box like the Nvidia Shield TV Pro.
Don’t go too cheap, or performance and longevity will suffer. But you also likely don’t need the most expensive box either.
Android TV boxes provide an excellent way to build an emulation console with the ability to play retro games from various systems on your television. As we’ve covered, there are a few key factors to consider when choosing one:
- Processing power – Look at the CPU, number of cores, speed, etc. Faster processors yield better emulation capabilities.
- RAM – 2GB is workable, but 4GB is ideal for multitasking and running advanced emulators smoothly.
- Storage – More internal storage means space for larger ROM collections. Expandable storage is a must.
- Connectivity – Look for options like USB ports, microSD, Ethernet, newer WiFi/Bluetooth standards for lag-free gaming.
Out of all the options, the Nvidia Shield stands tall as the best Android TV box for emulation thanks to its beefy Tegra X1+ processor and perfect feature set. But there are also great choices for more budget-minded shoppers like the Mecool KM9 Pro and Turewell T9.
Using this guide, you should now have a clear picture of the top devices available to build the ultimate retro emulation station. Time to start reliving all your childhood gaming memories!
Frequently Asked Questions
What operating system do Android TV boxes use?
Most Android TV boxes run a version of the Android operating system that has been optimized for televisions, such as Android TV or Fire OS. This allows you to access the Google Play Store and install apps like classic game emulators.
Can you use a controller with an Android TV box?
Yes, most Android TV boxes support connecting controllers over Bluetooth or USB. Some popular options are the Sony DualShock 4, Xbox One controller, 8BitDo Sn30 Pro or Gamesir T4 Pro. Using a proper controller provides a much better experience for retro gaming than a remote.
How do you load ROMs onto an Android TV box?
The easiest way is to load ROM files onto a microSD card or USB drive, which can then be connected to the Android TV box. You can also transfer ROMs wirelessly over your home network if the box supports SMB file sharing or use a cloud drive like Google Drive. Once the ROMs are accessible, the emulators like RetroArch will allow you to scan that location and add the games to your libraries.
Can you use multiplayer controllers with Android TV emulators?
Yes, most emulators on Android TV support multiple controllers connected over Bluetooth or USB. This allows you to enjoy retro multiplayer gaming on games that originally supported two or more players on a single TV.
What is the best emulator frontend for Android TV boxes?
Most users agree that RetroArch is the most full-featured and versatile emulator frontend for Android TV. It emulates dozens of systems in a single app and allows you to unify your game libraries. Other popular frontends include Lemuroid, M64Plus FZ, and PPSSPP.
Should you buy an Android TV box with more RAM or storage for emulation?
While both RAM and internal storage are important, prioritize RAM if you have to choose between them. More RAM (4GB+) ensures smooth performance when running multiple emulators and games. Additional storage can always be added via a microSD card or external USB drive.
Can you play Nintendo Switch games on an Android TV box?
Switch emulation is still in the early stages, but Android TV devices like the Nvidia Shield can run experimental Switch emulators like Skyline. Performance will be highly dependent on the box’s hardware specs. Playing Switch games this way may also violate Nintendo’s IP rights.
What’s better for emulation – Android TV box or Raspberry Pi?
Android TV devices provide a more user-friendly setup with better software support. But some high-end Raspberry Pi kits with accessories tailored for retro gaming can match or even exceed an Android box in raw performance. Ultimately both are great options with their own pros and cons.