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Review of an Android TV platform – Mi-Box 3.

Discussion in 'Bali Expat Forum' started by ronb, Jul 17, 2017.

  1. ronb

    ronb Active Member

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    Last year there was some discussion of Android TV on this forum. I was going to contribute but was underwhelmed by the box I got so let it slide. Now I have a box worth talking about. I have posted this review to the Bali Expats Facebook page, so apologize to those of you have see it as a double post.

    Now that many of us can get good fibre-optic Internet connections, we are more interested in streaming TV and movies from on-line sources. So I thought Android TV may be of interest to a number of expats.

    Android TV is a software platform developed by Google and it can be built into TV sets such as Sony Bravia, or can be in separate set-top boxes like this one reviewed. The software takes video content from the Internet or from video files that you have on your home network and it displays to full advantage on your home TV equipment meaning high definition with surround sound if you have it.

    I first tried Android TV a year ago when I got a box from a no-names Chinese manufacturer. It worked but was disappointing because it did not support surround sound or the use of smartphones as remotes and controlling it via its own clumsy remote was a pain – so browsing for interesting content was no fun. Also it was only Android 5 (Lollipop) and offered no updates at all.

    Over the past year I have come to better understand what I want from Android TV. I now watch a lot of content from YouTube (music, politics, geeky stuff etc), and I have a large collection of downloaded movies and TV that I manage using Emby running on Windows. See https://emby.media/.

    The Mi-Box 3 from Xiaomi is recognized by Google as a true implementation of Android TV (there are only several recognized – see https://www.android.com/tv/). It is based on Android 6 (Marshmallow) and there are hints that Xiaomi will provide an upgrade to Android 7 (Nougat). The box itself only has a few sockets on the back (power input, HDMI to TV, USB for more storage, and audio out for headphones). Likewise, the remote is very simple - besides a power button it has left-right-up-down-select, a go back, a go home, a microphone button for voice commands and a vol +-. Does this simplicity work, and my answer so far is “yes”. The newer on-screen layout of Android 6 presents rows of icons well suited to the left-right-up-down selection.

    Setting it up turned out to be easy. I was initially surprised there was no RJ45 socket for wired Internet, but I have easily connected via WiFi and viewed plenty of hi-def content without any problems. (I have read on-line that some users buy USB to RJ45 converters for a few dollars and get a wired connection that way.) If you have an Android phone or tablet you can get Mi-Box to copy settings from there and you are set up quickly. Adding apps like Kodi or Tune-in from the Play Store is easy. To add the popular Kodi app called Exodus requires a few steps but there are detailed on-line guides available. Exodus is an app that searches for what you request, for example House of Cards Season 4, and offers a number of streaming feeds, some hi-def, some standard-def. I have played with it a bit but am not using it on a regular basis because I have my Emby collection.

    Voice Commands. I mentioned above the microphone button and the remote has a microphone. So when on the home screen you can say launch YouTube, or launch whatever- it works well. Then some apps let you keep talking – in particular YouTube will respond to commands like search Scott Joplin (or anything else) and you will get search results as a row of icons so you can quickly select one. The Emby app that I use extensively does not seem to respond to voice – so you work it out on an app by app basis.

    Using phone/tablet. One of the pains with Android TV can be when you need to login or type for other reasons. It displays an on-screen keyboard but this can be slow. So there is an Android app for phone/tablet that acts as an Android TV remote and typing on a tablet is probably something you can already manage pretty well. Also, using YouTube (and probably other apps) on your phone/tablet, when you find what you want you can “cast” it to the Mi-Box 3 – this is the built-in Chromecast functionality


    Android TV offers some VPN options which will interest some who want to use Netflix or sports channels as if in another country. I have a paid subscription to ZenMate VPN and tried it. The Zenmate Android app is not available via Play Store on Android TV but I was able to do what they call a side-load – you can Google for details if you need this. I tried a VPN connection via HongKong and was then able to access reddit so that I could use the HopWatch app. So it works but I won’t be using it all that much.

    Quirks. Once or twice it has locked up so that I have needed to disconnect and re-connect ppwer – but this is very occasional. I suspect the Emby app may have provoked this. The remote connects via Bluetooth and occasionally it seems to lose connection and go through a small ritual to re-establish the connection – this is a little annoying and I hope I will get to understand why this is happening and then maybe avoid it.

    Overall Impression. The two apps I use extensively, YouTube and Emby, are available on the LG smart TV so I have options. Increasingly I am warming to the Android TV versions and think I will be using them more and more. And as time goes by I may get hooked on some of the other available apps.

    The screenshot shown is my Home screen scrolled down a bit. Out of view at the top is the search bar with microphone icon. Then the row of large icons half shown are suggestions from Android. Next there are two rows for my installed apps – there are many more to the right. I have moved my favourite YouTube and Emby to the left. Down the bottom is access to general settings and WiFi signal strength and settings.

    I purchased my Mi-Box 3 through Tokopedia using one of their suppliers called xiaomi.id. When JNE transport was added in it was Rp1,095,678.
     

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  2. DenpasarHouse

    DenpasarHouse Member

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    Thanks a lot ronb. I'll be getting a fibre internet connection in a few weeks so your timing is perfect.

    Does your VPN provider have servers in Australia? Any chance you could test out the Freeview Plus app?

    http://www.freeview.com.au/freeviewfv/
     
  3. JohnnyCool

    JohnnyCool Well-Known Member

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    Beware of Zenmate “VPN”.
    ZenMate is not a full-featured VPN service, but a proxy browser addon. It has very few servers (none in Australia) and is ridiculously expensive for what it offers. There are oodles of complaints against it, particularly their “refund/cancellation” behaviour (or lack of it). Some have even called it a criminal organisation.

    My point is that there are many bona-fide VPN services with all the features one would expect that actually deliver. (And far less expensive.)

    As far as I know, Zenmate doesn’t even employ openVPN. Its “security” features are full of holes, there’s no kill-switch, etc.

    I would avoid ZenMate like the plague and am surprised that ronb is using it.
     
  4. ronb

    ronb Active Member

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    To answer DenpasarHouse - yes ZenMate does have a server in Sydney, only available to paying clients. I also have a subscription to NordVPN which also has Aussie servers. I have tried using the ABC iview with both without much joy - I think ABC knows you are using a VPN and blocks.

    To answer JohnnyCool - how did I get to Zenmate? - for quite a time I used ZenMate free which offers servers in the US, Hong Kong and Europe so I used Hong Kong. This is how I got to ThePirateBay to locate torrents, but I don't use a VPN while downloading torrents. Then I got interested in Reddit and found the VPN was needed and Zenmate does well. So after years of free use I became interested in paying to get a VPN on my Android devices because much of my reddit browsing is when we are out and about. I had so much experience of using Zenmate I stuck with the devil I knew.

    To some of your points:
    • yes the free one is a browser add-on which is exactly what I want on Windows. The paid for version offers a Windows process which then covers everything on Windows but I don't use this often. I run an Opera Browser with Zenmate switched on, and a Chrome browser with no VPN. So I can search torrents in an Opera window but Bittorrent is running on the PC without a VPN so faster download speeds.
    • you say not many servers - but there are 28 countries - seems good enough
    • you say expensive - but the annual subscription works out a US$5 per month - seems pretty average and it covers all my devices
    • you say it is not full featured - the features I want are getting the non-Indo location and good download speeds. It certainly gets around the Indo site blocking for me and as for speed, just now Speedtest tells me on my tablet I get ping=3, down=14.8, up=2.7 with no VPN, then with VPN via Singapore I get ping=72, down=13, up=1.5, which I think is pretty good.
    • security features are full of holes - I don't know much about this, but usually VPNs envrypt the traffic between your device and the VPN server in Singapore or where-ever. so Telkom cannot interfere. I believe Zenamete is doing this. What more do I want?
    • you doubt that it uses OpenVPN but the ZenMate site says "OpenVPN is the newest and most secure VPN protocol. It is much faster than other methods and there is also no reason to believe that anyone (including the NSA) has compromised OpenVPN connections. OpenVPN is not integrated into popular operating systems, meaning you will need a third-party app - such as ZenMate - to use it."
    Having said all that I am interested to learn more and in particular find out if others are successfully streaming hi-def movies onto big TVs using VPNs. If you are I would love to know the details.
     
  5. JohnnyCool

    JohnnyCool Well-Known Member

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    It seems that ZenMate has upped its game. I hope that’s true.
    That’s better than before.
    Agree.
    Any decent VPN service will do that.
    All VPNs encrypt traffic. That’s part of the whole point of them.
    It didn’t offer OpenVPN before. Maybe it does now. There’s nothing really “new” about it. It’s been around a very long time. A good VPN service will include OpenVPN software by default. And ideally, you should be able to choose which protocol to use (like UDP or several others). Whether or not the NSA has/can compromise those connections is debatable.

    The VPN I use has no problems connecting to iView, depending on which server I choose in Australia (20-30 to choose from).
    It can connect five devices at once.
    It has no restrictions on P2P downloading.
    Has built-in proxy stuff.
    No DNS leaks.
    A kill-switch.
    Keeps no logs (supposedly).
    Great interface which shows how busy different servers are.
    Runs on its own Tier 1 servers worldwide (so it doesn’t have to rely on 3rd party ones somewhere in the chain).

    Currently costs US$ 80/year.

    The only “negative” is that it’s in the USA (a “five-eyes” country). The whole “security” issues some countries are trying to get on top of is becoming a bit draconian. (Like the UK, Trump’s USA, and now Australia.) Who knows what the final outcomes (if any) will be.
     
  6. DenpasarHouse

    DenpasarHouse Member

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    Thanks for that.

    Just in case you didn't know, the latest version of Opera has a free VPN (actually a proxy server) built in, which you can use to view Reddit and pretty much all the other websites that are banned in Indonesia. The "VPN" only works within the Opera browser though.

    I use it all the time for Reddit and the Pirate Bay. It's pretty good for watching location dependent Youtube videos too. You can actually choose from a few different countries where you'd like your traffic to originate from.
     
  7. JohnnyCool

    JohnnyCool Well-Known Member

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    Opera's built-in free VPN does not allow P2P downloading. So if you go to Pirate Bay, what's the point, since you can't download any torrents? Beats me.
     
  8. DenpasarHouse

    DenpasarHouse Member

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    The sites that host the torrent files (or magnet links) are banned and blocked but the Bittorrent applications themselves (e.g. uTorrent) still work in Indonesia without using a VPN. That means that you only need a VPN to get a hold of the torrent file, once you've got this you no longer need the VPN . . . so far. That might change in the future. I hope not, as not all torrents are for illegal content, although realistically, 99% of them are.
     
  9. JohnnyCool

    JohnnyCool Well-Known Member

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    You don’t need a VPN to get hold of torrent files. The sites are neither banned nor blocked.
    Once you get a torrent file, you can use any Bittorrent client you want to download with. A proper VPN will obfuscate what you’re doing to your actual ISP so it won’t know what’s exactly going on. Of course, it’ll know how much bandwidth you’re using, but not what for because of tunneling and encryption..
    I can go to any bar/cafe with free wi-fi with a laptop/tablet and access torrent sites (without any VPN). So I’m not sure how you got your idea.

    You’re right in that not all torrents are for illegal content. I think you’re wrong with “realistically, 99% of them are”.
     
  10. DenpasarHouse

    DenpasarHouse Member

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    Aduh, that's correct. Not all the ISPs are consistent with what they block, although they should be. The popular torrent sites are definitely blocked on Telkom, Telkomsel and XL though (e.g. thepiratebay.org).

    My main point was just to reply to this:

    While you can't use a Bittorrent client via Opera's "VPN", it's not necessary to do so. If your ISP blocks the websites that host the torrent files you can just use Opera's "VPN" to get them and then download the actual content of the torrents via your Bittorrent client, which doesn't require a VPN in Indonesia. Without a VPN it's definitely not private, but I'm yet to hear of any Indonesians being prosecuted for copyright infringement due to the downloading of illegal torrents.
     
  11. JohnnyCool

    JohnnyCool Well-Known Member

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    Yes, you can do what you suggest, but it’s not the case for me that:
    I only use Telkom.

    This year quite a few popular sites have been shut-down or closed voluntarily (including several of the biggest ones). That hasn’t stopped many others from taking over.

    Please note that, in principle, I do not promote the use of torrent sites for downloading illegal content.
    No animals were harmed in writing this.
     
  12. JohnnyCool

    JohnnyCool Well-Known Member

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    The VPN I use has 59 servers in Sydney and 2 in Melbourne.

    Occasionally, ABC iview stops working on one or another for while, but the others are fine. This might be the result of ABC trying to block VPNs...the whack-a-mole effect.

    VPN companies that own their own servers can easily change a server’s on-line address, so the battle is kind of endless.

    If access to any VPN service is somehow blocked by law within a country, that could solve the “problem”. I believe a move like that is unlikely in Australia. It’s fraught with multiple difficulties such as technical issues, denying personal freedom, how a law like that could be enforced on an international country, hindering countries that use VPNs for legitimate purposes, etc.
     
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