The best Kodi/XBMC boxes introduction
If you're looking to use a box for streaming content to your television, then Kodi (or XBMC as it was previously known) is one of the best pieces of software out there to use, bringing flexibility, support for a huge range of streaming services and a TV-friendly interface that makes playing your media a joy.
It is, in our humble opinion, a whole new level of home entertainment.
As well as allowing you to stream video and music files over a local network, the software also includes the ability to install plug-ins to stream from a variety of services including Amazon Prime Instant Video, Spotify and YouTube.
The only downside is that Kodi doesn't actually make a set top box of its own for the software (and no, its branded Raspberry Pi case doesn't count) so if you want to install Kodi you actually have a dazzling array of options.
Though, even if it did, the Kodi/XBMC crowd have always been home-brewers at heart and would likely rather build and buy devices of their own.
To help facilitate that drive to find the best hardware for your video streaming ventures we've put together this handy guide with our top picks of the best boxes to install Kodi on, from low-powered Linux machines to Android set top boxes capable of outputting at 4K resolutions.
There are also boxes you can buy which have Kodi pre-installed on them, however it's here you'll have to be careful. Since Kodi is open-source software, a number of third parties have been modifying and selling it with third-party add ons that enable piracy.
Since we don't know anyone who likes lawsuits from the Motion Picture Association of America, we have made every effort to include only those Kodi boxes which use a stock form of the software, without any piracy-enabling add ons.
While you might feel that there aren't many clean boxes out there, there's actually a huge range of choices, all of which you can find on the pages that follow.
- Want software similar to Kodi? Have you heard about Plex?
This level of power also has several other benefits. You don't have to worry about graphically intensive skins slowing down your media experience, and the system can also be used to both play and stream games when you're not using Kodi/XBMC.
The only downside of the Shield is its cost. With a starting price of $200 (£190) for the 16GB model (a larger 500GB 'Pro' model is also available) it's one of the more expensive boxes on our list but, for the money, you're getting a powerful streaming box with enough horsepower for a range of other applications.
Amazon Fire TV
The Amazon Fire TV is an enormously popular streaming device, and with good reason. Its price ($100/£65) is exceptional considering it offers 4K streaming, and its 2GHz quad core processor means that it's a snappy and responsive device.
There's a big drawback to the Amazon Fire TV though, and that's its exclusive use of Amazon's own marketplace for installing apps. This means that in order to install Kodi you have to perform a process known as 'side-loading'.
This isn't particularly difficult, but if you're someone who doesn't consider themselves to be technically minded then there are better choices on this list.
If you're willing to go through a slightly more involved process to set up your device, however, then the Amazon Fire TV is an absolute bargain.
Amazon Fire Stick
A new version has also been released for 2017 that brings Amazon Alexa integration and a fully fleshed out app store, amongst other new additions, making Amazon's streaming device an even more accomplished Kodi box.
Like the full-size box, you'll have to side-load Kodi to the streaming stick or, if you want to run Kodi straight off your Android phone, use Apps2Fire, which allows you to beam APK files from an Android phone to your Fire TV Stick.
The other downside here is that while the full-size box supports 4K playback, Amazon's pint-sized streamer is currently limited to 1080p playback. That being said, this is a better companion for HDTVs than UHD behemoths so keep that in mind before you commit to the smaller form factor.
Asus Chromebox CN62
Want a familiar name? Check out Asus' Chromebox CN62. This mini streaming box has all the trappings of a primo Kodi box in an attractive, petite shell that fits easily either behind the screen or under it, depending on your preference.
While these guys come with Chrome OS pre-installed, at the end of the day they're just regular mini PCs, which means that practically any OS can be put on there without much of a hassle.
Your best bet in terms of a Kodi-applicable OS is LibreELEC, a free flavor of Linux that's "just enough" to get Kodi/XBMC up and running.
What happens when you put a low-power OS on some solid hardware like Asus' Chromebox? It's a match made in streaming heaven.
Cubox i2 (US-only)
The Cubox i2 has a couple of strong arguments to be made in its favor. Coming in at only $90 it's darn cheap, and it comes with Kodi pre-installed to minimise the amount of time you'll spend setting the device up.
That said, the Cubox's 1GHz dual core processor is low-powered compared to others on this list. Plus, it doesn't support 4K playback, and it isn't available outside the US.
If having Kodi pre-installed is a major selling point to you then you could do a great deal worse than take a look at the Cubox, but spend just a little more money and you'll get a much more powerful machine with only a marginally more involved setup process.
CompuLab Utilite (US-only)
Unlike the Cubox, the CompuLab Utilite is certainly not lacking in the power department. Its 1.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 is more than powerful enough for most streaming needs, which is why it's surprising therefore that 4K playback isn't supported on such a powerful device.
Instead of installing the traditional Android version Kodi on this machine, however, you'll actually need to jump operating systems to install a Kodi-flavored Linux distribution.
This in itself isn't particularly tricky (it's comparable in difficulty to installing Kodi on the Amazon Fire above), but at this price ($192) and without 4K playback, the Utilite probably doesn't deserve your purchase.
On the theme of highly powered devices without 4K playback, we next have the Gem Box. Its price ($99/£89.99) is significantly lower than the Utilite's however, not to mention the fact that its Android configuration makes installing Kodi a breeze.
However, despite a moderately powerful 1.5GHz quad core processor, the player doesn't support 4K playback.
If the lack of pixels doesn't faze you and you don't mind Full HD playback, then the Gem Box's easy Kodi installation and ample gaming options (which include streaming over both steam link and Game Fly) might make this box exactly the droid you've been looking for.
Raspberry Pi 3
This recommendation comes with a caveat: If you're someone that doesn't like to get their hands dirty, you should probably move on to the next pick. No one in the history of computing has ever called the Raspberry Pi 3 an easy-to-use device.
Fundamentally, the Raspberry Pi is intended to be used as a basic tool to get people coding, which means that installing Kodi on it requires a heap of time and effort.
It's also underwhelmingly low-powered, with just a 1.2GHz quad-core CPU. Installation of Kodi is handled once again with a Kodi/Linux hybrid, it doesn't support 4K, and in its stock configuration it doesn't even come with a case. As in, you literally just get the circuit board.
Plain and simple, the Raspberry Pi 3 is a device for hobbyists. But, if you're into the whole DIY scene, you're in for a great deal of fun with this box. (Again, actual box not included.)
Razer Forge TV
Much like Nvidia, Razer is a company with an extensive background in gaming hardware, so it's unsurprising that the Forge TV comes with a beastly 2.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor. What is surprising, however, is its price.
At just $100 (£85) the Razer Forge TV is one of the cheaper devices on this list, and its Android OS means that Kodi setup is once again a breeze.
The only problem with Razer's first foray into streaming boxes is that it doesn't support 4K streaming so, if that's important to you, then you'll need to look at a more expensive alternative.
The WeTek Core is a brilliant Kodi streaming box, though it does have some drawbacks.
Its 2GHz Quad Core processor provides a good amount of power, which is important since the WeTek supports 4K playback. It's also one of the cheapest at just £96 (around $127). It lacks a Live TV tuner, however, that's something you will be able to find on the upcoming WeTek Play 2.
It's even got Kodi pre-installed, so you shouldn't have any trouble with this machine if you just want to plug it in and get watching straight away.
As well as not being available stateside, it's also disappointing to see that the WeTek Core only supports Wi-Fi up to 802.11n rather than the newer 802.11ac … not that it really matters. For best results streaming 4K you're going to want to hardwire it into your network using the gigabit ethernet port anyway.
Matricom G-Box Q2
The Matricom G-Box Q2 is, for the most part, a quite adept streaming box. It packs Android TV, making Kodi just an easy app installation away.
It's also 4K-compatible, has a nippy quad core 2GHz processor and is even available at a reasonable cost in both the USA ($100) and UK (£89).
The one odd omission? No gigabit ethernet. The G-Box Q2's ethernet speeds top out at 100gbps, which could potentially bottleneck 4K streams. That said, at least it includes the latest wireless-ac standard of Wi-Fi.
Build your own!
The beauty of Kodi (and XBMC before it) is that it's so configurable as a piece of software. It makes sense then that you may want to go all out and completely configure the hardware you use as well.
Kodi can be installed on most desktop machines, which means that assembling a box out of ordinary PC components will work just fine. If you're someone who maintains a desktop PC with regular hardware upgrades, then your old hardware can go into your new Kodi box.
This also means that if a part of your system becomes outdated further down the line then, in theory, it's just a simple case of swapping out that component for an upgrade.
Is your Wi-Fi card outdated? Just rip out the old module and replace it. Processor getting a bit long in the tooth? Simply kick in to the curb and replace it with a shiny new one.
This is probably the most expensive method on this list, but the resulting satisfaction from having built an HTPC entirely yourself is worth the effort it takes several times over.
If there are any amazing pieces of hardware you think we've missed then please let us know in the comments below!