See that peculiar contraption in the image above? That’s called a MediaBox. It’s a media streamer, but it’s also kiiind of an Android PC. What that basically means is this: it’s a thingy that you plug into your television, and the moment you do, your TV immediately becomes smarter, as though it’s been pumped full of brain-steroids and is suddenly able to comprehend life, the universe and everything in between. In other words, THIS IS THE START OF THE MACHINE WARS, AND THE BEGINNING OF THE END.
Okay, so it’s not that. But it’s kiiind of that.
Setting up the MediaBox is pleasantly straightforward, and everything you need to get up and running is included in the box. You connect it to your TV either via HDMI, or by using those old-school red, yellow and white RCA connectors. Plug in the AC adapter, toggle the power switch, and your TV’s screen will suddenly, magically, inexplicably be inhabited by a bunch of pre-installed apps for you to toy with. This is the primary purpose of the MediaBox: it essentially turns your TV into an Android device.
You interact with the MediaBox’s functionality via a bundled remote control – which has its drawbacks, but more on that in a bit. The suite of pre-installed software includes popular media-streaming services like Netflix and YouTube, and because the MediaBox was designed locally, it comes pre-loaded with a bunch of apps specifically tailored to South African consumers, like ShowMax, DStv Now and SuperSport. Courtesy of the fact that it runs on Android, it offers a bunch of other useful applications and services as well, like Chrome. Most importantly, you’ve also got access to Google’s Play Store, which means you can download any of the millions and millions of apps and games on there and they should all theoretically work – but keep in mind that you interact with the MediaBox using a small remote control, so you’ll have to judge for yourself which apps will work best with the device.
If you’re familiar with Google Chromecast, the MediaBox is a lot like that – but unlike the Chromecast, you don’t need to have an expensive smartphone or tablet to access the MediaBox’s functionality. The hardware that powers the device performs really well, and aside from experiencing some minor sluggishness in certain applications (Chrome, for instance, is a tad jittery when browsing fancier websites), overall the interface is nippy and responsive.
I’d like everything about the MediaBox, if it weren’t for one glaring annoyance: the remote’s IR pointer mode. While many of the device’s menus and applications make use of the remote’s directional buttons to handle navigation, some of them, like YouTube, require use of the IR pointer for accessing elements of the UI. Trouble is, as with most IR pointers, it’s unreliable and inaccurate, and I often found myself flailing wildly in an (often futile) attempt to get the on-screen cursor to recognise what I wanted from its existence. It’s particularly annoying when watching YouTube videos, because using the pointer to rewind, pause and enter full-screen mode is disappointingly finicky. Yes, many curse words were uttered. Don’t judge me. Moving the MediaBox to a different spot, sitting closer to and further away from the TV, telepathically transmitting messages directly from my brain to the device in the hopes it’d finally understand me – I tried everything, and none of it helped.
Aside from that irritation, I’m quite fond of the MediaBox. If you’re looking for a way to make your existing TV smarter than me, or you, or anyone else really, it’s a great option. Just be prepared to wrestle with that pointer. It’s a slippery one.