- Feb. 4th 2022 8:30 am PT
Android TV is an incredible entertainment OS at the very heart of many TV, projector, and home theater setups for millions across the globe. Android TV and by extension the new Google TV overhaul for selected devices is great as-is, but with just a few apps, it can be even better.
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If you have an Android TV set-top box or even a Chromecast with Google TV dongle you might run into storage and file management issues right out of the box. An essential app for both Android smartphones and TV set-top boxes to help you get to grips with any files is FX File Explorer.
There is more to Solid than just system file management though. Because Google has refrained from making a dedicated Drive app for Android TV, apps like FX File Explorer offer an opportunity to link directly to your existing cloud storage account. If you happen to have videos, images, and other media stored in your online Google account, Solid gives the option to play and view these with a great interface to boot.
In conjunction with a good file management app, you should definitely take a look at Send Files to TV. This app is a godsend when you want to send and receive files between your Android TV devices and your smartphone. Normally, it’s a laborious process that requires cables and even USB drives or SD cards to get a file from your phone to your TV.
Using your local network, you can connect directly to your phone with Send Files to TV and bypass the frustration. This allows you to share all kinds of filetype too. If you want to sideload applications, then grabbing an APK file and sending it over it might work for this easy-to-grasp system. It helps that the interface is also super easy to grasp with just two options to choose from “Send” and “Receive.”
Considering just how many streaming services are out there vying for your hard-earned money, the usage of a home media server will be alien to many, but for those in the know, Plex is among the best solutions for managing your downloaded media.
It also works with any media you have stored locally, which is great if you plug in a hard drive full of old movies and TV shows, as Plex is capable of automatically sorting and categorizing with little actual user input. There are some paid tiers, but overall Plex offers a great alternative for people out there that prefer to self manage their media collections.
Personally, I consider Button Mapper a must-have Android TV app as it allows me to actually tune a remote to work how I want it to. The simple explanation of what Button Mapper does is to let you adjust what each button on your physical remote can do.
By adding the ability to double and long-press, you can do much more than even basic or limited remotes would be capable right out of the box. A one-time fee unlocks more options and customization controls, but it is worth every penny if you are frustrated with your Android TV remote.
Retroarch is one for the gamers out there itching to play some classic titles from their favorite consoles. Effectively a bundle of popular emulators all rolled into one package, Retroarch lets you load ROMs, hook up, and configure all of your favorite peripherals and manage a massive array of consoles and gaming titles in an easy-to-use manner.
Everything from classic arcade titles to PS2 and even Wii U can be emulated here. App and game performance will depend heavily upon your actual Android TV hardware if you want to play the glut of 3D systems available. That said, once you get things up and running, it’s a treasure trove of entertainment for fans of all gaming eras. You will need to learn how to use the app though, but it’s easy enough once you get your head around things.
Not everyone has an Android phone, and that’s okay because with AirScreen you can use an iOS device to cast and screen mirror with ease. AirScreen opens up AirPlay functionality for iOS and MacOS hardware on your Android TV devices. This means you can screen mirror almost natively without needing an Apple TV set-top box.
One of the best things here is that you only need to install AirScreen on your Android TV device without needing to open or add an app to your iOS hardware. There’s support for 4K UHD video, which is yet another bonus as you can enjoy content not normally viewable at native resolution on your iPhone or iPad.
Think of TVUsage as the Digital Wellbeing app but for your Android TV. On your mobile, you can set app and usage limits, but it’s much harder to do that on your TV. TVUsage lets you lock your Android TV system with a 4 digit PIN, set screen time and usage hours for specific apps, adds install, and uninstall protection, plus more.
Usage charts let you check on your previous three days of TV use, and while this might seem like overkill for most, it’s a great parental control that lets you keep better track of Android TV use. The ability to set break periods at custom intervals is a worthwhile tool alone as it helps stop binge-watching and lets you step away from the screen.
Browsing the web on your TV isn’t always that fun or intuitive. Sure, you can get fully-featured web browsers that work just fine, but navigating with a remote can be unwieldy and frustrating. If you want a more pleasant albeit very basic experience, then TV Bro is an ideal alternative.
It’s hard to deny that TV Bro is not the most attractive, but it has been optimized for a remote-based UI with far greater reliability than some other options such as Puffin Browser in our experience. Using the back button offers a neat tabbed browsing implementation. There is an in-built cursor that makes navigation without needing an external peripheral or by using guesswork.
Is there an OS that VLC is not available on? The media player is undoubtedly an essential Android TV app if you care about being able to play all manner of media, no matter the codec. What else is there to say about the most versatile media player out there? Well, it’s still completely free with truly in-depth playback controls and media auto-categorization, plus there is a definite hint of Google Play Music to the interface.
Android TV offers a wealth of applications and services that you can download and install to maximize the power of your home entertainment system. That makes it hard to cover just about everything there is. Do you have any apps that you simply cannot live without? Let us know down in the comments section below.
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Android TV is a version of the Android platform which has been modified by Google to run on televisions with over 5,000 native applications. The platform is often found on devices from Nvidia, Hisense, and Sony, with operator devices also using Android TV.
Damien is a UK-based video producer for 9to5Google. Find him on Twitter: @iamdamienwilde. Email: email@example.com