On a complete whim, I picked up a Nexus Player. This device is Googles answer to the Apple TV; an attempt to capture the home entertainment/streaming niche. And with the recent launch of Australian Streaming services such as Netflix and Stan, it could be well timed.
Except none of these services had a native app ready at launch and even now, still don’t.
However, for my personal streaming uses, with the exception of locally hosted files, most of my streaming has come from iTunes. Yet there is a lot of stuff that isn’t available through iTunes, so Google Play fills the gap nicely.
Yet once you dig under the very nice GUI (called Leanback) its just good old fashioned Android, so with a bit of playing you can install more than just the officially recognised Android TV apps. But it takes a little bit of fiddling…
The first thing you’ll want to do is ‘root’ the device. I used this how-to from XDA-Devs. It worked like a charm. It’s a bit fiddly, but works as describes. I did try the ‘All-in-One’ toolkit also on XDA, but didn’t have much joy.
Next, from the Google Play store, on the device, install Sideload Launcher and ES File Manager. Once you have root access and a decent file manager, spark up ES’s built in FTP server. Using your favourite FTP Client (Filezilla, Cyberduck) and connect (note that ES ftp uses a funny port number). Now you can easily upload APK’s and install them using ES. While non-Android TV apps won’t appear within Leanback launcher, they will appear in Sideload.
One of the first apps you’re going to want to do this with is Stickmount. Android TV has an oddity where ‘normal’ apps cannot browse to a plugged in USB storage device (eg: Thumbdrive, USB Hard Drive). Stickmount allows you to ‘properly’ mount a drive within the browsable file system.
The rest is pretty straight forward from there.
Yet one thing that did get me is a thing called ‘overscan’. Essentially with is your TV producing an image larger than what can actually fit on the TV’s screen. Essentially is crops a small area around the entire edge. You’ll mostly see this within ES File Explorer, down the left hand side. I wont go into details, but you can side-load Nova Launcher and utilise its Overscan Calibrator to reset the screen size to fit. You can read more here.
One of the major things that did tempt me to the Nexus Player was its optional gamepad. Although (oddly) not available through regular retailers (JB HiFi, Dick Smith), it is available through Google Play. Its a pretty well built device and opens up the gaming capabilities of the Nexus.
Now, if you’ve had the misfortune of reading my blog in the past, you’ll know that I quite like emulated, retro games. And the Nexus hasn’t let me down. Already there are many Android TV native emulator apps, covering Mame, NES/SNES, and Sega (and more, but theyre my favourites). All worked brilliantly and once I had the hard rive mounting sorted I was up and playing Alex Kidd, Streets of Rage, and Marvel vs Capcom in no time. Games ran perfectly, although I did fiddle with some or the button settings to tweak them to my liking.
All in all, I’m more than happy with the Nexus Player and I hope more native apps arrive for it soon (ABC iView please?). If one day a company decided to build Android TV into a proper Bluray player, I’d be as happy as a pig in shit!