Wither Android TV

This weekend I saw something truly ridiculous. An Android TV device running the latest version of Android TV apparently (it had an update a few weeks ago to 8.0) that completely refused to play YouTube videos.

The device, Xiaomi Mibox, I picked up a couple of years ago and never used was gifted to a friend of mine and used somewhat regularly over the last 10 or so months. I don’t know the problem but I suspect the device doesn’t support the format (possibly DRM?) Google is putting on the advertising on YouTube videos but whatever the issue it seems ludicrous that a Google operating system won’t play videos from a Google service. It doesn’t even give an error message, it just spins and spins and spins.

Digging through the apps installed to see if a recent YouTube app update had broken things, we saw that Android TV ships with a print spooler. No idea why a set top box for a TV would need one but it reaffirmed my frustration with Android as an operating system. If Android were just a series of packages for a traditional GNU/Linux system the print spooler would be easily removed when building for a television set top box but instead we have a fragmented mess where devices frequently ship violating the GPL, or with outdated drivers or a lack of updates from whoever might update things. It is free software often in name only with a kludge of binary drivers and proprietary components jammed into a device to get it working.

Contrasting this to the other popular proprietary operating system for such devices: iOS or tvOS or whatever nonsense branding is being currently applied and it’s clear that Apple’s approach works well for the half dozen or so devices they produce but probably would fail just as spectacularly if they tried to run it on the thousands of doodads that run some flavor of Android in 2018.

In the end, we unplugged it and plugged in an old $20 Roku device and with a fresh pair of batteries in the remote and a quick software update worked just fine and played YouTube videos the way they were meant to be played: that is to say, at all.

I wonder what this might look like with a standard computer running a desktop OS and some kind of decent remote control solution. Maybe such a thing exists, but I’ve not heard of it.

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Posted by Matt Lee

Artist, writer, director and recovering free software user.

6 Replies to “Wither Android TV”

  1. Android TV is such a disappointment, to everyone but rabid Shield fans. The incentives just aren’t there for anyone to cooperate with Google on this, not like they put that much effort into it. And Apple & others beat them on the high end, Roku and Amazon on the low

    Washington, DC

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  2. I will likely get rid of my Shield soon too. The wifi drops out on it constantly, despite moving it to literally atop the router (should probably try ethernet at that point I guess) and it has started freezing constantly.

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  3. Shield always seemed like a device for playing ROMs to me to be honest

    Washington, DC

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  4. I did have an N64 emulator on there for a while, but it’s a little hard to control with the lack of a trigger/Z button.

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