The Raspberry Pi is a versatile single-board computer that lets you create a variety of DIY electronics projects. One such project is using a Raspberry Pi to run Android TV, creating a customized media streaming device.
Why Run Android TV on a Raspberry Pi
There are several advantages to running Android TV on a Raspberry Pi:
- Cost savings – Buying a separate Android TV box can be expensive, but a Raspberry Pi setup is very affordable.
- Customization – You can choose the hardware and software configuration you want instead of being limited by a pre-packaged unit.
- Adaptability – It’s easy to add new features and capabilities as your needs change.
- Learning experience – Setting up and running Android TV on a Pi is an enjoyable, educational project for Raspberry Pi enthusiasts.
What You’ll Need
To run Android TV on your Raspberry Pi, you’ll need:
- A Raspberry Pi board (Pi 3 or 4 recommended)
- MicroSD card (16GB Class 10 minimum)
- Power supply
- HDMI cable
- USB keyboard/mouse
- Compatible game controller (optional)
- Active cooling case (recommended)
- Android 9 or 10 system image
Later on, we’ll go over software configuration, but first let’s look at some important hardware considerations when selecting components.
Key Hardware Considerations
Running Android TV effectively requires careful selection of Raspberry Pi hardware:
- Get a Pi 4 – The extra processing power and RAM versus a Pi 3B+ lead to far better Android performance.
- High speed MicroSD card – With a capacity of at least 16GB and speed class rating of 10 for stable Android operation.
- Proper power supply – Use an official power adapter that can provide ample steady current to your Pi model.
- HDMI cable – Up to spec with HDMI 2.0 for 4K video capabilities. High quality cables prevent issues.
- Active cooling case – Crucial for avoiding system crashes and hardware throttling during Android use, which consumes more power.
- USB Devices – Keyboard, mouse, and controller will be necessary to navigate apps and games. Wireless peripherals avoid cord clutter.
Choosing components designed for use with Raspberry Pi prevents many problems down the road.
Installation and Configuration
With your hardware assembled, it’s now time for software installation and system configuration.
Flashing the Android Image
First, you’ll need to download an Android Pie 9.0 or 10 system image specially made for the Raspberry Pi hardware configuration. Two good options are Android 9 32-bit by psi-4ward or Android 10 64-bit by hobbyists.
Using balenaEtcher or Raspberry Pi Imager, flash your MicroSD card with the Android image. Be extremely careful to select the proper drive so you don’t accidentally erase another storage device.
Initial Boot Up
Insert the flashed card into your Pi and connect keyboard, mouse, HDMI monitor and power supply. During first boot, the system will automatically resize its partitions to fill your SD card.
The initial set up wizard will launch. Select language, WiFi network, Google account login and device name. The set top box style Android launcher will then load the main interface. At this point, shutdown and relocate the Pi to your desired spot, connecting to your TV rather than separate monitor.
In most cases the system will automatically select the best display resolution for your TV. But this can be verified and manually adjusted if needed.
From the main Android settings, open Device Preferences > Display > Advanced and ensure your particular TV resolution is selected under Supported Resolutions. Choosing the highest option here makes icons and text appear normal sized.
You’ll likely want a game controller or wireless keyboard with touchpad to comfortably navigate apps and menus. Bluetooth devices can pair through the settings. For keyboards, toggle on the setting to Show Virtual Mouse Pointer so you can see where your mouse movements translate on screen.
Getting Google Play Store
The Google Play store provides access to streaming apps, games and utilities for your Android TV Pi. Manual installation is required since Google services don’t come included. Sideloading a few APK files makes this process very quick and easy.
Simply enable APK install permissions under Device Preferences. Then download Google Play Services, Google Play Store and Google Account Manager from APKMirror. Install each in that order using any file manager app. Sign in to the Play Store with your existing Google account and all apps will sync to your Android TV box.
Adding Apps and Games
At this point, your system is ready to start downloading streaming, social, gaming and other apps from the Play Store. Recommended selections include:
- Streaming – Netflix, Disney+, YouTube, Pluto TV, Plex
- Utilities – Downloader, File Commander, Terminal Emulator
- Games – Sonic series, Asphalt 9, RetroArch emulator
The Apps row of the Android launcher pulls in recently used apps for quick access so you can avoid digging through menus.
Running intensive apps like 3D games on a Raspberry Pi requires some performance tuning to avoid lag and stability issues. Here are some key tips:
- Set CPU frequency to Maximum in Device Preferences
- Enable GPU Memory Auto Split to better handle graphic loads
- Close background apps when not in use through task manager
- Install the Turn Off Animations app
- Lower resolution settings in games if frame rates are low
Carefully benchmarking components like CPU and RAM during use can guide you in choosing optimal settings for smooth Android operation. Some trial and error may be necessary.
Match Content to TV’s Strengths
Android is extremely versatile, allowing you to tap into gaming, streaming video, web browsing, and lots more on your TV. But keep in mind a Pi has hardware limitations.
For the best experience, match content and apps to a typical TV’s strengths – enjoying video and casual games from the comfort of your couch. Web browsing and productivity apps may prove frustrating with text visibility issues and remote navigation difficulties. But playing Sonic the Hedgehog or binging Stranger Things is where Android on Pi and TV shine together.
- The Raspberry Pi allows DIY enthusiasts to create customized Android TV set top boxes on a budget
- Carefully selecting suitable hardware components avoids stability and performance issues
- Flashing a specialized Android 9 or 10 image provides an optimized interface for TV screens
- Google Play Store access enables streaming video, social and gaming apps
- Performance tuning through CPU speeds, GPU memory and reducing animations can optimize Android operation
- Focus usage on media consumption apps tailored towards television viewing
Creating your own Raspberry Pi Android TV gives you an affordable smart TV with tons of flexibility. By understanding the hardware requirements and software capabilities, you can enjoy a fully customized streaming media player.
Running Android TV OS on a Raspberry Pi brevity provides endless entertainment possibilities to your living room TV on a tight budget. With conscientious planning and component selection brevity, the DIY Android box serves as a capable hub for all your streaming, gaming and web browsing needs. Optimization and matching apps to a TV’s strengths prevent many issues users can face. The customizable open-source approach makes adding new features down the line simple too. So with just a little effort brevity, the clever little Pi can become the brains of your ideal personalized home theater experience.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What are the best Raspberry Pi models for Android TV?
A. The Raspberry Pi 4 is highly recommended, with 2GB RAM minimum. Avoid older Pi models like the 3B and Zero as performance will suffer.
Q. Does the Raspberry Pi need active cooling to run Android TV?
A. Yes, a fan cooled case is strongly advised. Android is resource intensive so the Pi will throttle performance without sufficient cooling.
Q. How can I control apps on an Android TV Pi without a physical keyboard and mouse?
A. Use a wireless Bluetooth game controller, remote or smartphone app. Many remotes compatible with NVIDIA Shield TV also work well by pairing over Bluetooth.
Q. What WiFi adapters are compatible with the Raspberry Pi and Android?
A. Most name brand USB WiFi adapters work okay, but onboard wireless of Pi 3 and 4 models is preferred. Avoid cheap no-name adapters. The Alfa AWUS036NHA is a good external option.
Q. Can I use my Raspberry Pi for more than just Android TV?
A. Absolutely – projects like RetroPie emulation and Kodi media center can run alongside Android if you install them to the same MicroSD card. Multiboot software like BerryBoot handles loading the different operating systems.
Q. Is the Raspberry Pi powerful enough to stream 4K video content?
A. Streaming 4K video requires substantial network bandwidth and processing power. While the Pi 4 can technically decode 4K, smooth playback ability depends greatly on the app, codec and content bitrate. Stick to 1080p to avoid buffering or crashes.
Q. How do I safely shutdown or reboot the Android TV system on a Pi?
A. From the main Android TV interface, press the button with 3 lines to open quick settings then select Power > Restart. To completely power down safely, use the full Settings menu instead to avoid SD card corruption.
Q. Can I use a Raspberry Pi Android TV as an Amazon Firestick or Apple TV alternative?
A. Yes, by sideloading the official Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV apps. Google Play Store availability is limited for those apps due to competing platforms. Quick online search will lead you to the necessary APK files.
Q. How is performance in 3D intensive games like Fortnite and PUBG Mobile?
A. Basically unplayable unfortunately. The Raspberry Pi GPU and memory capabilities cannot handle complex 3D graphics well. For best success with games, look for 2D, retro or casual titles.
Q. What launchers can I use to customize the interface of my Pi Android TV?
A. Popular options include Wolf Launcher, Revo Launcher and Sideload Launcher 3. Download them from the Google Play store to enjoy many theming options and custom tweaks.