Editor’s note 5-15-18: Digital Trends has learned some users are claiming Red Rhino Entertainment has blocked its own software from working on the Rhino Box until customers pay a $150 fee to cover an “extended warranty.” Supposedly, the payment would then unblock the device, though details for what the warranty covers are murky. The company has also described this box as “EOL,” or “end of life,” meaning it will reportedly be replaced by a newer, undisclosed model. Red Rhino has not yet responded to Digital Trend’s questions regarding this situation. We will update our review as we learn more.
No one seems to have gotten Android to work on a TV just right. Google TV flopped and Android TV still has a lot to prove, leaving third-party manufacturers — usually ones you’ve never heard of — picking up the slack and doing it their way. Toronto’s Red Rhino Entertainment is just such a startup, but the company is pushing the envelope on what an Android-based set top box can do.
The Rhino Box is like a smartphone, tablet, and computer rolled into a compact home theater box. The streamer has been designed to not only take on the likes of Roku, Apple TV, and Amazon Fire TV, but blow them away. Running a tablet version of Android Kitkat 4.4, plus internal components that can handle streaming 4K content and running demanding video games, the Rhino box not only provides access to all the movies, TV shows, anime, and kids content you can shake a stick at, it will also stream porn.
That’s right, we said porn … and while the Rhino Box should never be pigeon-holed as a “porn box,” it’s impossible not to highlight the fact that this little streamer does what its competitors don’t, and that alone could be a decision-maker for some consumers.
Out of the box
The Rhino Box comes with an antenna that screws into a small coaxial socket on its side, a wall-brick power adapter, 3-foot long HDMI 2.0 flat cable (with Rhino branding on it), and a short USB cable with male plugs on both ends. The small branded remote included is suspiciously similar to the Roku 3’s remote, right down to a little ribbon tab at the bottom that mimics Roku devices.
Along with all the hardware is a short manual and a one-year warranty reminding you that Red Rhino means business when it comes to supporting its products.
Features and design
The company’s previous product, the Magic Box, looked like an Apple TV clone, whereas the Rhino Box looks like one that’s feasted on its smaller brethren. Wider, longer and deeper than the Apple TV or Roku 3, Red Rhino needed the extra space inside to accommodate the components that give it its super-powers. The antenna on the side helps amplify the Wi-Fi receiver, making it a little easier to get the most out of a home network in cases where the box is nowhere near the router. Given the Ethernet port in the back, and the fact the Box is especially reliant on the Internet, we prefer a wired connection, and so, we initially tested it using a powerline adapter.
Powerful internal components and HDMI 2.0 support mean the Rhino Box easily handles 4K video.
Under the hood, the Rhino Box packs in a 2.0Ghz Cortex A17 quad-core processor, 3D 16x graphics chip, 2GB of RAM, 16GB internal storage and running on Android 4.4 Kitkat. There’s a microSD card slot expandable up to 32GB, along with Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac. The left side of the unit has an Aux-In jack for audio, a “recover” pinhole to reset it, a microSD slot and two USB 3.0 ports — one of which is labeled OTG (on-the-go), which seems to work with third-party game controllers. On the back, there are two more USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, optical audio and the power port. The right side has the antenna and the power button. The glass top also has a blue LED indicating when the device is on.
The power of the internal components and support for HDMI 2.0 means the Rhino Box can easily handle 4K video. It also means that the USB ports are useful for storage expansion, offline media playback or game controllers in the case of the OTG port. Optical audio enables a direct connection to a soundbar or sound system, while the Aux-In jack could be useful for those rare cases where watching or listening to something with headphones might be required.
Then there’s the software. Running Android 4.4 Kitkat out of the box, the user interface clearly leans toward what you would expect in a tablet. Landscape orientation, of course, but also the menus, icons and usability that goes with all that. Unlike Android TV on certain TV models or the Google Nexus Player, which uses a unique interface that makes navigation much easier, getting around on the Rhino Box does take a little getting used to.
Much of the software is centered on what the company calls Red Rhino Media Center (RRMC). Effectively a re-skinned fork of Kodi (formerly XBMC), it’s treated as a standalone app with its own installer, since it isn’t activated out of the box. We suspect part of that may be legal cover, but we can’t be sure, since other Android boxes usually have Kodi ready to go.
Giving consumers the choice to install RRMC is nothing more than a formality because the very reason to buy the unit is largely predicated on what it offers. When installing, the start screen does make a point of asking which language you want, and whether you want porn turned off or not. Kodi users will feel right at home, despite the minor visual alterations. Navigating the menu with the included remote was snappy and responsive, where a simple layout works well enough to get around.
The included remote is fine for simple apps, but inadequate for the touchscreen-style interface.
Red Rhino is the only company we know of making Android boxes that has gone to sex trade shows in Canada and the U.S. to market its products at attendees, including a brochure that plays up the access to “free porn.” There’s plenty of the nudie stuff to look at, if one is so inclined, but it’s only one aspect of the wider net of content available. The company makes sure to silo it under “Adult” in the main Kodi-based menu, much like Anime, Family, Sports and Live TV have their own spots.
Since Red Rhino’s developers didn’t tinker too much with the basic Kodi interface, we benefitted more from the simpler layout than we did from any structural changes. Seasoned Kodi users will know where to go to tinker, whereas novices will likely be pleased that most things are fairly easy to find. Still, adding repositories, setting up favorites and troubleshooting potential hiccups do require a bit of a learning curve.
The included remote is fine for getting around on Kodi, but is clearly not made for an interface that caters to touch input. We can’t fault Red Rhino too much for this because any remote without motion sensors would inevitably suffer the same fate, but for that reason alone, we wish the company would bundle the Magic Wand with it instead.
We came away pleasantly surprised at how well gaming can work on the Box, playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City using a PlayStation 4 controller plugged in with a cable. Through some finagling, we eventually managed to get it to work wirelessly. Red Rhino actually sells a PS3 clone controller (with Xbox-colored face buttons) separately that works with a Bluetooth receiver that plugs into one of the USB ports, but a PS4 one worked just fine for our needs.
The only caveat is button control and mapping. Because the games available here are designed for touch, they don’t offer proper mapping options on their own. Google Play has apps to remedy that, but they can require a fair bit of work, depending on the game. Probably not a concern for more dedicated users, though the average ones may not feel as compelled to go through all the steps without help.
Android boxes like the Rhino Box are robust, yet still handcuffed by limitations related to the operating system. Being a tablet version of the OS on a TV, it’s a touch-based interface requiring navigation with a remote. This is great for a remote-friendly UI like Kodi, but proves to be counterintuitive for Android. Trying to search and browse for apps in Google Play, or work with apps that we would normally take for granted on other Android devices, wasn’t as fun as we would’ve liked. We tried the Magic Wand, another separately-sold Red Rhino remote with motion sensors and a full keyboard, to gauge the difference. Having a mouse to get around shaved a lot of time off certain tasks, especially with Android apps, but usability could still be hampered by a lack of real estate. For instance, trying to scroll down a page on YouTube was a frustrating exercise, to say the least.
Streamers like the Rhino Box are robust, yet still handcuffed by Android OS limitations.
Particularly with Netflix, we found that we couldn’t watch anything in HD, much less 4K. This is an issue that plagues all hardware providers, which includes all third-party Android boxes (save for the Fire TV), that can’t get authorization from Netflix for its HD streams.
We were able to sideload both Popcorn Time and Porn Time using the APK installer that comes preloaded on the box. However, they were only able to work when the Box was on Wi-Fi because the apps didn’t recognize the wired Ethernet connection. Being a tablet version of Android, we can only assume that it was looking for a cellular data connection, but in any case, we weren’t able to figure out what the deal was with those two specific apps.
Using Plex to stream content was fine, but again, the interface isn’t overly amenable to a remote that can’t get around as fast. This was also true of DS Video and BubbleUPnP, two apps we use to stream from network attached storage drives. YouTube was another example that we ran into repeatedly.
This is why we leaned back towards using a Chromecast for instances where we wanted to stream via Netflix, Plex, YouTube or Rdio, among others. By navigating on a phone or tablet and tapping a couple times to hand off the content, we were able to get from start to finish in a fraction of the time it took to get there on the Rhino Box.
On the flip side, Kodi also has robust networking software that can handle network attached storage and media servers, so the usability issues with Plex or any proprietary server app can be offset that way. Indeed, the convenience of having various content sources intersect within Kodi is part of the reason the platform has such a wide following. Red Rhino knows that, and appears to be targeting both seasoned and less tech-savvy users by pushing that narrative.
Bottom line: If you’re someone who values the simplicity and ease of use that comes with a Roku or Apple TV box, this isn’t the device for you. Even if all you want it for is to stream porn on the big-screen, it’s still not worth it. However, if you’re looking for what is essentially an Android-based HTPC in a box, you might dig the compact form factor and versatility the Rhino Box offers. And then there’s the porn, which is entirely optional.
The challenge in a case like the Rhino Box is that it uses a platform that is already widely available, and boasts features we have found in at least one competitor, the Minix Neo X8-H Plus. That box offers similar specs and is currently selling for under $200 online. But on the flip side, the Rhino Box is more robust and it’s hard to say whether the warranty and level of tech support is comparable between the two. Red Rhino has technicians based in North America and Europe to deal with customer inquiries, whereas Hong Kong-based Minix likely doesn’t.
The inclusion of 4K isn’t impactful under current circumstances. There isn’t much content available at that resolution, and whenever there is, it looks like Kodi will be the primary method in bringing it in. It is possible to play a 4K video file directly via USB or local streaming, but with monstrous file sizes, it’s currently not a practical solution for most users anyway.
That essentially leaves Kodi and gaming as the two pillars the device stands on, plus a smattering of Android apps that might translate decently to remote navigation and input — all of which it handles with aplomb. At $499 MSRP, plus another $50 for the Magic Wand, it becomes an expensive proposition, but it’s also likely to last you for a long time, so going for it does depend on how worthy an investment you perceive it to be.
- Good design and solid build
- Plenty of ports to work with
- Kodi runs smoothly
- Games run without issue
- Kodi customization somewhat limited
- Tricky navigation for Android apps
- Magic Wand sold separately
Updated 9/8/2016 by Caleb Denison to reflect a change in the product’s MSRP to $499