Last updated: 07NOV2021
Today we’re going to check out how to take a cheap Android TV box and set it up as a dedicated gaming device. For less than $50, this machine is the best value you can find for retro gaming on your TV.
Where and how to buy
Today we’re going to test with the HK1 Box, also known as the “Make Up Box” (or “MUB”). There are several models available that can run this same setup, the the most important thing is to buy a box with a supported chipset for EmuELEC. In general, I recommend looking for devices with the S905x3 chipset and with 4GB of RAM. You can usually find them for under $50, and this is the store that I recommend checking out.
If you want to get even greater performance, the most powerful devices that can run EmuELEC will have the S922X chipset. Expect to pay about $100 or more for these device. I recommend the X88 King (4GB model), which can generally be found right at that $100 price rang. You could also splurge on the premier S922X box, the Beelink GT King.
All of these devices are readily available on AliExpress, and with free shipping, but the ship time will take upwards of a month to arrive. If you want faster delivery, and don’t mind paying a bit extra for that convenience, here are some Amazon links:
Finally, if you’re really looking to get the best TV retro gaming performance, you will want to try out the NVIDIA Shield TV Pro. This device will support smooth Dreamcast and PSP performance, but doesn’t have EmuELEC support. So you will be relegated to Android-based gaming. That being said, this is a powerful 4K TV box in its own rights, so if you’re shopping for something like a Roku box, Fire Stick, or Apple TV, this $200 device and replace those *and* perform as an insanely powerful gaming machine.
How to load EmuELEC on an Android TV box
To start, you will need to determine what type of device you’re actually running. The simplest answer it to check on CoreELEC’s device tree website and see if your device is listed. If so, make note of the device tree name associated with your device. If your device is not listed, look at other devices that have the same chipset, and find the most common device tree listed. For example, the HK1 Box isn’t listed on the website, but similar models running the S905x3 chipset, and they have the device tree named “sm1_s905x3_4g”. We’re going to go with that one.
Note: if you have trouble determining your device’s CPU and RAM information, I recommend installing the Aida64 app on the Android side of your device, which will then show you all the internal specs of your device.
Next, let’s download EmuELEC. Go to the EmuELEC releases page and download the most recent img file named “EmuELEC-Amlogic-ng.aarch64-4.1-Generic.img.gz”. Extract that zip file so that the file is an uncompressed .img file. Using an app like Rufus or Balena Etcher, flash this image to an SD card. I usually use a 128GB SD card, but you could use up to 1TB or beyond if you really wanted. Here are some recommended cards:
128GB cards: SanDisk Extreme Samsung EVO Select Samsung Pro Endurance (more reliable but pricey) SanDisk Ultra 256GB cards: Samsung EVO Select SanDisk Ultra
Once you have flashed the image to your SD card, a bunch of windows will pop up, one for every SD card partition. Just ignore all the warnings asking you to reformat the driver. Find the “EMUELEC” card partition, and within there, find the folder named “device_trees”. Inside, you’ll find a bunch of .dtb files. Find the one that corresponds to your device (remember, we’re using ” sm1_s905x3_4g” in this example), and then rename that file to dtb.img. Put it in the root directory of the EMUELEC card partition.
Start up the Android side of your device and insert the SD card. Download this LibreELEC app and then open it, which will then ask you to reboot into LibreELEC. Select “Aceptar” and you will then be booted into EmuELEC. Follow the prompts to get EmuELEC set up. Once you are in the main menu, you can go ahead and shutdown the system through the main menu, and eject the SD card so that we can load it up with games.
UPDATE: more recent versions of the HK1 box haven’t been loading EmuELEC properly, but luckily my friends at Team Pandory figured out a fix. Check out their video here.
How to load games onto your EmuELEC SD card image
You will need to add your own ROMs (game images) to the SD card. When you plug the SD card into your device, you should see two partitions appear: EmuELEC and EEROMS. In the EEROMS partition you will find all sorts of game folders. Refer to this guide to see which gaming system each folder corresponds to, the required file types, and what emulator will run the games.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to load BIOS files, which are necessary for some systems, like Game Boy Advance, PlayStation, Dreamcast, and Sega CD. Refer to this page for a list of required BIOS files for each platform.