Razor Forge TV Preview – Console and media player with Android TV

Do we remember the Ouya ? In 2013, the public was warmed to this small gaming computer with the help of a Kickstarter campaign. The concept was simple: a simple game console on which you can play Android games for less money than an Xbox or Playstation: around 100 euros.

Although the small console could count on a lot of attention around its introduction, it quickly disappeared from the radar again. The biggest reason for the failure was the meager game offer. Games had to be specially made compatible with the included controller and put in the Ouya app store. What also didn’t help was that the hardware used, a Tegra 3-soc from Nvidia, was no longer very new at the time of the release, so that it was quickly overtaken by developments in the hardware field.

Game hardware manufacturer Razer is now trying to do exactly the same as Ouya did at the time, roughly two years later. At CES, the manufacturer presented a small console with Android for gaming and media playback. The big difference? This Razer Forge TV runs Android TV, the version of Google’s operating system specially made for televisions and set-top boxes. Because we will see this version of Android on many more devices this year, and developers do not have to take special account of the Forge TV, Razer’s box has a good chance of success.

Small but powerful

Razer has kept the design of the Forge TV simple. It is a small, square, black box, with connections for USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet and HDMI at the back. Inside houses a Snapdragon 805-soc. That is a souped-up Snapdragon 801, which we know from the HTC One, Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z3, but with a much more powerful GPU.

Qualcomm designed this soc with quad-hd phones in mind, but the Forge TV goes up to full-hd, which means that the 805 has to drive relatively few pixels and that games have quite a bit of gpu power at their disposal . The games we were able to test, including Asphalt 8 and the shooter Modern Combat, ran quickly and without problems. This certainly applies to the interface, which runs like a charm and the Android TV layout with tiles in horizontal rows works intuitively.

The Snapdragon 805 is linked to 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage memory. That’s not a huge amount if you plan to install a lot of large games and we hope that the USB port can be used to connect extra storage. In the wireless field, there is support for bluetooth 4.1 and wifi-ac, with a 2×2 antenna setup. The Forge TV seems to be able to hold its own both wired and wireless.

As a small game console

Because the software under the hood is the same as the smartphone and tablet versions of Android, existing games run without problems, as long as they support controllers. Developers only need to indicate that their app is Android TV compatible when uploading to the Play Store. As a result, there is already a decent library of games available, although of course they are not games of ‘real’ console quality. On the other hand, you only spend a few euros on the Android games and not 50 to 60 euros, as with ‘real’ consoles.

Razer has developed its own wireless controller, called Serval, to control these games. This bluetooth controller follows the design we have seen before. There are four face buttons on the right, a bumper and trigger per finger on the back, and thumbsticks and a d-pad are placed under the left and right thumb. In the middle are two more Android-specific buttons for ‘back’ and ‘home’. The whole feels familiar and fine, but we think the price of 50 euros is on the high side, especially when you consider that the box itself will only cost 99 euros.

According to Razer, it is not possible to connect other controllers to the system, but that claim does not seem very credible to us. Android has standard support for USB and Bluetooth controllers and we find it hard to believe that Google would allow Razer to disable this support. Hopefully, at the time of release, it will be possible to purchase just the Forge TV and pair an existing controller.

Stream PC games

In the future, it should also be possible to stream games from a PC to the Forge with Razer Cortex, a feature similar to the Steam and Nvidia streaming services. Razer also releases a special mouse-keyboard combination for this, for use on the couch. However, Cortex will not be available until after the introduction of the Forge TV, sometime in the second quarter of this year, and unfortunately we were not able to try the feature on the show floor at Razer yet.

As a media player

Google has paid a lot of attention to the multimedia side of Android TV and it makes sense. After all, this software will also be used on televisions from Sony, Philips and Sharp, among others. So if you have nothing to do with gaming, the Forge TV is also potentially interesting as a media player.

You can download and rent movies through the built-in Google apps through a simple interface, which is also linked to the search function. The search function also supports speech recognition, so you can, for example, ask for ‘Batman movies’, which will give you an overview of all Batman movies that you can download or rent through the apps installed on the Forge TV. By default, this is only Google Play TV & Movies, but if you have Netflix running, for example, it will also be searched.

Because the Forge TV runs Android, you can also install apk files outside the Play Store and that opens even more doors. For example, the popular media player XBMC, now known as Kodi, is also available in an Android version and offers you access to all the media you have on your nas via a nice interface.

Preliminary conclusion

The Razer Forge TV seems like a nice solution for people who want to play the occasional game on a big screen. We may find it more interesting as a media player; for 99 euros you get a nice little box with fast WiFi and Ethernet, with which you can play local media via, for example, Kodi or Plex and also purchase films and series via a range of cloud services. In addition, it also doubles as a Chromecast receiver. Those interested should not have to wait very long, because Razer is aiming for a European release in the first quarter of this year.