Tomorrow, Aldi's regular weekly Special Buys haul of random shopping goodies includes a bunch of tech — including a $79 media player that'll give your budget 4K TV some much-needed smarts. Here's what it is, and how it works, and why you might want it.
If you buy a 4K TV, we think you've got two main choices: you can go all-out and buy a top-of-the-line LED or OLED panel, or you can be a little more rational and buy a big screen at an affordable price — like Aldi's own $799 65-inch or $499 55-inch.
Buying a cheap 4K TV, you generally get the lion's share of picture quality — that 4K resolution being the most important thing, and decent backlighting tech is always handy — but if there's one thing we can agree on, it's that budget TVs do not have any kind of smart features to write home about. Mediocre built-in apps are the best you can hope for — and that's why we like add-on boxes like the $99 Chromecast Ultra.
Aldi's Cocoon Ultra HD media player takes a different approach to a Chromecast: it doesn't need any kind of smartphone to throw content to it, instead using built-in software and remote control. Where the Chromecast suits that enthusiast that wants to run their own apps, the Cocoon is a little more straightforward. Running Android 4.4.2 the player has Netflix, Plex and Kodi pre-loaded, so you've got direct access to Australia's most popular streaming service and more hardcore home theatre software options ready straight out of the box.
Because it has access to the Google Play Store, the Cocoon will run any Android TV app — and that's an increasingly large selection of home theatre-focused ones on offer. Although Netflix and Plex are by far the two most useful, it's good to have access to more apps for any specific use you might have for it. I don't expect Aldi's target market will really take too much of an interest in any apps other than the pre-loaded ones, but they can.
The Cocoon's interface is basic: it reminds me of the kind of thing you'd see on WD's old Live TV media players. But its appeal is that it's Android TV, and therefore once you're in the app you're looking for, it's instantly familiar. And that's up to the app developers: Plex, for example, is its own wonderful corner of media streaming from an external hard drive or media server hooked up to your router.
One massive caveat, though, is the fact that the Android TV app for Netflix doesn't support 4K video output on the Cocoon. If you've got a library of 4K content saved locally, Plex can access it — but that's even more niche than 4K streaming in the first place.
The Cocoon has the same foibles that any standalone Android TV player does, to be fair. It's not incredibly easy to set up a Google account to access the store from, and because you only have that remote control rather than any actual keyboard input, actually logging into your apps is a headache navigating through the on-screen keyboard. For something like Netflix or Plex, where media is easily laid out in that way, it's just fine.
For $80, though, it's hard to fault the Cocoon. The fact that's it's 4K is by the by. If you don't want a Chromecast, that is — if you're used to navigating with a remote control rather than a smartphone, the Cocoon has a straightforward if barebones interface and it gives you access to Netflix where your budget smart TV won't.