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Razer Forge TV Android micro-console review - hands on

Tom Morgan
7 Jan 2015
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With PC game streaming, Razer's micro console is more than an ordinary Android-powered set top box

Razer is renowned for bringing outlandish prototypes and blue sky thinking to CES, so when the company behind the Edge gaming tablet and Christine modular PC revealed an Android-powered set top box, you'll forgive us for being a little underwhelmed. Thanfully the Razer Forge TV is a little more advanced than we initially gave it credit for, as it will play nicely with your gaming PC and stream gameplay into your living room - a first for any Android microconsole.

Previously, only Nvidia's Shield and Shield Tablet were able to stream PC games, and then only if you had a specific Nvidia graphics card. Steam's home streaming beta worked with any GPU, but relied on a second PC in order to function. Razer's Cortex Stream service will work regardless of hardware, and you won't need to invest in a second PC either. It supports 1080p streaming and works independently of any game delivery platforms like Steam, Origin, Battle.Net or Uplay, meaning you'll be able to play your entire gaming library in a second room. Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan says Cortex Stream delivers an essentially lag-free experience, although we haven't yet been able to test that claim as the models on display at the Razer booth were limited to Android gaming only.

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Inside, Forge TV essentially has the same hardware as a modern high-end Android smartphone. You get a quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor, 2GB of RAM, Adreno 420 GPU and 16GB of internal storage, which means it's able to play virtually any game available on the Google Play Store at native resolution. Interestingly there doesn't appear to a microSD card slot, so you'll have to swap out your downloaded games as you fill up the built-in memory.

The box itself is no bigger than an Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV, with HDMI, USB, Ethernet and power ports on the back. Somewhat unusually for a Razer product there are no glowing green LEDs, so you can slot it under a TV and forget it's there, even when you're watching a film or playing a game in the dark.

Razer hasn't added a custom user interface to Forge TV, meaning it looks like every other Android-powered set top box running Android TV. That's not a bad thing, however, as it is easy to navigate, easy to read from a distance and, most importantly, lets you access the Google Play Store. There are literally hundreds of media streaming apps and services available to download right out of the box, giving Forge the edge over Sony's very limited PlayStation TV, and there's a massive selection of games - lots of which are optimised for controller inputs.

If you opt for the basic $80 Forge TV, however, you'll have to use a paired Android smartphone to navigate the menus, as there's no remote control included in the box.

The Serval controller is therefore more of a necessity than a welcome addition to Forge TV, making it possible to play Android games as well as those streamed from a PC. It has twin analogue sticks, two triggers and two bumper buttons, a D-pad and four face buttons - essentially Razer's take on an Xbox 360 or Xbox One control pad, complete with offset analogue sticks. It feels comfortable enough to hold, with firm triggers that respond quickly to your movements, although it can't match Razer's superb Sabretooth controller in terms of D-pad responsiveness and tactile feedback. It will cost $80 as an optional upgrade, but you'll be able to buy a bundle with both Forge TV and a controller for $149 - which works out as roughly £100 before tax and VAT here in the UK.

The company also revealed the Turret keyboard and mouse combination, designed primarily for Forge TV but compatible with gaming HTPCs and Steam Machines through a proprietary, gaming-grade wireless dongle. Essentially a keyboard with a mouse mat bolted onto the side, the accompanying mouse is magnetically held on the mousepad to stop you flinging it across the room mid-match. As a PC gamer with a home theatre PC and no desk, this is one accessory we can't wait to try, although at $130 (£85) expectations are understandably high.

Razer expects Forge TV to go on sale before the Summer, although it's unclear if it will be getting a UK release so soon; the company typically launches in the US first before expanding to other markets, and we expect something similar here. Either way, we'll be sure to take a closer look as soon as we get a retail unit in for review.

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