How to Install Android TV Apps from a Remote Computer with ADB

A few less-optimal alternatives and my recommended method for installing the Plex Android TV beta app on an NVIDIA Shield TV.

🕙 16 Jun 2020 📖 4 minute read

🏷️ android, android tv, command line, guide, networking, plex

Android TV devices like the NVIDIA Shield TV (2019) are great ways of consuming high quality media from numerous sources in home theaters.

Plex is a great way to consume media hosted on a local or remote Plex Media Server. Users who pay for the premium Plex Pass, are able to access beta versions of the Plex app before those changes are in the general release version of the app.

Android does not make it easy to install (aka sideload) Android application files (APKs) on the Android TV. There are a few different ways of installing the beta app that I’ll explore here.

Table of Contents

Guide

Option: Google Play Beta Program

If you to join the Beta program for the app in Google Play, all of the Android devices connected to your Google account (including your Android TV device and any mobile or tablet devices also linked to the account) would automatically receive all beta versions of the Plex app installed remotely.

That may not be something you want. There could be an untested issue in the build or a bugfix you don’t want to receive in a beta version on one or more devices.

One reason to want to only install the beta Plex app is to test new features that can improve 4K HDR performance on the NVIDIA Shield TV. For that reason you may prefer to manually install beta versions of the Plex app where those features are specifically noted.

There are a few possible solutions, some sub-optimal and one recommended for those familiar with a command line interface.

A Solution for Non-Technical Users

The benefit of using an Android device is access to the Google Play Store. You can install a third party file manager application directly to the Android TV device either from the device itself or remotely from a computer with the same Google account.

There are a few negatives here, though:

I ran into the second issue and received the error message, “This item is not compatible with your device,” for my NVIDIA Shield TV.

Screenshot of Google Play Store application install dialog

I’m also concious of the first one negative as I try to limit the third party applications that I install on my devices.

The Android Developer Solution

Instead of trying to rely on a third-party tool, you can rely on Android’s built-in developer tools to install APK files directly over your local area network—ethernet or wi-fi.

Prerequisites

  1. Install adb either through the SDK Manager or as part of the standalone Android SDK Platform-Tools package.
  2. Enable Developer Options in Android TV

Final Steps

Download the Android TV-compatible .apk file that you plan to install.

In the release thread on the Plex Forums I’m downloading the 32-bit Google Play (armv7a) file for tube version of the 2019 NVIDIA Shield TV while the Pro version of the 2019 NVIDIA Shield uses the 64-bit Google Play (arm64v8a) file.

Follow the directions to Connect to a device over Wi-Fi on the Android Developers website.

If you’re device is on the same network as your Android TV, you should be able to connect to it’s IP address from a terminal with:

adb connect [192.168.1.100]

(Replace the bracket contents with your device’s IP address.) See it listed with:

adb devices -l

Finally, install the APK from your terminal with:

adb install [app].apk

And, voilà, after a few seconds (depending on file size and network speed) the app will be successfully installed on your Android TV over your network.

Screenshot of macOS terminal window
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