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Sen5 Amlogic S905D TV Box Review – Part 2: Android Firmware, Kodi 17, and DVB-T2 & S2 App

May 19th, 2017 5 comments

Sen5 is one of the first Android TV boxes powered by Amlogic S905D processor, and comes with two tuners (DVB-C/T/T2 and DVB-T/T2) with two demodulators that should allow for recording on one tuner, while watching the other, or recording two channels at the same time. We’ve already check out the hardware in the first part of the review, and seen a glimpse of the neat user interface, so today I’ll report about my experience with the device.

Sen5 Android Set-Top Box First Boot, Setup Wizard, & First Impressions

The STB comes with two USB ports so I used one for the hard drive, a necessity if you plan to use the PVR function, and connected a USB hub to the other with RF dongles for an air mouse and a gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots. I also connected Ethernet and HDMI cables, as well as my terrestrial antenna to the coaxial “DVB-T2” input, and my satellite dish to the DVB-S2 F-connector.

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Finally I connected the power, after a several seconds after the “Amlogic S905D” and “MBOX” boot logo I go to  a setup wizard asking me to select the language…

The next step is the output resolution, and the system auto-detected 4K2K-60Hz maximum resolution from LG 42UB820T 4K UHD TV.Screen adjust is used for overscan, but if you have a recent TV, you should not really need to use since you can always understand with settings like “just scan”.Step 4 is the selection between Ethernet and WiFi.This is followed by Date & Time configuration.Finally, you’ll be asked to select between “Scan TV channel”, “Login to Google Play Store”, and “Go to Home page”.

I selected the later at this stage, and the beautiful “NesTV” launcher appeared. A typical boot takes around 35 seconds with this box.

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You’ll get date, time, and weather on the top left, 6 main icons in the center for TV (DVB) app, IPTV & VOD (both required a login I did not have), YouTube, Kodi, and the list of app. The bottom include an “Add/Remove” button to organize favorites.

The top right row includes some convenient shortcuts showing (from left to right):

  • Free memory – Clicking on it will cleaned up memory
  • USB status – Redirects to File Browser
  • Network Status (Ethernet or WiFi) – Redirects to Network settings
  • Bluetooth Status – Redirects to Bluetooth settings
  • Download – Shortcut for easy access to Download direction
  • Notifications – Will display notifications on the left of the screen (See screenshot below)
  • Backup & Restore & Update button
  • Ookla – Measures your Internet connection performance
  • Settings – Redirect to Amlogic’s Settings app

The preview zone is black until your scan channel after which it will show a preview of the last selected channel (with audio).

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The pre-installed apps can be found below.

The Setting app is about the same as on other Amlogic Android 6.0 TV boxes, but it’s still worth noting HDMI CEC, HDR and Playback settings (for HDMI self-adaptation) options are there. The only new menu is MediaScan which lets you decided whether to automatically scan USB drives in the background (disabled by default).

Going to Android settings, we can see 5.27 GB is already used out of 8 GB storage, and that is before I installed any app. The flash was almost full by the end of the review.

NTFS and exFAT file systems are supported, but not EXT-4, nor BTRFS.

The About section indicates the model is called SH8B7AV_SF001 and runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29, the same as most other Amlogic S9xx boxes.. Android security patch is date August 1, 2016. The firmware is not rooted. OTA firmware update appears to be implemented, with the Update app communicating with the firmware update server, but I did not get any updates since March 29th.

The IR remote control works well up to 10 meters, and I also appreciate shortcuts key to app list, Play Store, YouTube, etc.. The remote control is also absolutely necessary to use with the TV app, which relies color button (red/green/yellow.blue) and special keys like EPG. Since an air mouse or wireless keyboard with touchpad is necessary in many Android apps, I ended switching between the remote control, and MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse depending on which app I used. I wishes such Android Set-top boxes would come with an optional air mouse that also support the TV app.

Google Play and Amazon Underground worked just fine, and I could install all apps I needed for the review.

The set-top box supports standby and power off mode. That’s the theory, because in practice, the box will reboot maybe 95% of the time when I try to turn it off (long press on remote control power key). Standby is working fine. The power button on the unit itself does not work at all for me. Maybe it’s just a problem with the sample.

I tested power consumption with or without the USB hard drive:

  • Standby – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle – 4.4 to 5.0 Watss
  • Standby + HDD – 0.3 to 0.4 Watt
  • Idle + HDD – 6.0 to 6.3 Watts

A reliably working power off would be nice though. I gave up on measuring power off, since it was so difficult to enter in this mode. At least power consumption is sufficiently low in standby mode, and there are reasons (scheduling) to prefer standby over power off, as we’ll see below.

Sen5 does get a little hot over time.After playing a 2-hour H.264 1080p movie in Kodi, max. top and bottom temperatures were 51 and 61 °C respectively, and as I went to CPU-Z to check the CPU temperature, soc_thermal was 84 °C. The movie frame rate did not feel “optimal” at the end either. Riptide GP2 game frame rate also suffered over time, and temperature after playing 15 minutes were 48°C (top) , 56°C (bottom) and 79°C (CPU-Z).  The idle temperature reported in CPU-Z is also a not-so-cool 73 °C. Hopefully, the company will find a solution before selling the box retail.

An Amlogic S905D TV box is very much like other Amlogic S905(X) TV boxes with a fairly stable and responsive firmware. But Sen5 box stands out thanks to NesTV launcher which looks really nice, and comes with some useful features and shortcuts. The remote control is also well designed, although I’d like it to have air mouse and keyboard functions. The two main issues I encountered were overheating, and the inability to power off the box reliably.

Video & Audio Tests with TV Center (Kodi), and DRM Info

Sen5 comes with Kodi 17 pre-installed.

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After enabling “Adjust display refresh rate” in Kodi settings, and  HDMI self-adaptation, I played 4K videos over Gigabit Ethernet /SAMBA:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Choppy at the end of the video
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – The video plays in slow motion and audio delays (As expected, as 4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by S905D VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – Plays at around 1 to 2 fps (expected since it relies software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – USB hard drive playback: Not smooth
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Plays, but could be smoother

My experience with 4K video playback was inline with other Amlogic S912/S905X TV boxes, except possibly with HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4.Automatic Another common state of affair is that automatic frame rate switching is not working, and  MINIX NEO U9-H is the only exception to this rule for recent Amlogic TV boxes (that I tested).

I enabled HDMI Passthrough in Android settings…and in Kodi. Some whatever reasons, there are no option to select AC3/ DTS, TrueHD, or DTS HD like in other devices. You can only enable or disable “Allow passthrough”.

Those are the results with Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver. PCM 2.0 is without pass-through using my TV speakers, and I used both Kodi (which handle audio its own way), and MoviePlayer app.

Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK, video not smooth No audio Audio OK (Dolby D 5.1), Video not smooth OK (Dolby D 5.1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 OK (DD+ 7.1)
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 OK (TrueHD 5.1)
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 Beep (AC3 audio track)
DTS HD Master OK No audio PCM 2.0 DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio PCM 2.0 DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK No audio PCM 2.0 DTS 5.1

Kodi is not usable with your AV receiver, except for Dolby Digital 5.1 / AC3, while MoviePlayer requires you to own an AV receiver if you want to have any audio on videos with only Dolby or DTS audio track(s).

I could play a 2-hour movie over SAMBA, but as mentioned previously the frame rate seemed to drop slightly at the end due to over heating.

Sen5 supports Widevine Level 3 DRM, meaning no HD support on some premium apps like Netflix. YouTube worked well, even while recording live TV in the background.

DTV App for DVB-S/S2 and DVB-T/T2

Let’s get started with the TV app. The first time you’ll go through the “TV First Installation” wizard.

You can select aspect ratio, zap mode (black screen or freeze), subtitle, LCN, and DVB Type between DVBS-DVBT/T2 or DVBS-DVBC. I did not change any of the settings and kept going with DVBS-DVBT/T2.The next window will let you start scan, and load channels from USB, the Internet, and another STB. I just clicked on Start Scan which brought me to the TV menu.

If you’re going to change any “installation” setting for satellite or DVB-T/T2/C, you’ll be asked for a password “0000”.

Going into Dish Settings, I could select Thaicom 5/6 satellite, as I normally do, but I was a little confused since I had to select between C-band and Ku-band. I eventually figured I had to select C-band, as I would not get any channels with Ku-band selection.

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The first time I did a “standard scan” as shown above, and I got only 13 channels, far below what I would expect especially I select both free-to-air and paid channels. So I restarted a Blind Scan instead again on Thaicom 5/6 (78.5E C-band).

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I ended up with 387 TV channels including premium (marked with $) and free channels.

You can select channels by CAS type using the blue button on the remote control for example to select the Free channels. The paid channels should be accessible via the smart card reader provided you have the right card. But it’s not something I could try.

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Next up I had to configure DVB-T2. It took me a couple of minutes to find out I had to use the drawer key (on the left side of the Blue HOME key) in order to bring the TV menu back up.

I selected auto scan, input the country, before running the scan.

It found 25 channels, but no radio channels.I could watch DVB-T2 channels. but some HD channels have low quality sometimes dropping below 25% and the channels freezing. I have not noticed the same issue with SD channels, and sometimes the same HD channels do not have any problem.

The “I” button on the remote shows some of the info about the current channel including channel number abd name, date and time, current and next program name and time, audio, S2/T2, and CAS information, as well as signal strength and quality.

I’ll go through other options in TV menu before checking out the other features of the app. The Edit Channels section allows you to set favorites, and organize channels as you see fit.

The PVR and Timers section will give you access to the list of already recorded program, and current timers / schedules (see further below for details).

The Add-on menu allows you to add favorites, so you can quickly jump from the TV app to whatever other you may want. Not very useful IMHO, as you could do the same by pressing the Home key and selecting shortcuts in the main launcher.

Finally there are various TV settings. The only problem is that none of the options would work for me, as each option would just go back to the main launcher. You can access the program guide by pressing the EPG button on the remote control. Encoding is handled properly with DVB-T2 channels, and there’s a problem with Thai language with satellite channels, probably because the software does not use the right encoding.

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Burmese language is barely better.

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Anyway, you can still browser channels and the program guide, and add or remove “timers” to record or play videos at any given time.

By default all timers are set to record once, but you can go to the list of timers (drawer button-> PVR and Timers-> Timer), and change the option.

The repeat mode is quite versatile, as you can select daily, weekly, and even select the days to record during the week.

Timers and PVR are working quite well, and I had no troubles recording videos on either DVB-T2 or DVB-S2. Since the box has two demodulators, you can even record on DVB-T2 and watch DVB-S2 channels and vice-versa, as shown in the photo below (ONE HD is a DVB-T2 channel)

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Later on, I also discovered that during recording the list of unavailable channels will be grayed out, and you can still watch channels both on DVB-T2 or DVB-S2, as long as the channel on the busy input is one the same stream.

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Another thing impossible on VideoStrong set-top boxes is background recording, so as I recorded a channel, I pressed the HOME key, went to browse the web, and then watch a YouTube video. I came back to the TV app and discovered the recording was still taking place, and later on I could verify the video was properly recorded, and I did not notice any stuttering or obvious artifacts. So that’s a big plus compare to existing solutions. In theory, you should be able to record live TV on DVB-T2 and DVB-S2 at the same time, but the timer software detects a conflict if you do so.

I did one last test with schedules. I setup a recording at 16:30, and put the device into standby, waiting for the time… To my surprise, Sen5 STB started automatically at 16:30, but for whatever reason the recording only started 10 minutes later, at 16:40. So it looks like the capability is there, but it’s still buggy.  Timeshifting is working using the play/pause key, and you can also record manually using the record button on the remote control.

You can play the recordings in the TV app, but if you prefer to use another player, you’ll find the files in the DVBRecordFiles directory on your hard drive with a subdirectory for each recording.

The TV app will split large files into 2GB files probably because of hard drives still using FAT32, and despite mine using NTFS file system. info.amri is a binary file with some details about the recording, but it also contains some visible strings like the program name and TV channel name.

You can find some SD and HD recordings from DVB-T2 or DVB-S2, as well as info.amri file in MEGA. I had no troubles playing the DVB-T2 recording in my computer, but I had neither Totem, nor VLC could play the DVB-S2 recording, and I had to use

You’ll find a demo with the TV app in the video below.

Networking (WiFi & Ethernet)

WiFi performance was first tested by transferring a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash (and vice versa) using ES File Explorer. The box only support 2.4 GHz WiFi, and the transfer rate was 1.5 MB/s on average.

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

The performance is not very good, but similar to other Amlogic TV box due to the poor SAMBA performance. However, during testing I had other problems, with the first transfer failing after about 60%, which I could complete by clicking on Retry, and another transfer failing to start completely.

I also ran iperf for 60 seconds on both direction to get a raw benchmark value:

WiFi upload:

WiFi download:

Gigabit Ethernet is however working pretty well as least with iperf.

Iperf upload:

iperf download:

iperf full duplex:

A SAMBA to flash copy was limited by the write speed of the flash, and occurred at about 9.8 MB/s. Flash to SAMBA performance was worse because of the poor SAMBA implementation in Amlogic Android 6.0 SDK @ 5.9 MB/s.

Storage

FAT32, NTFS, and exFAT file systems are support, but as is often the case not EXT-4 and BTRFS. As usual USB storage benchmarks show that exFAT should be avoided as slow write speed may impact recorded videos. NTFS performance is however OK, and the eMMC flash used in the box does not have the best performance on the market, but I have not noticed any specific slowdowns, it may just take a little longer to install some apps.

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I’ve drawn a red line on exFAT – USB 2.0 and internal memory read results because they were cached read, and the internal memory can clearly NOT be read @ ~629 MB/s.

Bluetooth

I could pair Vernee Apollo Lite Android smartphone to the box and transfer several photos without any problem, but there was not a direct and easy way to click to see the files after the transfer, so I had to go to the FileBrowser app and into the bluetooth directory to check the files. I also watched a YouTube video after easily pairing X1T earbuds, and the box also detected the SimpleBLE demo I had running on a ESP32 board, so Bluetooth LE should also work.

Sen5 and Amlogic S905D Benchmarks

That’s my first Amlogic S905D device, so let’s run CPU-Z first. It’s impossible to distinguish S905D to  S905/S905X as they are all shown to be quad core Cortex A53 processors @ up to 1.51 GHz with a Mali-450 MP GPU.

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Antutu would just crash each time I start it, so I ran Vellamo instead to check the performance.
1,540 for Multicore, 919 for Metal, and 1,887 for Browser are comparable to the results I got on Amlogic S905X boxes (1,491 / 910 / 1,855).

Conclusion

Sen5 device is the first true dual tuner Android set-top box I have reviewed, as I was able to record one channel, and watch another at the same time. It also supports background recording, and wakeup from standby to start recording a video, both of which are impossible in all other Android STBs I have reviewed. NesTV launcher is also eye-pleasing, and includes really convenient shortcuts.  The box is not perfect however, as it still has some serious bugs like DVB-T2 channels freezing from time to time, WiFi failures (at least with SAMBA), and overheating issues. There are also various smaller bugs which hopefully will be fixed once the box is sold to end users.

PROS

  • Dual independent DVB-S/S2 and DVB-C/T/T2 tuner allowing for recording and watching live TV at the same time;
  • EPG, Timeshitfing, and PVR function working reasonably well
  • Exclusive Tuner Features (for an Android TV box) – Support for recording from standby mode (with caveat), and background recording (e.g. you can watch YouTube, browse the web, or play games while recording)
  • Beautiful & user-friendly NesTV launcher (I also found out after the review that there’s a mobile app for it)
  • Good 4K video playback in Kodi 17 works well
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 works in all apps including Kodi, TrueHD and DTS HDMI audio pass-through works with MoviePlayer app (and likely most other apps including the TV app, but not Kodi)
  • Excellent Ethernet performance
  • Bluetooth is working well for file transfer, audio headset, and BLE
  • Support for smartcards (not tested)

CONS

  • DTV app issues and shortcomings
    • DVB-T2 channels may freeze from time to time
    • Encoding problems with data from satellite channel, at least for Burmese and Thai languages
    • It’s not possible to record two videos (one in DVB-S2 / one in DVB-T2) at the same time as the app reports a scheduling conflict
    • When the box is in standby and a program is schedule, the box will wake up, but recording will only start a few minutes later (10 minutes in my case)
  • The box may overheat potentially leading to video become choppy over time, and games less smooth
  • Power off mode does not work reliably (will reboot most of the time), and the unit power did not work for me at all
  • SAMBA + WiFi performance is poor, and connection can be unreliable
  • Kodi issues: automatic frame rate switching does not work, pass-through is limited to AC3/ Dolby Digital 5.1
  • DTS/Dolby audio down-mixing does not work in Android apps like MoviePlayer or Video Player; DTS-HD pass-through does not work (DTS 5.1 only) in such apps.

I’d like to thanks Shenzhen Sen5 for providing a sample for review. AS previously mentioned, the product is not available for retail yet, but interested resellers and distributors may contact the company via their website.

U5 PVR Deluxe Android Set-Top Box Review – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing, Teardown, and SATA HDD Assembly

April 22nd, 2017 33 comments

Last year, I reviewed U4 Quad Hybrid, an Android TV box powered by Hisilicon Hi3796M quad core Cortex A7 processor and with a combo DVB-T2/C + DVB-S2 tuner. with digital TV tuner. It worked pretty well, except for a few bugs here and there, the processor is not the most powerful, and video output & decoding is limited to 4K  @ 30Hz. The company – Shenzhen Vivant Technology – is now back with a new model called U5 PVR powered by a more powerful Hisilicon Hi3798C V200 quad core Cortex A53 processor with fast interfaces like USB 3.0, SATA, and Gigabit Ethernet, as well as support for 4K @ 60Hz via a HDMI 2.0a interface. There are actually three variations of U5 PVR with Deluxe/Slim/Normal models, and the company sent me U5 PVR Deluxe model for review. As usual, after listing the specifications, I’ll start the review by checking out the hardware, before reporting my experience with the firmware in the second part.

U5 PVR Deluxe TV Box Specifications

The TV box has some pretty impressive specifications:

  • SoC – Hisilicon Hi3798C V200 quad core Cortex A53 processor + multi-core ARM Mali-T720 processor
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR4-2133 SDRAM
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC 5.0 flash, internal SATA port for 2.5″ & 3.5″ hard drives / SSDs, micro SD slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a port up to 4K60 with HDR10 support, HDCP 1.4/2.2, AV port (composite + stereo audio)
  • Audio Output – Via HDMI, AV ports, optical S/PDIF port
  • Video Decoding – 10-bit H.265/HEVC up to 160 Mbps, H.264, MPEG-2, AVS/AVS+, VC1, VP8/VP9
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 port, 3x USB 2.0 ports
  • Tuner
    • Smart Card slot
    • 4 Options
      • Combo tuner with DVB-S2/S and DVB-T2/T/C tuners
      • Dual DVB-T2/T/C tuner with two demodulators
      • Twin DVB-S2/S tuner with Disqc v1.0, v1.2, and USALS support
      • Dual ATSC 2.0 tuner with two demodulators
  • Misc – Power/standby button, power switch, 2x LED, 4-digit 7 segment front panel display, IR receiver
  • Power Supply – 12V/3A ; Standby mode power consumption: 0.5 watt
  • Dimensions – 320 x 275 x 135 mm
  • Weight – 1.5 kg
  • Operating Temperature – 0 to 45 °C

The box runs Android 5.1.1 Lollipop with LeanBack launcher, a customized Live TV app, and support for PVR, time-shifting, and  TVHeadEnd 3.6 to steam Live TV to other devices (laptop, smartphone…). You’ll find more details hardware and software specifications in U5 PVR forums.

U5 PVR Deluxe Unboxing

The device package is really massive compared to other boxes I’ve received. I thought somebody might have sent an large oscilloscope instead…

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The package also shows one more option for tuner: single satellite tuner (DVB-S2/S). No tick on my package, so we’ll see which exact model I’ve received later.

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The box ships with a WiFi antenna, a large remote control taking two AAA batteries, and HDMI cable, a SATA cable + screws, a 12V/3A power supoply, and U5 PVR user manual. The user manual indicates that I should have gotten an RS-232 cable too, but it was nowhere to be found.

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The front panel comes with one USB 2.0 port, one USB 3.0 port, a window for the IR receiver and LCD display, two LEDs and the power button.

Both sides of the set-top box expose plenty of ventilation holes, with one side featuring the WiFi antenna connector, and the other two more USB 2.0 ports, and the Smart Card slot. The rear panles comes with two coaxial connectors (one female, one male) for the tuner, a 3.5mm AV jack, optical S/PDIF, HDMI 2.0a, Gigabit Ethernet, micro SD slot, the power jack, a mechanical power switch, and an RS-232 port used to reflash or upgrade the firmware.

U5 PVR Deluxe Teardown and SATA Drive Installation

Most TV boxes need to be opened from the bottom side of the case, and there are indeed a few screws that we could have removed to try to open the box. But since U5 PVR is supposed to take an internal hard drive, I found it would be an inconvenient way.

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So I looked into the user manual, but found absolutely nothing about installing a hard drive in the box. Then I realized the top cover was slightly elevated, and after gently pulling it I managed to take it out fairly easily.

We can see multiple mounting options with A: 2x 2.5″ HDD, B: 1x 3.5″ HDD, and C: 1x DVD. There’s only one SATA port, so I’m not sure how you would install two SATA drives, and a DVD drive would be possibly, but inconvenient unless you have a specific application that requires one DVD, or you place it on top of the case, and do not put the top cover back. There are also holes to install a fan, but I don’t have details to what type of fan is suitable. The sticker on the top left of the case read “Warranty void if seal is broken”, which does not make any sense, since that means connecting the hard drive internally would void the warranty. Anyway, I loosen the four screws, and pulled out the cover to have a better look at the board.

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The board is called “VV98C VERO 3”. A small heatsink covers the Hisilicon processor, are very next to it we can see a 16GB Samsung KLMAG2GEND-B031 eMMC 5.0 flash with 230/50MB/s sequential R/W speeds, and 6.5K/6K R/W IOPS, as well as two K4A8G16-5WG8CRC DDR4 memory chips. The tuner board comes with two Availink AVL6762TA DVB-T2/T/C demodulators, which means I got the Dual DVB-T2/T/C tuner version of U5 PVR Deluxe. Ampak AP6335 module provides 802.11 b/g/n/ac and  Bluetooth 4.0 Smart connectivity, while as we can see in the picture below, Realtek RTL8211E transceiver and PSF-2447 transformer are used for Gigabit Ethernet.

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Genesys Logic GL850G USB 2.0 hub is used for the extra USB ports since the processor only comes with a single USB 2.0 interface. The tiny 8-pin chip close to the power jack is FR9889 step-down DC to DC converter. The front panel board includes i-core HD2015E LED driver IC.

Now that we’ve had a look at the board’s main components. Let’s carry with the hard drive installation, and I’ll use a 3.5″ hard drive. First connect the 4-wire part of the cable J12 header, and the red SATA cable to the SATA port close to Ampak AP6335 module.

Connect the other part of the cable to the hard drive, place the HDD upside-down on a table, and tighten the four screws through the four “B” holes, before placing it back on top of the case as shown below.

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Tighten the four screws on the edges of the box, put back the top cover, and you’re done. In case, you prefer to use a fan, I strongly suspect that J14 3-pin header on the main board is designed for this very purpose.

I’d like to thank Shenzhen Vivant Technology for sending a review sample. Distributors and resellers may contact the company to purchase in quantities. U5 PVR Deluxe is for sale for $229.99 on Vivant Technology Aliexpress store, where you’ll also find a dual ATSC tuner board for $29.99.

Kodi 17 “Krypton” Released, Kodi 18 “Leia” Development Started

February 3rd, 2017 2 comments

Although not officially announced yet, Kodi developers have finally released Kodi 17 “Krypton” which you can download for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, Android, and iOS, as well as Raspberry Pi and some other development boards, and several Linux versions specific to TV box such as Nvidia Shield Android TV, Amazon Fire, or WeTek Hub. The most visible changes of the update are the new Estuary and Estouchy default skins, and people who have bought recent Amlogic based Android TV boxes may have already experienced them as several TV boxes shipped with Kodi 17 Beta versions.

There’s a long list of changes, but some noticeable ones include:

  • Lots of changes and updated to the Live TV and PVR (Personal Video Recorder) include PVR backend clients addons
  • New Settings user interface
  • Media library improvements with multiple sources support, more filtering & rating options, and better scanning & database performance
  • Audio Engine improvements on most platforms using ActiveAE
  • New default web interface called Chorus2

Click to Enlarge

There are also some Android specific changes, with the most important being that you now need Android 5.0 or greater to run the latest version of Kodi:

  • Moved to Android API 21 and SDK 21 with NDK 10 as minimum, meaning at least Android 5.0 is now required
  • Moved jni into its own separate project / submodule (jni backports from SPMC)
  • Added support for audio pass-through for DTS-HD, DTS-X, Dolby TrueHD, and Dolby ATMOS
  • Added support in CMake to debug binary-addon packaging issues on Android
  • Improved MediaCodec API video decoding implementations support for Android 5.0 (API level 21) and later
  • Improved automatic refresh rate switching support for video playback on Android 5.0 & later (>= API 21), inc. Android TV
  • Improved support for UltraHD decoding / 4K resolution output when HW supports it
  • Improved playback of HEVC, VC-1 / WMV 9, and VP9 hardware video decoding when using Android’s MediaCodec API
  • Removed AMLCodec hardware accelerated video decoding support for Android on Amlogic device

Now that Kodi 17 has been released, no new features will be added, but bug fixing will still occur, and a dot release might be available later on. New features are now developed on Kodi 18 “Leia”.

Via Liliputing

Giveaway Week – Zidoo X9 Android TV Box and HDMI Recorder

November 6th, 2016 284 comments

For the last day of giveaway week 2016, I’ll send Zidoo X9 Android TV box and HDMI recorder powered by Mstar MSO9180D1R quad core Cortex A9 processor to one lucky winner.

Zidoo X9 (Click to Enlarge)

Zidoo X9 (Click to Enlarge)

The product was launched at the end of 2014 with Android 4.4, and at the time of my review, I found the HDMI PVR function to work pretty well, the device also come with very good WiFi and internal storage, but Kodi needed some work. The company has provided firmware updates for a little over a year for the device with the latest firmware release on December 2015. It’s also possible to stream video from HDMI input to the network.

Zidoo X9 and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Zidoo X9 and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

I’ll send the package with all items shown in the picture above.

To enter the draw simply leave a comment below. Other rules are as follows:

  • Only one entry per contest. I will filter out entries with the same IP and/or email address.
  • Contests are open for 48 hours starting at 10am (Bangkok time) every day. Comments will be closed after 48 hours.
  • Winners will be selected with random.org, and announced in the comments section of each giveaway.
  • I’ll contact the winner by email, and I’ll expect an answer within 24 hours, or I’ll pick another winner.
  • Shipping
    • $28 (That thing is heavy) for registered airmail small packet for oversea shipping payable via Paypal within 48 hours once the contest (for a given product) is complete.
    • If Paypal is not available in your country, you can still play, and I’ll cover the cost of sending the parcel by Sea and Land (SAL) if you win.
  • I’ll post all 7 prizes at the same time, around the 10th of November
  • I’ll make sure we have 7 different winners, so if you have already won a device during this giveaway week, I’ll draw another person.

Good luck!

Categories: Android, Hardware, Mstar Tags: 4k, Android, giveaway, pvr, TV box, zidoo

Zidoo X8 Android TV Box, OpenWrt NAS, and HDMI Recorder Sells for $109

October 24th, 2016 16 comments

I posted my review of Zidoo X9S Android TV box, HDMI recorder and OpenWrt NAS a few days ago, and despite some limitations with regards to 4K video playback, the device is working pretty well. The $140 price tag might be a little more than some people are ready to pay, and the good news is that the company has now launched a cheaper model based on the same processor called Zidoo X8, without the external SATA port, and less storage.

zidoo-x8

Zidoo X8 specifications:

  • SoC – Realtek RTD1295 quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 1.4 GHz with ARM Mali-T820 MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 2 GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8 GB eMMC flash + micro SD slot + SATA 3.0 interface
  • Video I/O – HDMI 2.0a output, AV output and HDMI 2.0 input (Support up to 4K60 input, but record/stream up to 1080p @ 30 Hz)
  • Audio I/O – HDMI in and out, AV, S/PDIF output
  • Video Playback – HDR, 10-bit HEVC/H.265 up to 4K @ 60fps, H.264 up to 4K @ 24 fps, VP9 up to 4K @ 30 fps, BDISO/MKV, 3D videos, etc… automatic frame rate switching
  • Audio Features – DTS HD and TrueHD 7.1 channel audio pass-through
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 (RTK8821)
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0 ports
  • Misc – IR receiver, VFD display, restore pin hole.
  • Power Supply – 12V/3A
  • Dimensions – TBD

The media center runs Android 6.0 and OpenWrt simultaneously, and ships with  a remote control, an HDMI cable, a power adapter, and a user’s manual.

zidoo-x8-ports

So the only thing really missing compared to Zidoo X9S is the external SATA port, but since there’s still a USB 3.0 port, you’ll still have decent storage performance. I’d expect the firmware to work as well as on Zidoo X9S with HDMI audio pass-through up 7.1, automatic frame rate switching, and 4K video playback to work very well with Media Center app, but a little less well, especially for videos, using ZDMC (Kodi 16.1 fork) internal player. HDMI input will also you to setup a PiP window, record videos to your hard drive, or stream videos to the network, while OpenWrt will add support for NAS functions such as SAMBA share, FTP, Bittorrent downloader, and more.

Zidoo X8 is currently selling for $109 on GeekBuying, or about $30 to $40 cheaper compared to Zidoo X9S. You’ll also find a few sellers on Aliexpress, and it should be sold on Amazon US soon.

Ferguson Ariva 4K Android STBs Come with Digital TV Tuners, a Pay TV Card Reader, and a SATA Bay

October 19th, 2016 22 comments

We already have a choice of Android TV boxes with digital TV tuners (DVB-T2, DVB-S2, ATSC…) with devices like K1 Plus T2 S2, U4 Quad Hybrid, and Wetek Play 2, but Ferguson, a company based in Poland, has two other options based on Amlogic S905 processors with their Ariva 4K and Ariva 4K Combo with one or two tuners, a Pay TV card reader which is not available on competitors’ models, and 2.5″ HDD bay in the bottom of the case implemented via a USB 2.0 to SATA bridge.

ferguson-ariva-4kAriva 4K & 4K Combo specifications:

  • SoC –  Amlogic S905-B quad core ARM Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.5 GHz with Mali-450MP GPU

    RCU660 Universal RCU - Click to Enlarge

    RCU660 Universal RCU – Click to Enlarge

  • System Memory – 1 GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8 GB eMMC flash + slot for HDD mounting (on the bottom) + micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60Hz and AV port
  • Audio – HDMI, AV, and optical S/PDIF
  • Audio Decode – Dolby Digital/Digital Plus, MPEG, OGG, OGA, FLAC, ALAC, Ape, M4A, RM, MPEG-1 Layer1/2, MPEG-2 Layer II (DTS pass-through)
  • Tuners
    • Ariva 4K – DVB-S/S2 tuner & demodulator via LNG IN F-Female connector
    • Ariva 4K Combo –  DVB-S/S2 tuner & demodulator via LNG IN F-Female connector + DVB-T/T2/C tuner & demodulator via ANT IN IEC-Female connector
    • DiSEqC 1.0, 1.1 and DiSEqC 1.2, USALS (Universal Satellites Automatic Location System) support
    • Card reader for pay-per-view television / conditional access (CAS)
    • PVR functions – Record, time-shifting with support for FAT32 and NTFS file systems
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 host ports
  • Misc – IR receiver, recovery pin hole, power button, and front panel LCD display
  • Power Supply –  12V/2.0A (24W); >0.5W in standby mode
  • Dimensions – 258 x 158 x 43 mm
  • Weight – 800 grams

The device runs Android 5.1, and ships with RCU660 universal IR remote control, and an instruction manual available in English, German, Polish, and Spain.

ariva-4k-combo-ant-in-lnb-in

Ariva 4K Combo – Click to Enlarge

Usually, I don’t even look at the user manual since it’s normally useless, but Ferguson put a lot of efforts and details in their 42 pages manual, so it might be useful. If you can read Polish there’s also a Wiki. They also have a YouTube account explaining how to configure their devices, for example using USALS when you have a motorized satellite dish that can handle multiple satellite as shown below.

Ferguson Ariva 4K Android TV boxes can be bought on Satshop.tv for 179 Euros, and 189 Euros for the Combo version including VAT. You’ll also find some more details on Ferguson website.

Zidoo X9S Android Media Center Review – Part 2: Android Firmware & OpenWrt (NAS Functions)

October 14th, 2016 21 comments

Zidoo X9S is more than a simple Android TV box, as it supports NAS function via OpenWrt running simultaneously with Android 6.0 and its USB 3.0 and SATA ports, as well as HDMI input function capable of recording and broadcasting videos, and supporting Picture-in-picture, so I find “Android Media Center” better fit the description for this device. I’ve already taken pictures of the Zidoo X9S and its board in the first part of the review, so I’ll test both Android 6.0 & OpenWrt firmware, and the most of the features in the second part of the review.

Initial Setup and First Boot

I connected the usual accessories and cables to the box including a USB 3.0 hard drive, HDMI and Ethernet cables, USB RF dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, and a USB keyboard to take screenshots. I also added a 1TB SATA drive, and connected K1 Plus T2/S2 Android TV box to the HDMI input.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Once you connect the 36V power supply, the front panel LCD display will show “boot” and the LED will turn blue. A standard boot takes about 40 seconds with my setup, but the very first time, you need to go through the setup wizard.
zidoo-x9s-setup-wizard-languageYou’ll be presented with a Welcome screen asking you to choose bring traditional or simplified Chinese, Turkish, English, Vietnamese, but selecting “more” will bring you many more languages options.

zidoo-x9s-setup-wizard-more-languages

The second step is for overscan adjustment (Scale) in case you have black bar and the interface is cut on either side of the TV screen. The third step will let you configure the network, and if you have connected an Ethernet cable, the system should get an IP address with DHCP automatically, and you just have to select Next.zidoo-x9s-setup-wizard-networking

The fourth step of the setup wizards simply describes the user interface, and the last one congratulates you.zidoo-x9s-interface-descriptionClick on Complete to get the ZIUI launcher, the same as found on other Zidoo devices such as Zidoo X6 Pro.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

At this stage, you’ll probably want to go to Settings to set your timezone, and potentially change video and audio settings. In my case, I set video output to 4K 60, and disabled HDMI CEC (now disabled by default with latest firmware).

OTA Firmware Update

I’ve done this review with firmware V1.2.3, but the first time I got the box, firmware 1.1.20 was installed as shown in the About section of the launcher.

zidoo-x9s-firmware-version

I clicked on Update, and Zidoo X9S detected a new version (v1.1.26) with a detailed changelog.zidoo-x9s-firmware-changelogI clicked on Update again to start the download.

zidoo-x9s-firmware-downloadTo clicked on Update (again) to reboot the device, and complete the OTA firmware update successfully. All my settings and currently installed  apps were still present after the update, so it worked perfectly.

Zidoo updated the firmware with feedback from beta testers, and I eventually updated the firmware to V1.2.3 with a USB flash drive (Local Update) for further testing, and it also worked just fine.

Settings, Power Consumption & First Impressions

Zidoo X9S has no separate app for settings like in Amlogic devices – not necessarily a bad thing – , so instead you get to “standard” Android marshmallow settings with some settings specific to TV boxes and NAS functions.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Some of the most interesting settings include

  • Wireless & network section
    • Wi-Fi
    • Bluetooth
    • Ethernet configuration with DHCP, Fixed IP and PPPoE support
    • More – Portable hotspot, VPN, DLNA DMR, Set Device Name (for DLNA/UPnP), Miracast Sink, and Openwrt Settings.
Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

  • Device
    • Display
      • HDMI Mode – AUTO, PAL, 480P, 720P, 720P @ 50/60Hz, 1080i @ 50/60Hz, 1080p @ 24/50/60Hz, 3840x2160P @ 24/25/30/60 Hz, 4096x2160P @ 24 Hz
      • Deep Color Mode – AUTO, 12-bit, 10-bit, OFF
      • Cast
    • Sound & Notifications
      • HDMI output – RAW, LPCM 2 channel, LPCM multi-channel, Auto (recommended)
      • S/PDIF output – LPCM 2 ch, RAW
      • Playback effect – Off, Night Mode, Comfort mode (not sure what this does)
      • HDMI Rx Audio format – PCM or RAW
    • Playback (all on/off options) – Auto 1080p24, Auto 29.97/59.94 Hz, Force SD audio, Enable low performance mode (less buffer for playback)
    • HDMI CEC functions – HDMI CEC (on/off), One Touch Play, One Touch Standby, Auto Power On from TV, Auto OSD language, IRDA/CEC switch (on/off)

You also have other options like Daydream, printing, language & input, accessibility, and so on. I had no problem with Ethernet and WiFi, and HDMI output selection works, except it will often revert to 720p60 or 1080p60 possibly because the system is confused by the TV and AV receiver settings like so many other TV boxes.

Internal storage usage does not seem optimized, even considering the OpenWrt partition, as only 8.91 GB is available to the user in the “internal storage” partition out of of the 16GB eMMC flash. Having said that, this should still be plenty enough of space for most people. The good news is that both SATA and USB 3.0 drive partitions were recognized with NTFS, exFAT, EXT-4, and FAT32 file systems supported. Most Android TV boxes will not work properly if you attach more than one hard drive.

The About TV box section “reveals” the device is called “Zidoo_X9S”about-tv-box_zidoo-x9s and runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 4.1.17. The firmware is not rooted.

Zidoo IR remote control worked fine, including the IR learning function which I tried with power and volume keys of my TV. The range was good up to around 10 meters. I wish Zidoo would also offer an air mouse as option, as I had to switch between Zidoo remote control and MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse more often than usual during use, since the air mouse is not always the best with Zidoo Apps like Media Center or HDMI IN apps.

Google Play Store worked for most apps, except apps requirement Bluetooth LE/Smart support such as Mi Fit or Smart Movement. I could also side-load Amazon Underground app and install the free version of Riptide GP2 racing game.

Just like with their previous model Zidoo did a decent implementation of power handling. A short press on the remote’s power key will show a menu with Power off, Standby, and Reboot. The current firmware does not support Auto power off like in their previous device.

zidoo-x9s-power-off-standby-rebootIf you don’t want to be asked what to do each time, a long press on the power key will bring up a menu to configure the key behavior.

zidoo-x9s-power-key-defineThere’s also no problem with turning the device on from your sofa with the remote control.

Since Zidoo X9S has a 36W power supply, I did some extra tests for power consumption, testing various configuration with or without USB or SATA drives, and under load:

  • Power off (no HDD) – 0.2 Watt
  • Standby (No HDD) – 0.4 Watt
  • Idle (No HDD) – 5.2 ~ 6.1 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.2 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 0.3 Watts
  • Idle + USB HDD –  8.4 Watts
  • Power off + SATA HDD – 0.2 Watt
  • Standby + SATA HDD – 0.4 Watt
  • Idle + SATA HDD – 7.2 Watts
  • Idle + SATA HDD + USB HDD – 9.4 to 10.4 Watts
  • SATA HDD (Copy file to SAMBA share) + Play 4K video from USB HDD – 13.4 Watts

So everything looks pretty good, and it also means you could probably connect a few more hard drives to USB 2.0 ports, or via a USB 3.0 hub if you wished so, and it would still work. I wish there could be a “connected standby” mode to allow user to keep downloading files in the background, or let them access OpenWrt services while HDMI output and GPU are in low power mode, but I’m not sure that would save that much power. Currently, turning off the TV will not change power consumption of the device either.

Zidoo X9S metal case feels hot at times, but after Antutu 6.0, I measured just 38°C and 39°C max on the top and bottom of the enclosure with an IR thermometer, and after 15 to 20 minutes playing Riptide GP2 the temperature went up a little to respectively 41°C and 45°C. I did not experience any slowdown while playing the game. However, once I tried HDMI audio pass-through after several hours of testing, and found that it did not work reliably (my AV receiver was switching between DTS/UNKNOWN erratically) and the video were not smooth at all. I repeated the same test the next morning, and everything worked perfectly. The ambient temperature at the time of the issue was 31 °C, and it’s possible the device overheated the first time.

My first impressions about Zidoo X9S were quite good, with the firmware responsive and stable, and many options to satisfy the needs of most users. Beside the potential overheating issue, one small annoyance in the firmware is that the App list is sorted by usage frequency, instead of alphabetical order, so if you have many apps installed it can be confusing.

Video & Audio Playback with ZDMC (Kodi 16.1 fork), Antutu Video Tester, and DRM Support

There are to main ways to play videos in Zidoo X9S: ZDMC, a fork a Kodi 16.1, using an implementation from Realtek (RTDPLAYER), or Media Center app developed by Zidoo themselves. It’s also possible to set ZDMC to use Media Center by enabling Settings -> Video -> Playback –> Play video with external player.  I’ve tested ZDMC with the internal player for most of the video, and switched to Media Center to double check for videos with issues.

Big Buck Bunny videos from Linaro media samples, and Elecard:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK (software decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p – OK (ff-vp8 software decode), 1080p – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

Automatic refresh rate switching (Adjust display refresh rate) is enabled by default in ZDMC, and worked well.

I continued testing using videos with various bitrates:

  • ED_HD.avi (H.264 / 10 Mbps) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

So that’s very good so far, and I switched to Dolby and DTS audio testing using both PCM output (stereo downsampling) via ZDMC and Media Center apps, and HDMI pass-through in both apps using Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

I had to repeat the test twice with HDMI pass-through using Media Center app with tries marked as #1 and #2.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(ZDMC)
PCM 2.0 Output
(Media Center)
HDMI Pass-through
(ZDMC)
HDMI Pass-through
(Media Center)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK Audio OK, but 1:1 aspect ratio OK #1: Some audio cuts, 1:1 aspect ratio
#2: OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK OK #1: AV receiver switching between Dolby D 5.1/Unknown frequently
#2: OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK OK #1: OK
#2: OK
TrueHD 5.1 OK OK OK #1: Audio OK (TrueHD 5.1), video not smooth
#2: OK
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK OK #1: TrueHD 7.1 detected but some audio cuts, and video not smooth
#2: OK
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK OK TrueHD 7.1 #1: TrueHD 7.1/Unknown switching, audio cuts, video not smooth
#2: TrueHD 7.1
DTS HD Master OK OK OK #1: DTS HD MA/Unknown switching with audio cuts, video not smooth
#2: OK
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK OK #1: PCM 2.0 audio, video not smooth
#2: OK
DTS:X (not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636) OK OK DTS HD Master (OK) #1: DTS HD Master, video not smooth
#2: DTS HD Master (OK)

Zidoo X9S is a massive improvements compared to most other Android TV boxes on the market with both HDMI audio pass-through working well, and DTS and Dolby audio licenses (also confirmed with MX Player app). But what happened in the forth column, with my first attempt (#1) a disaster, and the second one (#2) working just fine? The first test was done after testing the device for several hours, and the room temperature was around 30 C, while the second attempt was the next day, a few minutes after a fresh boot, so it appears the device overheated, and it greatly affected the performance in the first try. That’s the only instance when I noticed the device overheating. It might not be an issue if you live in a temperate climate, but something to keep in mind if you live in hotter climates (or during summer).

You may have already read my post about HDMI audio pass-through and 4K video support on Realtek RTD1295 processor, where I found many of my 4K video samples not playing smoothly on the platform. I’d like to put some perspective to with the SoC block diagram.

RTD1295 Block Diagram (Click to Enlarge)

RTD1295 Block Diagram (Click to Enlarge)

The Video/Audio System section shows the SoC support H.264 video codec up to 2K @ 60 fps & 4K @ 24 fps, H.265 up to 4K 60 fps, and VP9 up to 4K 60 fps. One question you often may want to ask when you purchase a media player, is if it is future proof. But Realtek decision to limit 4K H.264 to 24 fps makes it “not proof for the present” due to the millions of cameras (e.g. GoPro/Xiaomi) and phones capable of recording 4K H.264 @ 30 fps sold on the market. Whether this matters to you or not, you’ll have to decide by yourself. Following problems with 4K VP9 60 fps videos reported to Zidoo, the company also informed me that 4K VP9 would be limited to 30 fps. VP9 is not used very much right now, and this will probably mostly matter if you download 4K YouTube videos @ over 30 fps using VP9 codec.

Nevertheless, while no TV box will be able to play all of the 4K video samples I used for review, Zidoo X9S is unable to play many of them smoothly. I repeated the test with a more recent firmware (V1.2.3) both in ZDMC with internal player, and Media Center, and I’ve prefixed lines with samples out of specs with OoO.

  • OoO – HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – Not smooth in ZDMC, better in Media Center app, but still not perfect, especially at the end.
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  Not smooth in ZDMC, OK in media center
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – Not smooth and some audio cuts in ZDMC, OK in Media Center app
  • OoO – big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – Not smooth in ZDMC, yet watchable in Media Center
  • OoO – big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (as expected since hardware is not supposed to support it)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – Not always perfectly smooth in ZMDC, perfect in Media Center app
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  Not smooth in ZDMC, OK in Media Center
  • OoO – 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – Lots of artifacts and around 1 fps (software decode)
  • OoO – Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Not smooth
  • OoO – tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Not smooth, artifacts, and audio cuts
  • OoO – The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Not smooth

4K video playback is quite disappointing in ZDMC with the internal player, but with Media Center it’s pretty good with videos within specifications. Some H.264 4K 30 fps videos are almost watchable in Media Center app, if you allow for a few frame drops and rare slowdowns here and there.

You can see HDMI audio pass-through and ZDMC 4K video playback with an earlier firmware (few differences) in the video below.

Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso (non encrypted) Blu-Ray ISOs, and MPEG2 1080i videos could play just fine. Like on most platforms Hi10p is not supported by the hardware, so it must be done with software decode, and ZDMC could handle the 720p Hi10p video, but the 1080p one would not be smooth, and exhibit some artifacts. Media Center won’t play Hi10p videos at all.

My review 4K TV does not support 3D, but it’s still interesting to find out whether the TV box can decode 3D videos, and Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver is capable of detecting 3D content (3D icon shown) for MVC videos as shown in  Zidoo X1 II review, so I checked whether the 3D icon is lit up using Media Center app:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Black screen, audio only
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK
  • 3D-full-MVC.mkv (Full-frame packed MVC 3D MKV) – Plays in 2D by default (since my TV does not support 3D), but can be force to 3D, with the  3D icon showing on the Onkyo receiver.
  • ISO-full3D-sample.iso (Full-frame packed MVC 3D ISO) – Plays in 2D by default (since my TV does not support 3D), but can be force to 3D, with the  3D icon showing on the Onkyo receiver.

Finally, I played several MKV, VOB/IFO, AVI, XViD/DViX, MP4, and FLV videos from my library in ZDMC, including one full 2-hour 1080p H.264 movie, and the vast majority could play just fine, with the exception of some FLV videos.

In order to have a formal video & audio capability score, I’ve also run Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark, with Zidoo X9S getting 888 points, a score pretty similar to what you’d get on Amlogic devices.zidoo-x9s-antutu-video-tester-3-0

Some videos were only partially supported, as the app detected they did not play smoothly, and one WMV/WMV2/WMAV2 video completely failed to play. I also heard some video had issues with audio (only noise), but the app did not seem to pick this up.

zidoo-x9s-antutu-video-tester-results DRM info app will crash, so I was not able to find out whether Widewine or PlayReady are supported, but it’s probably safe to assume they are not… YouTube worked fine me up to 1080p.

Video samples used in Kodi for this review can be downloaded via links in the comments section of my audio & video samples post.

HDMI IN App Review: PVR, UDP Streaming, and PiP

HDMI input is one of the main selling points of the Zidoo X9S, and I’ve already tested video recording, video streaming, and picture-in-picture in the post entitled “Zidoo X9S Android TV Box HDMI Input Testing – Video Recording, PiP, and UDP Broadcasting“, where I found that all three features worked reasonably well, despite my having some issue with audio at the beginning.

One issue included RAW audio (AC3/DTS) recording not working, and videos broadcasted over UDP are not quite as smoothly as the original input.

OpenWrt and NAS Functions

I’ve already explained how to access OpenWrt, and perform its first time configuration, so here I’ll report my findings with some of the available services, namely SAMBA, FTP, and Bittorrent.

As shown in the description of settings, but you disable/enable services on OpenWrt directly within Android settings, but in some cases, such as SAMBA, you may also have to define the shared directory(ies) within OpenWrt LuCI web interface.

zidoo-openwrt-samba

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To do so, go to About in the launcher, note the IP address of Zidoo X9S, and access LuCI in your PC web browser @ http://ZIDOO-X9S-IP-ADDRESS. You’ll find the following NAS services on the top menu: DLNA, iTunes, Samba, FTP, TimeMachine, and BitTorrent.

I’ve enabled SAMBA shares for the SATA drive NTFS partition, and all three USB 3.0 partitions. “OpenWrt” client won’t show in Ubuntu 16.04 with Nautilus, but I could select “Connect to Server” and input smb://ZIDOO-X9S-IP-ADDRESS to access the list of shares.

zidoo-x9s-samba-sharesDisk_sda1 is the SATA drive share on Zidoo X9S, and I could transfer large files from my PC’s SSD to Zidoo’s SATA drive at a reasonable speed (~49 MB/s) over Gigabit Ethernet.

zidoo-x9s-samba-transfer-rateI could also play a few 1080p and 4K videos on my computer using Zidoo X9S as a SAMBA server.

Then I switched to FTP with Filezilla program, and I could easily transfer files after login as root user.

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Performance basically maxes out the Gigabit Ethernet connection at close to 90 MB/s.

Finally, I’ve configured BitTorrent. By default it will download files to /tmp/bittorrent (Ramdisk), so you may want to change that to a directory on SATA or USB storage… It’s a little inconvenient as the path need to be type by hand, and mine looked like: /storage/309C86229C85E2A8/transmission/done.

zidoo-x9s-bittorrent-path

Then you can open Transmission web interface @ http://ZIDOO-X9S-IP-ADDRESS:9091 (a reboot may be required), in order to add torrent either from .torrent files downloaded to your PC or direct links to torrent files.

zidoo-x9s-bittorrentHowever, BitTorrent did not work well for me. First while I could Browse to select a torrent file, entering a URL would results in error such as:

Add when adding .torrent file, the download would never seen to start.

Network Performance

We’ve already seen Gigabit Ethernet interface is doing its job in the OpenWrt section, but I’ve also tested WiFi performance by transferring a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash in both directions using ES File Explorer. Zidoo X9S can achieve 3.6 MB/s on average with 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and MB/s with 802.11ac (434Mbps Link Speed) both of which are excellent, and near the top oftheir respective category against competing devices.

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WiFi Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I’ve also quickly tested Gigabit Ethernet with iperf in full duplex mode:

That’s impressive, as it’s quite rare to see ARM based SoCs for TV boxes nearly hit Gigabit Ethernet speed in full duplex. So both wireless and wired networking performance on Zidoo X9S is outstanding.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

After I paired Vernee Apollo Lite smartphone with “Realtek Bluetooth”, I could transfer several photos over Bluetooth. However, I also got the message “Unfortunately Bluetooth has stopped” a few times, so the transfer failed for some photos. Since Google Play would report BLE app to be “incompatible with this device”, I side-loaded Smart Movement app, and I could synchronize data from my Bluetooth Smart fitness tracker without issues.

The firmware is not rooted, so I skipped sixaxis gamepad test. completely failed to detect my Bluetooth headset. I could however pair my Bluetooth headset, and watch and listen to some YouTube videos with it.

Storage

I have a 1 TB USB 3.0 Seagate hard drive with 4 partitions with different file systems, and Zidoo X9S could mount 3 of them,  and a FAT32 micro SD could also be mounted in read/write mode. So file system support is a bit better than most other devices that do not always support EXT-4.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK OK
EXT-4 OK OK
exFAT OK OK
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

A1SD bench app shows excellent sequential read and write both via USB 3.0 and SATA interface, except for exFAT file system which should usually be avoided on Android devices:

  • USB 3.0 + NTFS – Read: 57.41 MB/s – Write: 56.73 MB/s
  • USB 3.0 + EXT-4 – Read: 63.38 MB/s – Write: 59.06 MB/s
  • USB 3.0 + exFAT – Read: 16.27 MB/s – Write: 5.32 MB/s
  • SATA + NTFS – Read: 106.67 MB/s – Write: 84.74 MB/s

Zidoo told me that they are using Paragon NTFS, a commercial implementation of NTFS file system that normally delivers much higher performance than NTFS-3G open source implementation.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Maybe Realtek should make a networking/storage SoC with the USB 3.0, SATA and Ethernet IP blocks used in RTD1295…

I ran A1SD Bench again for test Zidoo X9S eMMC flash, but I never managed to do so without “Cached read”. eMMC write speed was 25.71 MB/s, and the cached read speed was between 80 and 102 MB/s.

Gaming

I shortly played Candy Crush Saga with the air mouse, and as expected no problem at all here. So I moved to my wireless gamepad, and Beach Buggy Racing 3D game, which also played perfectly smoothly even with maximum quality settings. Riptide GP2 had very much the same user experience as on Amlogic S912 SoC with the game being playable, but not perfectly smooth, with the “highest resolution” settings. I could play the latter game over 15 minutes with any obvious degradation in performance, so the overheating issue is not that easy to reproduce.

Zidoo X9S Benchmarks

You’ll find results Antutu, Vellamo, 3DMark, and CPU-Z in Zidoo X9S Realtek RTD1295 Android & OpenWrt TV Box System Info & Benchmarks. The results are about as expected with a CPU performance roughly equivalent to what you’d get with Amlogic S905 CPU, and GPU performance and capabilities (OpenGL ES 3.1) similar to Amlogic S912.

zidoo-x9s-antutu-6

Conclusion

Zidoo appears to be getting better and better overtime, and Zidoo X9S might be their best devices so far. They also invited a team of beta testers to provide inputs and report bugs before sending to end users, so this might have help. At first, I was disappointed by RTD1295 SoC limited 4K capabilities (4K H.264 up to 24 fps, 4K VP9 up to 30 fps), but if you can do without those, the firmware is normally excellent with HDMI audio pass-through, automatic frame rate switching, outstanding networking and storage performance, and most features working out of the box.

PROS

  • Stable and responsive Android 6.0 firmware
  • Good Media player capabilities with Media Center app including 4K H.265 & HDR support, automatic frame rate switching HDMI audio pass-through including for Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD
  • Outstanding Ethernet and WiFi performance
  • Very good storage performance for internal storage, USB 3.0, and SATA
  • File systems support – NTFS (Paragon), EXT-4, exFAT (slow), and FAT32
  • HDMI Input (up to 4K60 input) with video recording, UDP broadcasting, and picture-in-picture support. N/B/: Recording can only be done up to 1080p30, so video input may be downscaled.
  • NAS functions such as SAMBA and FTP servers through OpenWrt, which runs side-by-side with Android
  • Proper power handling with power off, standby, and reboot, and low power consumption in off/standby modes. The provided 36W power supply also allows the connection of multiple hard drives.
  • Dolby & DTS audio work in any apps
  • OTA Firmware update
  • Zidoo support – Frequent firmware update (with Changelog) and user forums.

CONS (and bugs):

  • Realtek RTD1295 VPU limitations: 4K H.264 up to 24 fps (which will be an issue for 4K videos recorded with some actions cameras (GoPro/Xiaomi Yi) and smartphones; 4K VP9 up to 30 fps (Zidoo confirmed 60 fps won’t be supported)
  • 4K videos are often not smooth when using the internal player in ZDMC (Kodi 16.1 fork).
  • Potential overheating issues in hot weather. I only experienced overheating once during testing, at which point it was not possible to play any videos smoothly (Room temp: ~30 C)
  • Lack of DRM support
  • HDMI Input – Recording/broadcasting fails when selecting RAW HDMI Rx, so AC3/DTS can not be recorded; UDP Broadcast is not quite as smooth as original input
  • Third party air mouse (MINIX NEO A2 Lite) is not always usable with Zidoo apps, and Zidoo IR remote is not really suitable for general Android usage (no proper mouse function), so you may have to jungle between Zidoo remote control and your air mouse more than one other devices. Alternatively using Zidoo RC app with your smartphone is an option, but I’d wish Zidoo would make an air mouse specifically for their devices.
  • Minor – App list in “most used” order, not alphabetical, which makes it hard to find apps if you have any installed.
  • Potential OpenWrt issue – While adding torrent files to Transmission web interface work, Bittorrent downloads would not start. SAMBA server not automatically detected in Ubuntu, smb:// address needs to be typed manually.
  • To be fixed – Apps requiring Bluetooth LE  can’t be installed through Google Play (side-loading apps works)

If you plan to use Zidoo X9S to its fullest with 4K media playback, NAS functions, and HDMI input features, the media center is actually very good value.

I’d like to thank Zidoo for sending a review sample. Resellers and distributors can contact the company to purchase in quantities, while individual will find Zidoo X9S for $139 on Amazon US with O974D68X coupon (also works in other Amazon stores) and other online resellers such as Chinavasion, GeekBuying, DX, or eBay.

Zidoo X9S Android TV Box HDMI Input Testing – Video Recording, PiP, and UDP Broadcasting

October 10th, 2016 11 comments

One of Zidoo X9S media center‘s key features is its HDMI Input port with support for PVR, picture-in-picture, and video broadcasting over UDP. The company has come a long way since the implementation of HDMI input on Zidoo X9 TV box, which would only support PVR function, and exclusively work in the foreground.

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For this review, I connected K1 Plus T2 S2 Android TV box to the HDMI input of Zidoo X9S, and started HDMI In app.zidoo-x9s-hdmi-input-appThe first good news is that HDMI input does work, as we can see K1 Plus user interface preview inside Zidoo X9S’ HDMI IN app. Before testing all features, let’s go through the options for Video, Audio, and Output.

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You can select various video resolution up to 1080p, but I left it to Auto, which for this test meant 1080p. Framerate cannot be changed and is set to Auto, while bitrate ranges from 1M to 10M. For local video recording 10M should be a good option, but if you broadcast the video over the network, it would be wise to lower the bitrate to something more manageable, even if you are using Ethernet because the video may not be perfectly smooth at 10Mbps.

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I don’t expect most people will change Audio settings, but the sample rate is configurable from 8,000 to 96,000 with the default being 48,000, and the number of channels can be adjusted between one and two.

The output mode allows you to select between “File” and “Broadcast” recording. If File is select, the second option will be video duration (HH:MM:SS), and the third the recording path (which I set to a directory in the SATA drvie), while if Broadcast is selected you can choose between Multicast, Broadcast, or Unicast with the default addresses being respectively: 239.0.0.1:7878, 255.255.255.255:7878, and some IP address:7878.

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The + icon on the bottom right will let you set a start time (Reservation time) to record to File or start a broadcast, the clock icon will show the list of current scheduled events (called “My Reservations”), and the settings icon provides a list of options such as enabling audio in PiP mode.

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As you can see from the screenshot above you can schedule any type of “recordings” either to a file or broadcasted to the network using various settings for each schedule. It works well, but the box needs to be running at all time. If you set Zidoo X9S to standby mode, it won’t wake up and start recording.

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Settings include HDMI 2.0, because Zidoo X9S suports HDMI 2.0 input up to 4K 60 Hz, although it will record the input at 1080p30 max. If the input is 60 Hz, it will record at 30 fps, and 50 Hz to 25 fps.

Let’s play with the main features, start with PiP (Picture-in-Picture), which could start from from the HDMI IN app, or the PiP icon on the taskbar.

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The first time it will show on the top right corner, but you can move it around and resize it as your please with an air mouse. There are also icon to put it into full screen mode, and close the PiP window. You can then play with other app like the web browser, or even play another videos from any video app in Android. I was very pleased with PiP support, as I could not find any faults, and you’ll see a demo in the video embedded at the end of this post. A quick option to turn on/off the volume for the PiP window would be nice (a simple firmware update could do this), since for example you do some tasks waiting for the program in PiP to start (in silent mode), and then switch to full screen and enable audio. Now you have to go back to HDMI IN app to enable PiP audio for this to work.

The very first time I used HDMI input function, I had no audio at all. I made sure volume was not mute or low on Zidoo X9S, K1 Plus, and my TV, but I still had no audio. So I went to the Settings-> Sound & Notifications->HDMI Rx Audio format, and try to switch from PCM to RAW. I also changed some audio settings in K1 Plus, and suddenly I had audio for 5 seconds, and it stopped again for no obvious reasons. Eventually, audio came back, and I could not reproduce the issue at all. I’m not entirely sure what may have happened here. I’ve tested this with firmware V1.2.3, and the upcoming firmware V1.2.4 includes fixes for “abnormally sound recorded from HDMI IN”, so maybe this will help avoiding the issues I had too.

Video recording to the hard drive works well too, and the part I really appreciate is that it can take place in the background, meaning you can still use the box while it’s recording, something that was not possible when I tested Zidoo X9 (no S) in 2015. You’ll have the REC icon showing on the top right of the user interface at all time.

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Browsing the web, and playing app should not affect the recording, if you use an app consistently using multiple cores and/or having lots of I/O request on the recording devices it may degrade the recording. I don’t have any device requiring HDCP, so I have not been able to test that part.

Finally, I experienced with UDP broadcasting using Multicast protocol.

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You can see the video input is 4K 60 and is converted to 1080p30, just like for video recording to the hard drive. However, the very first time I tried this feature, I got the message “Start broadcast failed…”, and Start Record would also fail with “Start hdmi in record failed…” Very odd since recording to file previously worked. After 30 minutes, I found that the culprit was Settings-> Sound & Notifications->HDMI Rx Audio format set to raw, and whatever settings in K1 plus (PCM or HDMI pass-through), Zidoo X9S would refuse to start streaming or recording the video. Settings HDMI Rx Audio format back to PCM fixed the issue, and I could start UDP streaming. That also means if you can’t record AC3 / Diolby Digital 5.1 audio

So I open VideoLAN (VLC) in my computer, to open a Network Stream using udp:[email protected]:7878 address, and it worked just fine.

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The video uses H.264 codec and AAC stereo audio. It’s not quite as smooth as the original input, possibly because of the framerate convertion. It’s particularly obvious when looking at the scrolling ticker in the video. I still found it was watchable.

So I decide to try another client at the same time, and installed VideoLAN on my Android smartphone (Vernee Apollo Lite), and all I got was a green screen with some artifacts at the top.

videolan-android-udp-streaming-zidoo-x9sSince the stream was working with VideoLAN Linux program, this has to be a problem with VideoLAN, or a compatibility issue between HDMI IN app and VideoLAN Android app. So I searched for alternative UDP streaming apps, and at first found one designed for security cameras that was not really suitable for watching video. But finally I found that GoodPlayer app would do the job on my phone.

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That means you can stream videos from Zidoo X9S to multiple devices, and both on computers and mobile phones. What you can’t do is record to file and stream to the network at the same time.

You can watch HDMI In app in action in the video below.

While HDMI IN implementation is not 100% perfect, that’s a massive improvement over my first experience with Mstar based Zidoo X9 Android TV box in 2015, and the HDMI input port on Zidoo X9S can be useful for various use cases.