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DroidBOX T8-S Plus Android TV media player Review

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Added value features elevate this from the pack

by Mark Hodgkinson Apr 20, 2016 at 12:43 PM

  • SRP: £109.99

    What is the DroidBOX T8-S Plus?

    The DroidBOX T8-S Plus Android TV box is, as the product name would suggest, the successor to the popular T8-S. As one would expect, the T8-S Plus boasts an updated specification but most of what made the predecessor a solid buy remains, including the ability to dual boot the KODI based operating system OpenELEC, regular manufacturer software updates and strong after sales support. The DroidBOX T8-S Plus comes in three flavours – the basic Android/OpenELEC version at £99.95, an OpenELEC only model at £89.95 and the gamers edition bundle which comes with a fancier remote and games controller for £149.95 bringing it face to face with the superb NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV which is a tough act to match, so let’s see how it fares.

    Specification

    The DroidBOX T8-S Plus comes equipped with an AMLogic S812 processor which, while slightly long in the tooth, does boast excellent video and audio capabilities including 4K Ultra HD playback with HEVC decoding capabilities. That is supported by an octacore MALI 450 GPU and a healthy 2GB of RAM. The T8-S Plus is running Android 4.4.2 and comes with 32Gb of unified flash storage built. You can greatly expand on that, however, as the T8-S Plus can be fitted with a SATA HDD up to 2TB or even a Solid State Drive (SSD); in point of fact, the review sample came equipped with a 120Gb SanDisk SSD running an experimental software version which was later updated to stock/latest.

    Design & Connections

    The DroidBOX T8-S sports an all-aluminium chassis in black with a display panel, showing the time, and a power button on the front. At the rear you'll find an HDMI 1.4 port, a Toslink digital audio out, a LAN port, a composite video connection (avoid), stereo outs and a power supply. These are joined by three USB 2.0 ports and a full-sized SD/MMC Card slot on the right hand side.
    DroidBOX T8-S Plus Design & Connections
    DroidBOX T8-S Plus Design & Connections

    The T8-S Plus also supports Version 4.0 Bluetooth and dual band (2.4/5Ghz) 802.11ac Wi-Fi. The supplied remote is good enough, with all the usual keys and support for a mouse-pointer function, but if you’re planning on making extensive use of a wide selection of Android apps, you might want to consider a proper airmouse or wireless keyboard. We were sent the gamers edition bundle with the DroidBOX ‘VIP’ remote included but we can’t say we were big fans. The mouse pointer comes on by default which we found annoying and it’s not especially optimised for KODI use where we would sometimes find ourselves stuck in a menu as the ‘back up’ button would only bring up the pointer instead of taking us back to the previous menu screen. It’s definitely not something we would want to shell out a further £16 for, let’s put it that way.

    Features

    As noted in the intro, DroidBOX has been proactive in providing users with some useful features unique(ish) to their devices. First of all there’s DroidBOX share which is an impressively thorough app, akin to some of those we see with Smart TVs from the major manufacturers. It provides a number of functions, including screen sharing and mirroring, app launching, settings, mouse pointer control and full remote replacement with assignable buttons. You can also use Share to remotely hook up the camera from your phone or tablet and it’s available on Android, Windows and iOS.

    DroidBOX T8-S Plus
    DroidBOX also has their own marketplace – or two to be precise – of curated apps that work well with the T8-S Plus, as an alternative to trawling through the millions on Google Play. The second marketplace is dedicated to gaming – this is the Gamers Edition, after all – where there are a lot of free titles to download including old-school emulators as well as the more routine roster of Android games. The DroidBOX Bluetooth games controller is a very decent example and naturally works flawlessly with the device. The T8-S Plus has enough grunt at its disposal to run most games at decent framerates without tearing or any obvious slow-down.
    DroidBOX T8-S Plus
    Finally, and very usefully for novice users, the T8-S Plus has built-in technical support via DroidBOX Control Centre which offers YouTube help videos, How-to guides, instant fixes, the ability to submit log files direct to DroidBOX and a Quick Support function with direct access to technical staff.

    Video and Audio Performance

    We’ve actually had the review sample for a number of weeks and that’s allowed time for us to work with DroidBOX to iron out one or two concerns we had over the audio visual performance in its pre-updated state. We would definitely encourage existing owners to seek out the latest operating software via the OTA Updates app which adds a new version of DroidBOX Media Centre – the manufacturers fork of KODI -which clears up most of the issues we had. For those that prefer the slimmed down media centre experience provided by the version of OpenELEC running on the T8-S Plus the need to update isn’t as pressing, as it performs very well, but it’s worth doing in any case.

    One issue that remains is that the USB port doesn’t supply enough power for our Samsung M3 USB 3.0 external hard drive so testing was carried out exclusively via a NAS over a wired Gigabit network on a Samsung UE65JU700 and Panasonic TX-58DX700 via a Yamaha RXV-V679 AV Receiver. Having tested the various KODI based options including SPMC, DroidBOX Media Centre, OpenELEC and vanilla KODI 16.0 rc2, we settled on the manufacturer’s version as the all-round best version in terms of file support.

    Beginning with the 4K Ultra HD tests, this is how the T8-S Plus fared.

    4K Tests

    DroidBOX Media Center

    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/23.976fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24.000fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/25.000fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/29.970fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MKV/59.940fps
    Video aretfecating and audio drop-outs
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/23.976fps
    3840 x 2160/HEVC/MP4/29.970fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/59.940fps
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/59.940fps
    Played surpisingly well but in the wrong colour space
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/23.976fps
    Played smoothly but in wrong colour space
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/50.00fps
    Some audio drop-outs and video artefacts
    4096 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24fps
    Switched in to 4096x2160 and played well

    The T8-S Plus performed as well as the chipset allows which is to say very well. There is no support for 10-bit HEVC in the AMLogic S812-H so it was surprising the T8-S made such a good fist of playing the test files, albeit they were unwatchable owing to the incorrect colours being displayed. The T8-S Plus showed near exemplary automatic refresh rate switching, although it would ocassionaly struggle to switch to 1080p 50Hz content when having played an Ultra HD file.

    Moving on to some more mundane files, including standard and high definition, both interlaced and progressively encoded and, as expected, the T8-S Plus had an almost clean bill of health.

    SD/HD/Interlaced

    DroidBOX Media Center

    720 x 576/MP2/mpg/25.000fps - Interlaced
    Surprisngly bad deinterlacing for the chipset
    1280 x 720/AVC/MP4/29.970fps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/25.00fps - Interlaced
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/24.000fps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/25.000fps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/29.970fps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/30.000fps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/59.970fps
    1920 x 1080/HEVC/ISO/23.976fps
    1920 x 1080/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps
    1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/23.976fps
    Completely locked up box disabling Amcodec didn't help
    1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/29.970fps
    Played but not altogether smooth

    As with other Android devices sharing the same architecture, VC-1 encodes are problematic, unfortunately. In fact, one of the files saw the T8-S Plus lock-up completely, necessitating the power cord to be pulled from the back while the other played with some erratic frame skips so if you have a lot of VC-1 material in your collection, you will be better on another platform.

    Ultra HD Blu-ray is now alive and kicking and has bitrates topping 100Mbps, so should it ever be cracked and you wish to retain its full glory with a straight rip, your hardware is going to have to be up to the job.

    High Bitrate

    DroidBOX Media Center

    1920 x 1080/AVC/M2TS/23.976fps & 90mbps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 100mbps
    1920 x 1080/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 110mbps

    3480 x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 120mbps
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 120mbps
    Total meltdown with digital video noise and artefacting everywhere

    3840x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 140mbps
    10-bit 3840x2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 140mbps
    Locked up box

    3840x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps
    Ok, provide paused for a few seconds to allow buffer cache to build. Suspect a larger file would be an issue
    10-bit 3840x 2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps
    Box locked up


    Assuming 4K Blu-ray tops out at around 120Mbps, the T8-S Plus has the networking and processing chops to deal with the demands but, then, it can’t handle 10-bit HEVC so encodes would need to be 8-bit only.

    There have been some positive steps for Android and 3D, via KODI, in recent months but the T8-S Plus doesn’t show the benefits..

    3D

    DroidBOX Media Center

    1920 x 1080/AVC/ISO/23.976fps Frame Packed
    Played fine in 2D
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Frame Packed
    Played in top and bottom but with unwatchable video artefacts
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Side by Side
    Appeared as though it wpuld play but video signal kept cutting out
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Top & Bottom
    Needed to manually engage 3D mode

    The only file to play properly was the Top and Bottom clip with the others either exhibiting picture issues or not playing at all. The DroidBOX T8-S Plus is not a vehicle for your 3D rips, if you have any, although we suspect that not all that many people will be bothered by that.

    As well as improving the automatic refresh rate switching, the latest DroidBOX update has also beefed up compatibility with audio codecs, although there is still room for improvement.

    Audio

    DroidBOX Media Center

    AAC (Dolby Digital) 5.1
    AC3 (DTS) 5.1
    Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
    Played as 2.0
    Dolby True HD 5.1
    Played as PCM 5.1
    Dolby True HD 7.1
    Played as PCM 7.1
    DTS HD-MA 5.1
    Played as DTS Core 5.1
    DTS HD-HR 7.1
    Played as DTS Core 5.1
    DTS HD-MA 7.1
    Played as DTS Core 5.1
    LPCM 7.1

    While the T8-S Plus will play most of what you throw at it, DTS-HD is put out as DTS core 5.1 and lossless Dolby formats are sent as decoded PCM. In the latter case, we’re not too bothered what lights illuminate on our AV receiver but the lack of DTS-HD will be bothersome for some. Hopefully the manufacturer can make further tweaks and at least get HD-MA working.

    How future-proof is this video streamer?

    4K Ultra HD playback up to 60 frames per second
    HEVC decoding Full HD
    HEVC decoding Ultra HD
    7 Channel HD Audio pass-through
    Netflix HD/4K
    3D ISO playback
    HDMI 2.0
    Over The Air (OTA) Software Updates
    Manufacturer version of KODI

    Video Review


    Conclusion

    7
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Excellent customer support
    • Mostly solid AV playback
    • Well connected
    • OpenELEC dual-boot
    • Games controller is nice

    Cons

    • HD audio pass-through is lacking
    • Can't power some external USB hard drives
    • VC-1 encodes non-playable
    You own this Total 0
    You want this Total 0
    You had this Total 0

    DroidBOX T8-S Plus Android TV media player Review

    Should I buy DroidBOX T8-S Plus?

    The DroidBOX T8-S Plus has plenty to recommend. The hardware platform is solid and well matured, connectivity options are good, with gigabit LAN, AC WiFi, Bluetooth and an HDMI 1.4 port capable of Ultra HD video up to 30Hz among the options. What makes the DroidBOX T8-S Plus stand out from most of the Android boxes, out there, is the manufacturer support which includes built-in instant fixes and how-to videos, direct technical support and a curated marketplace for apps that work nicely with the device.

    The DroidBOX T8-S Plus also offers the opportunity to boot in to the, media centre based, OpenELEC operating system should you want to keep processing overheads to a minimum. Not only that, the manufacturer produces their own fork of KODI which takes almost full advantage of the hardware on-board the T8-S Plus; it will play almost any file - including 8-bit 4K HEVC encodes - but if you’re a fan of HD audio, or 3D video, in particular, then there are better - and similarly priced- platforms out there so, as a result, the DroidBOX T8-S Plus just misses out on an AVForums award.

    What else is there

    If future-proofing for 10-bit 4K/Ultra HD is something you’re keen to do, we would steer you toward either the Minix U1 or the NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV and both can now handle passthough of HD audio as well. The Wetek Core is also excellent with HD audio handling, although it’s limited to 8-bit for Ultra HD playback but unlike most Android TV boxes, it does play HD Netflix and has unmatched automatic refresh rate switching and not just for KODI; like the T8-S Plus, it also has the capability to dual-boot OpenELEC. If you're not so bothered about Ultra HD, although it does support 4K up to 30 frames per second, the HiMediaQ5 is another fine choice and can playback 3D video and HD audio, with a few limitations although HiMedia has a new device on the way (review coming) which promises to address those.


    The Rundown

    Build Quality

    8

    Performance

    7

    Networking, Internet, Streaming quality

    8

    Features

    8

    Set up, Menus, Remote

    7

    Value for Money

    8

    Verdict

    7

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