HiMedia Q5 Android Media Player Review
Uncompromising video and audio playback comes with some compromises
What is the HiMedia Q5?This is the latest in a growing line of Android media players we’ve been putting under the spotlight and has piqued our attention for a couple of reasons, audio visual related. As far as we know, this is the only Android box boasting 7.1 HD audio support from (sorta) out of the box and also the promised ability to play 3D Blu-ray ISO makes it stand out. The Q5 is also supplied and supported directly by a UK retailer, for just under £100 (June 2015), so you should be able to buy in confidence provided everything else works as advertised; let’s see if it does.
SpecsThe Q5 features a Quad-core HiSilicon Hi3798C CPU (ARM A9 family), running at 1.5 Ghz, similar in capability to the Amlogic S802. As with most in this price bracket, there’s an Octa-core Mali-450 GPU and 2GB of RAM, plus 8GB of built in flash storage. Wi-Fi capability is restricted to the 2.4Ghz (a/b/g/n) band but Gigabit LAN could be more than compensation for some.
What’s in the Box?You get all the standard stuff one would expect with an Android media player, including a HDMI cable, power supply and the remote but more unusually there’s a SATA cable in there too, which will be handy for those looking to hook up external storage. There’s also the obligatory quick start guide, in English but the font is very small and other than a useful guide to getting multichannel audio pass-through to an AV Receiver, it probably won’t tell you much you didn’t already know.
Design & ConnectionsThe Q5 sports a sturdy anodised aluminium casing that makes it weightier than much of the competition, although it does get quite hot to the touch; not alarmingly so but enough that it warrants a mention. The front panel features a small display which provides the time and boot up messages, whilst connections are placed to the rear and sides. Namely, there are 3 USB ports (1 x 3.0. 2 x 2.0), a full-sized SD/MMC slot, a HDMI output, a LAN port and both coax and S/PDiF digital audio outputs. There’s also L/R stereo jacks which can be used – if you really have to – with the composite video connection but, please, go with HDMI where you can.
Remote ControlWe’ve seen a number of boxes sporting this exact same remote and it’s certainly not bad. The controller works using an infra-red signal, so you will need line of sight, and the Q5 reacts speedily to its commands. It has the ability to learn IR commands from your TV so, for example, you’re able to use it for the likes of volume and source switching but if you are going to use this device regularly for anything other than KODI/XBMC, i.e. other Android apps, it would be worth investing in an airmouse, or similar device, so you can navigate touchscreen based apps more easily. It does have a mouse/pointer function built-in but if you use it a lot, you’re probably going to get frustrated with its comparatively slow movement. There is the alternative of using either HiMedia’s own remote app or, for KODI use, the new Kore app if you prefer to keep your controls all digital
User InterfaceSince firmware version 1.0.9, the HiMedia Q5 presents a much cleaner landing screen, although it is bordering on the garish, colour wise. You can change it, of course, through any number of launchers available to Android users but its simple remote-friendly interface will do for most. It has tiles to launch KODI, the Media Center [sic], Chrome, Google Play Store and the settings, plus there’s the ability to customise, just a little, by adding any apps you own. We’d would have liked to have been able to customise the tiles, themselves; for example, we would have much preferred to link the File Manager with ES File Explorer, rather than the built-in app, so hopefully HiMedia can add that function in at some point. Other pre-loaded apps include Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, Skype and Miracast.
Video & Audio PerformanceAs per virtually every Android based media hub in existence, many of the mainstream video apps are hamstrung by standard definition resolution limitations. That means if you’re looking for a player that takes care of the likes of Netflix, BBC iPlayer, All 4, NOW TV and Amazon Instant you would be better looking elsewhere, if you value quality. The Netflix app, in particular, is awful with frequent stuttering and a rather inglorious 480p output. We can’t lay any blame at HiMedia’s door, however, most of the box manufacturers also have to suck up this second class citizen treatment and it will take customers complaining, en masse, to change their policies.
Locally stored media is where the HiMedia Q5 really shows its mettle and it handles virtually everything you care to choose to throw at it with aplomb. One of the major selling points of the Q5 is its ability to play 3D-ISO and we can report that it certainly can and the very latest firmware (v 126.96.36.199) has fixed the bug where they will initially start in 720p. HiMedia has also recently improved the handling of content encoded at 23.976 frames per second (most movies and Blu-rays and usually labelled as 24p) and it now plays without any stutter at all. Some users have reported the odd audio dropout with 23.976 files but we didn’t encounter any issues; we’re told the matter is under investigation by the manufacturer.
Unfortunately, the Q5 can’t automatically detect framerates from internet streamed content, so you’ll need to manually adjust the settings if you want to see them at their best, but hopefully this is a feature that can be added in the future. To be fair, there are precious few Android boxes that can perform the trick – and those that can need to do so through KODI – but being someone that doesn’t store much video locally, this was a major drawback for me. The Q5 is also incapable of switching to 50Hz output when required, irrespective of whether its local or internet media and, again, this is something we’d like to see going forwards.
In addition to the out of box 3D ISO playback support, the other feature unique to the HiMedia players is in their ability to handle (pass-through) 7.1 HD audio, both DTS-HD MA and Dolby TrueHD, and yet another recent update brought with it Dolby Atmos support. I’m not yet – and might never be – in a position to test Atmos but I can confirm 7.1 pass-through works just great. As per the 3D ISO support, 7.1 audio is a feature you can only get on an Android device by using a paid-for version of XBMC (VidOn) and that’s limited in terms of the number of boxes it supports fully with those features. It’s definitely a big feather in the cap of this box for those that demand such features, as is the built-in SAMBA sharing functionality – allowing you to use the Q5 as a media server to the rest of your networked devices – although you’re obviously going to need to hook it up to some external storage to get the most out of that.
The 7.1 HD audio, 3D ISO and 23.967 fps support does come at the cost of convenience
HiMedia Q5 – KODI/XBMC setupIf you don’t want/need the 23.976 fps, 3D ISO and/or HD audio support then there is nothing remotely complex about setting up your KODI on the HiMedia Q5 but then, if you’ve actually taken the trouble to read this review, you probably want at least one of them. To do so involves installing the HIMedia wrapper apk which then instructs KODI to use the HiMedia video player, instead of the built in KODI/XBMC player when any one (or combination) of those three needs are called for. The HiMedia player opens so quickly you won’t even notice its happened but there are a couple of drawbacks in this approach; firstly, when you want to come out of what you’re watching – either after stopping or pausing – you have to exit the player and then open up KODI from its tile or app shortcut – which is a pain; secondly, a lot of the KODI/XBMC addons won’t play nice with the HiMedia player.
You can workaround this ‘problem’ by installing a different version of KODI/XBMC for general addon use; the advice we were given - and would probably back up - is to install KODI 14.2 and then the HiMedia wrapper to handle the 7.1 audio and 3D ISO playback requirements, and then use the, Android tailored, SPMC fork for everything else. This is certainly an effective solution but it does detract somewhat from the unified media experience KODI should be. I did alter the playercorefactory.xml to use both VLC and MX Player for internet streamed 24p but there is no way to get either to do so at the correct frequency and frame rate by default. Other than this niggle, we can’t really fault the KODI performance of the HiMedia Q5, however, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed that the KODI developers will bring better support of the chipset to the table in time.
- Excellent media file support
- 7.1 HD Audio & Dolby Atmos passthrough
- 3D ISO playback
- 24p (23.967) detection for local/networked files
- SATA & USB 3.0 Connections
- No 24p detection for internet streamed content
- No 50Hz detection
- Potentially clunky KODI interaction
- No Bluetooth
HiMedia Q5 Android Media Player Review
Should I buy the HiMedia Q5?Well, if you want an Android player with 3D ISO and 7.1 HD audio support - pretty much straight out of the box and without paying a subscription – then the HiMedia Q5 is pretty much the only game in town. You can achieve both those requirements with other hardware but you’ll have to shell out over and above its cost with a subscription to VidOn. The Q5 also now boasts proper ‘24p’ frame detection, which is good news for videophiles, although that facility doesn’t extend to any material streamed from the internet which is a limitation that really does need to be addressed; we are told this is being looked at. It would also be a major plus if the need to install a special wrapper to get the 3D, HD audio and 24p support in to KODI wasn’t required. The HiMedia player doesn’t work with all addons , meaning you’ll have to install another fork, if your KODI needs are beyond locally stored movies and TV.
Those slight irritations aside, we have no complaints , whatsoever, with the general performance of the HiMedia Q5. Its processing performance (26k on Antutu) is up toward the top in the sector, so is able to run apps smoothly and multitask well. Connectivity is also great with USB 3.0, SATA ports marking it as unusually cutting edge, plus gigabit LAN which makes the, also unusual, SAMBA networking capability even more useful. The Q5 also carries both Coax and Toslink digital audio outputs, HDMI connectivity and RCA stereo jacks so there are plenty of hook-up options. Rather surprisingly, there is no Bluetooth capability on-board, which is a bit of a limitation in terms of gaming and audio streaming, in particular. The Q5 also comes with all you’ll need to get started, including a remote with a mouse pointer function and infra-red learning capability and the build quality is study. We would, however, suggest that if you have any designs on using a wider array of Android apps than just KODI, then you might want to look at an after-market controller with gyroscopic and/or keyboard functionality.
In summary: the Q5 is a great little Android box, competitively priced, with some unusual native abilities that others can’t match out-of-the-box. As with them all, there are some niggles and you’ll need to define your requirements carefully before committing to buy but we’re happy to give the HiMedia Q5 an AVForums Recommended Award for its fine audio visual credentials and performance.
What else could I consider?My favourite Android media hub remains the Minix X8-H Plus but if you want 3D ISO and HD Audio you will need to pay for VidOn XBMC. It has much better framerate detection and frequency switching capabilities than the Q5, however, and is definitely better for those that like to stream video from internet services. The Q5 can boast the SATA connection and, for the time being, SAMBA functionality but the Minix will get the latter in an official update soon. Close behind, the X8-H Plus we would place the X8 Plus which is a slightly lesser performing version of the Minix flagship player, with similarly excellent frequency switching; both also have Bluetooth capability. For a mixture of HD capable mainstream video apps - such as Netflix and iPlayer – to add to running Android apps , including KODI, the Amazon Fire TV makes a very compelling case for itself, although it’s not capable of framerate detection at all. For those on a more restricted budget, the Fire TV stick is also an excellent option but if you’re not interested in all this Android and KODI malarkey and simply want the best selection of high profile streaming services, get yourself a Roku 3. Sorry, there is no one-box does it all solution out there, yet, just make a list of requirements and see which one ticks the most boxes.
Networking, Internet, Streaming quality8
Set up, Menus, Remote7
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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