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Minix Neo U9-H Android TV Media Hub Review

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4K, HDR and object based audio included

by Mark Hodgkinson May 29, 2017 at 11:00 PM

  • SRP: £135.00

    What is the Minix U9-H?

    The Neo U9-H is the latest flagship Android TV box from one of the very best manufacturers in the business and comes fully Ultra HD 4K capable, as well as providing playback of High Dynamic Range (HDR 10) video. Previous Minix products have impressed us with their reliability, build quality and extensive post-release software support so we have high hopes for the U9-H. That said, competition in the sector has never been fiercer with the likes of the NVIDIA SHIELD, Amazon Fire TV/Stick and the family of Wetek products all carving out their own pieces of the market. The U9-H also hasn’t been helped by a bit of a delay in release but that’s only because Minix were keen not to release a product plagued with bugs, as so many of the other (earlier to market) AMLogic S-912 based devices were and are; Minix worked closely with AMLogic to iron out the issues present in the chip manufacturer’s original SDK (software development kit) and stock firmware. The Minix Neo U9-H is priced around £135, although it is available for quite a bit less if you shop around, so it will need to be up to the usual standard to justify the price-tag. Let’s see if it’s another winner from the Minix stable.

    Specifications

    As noted above, at the heart of the U9-H is an AMLogic S912-H 64-bit CPU and it is backed up with a Mali-820MP3 GPU, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of built-in eMMC 5.0 flash storage. For the first time, in a Minix Android based product, the U9-H also features dual DRM (Digital Rights Management) support for Microsoft PlayReady 3.0 and Google Widevine Level 1, which should go some way to help with getting access to HD (and beyond) streaming services. The U9-H is based on Android 6.01 (Marshmallow) and the majority of testing was undertaken using Firmware version 004A.

    Design & Connections

    You would be hard pressed to spot any obvious physical differences in the U9-H to other preceding Minix devices, which is to say it’s a fairy basic looking black box but it’s obvious the build quality is a cut (or two) above the proliferating cheap, Chinese Android boxes on the market. Minix take their board designs very seriously, especially in terms of cooling, to which end the U9-H features a very large and serious looking heatsink beneath the top of the casing.

    Minix Neo U9-H
    Connections are plentiful and well future-proofed and include an HDMI 2.0 port, Gigabit Ethernet, and a Toslink digital audio out. There are also 3.5mm audio in and out (headphone & mic) jacks, a TF/Mini SD Card slot and 3 USB ports, although they are all v2.0 – it would however have been nice to have at least one USB 3.0 connection. There’s also a USB OTG (on the go) port so you can hook up to a PC to flash firmware, although the U9-H is shipped with the ability to receive updates OTA (Over-The-Air) so unless you encounter problems, you shouldn’t need to get your hands dirty in that manner. The connections you can’t see include Bluetooth 4.1 and 802.11ac 2 x 2 MIMO Dual-Band Wi-Fi, which are both cutting-edge.

    Minix Neo U9-H
    The supplied, stock remote is not especially inspiring but if you need only basic controls to use the U9 as a media player, it will get the job done although it is quite directional – i.e. you’ll need to take fairly careful aim when sending the infra-red signal to the device. Minix did also supply us with their new A3 Lite remote control along with the U9-H sample which is a lot better and operates over RF so you won’t need line of sight. The A3 Lite also features a QWERTY keyboard on the reverse, built-in gyroscopes for on-screen cursor control and a microphone for voice searching. The mic is one of the enhancements of the A2 Lite as are the lights indicating when the Function and Caps Lock keys have been activated. If you can stretch to getting an A3 as part of the package – it does usually attract a discount – we would encourage you to do so.

    Minix Neo U9-H
    An A3 Lite remote is a worthwhile upgrade

    User Interface & Menus

    If it aint broke, and all that, but we think it’s probably time Minix refreshed its Launcher to keep pace with some of the other high profile Android devices destined to be hooked up to a TV, as it is looking a bit tired and dated now. The Minix Launcher is certainly functional, however, and features tiles to represent Movies, Music, Gaming, Web browsing, online video streaming services, social media apps and settings, to the left, and under these you can group any number of relevant apps to make getting at what you want quick and simple but we would like the option for the tiles to launch a particular app. For instance, we just want the Browser tile to launch Chrome, the File Explorer shortcut to open XPLORE and the KODI icon to launch the best version for the device. Minix has added a new Weather feature to its Launcher, although we’ve never been particularly sold on that idea, and we hope they take a look at a more radical overhaul in the near future.
    Minix Neo U9-H User Interface & Menus
    Minix Neo U9-H User Interface & Menus

    The Settings Menu has a fresher feel and resembles those seen in Android TV devices such as the NVIDIA SHIELD. There is an important setting for videophiles located under Preferences>Playback Settings labelled HDMI Self Adaption which while using the same nomenclature as previous Minix devices has actually changed in how it works with the U9-H. You would previously need to enable it at Level 2 in to get KODI (or variants of) to match and/or complement the video output refresh rate to the framerate of the content but, as of KODI 17/ SPMC 16.5 and up, it’s no longer necessary to do so. There have been some fairly major changes in KODI, with regards to how it treats Android, forcing manufacturers to adopt a standard API if they want their devices to play nice with it; part of the delay in getting the U9-H to market lay with Minix getting the AMLogic S-912 Mediacodec compliant. Of the pre-installed apps, Level 2 self adaption is now only necessary with the built-in player to get the desired refresh rate, while Level 1 allows you to set the device to a 60Hz output where it will attempt to smooth out 23.976/24 frames per second content in the signal. As a result, some apps that would previously automatically switch refresh rate on the Minix U1, e.g. MX Player, no longer do so and it’s up to their developers to keep up but it's a bit of a nuisance in the meantime.

    Video & Audio Performance

    For better and in a lot of cases for worse, the market for Android TV boxes is largely driven by the end-users desire to use the genius open source media centre software, KODI. As alluded to above, KODI is also the major reason why the release of the U9-H was somewhat delayed as Minix wanted to ensure it would play nice with the latest version (v17 Krypton) and those to follow. The KODI developers have understandably had enough of hacks and workarounds to achieve a smooth experience on Android and have clearly defined the standards by which the chip and device manufacturers must adhere. The upshot of all this is that Minix hasn’t needed to adapt its own fork of KODI (Minix XBMC) for optimal performance and the U9-H is as good as it gets for Krypton on Android, including the NVIDIA SHIELD TV. It should also be said that SPMC 16.6.0 provides pretty much the same experience although it’s based on KODI 16.x

    Testing was done via a NAS over a wired Gigabit network, as well as from a USB 3.0 hard drive, on a Samsung UE65JU700 via a Yamaha RXV-679 AV Receiver. Beginning with the Ultra HD/4K tests:

    4K Tests

    KODI v17.1

    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/23.976fps
    No auto-switching to/from 1080p -applicable to all below
    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
    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
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/23.976fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/50.00fps
    4096 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24fps

    Without doubt, the Minix U9-H is a superb Ultra HD media player with faultless playback of all of our test files. The one very small caveat is that we occasionally saw some buffering when the cache memory buffer had run out of space in KODI but applying some advanced settings rectified that.

    We don’t list tests for HDR content, at the moments, as the test television used isn't a 'proper' HDR model but it does feature compatibility with HDR 10 content and has a faux HDR mode. We've accumulated quite a lot of HDR samples while reviewing TVs which the Minix happily played with the TV switching in to 'HDR' configuration automatically. It wouldn't play Dolby Vision content, of course, and is unlikely to be able to handle HLG either. For Rec.2020 colour, you'll need to enable 'Deep Colour' in the Display Menus but you'll need to switch it off when playing SDR content else you'll have to suffer very over-saturated colours - it would be nice to have an auto setting here.

    We should also note - and it's applicable to all media tested - the U9-H was generally very reliable when it came to dynamically changing the video output frequency to complement the framerate although there were one or two hiccups which are detailed below:

    SD/HD/Interlaced

    KODI v17.1

    720 x 576/MP2/mpg/25.000fps - Interlaced

    1280 x 720/AVC/MP4/29.970fps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/25.00fps - Interlaced
    Smooth playback deinterlacing could be better
    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
    See notes below
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/59.970fps
    See notes below
    1920 x 1080/HEVC/ISO/23.976fps
    1920 x 1080/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps
    1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/23.976fps
    1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/29.970fps - Interlaced



    While playback at Full HD resolutions, across a variety of formats, was generally very good there is some room for improvement within KODI/SPMC, at least. Deinterlacing of broadcast television (576i/1080i) content could certainly be improved, for one, although when connected to a USB tuner, using its own software (TV Butler/TV Mosaic), we had no issues so the fault isn't with the firmware. This one is down to the KODI developers to sort out, unless Minix takes its own action by releasing a Minix XBMC for the U9-H with a fix. We also had some issues with an older Full HD TV when the system was set for a 1080p50Hz output where 29.97/30/59.94/60 frames per second content was output at 50Hz, although it didn't occur with the Ultra HD TV. Another area where the U9-H was strong was in displaying 25 frames per second content in a 50Hz signal, where we've seen a lot of recent non-AMLogic based Android TV devices really struggle - the majority have needed to be forced in a 25Hz output for acceptable playback.

    Moving on to the high bitrate tests:

    High Bitrate

    KODI v17.1

    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
    3840x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 140mbps
    10-bit 3840x2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 140mbps
    3840x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps
    Stuttering playback form HDD and NAS
    10-bit 3840x 2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps
    Stuttering playback from HDD and NAS

    The Minix U9-H topped out at 160Mbps when playing 10-bit HEVC Ultra HD material from our NAS which is more than enough for even the highest bitrate Ultra HD Blu-ray releases but we had been expecting a tad more headroom and the AMLogic S912-H is clearly not as powerful as some of the other chips found in the contemporaries of the Minix U9-H. Still, as long as it gets the job done, that's all that matters.

    Things might be changing for the AMLogic S912-H, going forwards, with the chip vendor adding frame-packed 3D display modes to its Android Nougat (7.0) kernel code recently but, for now, there is no support for frame-packed 3D video in the U9-H. Minix has said that the device will be getting an Android 7.0 update, in time, so stay tuned:

    3D

    KODI v17.1

    1920 x 1080/AVC/ISO/23.976fps Frame Packed
    Plays in 2D
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Frame Packed
    Plays in 2D
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Side by Side
    Need to manually engage TV 3D mode
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Top & Bottom
    Need to manually engage TV 3D mode

    There were no issues with top-and-bottom (TAB) or side-by-side (SBS) 3D files, however, provided you're not averse to picking up the TV remote to manually engage 3D modes. Owners of 2017 TVs (and later) won't be concerned by this but the true lovers of the format would be buying the Minix on potential and nothing else so would be best served by another solution.

    Moving on the audio tests and its more positive news.

    Audio

    KODI v17.1

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

    As per the HDMI Self Adaption setting, it's no longer necessary to make special provision to get audio passthrough working in KODI in the Android settings, it's simply enabled within the software and all should be well but we have seen some reports of certain AVRs struggling to recognise the HD audio codecs. In our case, there were no issues whatsoever with all 7.1 HD audio codecs being passed through. The U9-H is widely reported as being fully capable with object based formats including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, although our receiver isn't so we couldn't fully explore that facet of performance. There is no reason to disbelieve the specification, however, or, for that matter, the users that report it as working properly.

    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

    Limited to 720p with modified APK that could 'break'
    3D ISO/MVC playback
    HDMI 2.0
    Over The Air (OTA) Software Updates
    Manufacturer version of KODI

    Not necessary to use, KODI Krypton is recommended

    Video Review


    Conclusion

    8
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Excellent KODI Krypton performance
    • Regular software updates
    • Great build quality
    • Good networking speed
    • Plays just about everything

    Cons

    • Deinterlacing could be better
    • Launcher is looking dated
    • Some HDMI handshake issues
    You own this Total 0
    You want this Total 0
    You had this Total 0

    Minix Neo U9-H Android TV Media Hub Review

    Should I buy one?

    The Neo U9-H is another very strong Android media player from the Minix stable. The build quality is very good, with more than adequate cooling on board, and the connectivity options are plentiful and include an HDMI 2.0 port, a Toslink digital audio out, Gigabit Ethernet and 2 x MIMO 802.11ac Wi-Fi among them. We would like to see Minix take a bolder approach with its Launcher screen but it remains effective with a tile based approach offering some customisation, the ability to group apps together and the option of creating handy shortcuts.

    The Neo U9-H is already on its second major software update and Minix, as ever, remains committed to improving things further with plenty more upgrades in the pipeline; for assurance it should be noted that the last flagship Android player (X8-H Plus) from the manufacturer is on firmware version 12, well over 18 months since it was released. Minix did take its time in releasing the U9-H to ensure it wouldn’t launch with any major bugs, in the first instance, as well as taking the necessary steps to ensure compliance with KODI 17, which is far more unforgiving of buggy Android firmwares than in previous versions. The result is that the Minix Neo U9-H provides probably the best out-of-box Android experience with KODI Krypton currently available, although it’s not without some issues.

    The Minix Neo U9-H is a very strong contender in the Android TV device market that is sure to get even better in time so comes with a hearty AVForums recommendation.

    MORE: Read All Media Streamer Reviews



    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £135.00

    The Rundown

    Build Quality

    8

    Performance

    9

    Networking, Internet, Streaming quality

    7

    Features

    7

    Set up, Menus, Remote

    7

    Value for Money

    8

    Verdict

    8

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