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Tronsmart Ara X5 Plus Mini-PC Review

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Is Windows becoming the go-to platform for KODI?

by Mark Hodgkinson Apr 19, 2016

  • SRP: £110.00

    What is the Tronsmart Ara X5 Plus?

    This is the latest Windows 10 mini-PC from Tronsmart and it comes around six months after the original Tronsmart Ara X5 with, of course, an upgraded spec sheet to merit the added ‘Plus’ to the title. There is no price premium for the improved specs, however, as the Tronsmart Ara X5 Plus is still priced somewhere between £100 and £110 online. As per all our ‘TV Box’ reviews, our primary interest is in the X5 Plus’ capabilities as a media player/hub and we already know Windows 10 has seen some improvements in that regard since the last review.


    Like the original, the Ara X5 Plus features an Intel Cherry Trail X5-Z8300 processor which is capable of HEVC decoding and 4K Ultra HD video playback. One of the hardware improvements comes with the in-built eMMC storage which, while still only 32GB worth, is now supplied by Samsung and is reportedly faster; the USB 3.0 read speeds are also apparently improved and the wireless module has also been upgraded to an Intel AC 3160 so networking speeds should see a boost.

    Design & Connections

    It is, by nature, a very simple little device consisting of a plastic shell – measuring 110x110x30mm (WxDxH) - which is shiny black on the top and gun-metal grey around the sides. There’s a power light on top which only glows when it’s on and connections are distributed to the front and rear; front-facing are two USB 2.0 ports, a dual-purpose audio jack which can act as a microphone input or audio output for headphones and speakers.

    Tronsmart Ara X5 Plus
    At the rear are a Micro SD card slot, a LAN port and a USB 3.0 input, along with the jack for the supplied (UK) power adapter. Despite our previous complaint, the USB and HDMI ports are still too close together, meaning you’re likely to need an adapter or extension lead for one of them if you wish to use them simultaneously; you can fit in a tiny USB dongle at the same time as a ‘standard’ HDMI lead but that’s a waste of the speeds of USB 3.0. Importantly, as far as media playback is concerned, the Ara X5 Plus has a totally fan-less design so it’s nice and quiet in use.
    Tronsmart Ara X5 Plus

    Network Speeds

    Testing out speeds over the network and reading of local storage revealed decent, if not great, performance from the X5. To be fair, read/write speeds over a wired Ethernet connection hit the peaks available from the 100Mb capable port, which is more than ample for streaming a full, uncompressed Blu-ray rip with an HD audio track. It was a slightly less rosy picture using wireless where speeds were far more variable with Ara X5 Plus fluctuating between 1.7 and 4.2MB/s which means, at times, the connection won’t have the capacity for an uncompressed disc. Naturally there will be variances in peoples’ network performance and set-up but we do have a very good AC router and the X5 Plus was situated only one room away from it during testing; strangely we got more stable WiFi speeds with the predecessor which is not what we were expecting.

    Tronsmart Ara X5 Plus Video Review

    Video & Audio Performance

    As per our normal testing regime, test files were stored on an ASUSTOR NAS on a gigabit network, as well as a Samsung M3 USB 3.0 HDD. Video and audio was assessed using a Samsung UE65JU7000 and a Panasonic DX700, via a Yamaha RXV-V679, using the latest stable build of open source media software KODI (Version 16.0). We also used a development build of KODI v17, which features progress with Intel chipsets and the playback of 3D video.

    Beginning with the 4K/Ultra HD tests…

    4K Tests


    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 artefacting and picture break-up
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/23.976fps
    3840 x 2160/HEVC/MP4/29.970fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/59.940fps
    Slight stutters
    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
    Break-ups and video artefacts
    4096 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24fps
    Switched in to 4096x2160 and played nicely

    The Tronsmart Ara X5 Plus behaved exactly as expected in this area of testing. Given the chipset inside, there is no support for 10-bit Ultra HD and there’s not really enough processing grunt for anything above 30 frames per second – unless heavily compressed; at this time, there isn’t very much 4K out there above 24 frames per second but as Ultra HD broadcasting begins to take off, there will be more and more.

    Moving down the quality ladder, with a mixture of standard and high definition including both progressive and interlaced material and the Tronsmart Ara X5 Plus produced excellent results.



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

    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
    1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/29.970fps

    There were no issues here whatsoever, with KODI immediately locking on to all framerates and outputting at the desired refresh rate frequency to the display. We do quite frequently run in to issues with VC-1 encodes on Android media players but thankfully not here.

    We will preface the next set of (non) results by saying given the Ara X5 Plus only has a ‘fast’ Ethernet port, rather than a Gigabit connection, so there was never really any hope of it being able to play high bitrate files from our NAS.

    High Bitrate


    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

    10-bit 3840x 2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps

    As it transpired, there wasn’t even enough headroom for a 90Mbps file but, then again, there is little to no meaningful content out there with anything like those demands and nor is there likely to be unless Ultra HD Blu-ray is cracked. The Ara X5 Plus had no issues streaming a full Blu-ray rip, with HD audio track intact, over a wired connection.

    As we said in the intro, development is underway to bring full 3D playback to KODI on the Windows operating system. At this time, it’s a somewhat complicated landscape but if you have a device running Windows 8.1 or Windows 10 with built-in Intel HD graphics and all the ‘right’ drivers installed, there’s a good chance the nightly builds from KODI developer, ‘afedchin’ will work with 3D for you.



    1920 x 1080/AVC/ISO/23.976fps Frame Packed

    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Frame Packed

    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Side by Side

    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Top & Bottom

    As we can see the Atom x5-Z8300 inside the Ara X5 Plus is working, although it should be noted that this being a developmental build, it will potentially break a lot of the other functionality you are used to in KODI so it’s only recommended if 3D is of major importance to you. Even then, we did see some issues with audio sync – most noticeable with spoken word, of course – but at least they are easily correctable within KODI.

    One thing the Z8300 can’t do is bitstream HD audio but that’s not to say it can’t handle it, at all.



    AAC (Dolby Digital) 5.1
    AC3 (DTS) 5.1
    Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
    Played as 5.1 PCM
    Dolby True HD 5.1
    Decoded to PCM but played fine
    Dolby True HD 7.1
    Decoded to PCM but played fine
    DTS HD-MA 5.1
    Decoded to PCM but played fine
    DTS HD-HR 7.1
    Decoded to PCM but played fine
    DTS HD-MA 7.1
    Decoded to PCM but played fine
    LPCM 7.1

    In fact, the X5 Plus could playback all the HD audio files we threw at it, perfectly, barring Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 which was transcoded to DD+ 5.1. The stumbling block for some would be that the audio is decoded and sent to the amp/receiver as uncompressed PCM so it won’t light up those Dolby/DTS lights on the visual display of the amplification. It’s a long argued point but we’ll take the stance that we could hear no difference between the X5 doing the decoding, against the AVR doing it when attached to another player which does bistream.

    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 playback
    Netflix HD/4K
    3D ISO playback
    HDMI 2.0
    Over The Air (OTA) Software Updates


    OUT OF


    • Playback of 3D, HD audio and 4K via KODI
    • Silent operation
    • Decent connectivity


    • No gigabit LAN
    • WiFi speeds could be better
    You own this Total 0
    You want this Total 0
    You had this Total 0

    Tronsmart Ara X5 Plus Mini-PC Review

    Should I buy the Tronsmart Ara X5 Plus

    As a media player for the here and now, certain devices running Windows 10 are emerging as real contenders and the Tronsmart Ara X5 Plus is one such device. Its compact, no fan design makes it ideal for hooking up to a TV via the HDMI connection; there’s also three USB ports, a micro-SD card slot, wired and wireless Ethernet, a combined headphone/microphone jack and built-in Bluetooth. You will need some other means of control than the types of remote you get with a ‘normal’ media player but there are plenty of options available. In terms of media playback, owing to the chipset, the Ara X5 Plus is highly capable of handling almost anything you care to mention except 10-bit HEVC and HDR video. Almost inevitably, there are limitations and certain caveats; 3D video is only playable through KODI using an experimental build, the HD audio playback is decoded, rather than bistreamed, and the lack of a gigabit LAN port is disappointing. That said, the Tronsmart Ara X5 Plus is a great option for the present and comes recommended.

    What else is there?

    If future-proofing for 10-bit 4K/Ultra HD is something you’re keen to do, then take a look at the NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV or Minix U1. Another good option is the Wetek Core but none yet have the abilities of the X5 Plus when it comes to 3D, although they do bitstream audio. If you're not up for the learning curve that KODI undoubtedly entails and you want something more plug'n'play that does it all – or at least nearly all – the Zappiti family of players make excellent – if relatively costly – options

    The Rundown

    Build Quality




    Networking, Internet, Streaming quality




    Value for Money




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