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Tronsmart S95 Vega Android Box Review

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Nearly but not quite a great media player

by Mark Hodgkinson Feb 8, 2016

  • SRP: £91.00

    What is the Tronsmart Vega S95?

    This 4K Android media player comes in three flavours; in ascending order - Pro, Meta & Telos – with more RAM and better networking capabilities as you go up the range. Tronsmart sent us the Vega S95 Telos, as it goes, which is the only one with a SATA interface, if that’s important to you. The Vega S95 also comes with a ‘special’ version of KODI/XBMC (much more on this later) which promises features such as Full 3D support and HD audio pass-through not present on other Android media hubs. Online prices for the Vega Pro are about £45; the S95 Meta is around £60 while the ‘full monty,’ Tronsmart Vega S95 Telos is just over £90.

    Specifications

    All the Vega S95 Series use the same base processing, with the AMLogic S905 central to operations and a Penta-core Mali 450 graphics chip. Both the Telos and the Meta feature 2GB of RAM, while the Pro has to make do with 1GB and, speaking personally, I really wouldn’t want to do that myself as it will be inevitably sluggish to operate. The Telos features 16GB of built-in eMMC storage, where the others get 8GB and the Telos is the only one to feature 802.11ac Dual-Band Wi-Fi (2.4GHz/5.0GHz) capability; the Meta supports 802.11a/b/g/n Dual-Band and the low-end pro gets only 802.11b/g/n at 2.4GHz – again not something we would recommend in this day and age. All versions run Android 5.1.1 out of the box.

    Design & Connections

    We’re fast running out of words for what essentially is just a little black, plastic box – you’ve almost certainly seen the likes before. The Tronsmart Vega S9s is far more lightweight than recent ones we’ve reviewed however and, as a consequence, doesn’t feel as well constructed. To be fair, it runs cool enough and we didn’t encounter any issues we could correlate with over-heating so it probably is unimportant – just an observation. There’s no physical power button on the unit, but there is a power indicator light which glows blue when the unit is on and sits on the fascia. To the left hand side are two USB 2.0 ports and a full-sized SD card slot, which we prefer to a mini-SD option. The USB port around the back is also v2.0 which is slightly disappointing but the lack of 3.0 connections could be a limitation of the chipset, we guess, as it was the same story with the Minix U1. Also at the rear of the device is an HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 port, a Toslink digital audio out, a Gigabit LAN port and the power connection. As said above, the SATA port for hooking up to external storage is exclusive to the Telos and needs to be enabled in the Android settings (they won’t hot-plug) under Device>Storage.
    Tronsmart Vega S95 Design & Connections
    Tronsmart Vega S95 Design & Connections

    Remote Control

    Once you’ve inserted a pair of (self-supplied, there’s none in the box) AAA batteries in to the remote, it feels nice in the hand and it certainly doesn’t feel cheap and nasty, like so many in this product sector do. There are all the usual playback controls, a power button that can directly switch the S95 on and off and a mouse cursor function that we would only use in emergencies – no matter how you have it set up, it’s painfully slow to travel across the screen. The only other complaint we have is that not only does the remote require line of sight at all times – it works over infra-red – but said line is extremely narrow, meaning you need to point the remote directly at the box and it’s highly intolerant to obstructions.

    User Interface & Menus

    Yuck! The default launcher takes the term garish to new levels with its multi-coloured tiled interface. It really is a horror and the layout isn’t particularly well thought out for a media player either. There are shortcut tiles for Online Video, Recommend(ed) & Music, with the option of grouping any number of apps under those headers. There are also shortcuts to local storage (a file explorer, to all intents and purpose) and the Settings menu. You can also add shortcuts to any apps you like on the launcher by hitting the add button at the bottom of the screen. Thankfully the Settings Menu is far more stylish and pretty much just like all the Android TVs and Android TV devices we’ve reviewed, with pale grey, symmetrical tiles and thoughtfully labelled sub-menus. There is a setting for automatic refresh rate switching in the menus (under Preferences > Play back settings) but it doesn’t seem to work. It’s good to see some manufacturer support from Tronsmart, however and since release there have been two over the air (OTA) software updates to rectify some bugs. It looks as through the Vega S95 will receive more as well, which is also good news.
    Tronsmart Vega S95 User Interface & Menus
    Tronsmart Vega S95 User Interface & Menus


    Video & Audio Performance

    Before we get started, we are aware that there is a certain amount of controversy surrounding VidOn XBMC, amid accusations they are not playing fair with regards to open source licensing and KODI. We are certainly in no position to judge, however, we are merely qualified to provide our testing feedback and let others find their own moral compasses. What we did note and we’re definitely sure on, is that VidOn makes it far too easy to download add-ons that directly enable the streaming of copyrighted content, i.e. piracy add-ons, just by choosing your global location; this is something we definitely discourage and puts them on very shaky ground selling the product in the UK.
    Tronsmart Vega S95 Video & Audio Performance
    Tronsmart Vega S95 Video & Audio Performance

    VidOn XBMC is usually a paid for product but comes as part of the Vega S95 package with a lifetime membership. And what’s the big deal about VidOn? Well, on paper, it can do what other versions of KODI can’t by playing 3D ISO files, frame-packed, and it’s also supposedly capable of passing through HD audio.

    All tests were conducted via a Samsung JU7000 Ultra HD TV also, for the non-4K, a Panasonic ST50 and for the HD Audio tests, a Denon AVR-X2100W was used. Since one of the major selling points of the Tronsmart Vega S95 is the fact it comes bundled with a tailored version of VidOn, that’s all we used.

    We’ll begin with the Ultra HD/4K testing but, before we look in more detail at the results, we need to take the time to make it clear that, despite the fact there are system settings for automatic refresh rate switching - and the same in Vidon - no combination of them actually works with the Vega S95. You are, therefore, stuck in whatever refresh rate you choose in the system settings. You can force 24p, which accounts for the majority of film and movie content but that only syncs correctly with a small minority of the content which is usually really encoded as 23.976 frames per second. The result is, a noticeable stutter every 40 seconds, or so, and that’s a lot of occurrences within a two hour movie. You might even argue it’s better to set the output to 50 or 60Hz and use XBMC to sync playback to the refresh rate of the screen. Anyhow, these are the results with Ultra HD content..

    4K Tests

    VidOn XBMC

    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/23.976fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24.000fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/25.000fps
    Video artefacts, similar to HDMI 'sparklies' but cable and connection 100% fine
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/29.970fps
    Frequent stalling
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MKV/59.940fps
    Partial success - occasional stutter
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/23.976fps
    Partial success - occasional stutter
    3840 x 2160/HEVC/MP4/29.970fps
    Played OK but crashed VidOn at completion
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/59.940fps
    Completely crashed VidOn
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/59.940fps
    Lots of stuttering- unwatchable. Looks like it couldn't keep up with bitrate
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/23.976fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/50.00fps
    Stuttering, audio drop-outs, unwatchable
    4096 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24fps

    The results here are far from impressive with very little playing back smoothly, even with the correct refresh rate entered in the System settings. This is not a player to take us in to the next generation of video, although it should really have the horsepower and chipset to do better.

    Stepping down in resolution, we'll now take a look at Full HD, 720p, and Standard Definition performance with both progressive and interlaced video:

    SD/HD/Interlaced

    VidOn XBMC

    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
    Crashed VidOn
    1920 x 1080/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps
    Crashed VidOn
    1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/23.976fps
    Unwatchable judder
    1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/29.970fps
    Unwatchable judder

    The Tronsmart Vega S95 did better here, and so it should, but proved incapable of 1080p files that were HEVC encoded. Like many (all?) AMLogic equipped players, any material encoded in VC-1 is also too much of a challenge although you can improve matters by switching off amcodec acceleration in the KODI settings; not to the point where we would deem it watchable but better than with it switched on.

    Given the fact, the S95 has already shown itself as a mediocre handler of Ultra HD material, how well it handles really high bitrate content is perhaps a bit of a moot point but it actually does OK here.

    High Bitrate

    VidOn XBMC

    1920 x 1080/AVC/M2TS/23.976fps & 90mbps
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 100mbps
    1920 x 1080/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 110mbps
    Frequent slow-downs
    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
    Partial success, some dropped frames


    3840x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps


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



    We can see that anything over 140Mbs is too taxing, even from internal storage, but you would be fine with a straight 1080p Blu-ray rip, if not the upcoming Ultra HD Blu-ray discs.

    And now we’re coming to the tests where the VidOn really needs to deliver and, to be fair, it is pretty successful with 3D encoded content, with some caveats; but first let’s take a look at the results.

    3D

    VidOn XBMC

    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

    Well, the Vega S95 played everything we gave it and automatically engaged the 3D mode in two of the three TVs we tested so that’s a definite step up over most but it only works at 60Hz, where almost all content is 23.976 frames per second and thus playback is not smooth, especially on panning shots. It also looks, although this is a subjective call, as though the frame-packed samples weren’t rendering in full HD resolution, which was backed up by the menus briefly switching in to top and bottom mode upon exiting a movie.

    It’s also not possible to have HD audio to accompany the 3D images. With recent developments in the KODI community with AMLogic powered devices and 3D playback, VidOn is fast losing one of its USPs as we now can get nearly the same performance via beta versions of KODI and box-specific forks such as Minix XBMC. Still, it does largely work and not having to manually switch the TV in to 3D mode is a definite bonus.

    So 3D is mostly a success but what of VidOn’s other claim to fame, HD audio passthrough and playback. Well, the results were good – certainly better than almost everything we’ve tested yet but, again, there are some issues with the audio.

    HD Audio

    VidOn XBMC

    AAC 5.1
    AAC 7.1
    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
    Passed as stereo

    While the above set of results look very good, which to be fair they are, upon playing standard DTS 5.1 audio we experienced some drop-outs and frequent clicking coming through the speakers which was a definite annoyance. Apparently a fix is being worked on so hopefully it will be released soon.

    Video Review


    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

    Conclusion

    7
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Solid-ish 3D playback
    • Strong HD audio passthrough
    • Regular software updates

    Cons

    • No effective framerate detection
    • DTS audio issues
    • 3D is at 60Hz only
    • VidOn has questionable morals
    You own this Total 0
    You want this Total 0
    You had this Total 0

    Tronsmart S95 Vega Android Box Review

    Should I buy the Tronsmart Vega S95?

    The Telos and Meta versions of the Tronsmart Vega S95 certainly have a very decent set of specs with attractive pricing to boot. They also sport good connectivity and come well supported by the manufacturer with, seemingly, frequent over the air software updates. The devices also come licensed for a ‘premium’ version of XBMC enabling full 3D support and HD audio pass-through, which both work well enough. There are quite a number of limitations, however; the 3D playback is not smooth and doesn’t appear to be full resolution; while HD audio is fine, standard DTS tracks exhibit drop-outs and popping and 4K playback was patchy. The Vega S95 is also unsuccessful in detecting framerates - and adjusting display refresh rates accordingly - and even if you manually force the correct settings, most movies and TV shows aren’t quite properly synced. So, while we can happily say that the Tronsmart Vega S95 is a good box, it’s not quite good enough to justify a recommendation for AV enthusiasts.

    What else is there?

    Our favourite Android boxes at the moment, if 4K/Ultra HD is a prime concern are the Minix U1, NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV and the Wetek Core. The U1 is now about level pegging with the Vega S95 for 3D and HD audio via Minix XBMC, the SHILED is a powerhouse that will keep on getting better and the Core also offers OpenELEC and HD streaming from the likes of Netflix; all have better core and 4K playback of media. 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 and HD audio, with just a few limitations.


    The Rundown

    Build Quality

    6

    Performance

    7

    Networking, Internet, Streaming quality

    7

    Features

    6

    Set up, Menus, Remote

    7

    Value for Money

    7

    Verdict

    7

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