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Wetek Core Android Media Player Review

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The best of both worlds?

by Mark Hodgkinson Jan 21, 2016

  • SRP: £96.00

    What is the Wetek Core?

    This is the latest 4K Android media player to come under AVForums scrutiny and it possesses at least one relatively unusual feature. While the likes of the Amazon Fire TV and NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV get preferential treatment from streaming services, like Netflix, allowing them access to HD and Ultra HD streams, the lesser known box manufacturers – even the really good ones like Minix - are left to suck up standard definition fare. By whatever means, however, Wetek has passed the entry criteria and Google security checks that allow HD streams from these services which makes the Wetek Core an even more interesting proposition. That aside, Wetek is also a sponsor of both the KODI and OpenELEC foundations, so this Ultra HD HEVC capable player should be a cracking media streamer regardless of that capability. The Wetek Core is priced around 130 Euro, or approximately £96, at the time of publishing (January 2016) meaning it has some serious competition in the sector so let’s see if the Core can really live up to its billing as being the best of both worlds.

    Specifications

    The Wetek Core sports a last-gen AMLogic S812-H Quad Core processor, augmented by a, fairly standard, Octa-core Mali-450MP GPU, backed with 2GB of RAM. It doesn’t particularly worry us that Wetek has elected to go with a sightly dated processor, however, as the development tools for it are well established and it possesses very good audio/video capabilities to boot. It does mean that the Core is, in theory, incapable of 4K video above 30 frames per second, however, so it is a little less future-proofed than some of the competition we’ve seen. The Core also has 8GB of NAND Flash storage and Bluetooth 4.0 compatibility.

    Design & Connections

    The Wetek Core is made from a very light, black plastic casing that remains reasonably cool during operation. The power indicator light doubles as the power switch and illuminates blue – a little too brightly, for our tastes – when on and red when in standby. Around the back are connections for the power supply, a Gigabit LAN port, an HDMI 1.4 output, a Toslink digital audio output and a 3.5mm AV jack. To the side are two version 2.0 USB ports and a Micro SD card; the Core also has built-in 802.11 B/G/N 2.4/5 GHz WiFi which might be disappointing for some who need to stream large video files over a wireless network; the Core also only has an internal receiver and we did find the signal marginalised when a couple of rooms away from the router. It’s probably also worth pointing out that the Wetek Core has a fanless design so it’s completely silent in operation.
    Wetek Core Design & Connections
    Wetek Core Design & Connections

    Remote Control

    It took a little getting used to but the remote supplied with the Wetek Core is definitely one of the best in class. The primary reason for that is thanks to the built-in gyroscopes, allowing the manipulation of an on-screen cursor using motion control. It works very well, although you might want to adjust the speed in the settings menu, and is a much more efficient way of operating any apps with touch-screen controls than using button presses. It took us a while to figure out that the enter key is the same button used to summons the cursor, itself, and not the OK button which is positioned in the middle of some directional keys – it is arguably counter-intuitive but once you know, you know. We would also have liked to have seen a Stop button added but, other than that, it’s a handy little handset which also benefits from a built-in microphone, allowing Google voice searches (Google Now) to work very effectively.

    User Interface, Menus & Features

    Wetek has taken a very minimalist approach to the Core’s UI which, again, takes just a bit of acclimatisation but it’s very good once you have and allows for some customisation of the background colour, visible apps and, if you’re willing to put some work in yourself, the ability to create customer ‘banner’ icons for apps – some don’t fit nicely in the Wetek template. You can add and delete apps from the Launcher with a quick press of the favourites/star button and the interface reacts snappily to commands, including the ability to easily take screenshots by a long press of the same button. There's also the option to nominate any app to boot straight in to on start-up.

    The Settings menu is highly reminiscent of the Android TV devices, which is unsurprising, and makes for easy to navigate tiles using the remote control. One thing we would advise is popping in to Display settings and making sure ‘Automatic refresh rate’ is set to On. There’s also a setting for HDMI CEC which, provided the implementation by your TV manufacturer is standard, will allow its remote to control the Core. The Wetek Core also has a built-in OTA (Over the Air) update system, allowing for online updates to the firmware. Well, actually, the first time you do it there will need to be an SD card present in the device on which the update is downloaded and then applied. That will be the last time you need to do that, however, as the first update from Wetek removed the necessity of the SD card; that’s a good thing but it would have been even better had it left the starting gates with that facility. We do like the fact that you get a notification on the Launcher when an update is available, by the way.
    Wetek Core User Interface, Menus & Features
    Wetek Core User Interface, Menus & Features


    As a point of note, we had some very time-consuming problems with the initial update which we’re struggling to reason with. The update downloaded fine to the SD Card but, following reboot, the Core got stuck on the splash screen until we removed the power cord. Thereupon it would boot normally but without applying the update. After numerous attempts, we plugged the device in to a different TV and, lo and behold, the update went through immediately. The only slightly unusual circumstance of the unsuccessful attempts was that the Core was plugged in to the ARC port of the Samsung JU7000 4K TV which could potentially have caused an HDCP issue. Wetek have been notified and are investigating but, reassuringly, no other users have reported such an issue.

    Wetek Core (Ultra) HD Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, iPlayer etc

    As this is one of the major selling points of the Wetek Core, over almost all the other Android boxes on the market, we thoroughly tested out the streaming performance using a selection of widely used UK apps. The results were mixed, in all honesty, but that still puts the Core in better shape than those aforementioned devices. Beginning with Netflix, you would be well advised to use this in conjunction with the pre-installed, Wetek Refresh Rate Switcher App which automatically switches your TV to its ‘film mode’ 24 (23.976) frames per second output, which matches the framerate of the majority of what’s on Netflix’s roster. You will want to disengage for UK, European and Australian TV shows, however, so while the Refresh Rate Switcher is really good, it’s not infallible. That’s no fault of Wetek’s, it’s up to the app makers and Google to allow Android wide frame rate/output frequency detection.

    There is actually a modified (not cracked) Android TV Netflix app which works well on the Core and it gives two advantages over the version you can download from the Google Play Store. Firstly, it’s 100% remote friendly, where the stock version requires you to use the mouse pointer and, secondly, it is much quicker to reach 1080p resolution whereupon, assuming refresh rate is correct, playback was very good – with a caveat. While we had no problem streaming to the TV in the room next to our router, we would frequently get Netflix error messages on a TV in the next room; not just a drop in resolution, terminal failure. The issue would point to a WiFi problem but we have no issues with other devices in the same location so if it is the WiFi, it can only be the Wetek Core’s hardware to blame. So we switched back to the Play Store version which does also get to 1080p but playback was awfully choppy with a lot of skipped frames making it not very watchable. Moral of the story, if you want it for 1080p Netflix, make sure your network connection is excellent, i.e. hardwired or in very close proximity to the router.
    Wetek Core
    Wetek Core

    Update: Following installation of an (optional) CPU Governor (done simply via SD Card), Netflix performance improved dramatically with the Android TV app maintaining connection and the stock Android app less stuttery, although we definitely wouldn’t use that version with so many better alternatives available. We should also point out, there is no 5.1 output available for either app which will be a concern to some.

    Next up was Amazon Instant which eventually (around two minutes) yielded an HD resolution but if it was 1080p, it didn’t look it as the bitrate was clearly very low. Considering it’s the app designed for phones and tablets, this isn’t especially surprising and nor is the fact it’s designed to run at 60Hz to match the display of such devices; needless to say, you get much better playback of Amazon Instant Video from a Fire TV, Smart TV , Roku etc which have specially made apps for them. Unfortunately, at this time, NOW TV is a bust as the stock Android app wont output over HDMI and it’s the same story for BBC iPlayer which is completely non-functional on the Core at this time. It’s much better news for YouTube, however, which uses the remote friendly Android TV version and can playback in 1080p with no issues.

    Video and Audio Performance

    If HD Netflix, et al, is one key selling feature of the Wetek Core, then the ability to easily switch between Android and the KODI-centric OpenELEC operating system is surely another. You just need to download the OpenELEC image file and write it to a mini SD card - using something like Win32DiskImager (free software) – reboot the device and you’re good to go. There is no official Wetek OpenELEC yet but there is soon to be one and there are a couple of beta versions available. We tested using the 6.0.0 build which is based on KODI 15.2 but there is a JARVIS (Kodi 16x) one too. As it transpires, for the moment, there’s little to no difference in performance other than OpenELEC boots faster and is a bit more able with higher bitrate files.

    Test Results

    Beginning with Ultra HD/4K..

    4K Tests

    KODI

    QpenElec

    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
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/23.976fps
    3840 x 2160/HEVC/MP4/29.970fps
    3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/59.940fps
    Audio and frame drops, pixelation - unwatchable

    Audio and frame drops, pixelation - unwatchable
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/59.940fps
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/23.976fps
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/50.00fps
    4096 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24fps
    Played 3840 x 2160

    Played 3840 x 2160

    The Wetek Core performed excellently here with only the files we’d expect to catch it out, owing to hardware limitations, tripping it up. The Core also flawlessly switched refresh rates in addition to providing super-smooth playback.

    SD/HD/Interlaced

    KODI

    OpenELEC

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

    Excellent deinterlacing
    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
    Some slight skipping
    1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/29.970fps
    Video fine but lip-sync issue

    The Core is capable of very fine video deinterlacing which is very good if you have Live/Broadcast TV as part of your home media setup. It can also cope with every used TV and movie framerate with ease and it was only with VC-1 encoded material where it showed any signs of struggling with some lip-sync issues under OpenELEC and some frame skipping using Android KODI. We did try the same files with Amcodec hardware switched off – it worked for the Minix U1 – but performance didn’t improve any.

    High Bitrate

    KODI

    OpenELEC

    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
    Stuttered slightly
    10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 120mbps
    3840x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 140mbps
    Stuttered slightly



    10-bit 3840x2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 140mbps


    3840x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps
    Unwatchable due to frames-skipping

    Better than Android KODI but became unwatchable after starting OK


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



    The Wetek also made a good fist of very high bitrate files, which will be of interest to those looking to rip/Digital bridge their Ultra HD collection in the future, although we can see the Core is incapable of 10-bit Ultra HD HEVC material, which might be a problem. Anyone planning to compress their UHD Blu-rays, even just a little, should have no issues with the files, although we should point out the WiFi capability aboard the device is nowhere close to being able to handle such files.

    3D

    KODI

    OpenELEC

    1920 x 1080/AVC/ISO/23.976fps Frame Packed
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Frame Packed
    Played fine in 2D

    Played fine in 2D
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Side by Side
    HDMI SIgnal issues so it would either drop-out completely or not allow TV to engage 3D mode. When system res set to 4K KODI returned to 1/4 screen needing reboot
    1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Top & Bottom
    Needed to manually engage TV 3D mode

    Needed to manually engage TV 3D Mode

    The AMLogic equipped players are currently not the go-to option for 3D lovers, although that could well be changing, but if your three dimensional needs are modest, i.e. you can cope with Top and Bottom content only – which looks decidedly low res – you’ll be fine with the Core. We should caveat our side by side results above by saying that, after another few attempts, we did get the Wetek to engage the TVs 3D mode but it dropped out after a couple of seconds so we can’t deem it useable. It may be a different story on another 3D display but we currently have just the one to check with.

    HD Audio

    KODI

    OpenELEC

    AAC 5.1
    AAC 7.1
    Dolby Digital Plus 7.1
    Played as 2.0 PCM

    2.0 PCM Only
    Dolby True HD 5.1
    2.0 PCM only

    2.0 PCM only
    Dolby True HD 7.1
    2.0 PCM only

    2.0 PCM only
    DTS HD-MA 5.1
    Partial success, played as DTS core but in 5.1

    Partial success, played as DTS core but in 5.1
    DTS HD-HR 7.1
    DTS HD-MA 7.1
    Played as 2.0

    Played as 2.0
    LPCM 7.1
    Played as 2.0

    Played as 2.0

    Again, the AMLogic equipped Android Media players aren’t usually the best for HD audio formats, although the Minix U1 is bucking that trend somewhat and future releases of KODI (and OpenELEC) should open things out to a wider batch of products. That said, it did manage to play the core DTS of a DTS HD-MA 5.1 and showed some promise with DTS-HD 7.1 but had channel mapping/missing problems. Thankfully the core will happily downmix anything it can’t handle to stereo, which is better than nothing.

    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

    8
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Very good firmware
    • Runs KODI and OpenELEC really well
    • Lovely UI
    • Useful remote control functions
    • 24p 1080p Netflix
    • Excellent manufacturer support

    Cons

    • Not ideal for all streaming services (only Netflix really)
    • BBC iPlayer not working
    • WiFi performance could be better
    • Initial software update needs MicroSD card
    • No 10-bit HEVC 4K support
    You own this Total 0
    You want this Total 0
    You had this Total 0

    Wetek Core Android Media Player Review

    Should I buy the Wetek Core?

    The Wetek Core is definitely one to recommend if you’re looking for an up-to-date Android experience, combined with the ability to easily switch to media centre operating system OpenELEC and if you also value (at least some) HD streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and YouTube. The ability to pull off all three of those tricks is unique, as far as we know, so we know the Wetek Core is at least going to appeal to those with that criterion. Even as a ‘straight’ media hub, the Core holds its own with it mincing through most of our test material. It is less future-proofed than some, going forwards, with a lack of 10-bit HEVC 4K support and it’s limited to 30 frames per second for Ultra HD video too. Support for 3D video is also limited and the same applies to HD audio but most can probably live without those. All in all, the Wetek Core runs very smoothly, with well-designed interfaces and it’s as comprehensive a media player as most could want so we’re happy to give it an AVForums Recommended Award.

    What else is there?

    By virtue of its versatility, the Wetek Core battles on a number of fronts. We guess its most direct competitor, right now, is the Minix U1 which lacks HD Netflix and Amazon but now supports up to 7.1 channel HD audio. If you’re prepared to spend a little more, the NVIDIA Shield Android TV is a superb KODI machine but lacks 3D support, although in can boast 4K Netflix, not just 1080p like the Core – it also plays some incredible games. If you want Netflix and Amazon, at up to 4K, and they are more important than media centre capabilities we’d take a look at the Amazon Fire TV although its video playback capabilities are not as good as any of the others mentioned. For a ‘straight’ media player, - without Netflix or apps - get a Chromebox running OpenELEC or a Raspberry PI 2.


    The Rundown

    Build Quality

    7

    Performance

    8

    Networking, Internet, Streaming quality

    8

    Features

    9

    Set up, Menus, Remote

    9

    Value for Money

    8

    Verdict

    8

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