Media Streamer, NAS, HDMI Recorder and More. There's even a clock!
What is the Zidoo X9?This little box is very similar to the recently reviewed Minix X8 Plus and Minix X8-H Plus devices, in that it’s sold as an Android Media Player, featuring a HDMI connection for your HDTV and full access to the Google Play Store, so the potential of millions of apps. The Zidoo X9 does have another trick up its sleeve, however, and that’s in its ability to record via an HDMI input, so this one could be of interest for someone on the look out for a video capture device, as well as all the other more expected duties. You can pick up the X9 for around £110 online, which makes it fairly pricey in the Android box market, so it best do the business to justify the outlay.
Design & ConnectionsDo you remember when most video devices had a clock? Well, if you’re feeling a little nostalgic for those bygone days, the X9 will put a smile on your face with its built-in time display. That’s unusual in itself, as is the aluminium housing in a chassis that’s about the same size as a small tablet – and essentially it is one, minus the display – only quite a lot thicker at 23mm in height. There are dual, non-detachable, WiFi antennas at the rear, in addition to an On/Off switch which also feels a little old-school.
Connectivity options are bountiful, with a TF Card slot and 3 USB ports running down the left hand, with one of those impressively supporting USB v3.0. At the rear are a Toslink digital audio and 3.5mm audio outputs, a LAN Port to compliment the 2.4 and 5GHz WiFi and both the HDMI input and output. The Zidoo X9 also supports version 4 Bluetooth.
HDMI in as well as HDMI out - Exotic!
What’s in the BoxAside from the fact the X9 didn’t come with a UK mains adapter (Euro plug, instead, requiring adapter), all that is needed is there. There’s a fairly short (1m) HDMI cable; a mini USB to USB lead, for data transfer use and the remote control. The controller works using an infra-red signal, so you will need line of sight and, it’s a reasonably effective piece of kit with a well laid out button arrangement. There’s a mouse pointer function for any apps requiring touchscreen controls but, whilst it does work, you’d be better off with a proper air mouse, or similar.
Zidoo X9 SpecsThe X9 utilises a Mstar MSO9180D1R 1.5Ghz quad core processor and 2 GB of DDR3 RAM; like many competing devices, the GPU is a Mali 450. There’s also 8 GB of built-in flash storage and dual Wi-Fi antennas with support for 802.11n at 2.4 and 5GHz. The Zidoo X9 comes running Android version 4.4.2 out of the box.
Manufacturer SupportWe’re making it a policy at AVForums to only review Android boxes that we feel will receive good manufacturer support. Zidoo were a new name on us when the X9 was launched but having monitored their healthy stream of OTA software updates - equating to one a month over a six month period – we think this is a safe box to buy into. There’s also a manufacturer forum which appears to be well tended by staff members.
User InterfaceHaving seen umpteen ‘M-Box’ style UIs (not that there’s anything wrong with them) over the last few months, Zidoo’s attempt was very refreshing, making it look like a real media player, rather than a multi-purpose unit with the functionally tacked on. It is very attractive and colourful, in fact, with pleasing tiles that are allocated in to various categories, such as Game, Video & Music that allow you to add apps to them. Some of the tiles are one-use specimens, with Google Play and the HDMI input given their own heading and the only real criticisms we have is that that are perhaps too many tiles in the ‘ribbon’ and the app drawers, shown under the headers, aren’t as attractive as the main UI. The App manager is a very handy tool that stops you having to enter the stock Android menus to force stops, clear caches and perform uninstalls etc and, overall, this is a well thought out interface, which is very remote control friendly.
Zidoo X9 HDMI RecordingThis is the headlining feature of the Zidoo X9, no doubt, and it works really well. It has come in very useful to us, in terms of capturing the video output of various devices we’ve reviewed, but we guess the main application here is for gamers. You simply hook up your console (or PC with HDMI output) and select your desired file type output (.MP4 or .TS), choose recording quality and duration (if required, you can record indefinitely) and away you go. As well as the review samples, we attached a PS3 and Xbox 360 (yes, we’re behind the times) and the X9 was able to capture the action quite well. There’s a notable amount of compression, however, and some issues with framerate but the quality is perfectly good enough for YouTube, and the likes.
Remote AppZidoo has produced their only well-polished Remote app for Android, which allows your phone or tablet full control over the device. There’s a straight ‘TV’ remote interface, mouse & gesture control and a keyboard, plus there’s also the option to use your mobile device as a games controller with touchscreen operation, in addition to virtual buttons, triggers and directional keys – very handy! The Zidoo RC app also lets you manage your apps and take screenshots (the evidence is all over this review) and, all in all, we were very impressed.
NAS KitIf the X9’s killer app is its ability to record via HDMI then the new NAS Kit app has the potential to run it a close second. As the name would suggest, it turns the device into a NAS server which can then be accessed by other devices on the network. There’s SMB, FTP/SSH (Dropbear), Aria2 and Transmission protocol support, with full management available through a web interface. We set up SMB and FTP with a couple of KODI enabled boxes in the house and were able to stream video from both the in-built storage and an attached USB 3.0 stick quite well but there was frequent buffering with 1080p files. We’re not necessarily pinning the blame on the NAS Kit but we have a dedicated device on the network which doesn’t have the problem. We have WiFi test server running from a Windows PC that suggests the Zidoo uploads to the network at around 35Mbps so it shouldn’t have been an issue. The NAS Kit app is still in its early days so we hope for some more development from Zidoo. You can download it here but make sure you’re on the latest software (1.0.7) before trying to use it.
No 24p support is an issue but the X9 supports a very wide range of files and codecs
Video & Audio PerformanceThe extremely good WiFi performance of the X9 is certainly a plus when it comes to streaming but, like every Android box, you’re limited for resolution if you use apps to access the likes of BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Amazon Instant video. There are excellent workarounds for Amazon and the iPlayer by using the KODI/XBMC add-ons but Netflix addicts really need to be looking at more mainstream streamers (that sounds odd) at this moment in time. It’s a shame, but there it is, and Netflix doesn’t really seem inclined to do anything about the generally poor service it delivers to Android users, who are mostly limited to a 720 x 480p output.
While the chipset can’t match the overall power of the Amlogic S812 devices out there, in terms of container and codec support, the Zidoo X9 fares very well. It gains a very impressive Antutu Video Benchmark score of 888 and only had trouble with three of the thirty test files with stuttering playback apparent with two in MP4 containers both with aac audio files, the other was a webm container with Vorbis audio and VP8 video encoding, which you’re not likely to see many of. The best score we’ve seen, so far, is 1061 by the Minix X8-H Plus.
The biggest issue(s) we had with the X9’s video performance was a lack of a 1080p24 in the video output settings and there is also no provision for automatic refresh rate switching. This is a big deal for movie purists as it means the TVs refresh rate isn’t a match for the content’s frame rate and the results are less than filmic playback, with a slightly unnatural video feel. We’ve contacted Zidoo to see if they have plans to address this shortcoming and we’ll update when they reply.
There’s a built-in fork of KODI, based on v14.1, but it doesn’t seem like it’s really been worked on that hard, in terms of hardware optimisations for the platform. There’s no HEVC support, for starters, and for that you will need to access the built-in Explorer player. The Explorer app is also a better bet when it comes to audio and was able to successfully down mix HD audio to core DD and DTS but, again, KODI Zidoo was found lacking here. We tried to pass-through 5.1 and 7.1 audio – both HD and not – but got either no sound or audio dropouts. We expect further KODI optimisations from Zidoo down the line.
The built-in Version 4 Bluetooth connectivity is very stable, which is good news if you like to stream your music to compatible audio equipment sans wires. There’s native support for MP3, APE, FLAC, AAC and AC3 but you’re pretty much able to stream anything with the right app. We used Bubble UPnP to access local, networked and ‘cloud’ streaming services – including TIDAL, Spotify & Google Music – and with it we were not only able to distribute to our Bluetooth speakers but also to other compatible DLNA/UPnP devices in the home – it’s a cheap and cheerful multi-room solution! The Toslink digital audio output of the Zidoo X9 works perfectly but the 3.5m (headphone) audio out is quite poor with noticeable hiss and interference present.
Zidoo X9 Video Review
Gaming PerformanceExperiences were mixed when gaming on the Zidoo X9. One of our go-to test games Beach Buggy Racing required touch or motion controls from the Google Play Store while, although the Amazon version allowed for a controller, it caused crashes and didn’t work with the Amazon Bluetooth games controller at all well, proving impossible to steer. Asphalt 8 did run well with the controller but not as well as we’ve seen it with other boxes, with quite a lot of slowdown and framerate issues. We had Mupen64 and Retroarch emulation working quite well but the Z9 seems to struggle with anything post Nintendo 64 and, even then, framerates weren’t as solid as with say the Minix or Amazon Fire TV box.
- HDMI Capture
- NAS functionality
- Lovely user interface
- Wide-ranging file support
- A clock!
- No 24p support
- Not great for gaming
Zidoo X9 Android Media Player Review
Should I buy the Zidoo X9?This is a very interesting device with at least one unique feature that might make it the ideal choice for some. If you think you can make use of the HDMI recording – and of course you’re looking at an Android streaming box for other uses – then it’s a very neat all-in-one solution. There’s also the recently released NAS Kit app that turns the X9 in to a network server and one of the very nicest user interfaces in the sector that make it worthy of a look. Video and audio playback is very strong, in terms of file type and codec support, but the lack of 24Hz video output is far from ideal. There’s also comparatively little horsepower on board, which isn’t an issue for most apps, but it does affect gaming and the in-built tailored version of XBMC seems to have very little optimisation for the hardware. It’s a good little box that certainly stands out from the crowd but we’re both video purists and movie lovers so it just misses out a recommendation.
What else is there?There’s nothing really comparable if you want the HDMI input but if you’re after an Android box with excellent video and audio capabilities, we would urge a look at either the Minix X8 Plus or, for those with 4K TVs – or those planning to get one – spend a little more on the Minix X8-H Plus, which both have rock solid refresh rate switching and framerate detection. For something with Full HD apps for Netflix, iPlayer and Amazon, plus KODI support, both the Amazon Fire TV Box and Amazon Fire TV Stick make excellent choices, although their video playback is not as good as the Minix’s.
Networking, Internet, Streaming quality7
Set up, Menus, Remote8
Value for Money7
Our Review Ethos
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