Definitely the best player Zidoo has ever made
What is the Zidoo X9S?The X9S is very much the flagship Ultra HD Android TV box from Zidoo and came to market at the beginning of October 2016, although we’ve had a sample since early September; Zidoo, sensibly, wanted to get early feedback from a selection of testers and reviewers prior to launch. The X9S is, of course, 4K capable but also features High Dynamic Range (HDR) video capability as well as the promise of 3D playback – still a relatively rare feature – and support for HD and immersive audio formats including DTS-HD and Dolby Atmos. If you’re prepared to sacrifice a natty aluminium casing, 8GB of storage and a SATA port, the Zidoo X8 should offer the same video/audio performance at a lesser price once it’s released. Speaking of which, the Zidoo X9S is available for £119 from at least one very well-known online retailer, as of October 2016.
SpecificationThis is our first look at a player featuring a 64-bit Realtek RTD1295 processor but we’ve been hearing good things about it from other manufacturers, currently developing new players, so we expect to see more fairly shortly. The RTD1295 is supported by a Mali-T820 GPU, 2GB of DDR3 RAM and features 16GB of built-in eMMC storage. At the time of review, the X9S was running the latest, 1.2.4 firmware which is based in Android 6.01 (Marshmallow).
Design & ConnectionsThe casing of the Zidoo X9S is made from aircraft-grade aluminium which is described as smoke coloured by the manufacturer but we’ll stick with dark grey. In any case (no pun intended), it’s a relatively attractive device for this sector and, as well as being durable and presumably aerodynamic, it’s pleasingly resistant to picking up greasy fingerprint marks, although it still attracts its fair share of dust. It also stays nice and cool in operation so it's well engineered, too, and shouldn't overheat easily. The supplied remote is nothing like as well built, alas, with a predictably lightweight, plastic finish and limited mouse pointer functionality although the box responds quickly to it and the infra-red range and 'direction-ality' are acceptably long and broad (3m/55ish degrees L/R).
The X9S is a well-connected device with inputs and outputs located at the rear and on the right-hand side. There’s a Gigabit LAN port, an HDMI 2.0a/HDCP 2.2 out and, interestingly, an HDMI input alongside a more archaic, all-purpose (composite video/stereo audio) 3.5mm AV Out. You also have a digital optical (S/PDIF) audio output, a pin-sized hole to access a reset button and an input for the 12V (UK plug) power supply. The side mounted connections comprise two USB 2.0 ports, one USB 3.0 port and a SATA 3.0 port. The X9S is also Bluetooth 4.0 capable and supplied with two Wi-Fi antennas, that are nearly 20cm long, and provide dual-band (2.4/5GHz) capability up to 802.11ac. The other notable design features are a VFD (Vacuum Florescent Display) at the front and a ‘hard’ On/Off switch to the rear.
The HDMI input allows recording from connected devices
Menus & User InterfaceOn first installing your Zidoo X9S, you will be greeted by a Setup Wizard which guides you through language, screen, network and launcher (home-screen) arrangement before you really get started. The Zidoo X9S presents a very attractive launcher which Zidoo calls the ZIUI. It, like virtually all in this product sector, is tile based and features shortcuts to the Zidoo Media Center which is essentially a file manager, a web browser, the HDMI in feature, an app/task killer, the Settings menu, the apps drawer and more, with further user defined shortcuts available to the bottom of the screen; you can also customise any of the tiles to represent any app you have installed if the manufacturer defined layout doesn’t suit. The only real criticism we have is that there are some spelling and typography mistakes scattered throughout the menus that don’t give the impression that enough care has been taken in proof-reading prior to release.
For those wanting the more exotic audio-visual features of the X9S, such as HD audio, Ultra HD and automatic framerate switching, a trip in to the Settings Menu will be required to ensure RAW HDMI is set in the audio submenu and Auto 1080p/24 plus Auto 29.97/59.94Hz options are activated. There’s also a setting called HDMI Rx functions which lets the device know what HDMI version to expect from any device connected to the HDMI input with choices of 1.4 or 2.0. We should give special mention to the very attractive interface of the native video player here which lets you control subtitles, and their appearance, audio track selected, aspect ratio, 3D file type – if applicable, and under the Advanced tab, HDMI auto-switching; forcing SD audio output; a bookmarking feature, an option to force 3D, language settings and a Video information option which provides a detailed run-down on the file being played in the style of the popular MediaInfo software.
FeaturesWhile the HDMI recording facility of the X9S was of somewhat limited appeal to us, having the input was a welcome addition. For the record, it’s capable of recording/displaying a source that’s 4K up to 60 frames per second (fps) although that would be ‘down-converted’ to 1080p at 30fps. Quite rightly, the X9S does nothing to strip away copy protection so we couldn’t use it to record our YouView or TiVO boxes but the Picture in Picture (PiP) functionality is great if you want to keep your eye on two things at once. Not only that but the X9S is capable of broadcasting the input around the home to other devices using UDP (User Datagram Protocol) with adjustable bitrate settings if your network is struggling
Another relatively unusual feature of the Zidoo X9S is its ability to act as a Networked Attached Storage (NAS) device although that’s only going to be really useful if you’ve an external hard drive attached. The X9S actually runs on dual operating systems so as well as Android you also have the option of running OpenWRT simultaneously which, in turn allows the X9S to act as a Samba (SMB) server, run FTP and torrent services, and more. That’s not an area we’re interested in but other testers report decent results and it worked fine as a Samba server for other devices around the home although not as reliably as our dedicated NAS. There’s also settings to activate the Zidoo as a portable WiFi hotspot at either 2.4 or 5Ghz but they don't seem to work at all.
Other notable features of this flagship player include the ability to receive OTA (Over-the-Air) software updates, HDMI CEC functionality, meaning you could prospectively use your TV remote to control the X9S, rather than the mediocre handset supplied, and Miracast sink functionality to beam content from your mobile device. Virtually all the other major features are media-playback-centric and, therefore, hopefully covered below.
Video & Audio PerformanceLet’s get this right off the bat, the Zidoo X9S is an excellent Android media streaming device, although the range of alternatives for getting the job done might prove confusing to some and there are, inevitably, issues here and there, some of which will be more troubling, than others, depending on your setup. There is the Zidoo Home Theater app which obviously just uses the native player of the device, which is very strong, but lacks the reliability in scraping movie and TV show data that other software – notably KODI – provides. There’s the option of using plain KODI but recent versions don’t play particularly nicely with the chipset, so if you want to do that, and get all the excellent playback capabilities, you’ll want to install the XBMC wrapper app and configure it to your needs; this method also requires root access and the wrapper app is paid-for so this is the least likely option most will choose.
Our choice was to go with using ZDMC which is a fork of KODI based on version 16.1 and, very nearly, provides the best of both worlds in having all the visual and media management bells and whistles afforded by KODI with the option of using its native (KODI DVD) video player or the native (Zidoo) player of the device for local and networked media – the Zidoo player doesn’t work with internet streaming add-ons such as iPlayer or YouTube. In most cases, the ZDMC/KODI player is fine but when it comes to Ultra HD, 3D and HD audio, the native player is the better or, in some instances, the only option.
To simplify things, if all your content is local/network stored, we would suggest enabling the ‘Play video with external player’ option in the Videos>Playback Menu but since our needs are mixed, we elected not to and just used the menu button on the remote to activate the ‘Play Using’ dialogue which brings up the option for the Default(KODI) or ZidooPlayer. The only real downside we can see is that opting for ZDMC means you become reliant on Zidoo keeping it in step with official KODI releases and with V17 (Krypton) imminent, it becomes more pressing so we’ll have to see what happens. It may mean, sometime in the future, that KODI plus the paid-for wrapper solution becomes the better choice but we’re more than happy to recommend ZDMC, for now, especially as the ZidooPlayer is so good and switching back and forth to it is so relatively seamless – certainly more so than the highly comparable HiMedia Q5/10 Pro equivalent set up.
3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/23.976fps (Z/N) 3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24.000fps (Z/N) 3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/25.000fps (Z/N) 3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/29.970fps (Z/N)
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
Played at 60Hz so choppy
4096 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24fps
There is one glaring omission in the Display settings of the Zidoo X9S and that's the lack of a 50Hz Ultra HD (3840*2160/50Hz) mode. There is one for 25Hz so UHD video at 25 and 50 frames per second are playable but Zidoo really needs to make 50Hz an option for smoothest, flicker-free playback. This is also compounded by both ZDMC and the native player automatically switching to a 60Hz output when Ultra HD content is detected as being 50 frames per second, which produces a jerky, mismatched video presentation on screen. The issues are known to Zidoo so we're really hoping fixes can be found and, to be fair, so far they have been very willing and able to do so. Otherwise playback of all the Ultra HD content tested was spot on, with particularly good picture quality using the native player.
Update: We’ve been told by Zidoo that the upcoming 1.2.6 update will include a 2160p50Hz mode, which is great news.
Next up were the High and Standard Definition (HD/SD) tests which mostly provided similarly excellent results although we did encounter an anomaly, or two.
720 x 576/MP2/mpg/25.000fps - Interlaced
(N) Better deinterlacing using native player than ZDMC but played in wrong aspect ratio automatically, needed to be set manually
1280 x 720/AVC/MP4/29.970fps
1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/25.00fps - Interlaced
(Z/N) Lip sync issues that needed adjustment in player settings + see notes below
1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps
1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/24.000fps
1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/25.000fps
(Z/N) Smooth when played at 3840 x 2160/25Hz but judders @1080p and below on some TVs - see notes below
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
The primary cause of our issues, once again, centred on 50Hz content and specifically video that was 25 frames per second, in a progressive signal. We try and test on a range of TVs and while there were no problems with playback on three out of four, 1080/720p signals delivered at 50Hz would produce very jerky and jittery video with a five-year-old Full HD Samsung TV (C530 LED/LCD) which rendered them pretty much unwatchable via ZDMC – since they were streamed over the internet from iPlayer and other sources, the native player wasn’t an option. No combination of settings would remove the judder and we’re at a loss to explain it, in all honesty. We’ve directly fed this back to Zidoo and we’ll update when/if a solution is found. Other than that, we can report no problems apart from some lip-sync issues with content recorded through the ZDMC PVR function, although that was easily corrected in the Audio offset settings; as an aside, deinterlacing performance was very good, for those wishing to integrate live TV in to their set up.
The networking performance of the Zidoo X9S is excellent, both over a wired Ethernet connection – where it came close to 95MB/s speeds for transferring – mileage could vary here – files (FTP) over our network; the best we could get using Wi-Fi (802.11ac Router) was 61MB/s which is actually rather good too. In terms of AV performance, it also has plenty to spare:
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
(Z/N) Stuttered over network but fine via USB HDD
10-bit 3840x 2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps
(Z/N) Stuttered over network but fine via USB HDD
Since Ultra HD Blu-rays top out at a maximum bitrate of 128Mbps, the Zidoo X9S has more than enough to spare in terms of horsepower to play them, should the format ever be cracked and, even without making special provisions in our network setup, we could have easily played them via networked storage, which is what we ideally like to do. With the connected USB 3.0 hard drive, we could go quite a bit further than our tests results show, in fact, with stuttering playback only visible when we started pushing the bitrate to 400 Mbps so, in other words, there are zero noteworthy issues in this facet of performance.
Now we come to the area where the Zidoo X9S is really a bit special, compared to the overwhelming majority of Android TV boxes on the market – in fact it’s one of the major selling points of the device.
1920 x 1080/AVC/ISO/23.976fps Frame Packed
(N) Played fine & auto-switched TV
1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Frame Packed
(N) Played fine & auto-switched TV but image lacks depth
1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Side by Side
(N) Played fine but manual adjustment needed to switch to 3D mode
1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Top & Bottom
(N) Played fine but manual adjustment needed to switch to 3D mode
For 3D playback, the native (Zidoo) player must be selected and provided you do that, frame-packed 3D ISO and 3D MKV will not only play properly but should auto-switch your TV in to its 3D mode. We have seen reports that the auto-switching doesn’t work with some 4K TVs and that 3D MKV videos will stutter from time to time – especially after seeking through the content, but we didn’t encounter any problems, although the upcoming 1.2.6 software release from Zidoo does note that playback of certain 3D MVC files has been optimised so they must have seen the same issues. Additionally, although ISO playback is excellent, MVC files lack the same depth and dimension but Zidoo tell us they''re now completely re-writing how they are handled so we expect more improvements here. You will still need to manually engage 3D mode for Side by Side and Top and Bottom 3D files but that’s hardly a massive chore, entailing just a few clicks on the remote.
Rounding off with the audio tests and, once again, the Zidoo X9S passes with flying colours:
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
The X9S can both passthrough and decode multichannel and HD audio via the native player and using the ZDMC default with no problems whatsoever, which is very good news for those with receivers without DTS-HD or Dolby HD compatibility.
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
3D ISO playback
Over The Air (OTA) Software Updates
Manufacturer version of KODI
- Very well built
- Regular software updates
- Great feature set
- Mostly excellent playback of just about anything
- No 50Hz Ultra HD Mode
- Mediocre remote
- Reliant on Zidoo keeping up with KODI
Zidoo X9S Android TV Box Review
Should I buy a Zidoo X9S?The Zidoo X9S is by far the pinnacle of what this emerging manufacturer has achieved in the Android TV market to date. While it’s not built like a tank, it does feature an aircraft grade aluminium casing, although we never really felt the need to pick it up and throw it through the window to check out its aerodynamic properties. More pertinently, the material is highly resistant to accumulating greasy fingerprints, although it’s no stranger to dust particles. Connectivity options are very good, also, and include an HDMI 2.0a out and a Gigabit LAN port as well as up to 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which is reflected in the excellent networking performance of the Zidoo X9S. The only real let-down in the package, predictably, is a so-so remote control which is lightweight and plastic and doesn’t feature built-in gyroscopes for mouse pointer controls, which is something we feel should be provided with a flagship player.
Interestingly, the Zidoo X9S features an HDMI input capable of receiving 4K video up to 60 frames per second although, quite correctly, it can’t be used to record HDCP encrypted content. We did find the input useful, however, in terms of using it for PiP functionality which was one of the highlights of the original Google TV box, all those years ago; you can also stream the input around your network using UDP which, again, can be genuinely useful. The X9S can also act as a NAS device (and more) thanks to it running OpenWRT alongside Android and the included SATA port (and cable) extends that feature just a little bit more.
In terms of media playback, the Zidoo X9S is right up there with the best of them in featuring HDR, Ultra HD, 3D and HD audio compatibility. The one thing that, at the time of publishing (October 2016), requiring fixing is the lack of a 50Hz Ultra HD mode but it has been promised for the 1.2.6 firmware release and we’ve absolutely no reason to doubt Zidoo’s word on that. We did have an unusual issue with a 5 year old 1080p TV and 50Hz content, also, whereby playback was consistently stuttering for material at 25 frames per second but the same content played fine with two other displays we checked on; again this has been fed back to the manufacturer for further investigation. Otherwise, we could find no deal-breaking problems with the Zidoo and it is living up to the pre-release billing with a reassuring, ongoing and speedy flow of software updates ironing out the issues that are present.
All in all, the Zidoo X9S is a highly impressive Android TV Box that just about merits an AVForums Highly Recommended Award.
What else is there?The direct and very similar rivals to the X9S are the HiMedia Q5 and Q10 Pro which also boast HDR, 3D, HD audio and 4K playback that also can use a ‘wrapper’ solution for extended compatibility. On the plus side, the HiMedia devices can be better kept in step with mainline KODI releases while we’re reliant on Zidoo keeping ZDMC up to date but the Zidoo solution is better (quicker/more smoothly) integrated when utilising the superb internal player. The X9S also plays nicer with 3D video although at, present, UHD content at 50 frames per second is better on the HiMedia and the Q10 Pro provides the option of equipping extra storage within its casing, while the Zidoo’s SATA port is external; it’s a close call in all honesty. For those not especially interested in 3D or NAS functions, we’d go with the Minix U1 – now on its 10th software release and still improving or the NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV. Alternatively, for those on a relatively tight budget, the Wetek Hub is also a great if slightly more limited solution.
Networking, Internet, Streaming quality9
Set up, Menus, Remote8
Value for Money9
Our Review Ethos
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