OSMC Vero 4K User Review

  • NicolasB
    A potentially good local streamer, but not for the faint-hearted
    Review of OSMC Vero 4K Streamer by NicolasB, Nov 20, 2018.
    Vero 4K+

    This is a review of the Vero 4K+, not the original Vero 4K, but it doesn't seem to have its own page on AVForums yet!

    (What are the differences between the Vero 4K and the 4K+, you ask? The main one is that the 4K+ has built-in Gigabit Ethernet. It also has faster internal flash storage, faster RAM, a better heatsink, and eliminates the annoying blue power-on LED.)


    Definitions

    OSMC is an operating system, based on Debian Linux. It is designed to support Kodi. (It can potentially do other things too, but running Kodi is its primary function). The Vero 4K+ is a media player created by the OSMC guys as a showcase for OSMC.

    So, the Vero 4K+ is a Kodi box; but it doesn't run Android, or any pre-packaged OS; OSMC has been adapted specially to run Kodi on that hardware, and is under constant, active development.


    Hardware

    Physically it's quite compact - 9cm x 9cm x 2cm. It has a single HDMI 2.0a output. It also has optical audio out, a 3.5mm audio jack socket, two USB 2.0 ports, and gigabit ethernet. It supports Bluetooth 4.0, and both 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi.

    The SoC is the Amlogic S905D (very similar to the S905X). It has 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, and also a micro-SD card slot if you need more space.


    What's it like to use?

    While it can do other things if pushed, it should be regarded as primarily (and perhaps exclusively) a box for running Kodi.

    It is designed for local video streaming - playing files that are stored on your LAN. It does a pretty fair job of that - most video formats play well; it can bitstream any audio format; the output image quality is good (dramatically much more accurate than, say, the Nvidia Shield TV). Deinterlacing is good. Upscaling is not very good, but you can set it to switch output resolution to match that of the video, so that's not much of an issue.

    The remote is simple, but it works well - no signal problems - and is sensibly designed. There are hard buttons for Pause/Play and also for Stop - surprising how rare that is! - and it's possible to configure what specific remote buttons do in specific situations. (For example, I have the Home button mapped to turning on "Suspend" mode - but only if I'm already on the home screen).


    Problems

    Hi10P videos are particularly troublesome: no media player is capable of decoding those in hardware, but one or two (notably the AppleTV 4K) have enough CPU power to decode them in software; the Vero 4K+ definitely hasn't. This will cause problems for animé fans.

    The current standard software release can't output standard-definition video at native resolution. If you use a Kodi v18 test build, you can, but it only works correctly if the aspect ratio is 16:9 - it's impossible to output 4:3 SD video without some scaling (and there's no prospect of that being fixed, as it's a Kodi issue rather than OSMC, and the Kodi developers don't seem to care).

    It's not capable of playing back MVC/frame-packed 3D video - the OSMC devs say they will look at this after Kodi Leia gets out of beta, but they've been promising to look at that "soon" for over a year, now, so don't hold your breath.

    Some specific videos (like Billy Lynn's Long Half-Time Walk) still skip frames like crazy.


    Internet Streaming Services

    If you're looking for an Internet streamer - something for Netflix, YouTube, iPlayer, etc. - then you should definitely look elsewhere. The 4K+ can play videos from these sources, but via Kodi plug-ins rather than dedicated apps, which makes for a less satisfactory UI. And there are sharp limits to the performance, too.

    BBC iPlayer isn't too bad: standard 720p/50 material plays well, and it can even play the 4K test streams, although currently only in SDR rather than HLG/HDR. (HLG handling is supposedly coming by the end of the year).

    YouTube is currently limited to 1080p/60 and below. The hardware is capable of handling 4K/HDR videos on YouTube, but actually accessing them requires changes to a Kodi plug-in that is not under OSMC's control. (Will that change ever be made? There's no way to tell.)

    Netflix, for practical purposes, maxes out at 720p resolution. (You can play 1080p videos, but they're jerky as hell). It's possible that it may one day be able to handle 1080p/24 Netflix, but this is not guaranteed; and there is no chance at all of it ever being able to handle 4K Netflix. Much the same limitations apply to Amazon video.

    There's no chance at all of Internet streaming ever offering Dolby Vision. (There's no chance at all of ever getting DV on locally streamed videos either, but that's true of all media players currently on the market, so it seems churlish to complain about that!)


    Support

    If you ask Vero 4K fans what they like about the device, a lot of them will probably say the support. OSMC is a small company - about 4 guys as far as I can tell! - and it's possible to communicate with them all directly via the OSMC forums. So, while the Vero 4K+ has a lot of bugs (like, a lot), there's a better chance that the bugs will eventually get fixed than is the case with most devices. By contrast, a company like Apple or Nvidia is faceless and inaccessible - you have no way to talk to the developers.

    I have to say, though, that my own experience of OSMC support has been quite negative. :( I've found the OSMC guys to be very defensive - to the point of being actually rude, sometimes - and much more interested in trying to gas-light me into thinking there isn't really a problem than they are in fixing it.

    The first Vero 4K+ that I received, for example, had a hardware fault with its gigabit Ethernet. It took a week of exchanging messages to get them to acknowledge that it might be faulty. When they got it back, they ran it through some tests and announced that it had no problems. They did eventually send me a replacement one, but very grudgingly. (The replacement, I may say, works perfectly on my system, so there's no doubt at all that the original one was faulty; and there are at least three other people who have posted to the forum who were having the same problem I was - faulty Ethernet that passed all of OSMC's tests.)


    Are we there yet?

    Overall, I can't shake the feeling that the device simply isn't finished. They've only just now (end of October 2018) got 10-bit colour output working properly (despite the Vero 4K being out for more than a year) - and it still isn't working correctly even now on some set-ups. You'd think that a device advertised as a 4K/HDR media player would have that working properly out of the gate!

    It feels like a device that's still in alpha - and will quite likely remain that way indefinitely.

    It's also emphatically not a device that "just works". You need to be willing to run scripts from the Linux command-line, install software hot-fixes manually, and report bugs with debug logs, if you're going to get any serious use out of it.


    Final niggles

    - Although it is capable of outputting audio both via Bluetooth and via HDMI, it can't do both of those at once. If, like me, you have some degree of hearing loss and would like to stream the sound to your hearing aids wirelessly while everyone else listens via speakers, you can't. And in general it has trouble using more than one audio output at a time.

    - Once you have have plugged in the remote-control receiver you have only one remaining USB port, and, irritatingly, it's only USB 2.0. This means that if you want to attach a local drive to the device and copy video files onto it across the LAN, the file transfer speed is only about 40MB/s max - barely a third of the speed that Gigabit Ethernet is capable of. You don't need to do this, of course - most people stream files across the LAN without copying, and that works well; or you could unplug the drive, attach it to something else while copying the files, and move it back. But if you want a device that can be its own server as well as being a media player, this isn't it.


    So, let's sum up some pros and cons:

    Pros
    • Plays most local videos well.
    • Good image quality.
    • Good deinterlacing.
    • Bitstreams all audio formats. (This is undoubtedly its biggest advantage over the Apple TV 4K, which can't handle Dolby Atmos or DTS:X at all).
    • Responsive tech support.
    • Simple but well-designed remote.
    • Switches refresh rate, resolution, and colour space automatically on most setups.

    Cons
    • Internet streaming is very limited.
    • Can't output SD video without scaling.
    • No MVC/frame-packed 3D. (May be added in the future, but I'm dubious).
    • Not powerful enough to play Hi10P.
    • USB ports only v2.0.
    • Software feels like it's still in alpha. Not a device that "just works" - users need to be technically savvy.
    • Fairly weak CPU which can have problems with the more demanding Kodi skins.
    • At £119 it's expensive compared to generic S905X boxes.
    • Some videos (e.g. Billy Lynn's Long Half-Time Walk) don't play well.
    • Not comfortable using two different audio outputs at once.
    This item was purchased for £99 (normally £119) from OSMC in 2018. The reviewer still owns this product.

    Build Quality

    8

    Performance

    7

    Networking, Internet, Streaming quality

    7

    Features

    5

    Set up, Menus, Remote

    7

    Value for Money

    5

    Verdict

    6
    1. CaptainNick and smithgt like this.
    No comments have been posted on this review yet.
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