MINIX NeO X8-H 4K AN­drOId-BASed Me­dIA HuB $229

Sound+Image - - Test -

Back be­fore our awards is­sue last year, we rounded up a bunch of rel­a­tively low cost de­vices ca­pa­ble of stream­ing dig­i­tal me­dia to your home en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem. One was the then top-of-the-line unit from Minix, the Neo X7. But al­most straight away an even higher model ar­rives with one fea­ture that makes it very spe­cial in­deed: 4K video out­put.

Vis­ually and fea­ture-wise (aside from 4K out­put), the Minix Neo X8-H is pretty much in­dis­tin­guish­able from the Neo X7. It has three USB sock­ets, SD card slot, USB OTG (On The Go) socket, Eth­er­net, mi­cro­phone in­put and head­phone out­put; it has and dual-band WiFi, and it can do all the com­put­ery things you’d ex­pect of a hot An­droid box (quad-core 2GHz pro­ces­sor, 2GB of sys­tem mem­ory, 16GB of built in stor­age).

You can com­pute away with this unit. My pre­ferred method of op­er­a­tion was to in­sert a wire­less mouse/key­board don­gle into one of the USB sock­ets and con­trol it pri­mar­ily with the mouse. But while stocks last, this unit is be­ing bun­dled with the Minix A1 Air­mouse, which op­er­ates an on-screen pointer by de­tect­ing move­ments in the gad­get.

But we’re here to talk about the dif­fer­ences. Be­fore get­ting to video, let’s briefly con­sider au­dio. When re­search­ing that me­dia boxes piece I was told by an au­dio app de­vel­oper that 44.1kHz out­put was a lim­i­ta­tion built at quite a deep level into An­droid. How­ever one of the prom­ises of the Neo X8-H sys­tem is its abil­ity to hard­ware-decode DTS and Dolby Dig­i­tal au­dio, rather than re­ly­ing on soft­ware im­ple­men­ta­tions in such soft­ware as XMBC. So I thought that per­haps this lim­i­ta­tion had been bro­ken. In­deed it has, but in a pretty neg­a­tive way. All out­put from ev­ery­thing I threw at it (and it is enor­mously open to var­i­ous codecs) was con­verted to twochan­nel PCM at 48kHz. So in a sense that’s an im­prove­ment for 96kHz and 192kHz FLAC files, but it’s a back­wards step for the ma­jor­ity of mu­sic on my NAS, which of course uses CD-stan­dard 44.1kHz sampling. Up­scal­ing to 48kHz at its very best may pos­si­bly be trans­par­ent, but there is a huge risk of dam­ag­ing the sound.

As it hap­pens, the mu­sic gen­er­ally sounded pretty good. And mul­ti­chan­nel stuff was mixed down, rather than hav­ing the sur­round chan­nels omit­ted. I should note that in the Setup there’s an op­tion to ‘pass through’ the au­dio via HDMI. This seemed to have no ef­fect. The re­sults were the same with mu­sic files and video.

The bad news of 4K is photo han­dling. This is yet an­other de­vice that can read high­res­o­lu­tion pho­tos, out­put 4K video con­tent, yet runs the images through a 2K bot­tle­neck along the way. A test im­age showed that the fine de­tails were stripped right out. (Minix did tell me that they’d get a proper 4K photo app out in a fu­ture up­date.)

The good news of 4K is video. The unit ren­dered all our 4K clips in full, glo­ri­ous de­tail. From USB all of th­ese were de­liv­ered smoothly by the two 4K-ca­pa­ble video apps on the unit. One is called ‘4K Movie Streamer’, which makes things pretty clear. The other is the well-known XBMC app (although this ap­pears to be an unof­fi­cial en­hance­ment). The for­mer only works with lo­cal me­dia, typ­i­cally on USB. The other streams from the net­work. The net­work con­nec­tion proved in­ad­e­quate for un­in­ter­rupted play­back of a 100Mbps 4K clip, but fine for 50Mbps streams. Wired Eth­er­net didn’t help be­cause the sup­port is only for up to 100Mbps net­works, not gi­ga­bit ones.

You have to man­u­ally choose the out­put res­o­lu­tion that you want, set­ting the res­o­lu­tion ac­cord­ing to the for­mat of the video: in par­tic­u­lar 24, 50 or 60 hertz. If you don’t do that, you can ex­pect jerky move­ment on the screen. My 576i/50 test clips, even played back with one of the 50Hz out­put modes, tended to be jerky. It was un­clear whether this may have been due to some in­ter­me­di­ate frame-rate con­ver­sion to 60 hertz within the unit, or just some frames were be­ing dropped.

As a player of SD video, well, I can think of sev­eral prefer­able al­ter­na­tives.

But, gee, the beauty of the 4K video de­liv­ered by the Minix Neo X8-H was al­most enough to make me for­get all that. SD More info: www.canohm.com.au

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