Zidoo X9S

My EzCast has served me well. I have been using its DLNA feature to stream content from my tablet to TV. However, time has changed and I am now facing limitations.

  1. My old EzCast & Dell Venue 7 only supported H.264 decoding & streaming and cannot handle streaming of large files. This is understandable as my EzCast and Dell Venue are from 2014. They were fine for that time. They both don’t support HEVC codec which gives same quality as H.264 at half the file size.
  2. My Dell Venue’s internal memory has received many writes over the last 2.5 years due to which it is now slowing down.

The way I consume my content now is…

  1. Download from torrents.
  2. Copy from friends in Pen Drive.
  3. Copy from friend’s phone to device using ShareIt and then play on TV.

For such needs Zidoo X9S fits well.

 

1

  1. I can download content from Torrent directly in Zidoo X9S in SD card using Flud.
  2. I can plug in a pen drive with videos and start playing immediately.
  3. I can use ShareIt to take a video/music/pictures from someone’s phone and view.
  4. I can use a remote control to navigate. This also makes it easier for my wife to play content as it is easier for her to navigate this UI.
  5. I can play any kind of video or audio file and it will play unlike EzCast where high bit rate files had problem during playback.
  6. Support for Kodi which gives a true media center experience.
  7. Ability to record TV as Zidoo X9S supports HDMI in.
  8. It is 4K ready so it is also future proof.
  9. It supports Dolby audio pass through.
  10. I can install regular apps like Wynk Music, Wynk Movies, TVFPlay, Voot etc which will think that they are running on a tablet and play content on TV directly. Keep in mind that not all apps are optimized for a tablet/TV and may not work with a remote control.
  11. ZIUI is a TV optimized interface.
  12. Use OpenWRT to use Zidoo X9S as a full fledged Internet router with 802.11ac at 5 Ghz.

adada

As expected, it is based on AOSP Android 6.0 Marshmallow hence it comes without any Google app. You can manually install Google Photos, YouTube etc. I prefer it this way as I can actually use only those Google apps I need.

1
The Box
Launcher

Zidoo UI is a good TV centric UI. You can customize the apps on launcher.

Zidoo UI
Zidoo UI

For even further ease of use, I installed an app called TV Launcher by Awesome Development. Zidoo UI is more functional but TV Launcher is more ‘casual’ user friendly due to big, easy to recognize  tiles. My wife loves it. I have set it to show only the required apps.

TV Launcher
TV Launcher
Downloads

I use Flud to download torrents in Zidoo. Flud is optimized for Remote control.

Using Flud to download torrents
Using Flud to download torrents
Storage

Inbuilt memory in Zidoo X9S is 16 GB. This device supports maximum 32 GB SD card. I purchased a Samsung Evo+ which gives me 20 MB write speed easily. Copying files from pen drive to SD card is quick. The inbuilt file explorer is enough for all your file management needs.

I suggest you first connect SD card to a PC and format it as NTFS. Zidoo X9S has inbuilt support for NTFS drives. NTFS Format is better as you can save files larger than 4 GB which is not possible in FAT32. NTFS is also faster than FAT32.

 

Copying files from Pen drive to SD card
Copying files from Pen drive to SD card
Video Playback

The inbuilt Android AOSP Video player has received an Zidoo overhaul. It is able to handle any video format you can throw at it. It even supports automatic downloads of subtitles.

Although you can install MX player or any other video player from Play store, I will recommend not to. In my testing with proper 5.1 channel speaker system, I found that MX player is not able to decode the DTS audio in many videos properly even with custom codec. Zidoo’s video player was able to decode and play them beautifully the way it should. Zidoo’s video player is meant for this hardware while MX player is a generic player which loses out on many details.

Playing video
Playing video
Playing video
Playing video
wp_20161106_18_26_01_raw__highres
Playing video with Dolby DTS Audio on a 5.1 channel speaker system with Denon receiver.

For YouTube, it is a bit tricky. The Android phone/tablet app for YouTube which you get in Play Store is not optimized to be used with a Remote Control.  Good thing is that there is an app ‘Smart YouTube TV” which gives a TV optimized interface for YouTube and it can also be controlled using Zidoo’s remote control.

One good thing about this app is that you can cast YouTube videos from your Android/iOS/Windows 10 mobile app to this app by adding this TV in your phone’s YouTube app. So now during a get together even my friends can queue videos on YouTube on my TV by adding my TV to their phones.

Or, you can use the inbuilt HappyCast app to play content on your TV via DLNA.

Apps

Technically, you can install any app from Google Play store on Zidoo X9S but not all apps are optimized for a TV’s interface and remote control. You can also install apps like TVFPlay, Voot etc. Do send feedback to developers of your favorite app to optimize it for TV.

Tripling with Tiago on TVFPlay app
Tripling with Tiago on TVFPlay app
Sharing Files
  1. You can install Flud and download torrents directly to Zidoo X9S.
  2. You can connect a Pen Drive to this box and copy/paste files.
  3. You can send files to and from this box via ShareIt, Xander etc
Network share

Zidoo X9S can access network share over Samba and NFS using its inbuilt explorer. Windows 10 uses Samba sharing by default, you can read how to share a folder in Windows from here.

After this, just go to Explorer in Zidoo X9S -> Left tap on remote control -> Select SMB and it will show folders shared.

SMB Shares from Windows
SMB Shares from Windows
Movies folder over SMB
Movies folder over SMB

I have a TP Link W8968 Router which has a USB port so I just connected an external hard disk to it, enabled Storage sharing in Router settings and it showed them too.

Network share from Router
Network share from Router
Contents from hard disk connected to router
Contents from hard disk connected to router

And guess what, it is a Miracast device too so even Continuum works from my Windows Phone.

Even Continuum works
Even Continuum works

You can also connect a keyboard and mouse to this box and work on it like a computer.

The inbuilt apps are enough to start with. If you need a Media center app then Zidoo provides a customized version of Kodi called Zidoo Media Center (ZDMC). It is just Kodi (Jarvis) with Zidoo bundled optimizations. I don’t use it much as I don’t use streaming media or library.

Overall, Zidoo X9S is a very good Android TV box which can be used for next 5 years easily and can be used with 4k TV in future when 4k content becomes more mainstream.

Update: Based on questions…

I purchased this from AliExpress for $ 139 after $ 10 discount. This is their top most model with Dolby Atmos passthrough etc.

However, majority of population does not need all the features provided by Zidoo X9S and will never be able to use it anyway. For a simple and less costly alternative you can buy Zidoo A5S from AliExpress for around $ 90.

Zidoo A5S runs the same software as X9S with same hardware decoding etc. Difference in hardware is as follows

  1. Zidoo X9S can use an internal SATA hard disk with a bundled connecting cable. A5 can not. But this has no real world usage. If you want to use an external hard disk, just connect a external USB Hard disk to A5S.
  2. Zidoo A5S has 2 USB 2.0 ports. Zidoo X9S has 2 USB 2.0 + 1 USB 3.0 port.
  3. Zidoo X9S has HDMI in so you can do recording from any HDMI source such as TV.
  4. Zidoo X9S has external antenna. This won’t matter if your TV area gets good WiFi.

Zidoo A5S is available for $ 79 on AliExpress with $10 discount included from seller Unipro. This translates to around ? 5,400 as per today’s exchange rates. For something which you will use every day for next 3+ years, the cost comes to be around ? 5/day assuming you or your kids don’t break it.

Sound Blaster Roar

Ever since I purchased a TV I was looking for a good speaker system to complement it. I was looking for a solution which I can use with any and all devices I have or I will have in future such as my Lumia 925 or Dell Venue 7. My search ended with Creative Sound Blaster Roar.

I liked Roar because it has the signature sound quality of Creative Labs. Creative also has very good presence in the Indian market in terms of availability and service. Also, people seem to be satisfied with this speaker set judging by reviews on Amazon.

This review is not about technical aspects of Roar. To know that just visit the official homepage of Roar where you can find the RMS, power rating, connectivity options etc.

Unboxing

The package comes with bare minimum items. You get the speaker, one power cable, one MicroUSB cable and user manual.

The package
The package
Box contents
Box contents
The speaker
The speaker
As speakers with PC

To start with I used this speaker with my PC. One good thing about Roar is that you can connect it to a Desktop or Laptop using a Micro USB cable and SoundBlaster control panel which will install this as a separate audio device in Windows or Mac while bypassing inbuilt audio solution.

Creative says that you can also connect your Roar to PlayStation 4 via USB and use as a dedicated audio output. I cannot test this as I don’t have a PlayStation 4.

Sound Blaster Control Panel
Sound Blaster Control Panel
Control Panel
Using “Dynamic Boost” mode with a movie

This is good if you are using on-board audio/speaker in your desktop or laptop which is often not high on quality. However, if you are using a dedicated sound card such as Asus Xonar DG or something from Sound Blaster series then it is advised to connect this speaker to your sound card.

Connected to PC via USB
Connected to PC via USB

This USB connection mode and Sound Blaster control panel also gives a game mode. I did not test this mode as for games I prefer headphones which gives better and accurate sound positioning in games compared to any speaker set.

As portable speaker

Roar has a 6,000 Mah battery inbuilt which gives it around 8 hours play back time when used as a portable speaker. This makes it good for rooftop parties, road trips or during bonfire. With a wide sound stage and loud output it will fit in this scenarios easily.

Connecting to my Lumia 925 was easy using NFC. Just a tap at the “NFC” area gave me option to pair over Bluetooth. Roar supports Bluetooth AptX codec which resulted in improvement in quality when used with my Lumia 925.

Connected as Bluetooth device
Connected as Bluetooth device

You can also connect your phone with a 3.5mm AUX cable. Due to its 6,000 MaH battery Roar can also be used as a power bank for your phone.

Roar has a Micro SD slot at the back side. This is good and convenient because during road trips or rooftop parties I can just dump all my music in a SD card then insert it in Roar and play. This will save battery used in Bluetooth. This kind of turns your Roar in a big iPod Shuffle.

However, in this mode you will need to go again and again to Roar if you want to change a song or change volume. A RF remote should be given at this cost. But I guess this is a low use case as most people will just play songs over Bluetooth and control using their phones.

A neat feature is the ability to record audio and save in SD card when using Roar as a speakerphone. Kind of handy if you are using Roar in a meeting room.

Another good feature of Roar is to use it with another roar in daisy chain and playing audio over Bluetooth. I don’t know how useful this feature will be as I don’t have two Roars.

Daisy chain mode

As sound bar for TV

Finally, the primary use case for which I got this speaker. The speakers in my LG 42LB550A TV are basic but it is good that LG gives RCA output. I connected my Roar to TV using RCA to 3.5mm audio cable.

Playing Uptown Funk on my TV using Teewe and Roar
Audio quality with PC

My first observation was the loudness of this speaker set. This easily filled my Man Cave. I listened to various songs and movies with SBX mode enabled as well as disabled and with SBX enabled the audio quality was indeed much better. The Roar function which is enabled by double tapping the “Roar” button on device further increases the sound stage.

In movie mode the vocals were very clear with an option to make them further clear at the loss of background music with “Clear Dialog” mode.

The bass is very high for my taste so I did some adjustment in SB Control Panel to change this. Listening to music in SBX default mode was eargasming after bass adjustment.

Audio quality with TV

My wife watches TV shows so she is  a better judge of audio quality than me for TV usage. She immediately told me that the vocal audio in Roar is better compared to Gigaworks T20. My DTH connection is Tata Sky HD.

Watching a movie on TV with Roar while streaming via my Teewe gave similar result to using it with PC but without the SBX sound enhancement control available in PC. However the audio quality was very good with mids and highs clearly defined. The bass value increased again which I had to reconfigure. The TerraBass feature is useful only for extreme bass lovers.

As soundbar with TV
As soundbar with TV
Audio quality in music

This is where Roar truly shines. Roar fires audio upwards so it fills entire room with sound. I like the audio quality but you might need to adjust the bass according to your taste.

______________________________________________

I believe I have found a very good speaker system with Roar. Even better is the fact that unlike an expensive sound bar from LG or Philips which are big, Roar can be used as a portable speaker system while giving similar audio output. This immediately increases its utility. I strongly recommend Roar to anyone who is looking to buy a sound bar speaker system for any use case they can think of.

I will be updating this blog post regularly with my experience with this speaker.

Nokia N8 – Also a Mini PC

Right now, I am in the middle of shifting my house so I am without Internet at home. The only way to access internet is through 3G Data plan in my Nokia N8.

However, tethering is costly in terms of bandwidth. My Vodafone 3G data plan in India is limited to 1 GB so it is better to use internet in phone. So, I thought about something and tried to use my Nokia N8 with my Samsung P2370MS monitor as a mirrored screen.

IT WORKS

All you need is a HDMI cable & connect your monitor to Nokia N8 via mini hdmi to hdmi convertor supplied with N8.

Everything you see in your N8 will be visible in monitor too. The only issue is that the output is not 1080p which is native resolution of my monitor. I think the resolution via HDMI to monitor was limited to nHD only.

After this, you can use any generic keyboard and mouse via the USB OTG cable supplied with your N8. In my case I am using my Microsoft Wireless Desktop 6000 v3.0. I just plugged in the USB receiver in my N8 and I immediately saw a cursor in my phone & visible in monitor. Mouse movement was choppy but workable. Keyboard was working flawlessly.

The Windows key mapped to “menu” of Nokia Belle OS and showed me all the app. However, I haven’t been able to figure out what key combination to use for showing the task switcher. I tried alt+tab, ctrl+ tab etc but they did not work. I had to use an app for this from Nokia Store called “Task switcher” or something.

Here are some screenshots of the process

This is just another reason among many due to which Nokia and Symbian rocks.

Vectir : The only remote control you will need

When I had my old Sony Ericsson K750i  it had a feature using which I could control Windows Media Player or any other compatible media player using my phone over Bluetooth. It was quite a useful feature as I didn’t need to buy a Windows Media Centre remote to control the media players. Besides, its just one less device to deal with as K750i used to do it all.

After buying my Nokia N79, I was missing this feature a lot & was looking desperately for some application which could give me this or similar feature. I tried various application for my N79 but either some of them refused to connect or just didn’t work. Few days ago I tried Vectir & to my surprise, it worked flawlessly with my N79 & Windows  7.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Vectir works by installing the application on your system  & installing a small Java based app on your mobile phone. All you have to do is to start the application on your PC and then start the application on your phone. Once the Phone app has started, it will search for your computer, after which you can connect either automatically or if Bluetooth serial port service is not installed in the computer then by setting a COM Port manually.

It also supports connecting via WiFi but this I wasn’t able to test as I don’t have a WiFi card in my desktop.

Once configured, you can also change the keypad shortcuts to your liking. This I liked as now I have almost same keypad shortcuts for both Windows Media Player & Media Centre.

What I like about Vectir is that it doesn’t come in your way when using. You just start the application on your computer & it can continue to work in the background. I would have appreciated if it could run as a service, as once configured, we don’t need to see the configuration part again.

Since Vectir is still quite new & considering Windows 7 was jut released, I hope the developers do decide to include some features like jumplist support in future as the entire right click menu of Vectir tray icon can come in a jumplist.

A more native UI to Windows 7 would also be appreciated though its not as important currently because once running, users will hardly see it again as it runs completely transparent in your system. The entire UI of Vectir is made in WPF & being a .net application, not only it is fast but also secure & efficient on RAM.

Currently Vectir runs with any mobile phone supporting Java based apps whether it is normal keypad based or Touch Screen. It is one app which you should sure try before buying a Media Centre remote for your PC.

You can download a trial and check how good it works for you.

Windows Diary

I was thinking today, what happened to the good old diary we used to keep in real life? Where did it go, has it vanished somewhere? It seems that it really has vanished, or maybe the form is changed.

We now spend so much time on computers, why not have a diary which we can password protect or share with other family members. So far I have not seen any compelling diary application for Windows so I decided to make a concept UI as I am not a software developer. Now if only like always I could find a software developer willing to make this a reality. Presenting Windows Diary…

Windows Diary uses a database to save all the diary entries. You just start the app & select the date from the calendar on the sidebar which you can show or hide using the sidebar button on the task toolbar & click on the “New Diary Entry” button on the toolbar. You can have multiple diary entries per day & multiple pages per entry. You can edit, add music, video or image to the diary, export the diary entry as a PDF or XPS or mail it to anyone. Then you have the Show/Hide sidebar & Options button.

You can also search for a particular diary entry by name, tag, or date using the integrated search field.

I don’t know much, what else would you require in a diary application? Or is there any idea using which I can make it further simple? Let me know in the feedback.

Compression Plugin made by Web Hosting