Zappiti Pro 4K HDR

 


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Zappiti needs no big introduction. They have been in the media player industry for many years now and back in the (older) days they were known for their, second to none, movie poster wall implementation (software).

Their latest and greatest media player is the higher end model, Zappiti Pro 4K HDR that now occupies the flagship slot in their lineup and will be tested in all major sections in our review below.


Packaging – Specifications

Following the basic principles of a ultra high range (Zappiti’s alternate choice for high end?) device , the full rack size of the main unit translated to a big packaging. By adding the protective measures, you easily understand that we are dealing with a very large box.

Inside you will find the main unit, power cables for all regions (the transformer is located inside the unit), a quality HDMI braided sleeved cable, the IR extender, one Ethernet cable (Cat5e), the backlit IR remote, a USB flash drive (for restoring purpose) and detailed documentation.  The included bundle is rich and we can’t find anything that could be missing.

Specifications list is probably as good as it gets. The large form factor allows for two HDD trays and excessive I/O connectivity.

In detail, the established Realtek RTD1295 SoC retains its place in the Zappiti lineup while the unit is equipped with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of ROM. Zappiti chose once again the RTD1295 SoC instead of the RTD1296 one.

I/Os are very rich with:

  • 2x 3.5” HDD trays (Up to 32TB)
  • 1x HDMI 2.0 out (Main)
  • 1x HDMI 1.4 out (Audio only)
  • 1x Optical out
  • 1x Coaxial out
  • 1x CVBS out
  • 1x IR extender port
  • 1x 6.35mm Headphone jack
  • 1x USB3.0 port
  • 3x USB2.0 ports (two on the front)
  • 1x USB type C
  • 1x Zero signal port (additional grounding)

Networking is also excellent with a wired Gigabit LAN and a Dual (detachable) antenna, Dual-band protocol wireless module. Bluetooth is supported via the 4.0 protocol.

As a high(er) end media player, the Zappiti Pro 4K HDR unit includes some features not commonly found on other rival implementations. These include a better backlit IR remote (different than the ones found on cheaper models), a second HDMI out dedicated for audio (for use with older A/Vs) and gold plated ports for HDMI and analog connectors. The zero signal port (for connection to a free RCA input connector of your AV receiver acting as additional grounding) also promises optimization of the audio signal transmission while the high-quality power supply (using  R-Core transformer) promises better audio and video performance (especially audio) by minimizing magnetic field interference while maintaining extremely low signal to noise ratio. The added features are concluded with the 6.35mm headphone connector in order for you to connect your quality monitor headphones without the use of a 6.35mm to 3.5mm adapter. The unit offers no additional headphone amplifier which is something to consider in case your headphones require one.

A great media player is not only about hardware but software as well. Zappiti did not cut any corners there too since it supports all the features expected at this price point and then some. 4K/HDR, auto frame rate switching with proper 23.976 motion handling, HD Audio pass-through (DTS X and Dolby ATMOS included) and DVD/BD/UHD menu navigation are all supported. Zappiti also includes a unique feature called “direct output”. By enabling this option you bypass any internal processing (Zappiti’s magic pixel enhancer for example) while at the same time able to deselect/remove unsupported resolutions (4K if you have a 1080p only display etc.) For last, Zappiti promises better HDR to SDR conversion than the competition by implementing their custom made gamut mapping formula to convert BT.2020 into BT.709.

And for last we have Zappiti’s custom software wizardry related to probably the best Cover Art indexing in the market for movies and TV shows.

All the above are really promising and the “high end” label is not far from the truth (as far as media players are concerned). The only thing we missed in relation to its price category is a branded, quality DAC that would be a great match with the quality power supply for even better, quality audio playback.


 

 

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Media Player – Remote

Zappiti Pro 4K HDR is impressive. You get a full rack size unit (430mm width) with properly rounded feet and sleek, clean-cut design. You also get premium looks with the black, brushed aluminum surface and the clean front HDD lid sporting only the “Z” letter. The later drops vertically revealing the two 3.5” HDD trays. Both the lid as well as the trays feel robust and should cause no problems with regular use. Mounting your hard disk drives is pretty easy and secure. You can use up to 2x16TB drives, so a total of 32TB storage space should be enough, even for the most demanding users who wish to store their files locally. The 6.35mm gold plated headphone jack at the front was a nice surprise (it is the preferred jack for top-performing headphones) but we would also like to see it paired with an additional DAC/amplifier. Compared to other rival solutions, you don’t get a screen but you gain a more premium feeling instead. There is also a stand by button with a distinctive blue LED that can be turned off from the remote.

The backside is also impressive. You get extended connectivity with some options not easily (or at all) found anywhere else. Having three HDMI connections is definitely not common. You get two HDMI outs, with one them being utilized for audio out only. The audio out can be used in case you own a receiver not capable of 4K pass-through. This way you can connect the HDMI main directly to your TV/Projector and the Audio output to your receiver for (HD) Audio. Even if you own a 4K compatible receiver, feeding directly the TV/Projector eliminates any type of (video) processing (coming from the A/V receiver) thus making sure that you get a clean “monitor” image. This makes sense even more if you enable the unit’s direct video output option from the Zappiti service option. The third HDMI (Input) connection is for video recording. You can record any (HDCP protected) input up to 1080p, Stereo in TS or MPEG4 format. The resulted recording is above average and you are also allowed to project the input video in full screen if you desire. You can definitely count as premium features the additional RCA for ideal grounding (named “Zero Signal”) and the port for connecting the included IR remote extender for remote placement of the main unit. In case you are using wired LAN connectivity, you can omit the Wi-Fi antennas since they are both detachable.

The biggest upgrade most likely is the new, embedded inside the chassis, power supply featuring a large R-Core transformer for better efficiency, lower interference and cleaner playback performance, mostly for audio PCM. When we opened the top lid, we were pleasantly suprised with the clean design and choice of components. Wima and Nichicon capacitors were recognizable upon the first glance at the board. The interior was properly arranged with excessive use of cable ties and correct cable routing. In the media player world and as far as internal design and choice of components is concerned, you will not get a better device than this.

All the above translates to a main unit weighing approximately 7kg. Really nice!

The remote is a brand new one for the Zappiti Pro 4K HDR range. It is very similar to the one we found in the Dune HD Pro 4K model. It is big enough, comfortable, with numeric keys and with a backlight option. In contrary to the rest of the Zappiti remotes this one is a lot prettier, less bulky and enabling backlight requires only a press of a dedicated button. Pressing it once again turns the backlight off. We certainly prefer this way over the auto-enable for a few seconds one usually found in cheaper options. There are also programmable keys and the IR range is superb with the implementation of a wide range IR sensor. There will be no need for precise targeting. It is the first time where we really didn’t miss BT connectivity.


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Menus – Settings

Zappiti’s graphical user interface (GUI) although based on stock Android by utilizing a main screen and an application drawer, is eye-pleasing due to its simple, minimal design. In the main screen you will only find three very large (media player friendly) icons corresponding only to dedicated media playing features, Video (Movie/TV Shows Wall), Explorer (File manager for easier access) and Music (Zappiti’s music playback software). You do get an extra row at the bottom for shortcuts of your liking.

You don’t get a dedicated, customized settings menu, but instead, Zappiti offers the “Zappiti Service” application that allows you to access some exclusive features like Direct output which bypasses all internal video processing (including Magic Pixel) thus providing a more accurate, native image. In order for you to access settings like HDMI Audio out (RAW/LPCM etc.) or HDMI resolution, you will have to use the classic Android menu. Furthermore, very important video options should be easier to access, since deep color and color space options are located in the developer’s menu. This is probably our only complain as far as software is concerned. 

  The following settings worked best for us:

  • Direct output enabled (you can deselect any unsupported resolutions of your display) from Zappiti Service
  • Force resolution enabled from Zappiti Service
  • Auto frame rate enabled from Android menu
  • HDMI Audio to auto from Android menu
  • HDMI color can be conveniently selected from the internal player during playback. 
  • * To avoid color banding during UHD playback, you may have to select different HDMI color/color space options from the developer’s menu.

Ideally, if you select the correct settings based on your setup, you will never have to change them again.


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Testing

This is where it all comes down to, actual performance. In short, there was no key area where Zappiti flagship disappointed us.

Music playback was better than the competition, especially via PCM and RCA connectivity. The pre-installed Zappiti Music Player had excellent performance supporting all popular (or not) formats. We had no issues with multichannel FLAC or 24-bit ones, CD image and most popular file types. With the additional support of the large (for a media player) quality power supply, the result was as clean as possible for the price range (having in mind the lack of a dedicated branded DAC).

But most will purchase the Zappiti Pro 4K HDR model for its video playback capabilities. By being based on the now dependable Realtek RTD1295 SoC that is specifically optimized for video features, we were certain that it would not disappoint. And that was the case but with added features mostly originating from Zappiti’s dedicated software tweaks.

For starters, we performed all our tests by using the best possible connectivity options offered: The main video out was connected to our 4K TV set (or 1080p projector), while the secondary HDMI Audio only out was connected to our A/V receiver. We also enabled direct out in order to get the most accurate picture quality possible. The direct out mode appears to be less tuned and way closer to the original “source monitor image”  than the default video output implementing the MagicPixel v2.5 enhancing (slightly warmer image, more eye-pleasing). If your preference leans towards the MagicPixel tuning you can always select it. If you intend to calibrate your TV or projector, you should do it with the direct out mode (our opinion). The unit also received an ISF (IMAGING SCIENCE FOUNDATION) certification, not an easy thing to achieve in the media player industry.

Video playback quality is perfect with very good 24p motion handling in all cases. 4K+HDR is, of course, supported just like all latest and greatest audio codecs, DTS: X and DOLBY ATMOS. Our HDMI analyzer confirmed the aforementioned even though both MaxCLL or MaxFALL information were constantly at zero (Realtek minor bug, Zappiti is already on it for a future fix). The true values are available from the file information menu. Image quality appeared to be accurate when compared with an HTPC (tested with both RX580 and RTX2060 VGAs). You also get a very clean picture with the direct video mode. Sound quality (especially via PCM) could be slightly enhanced due to the better power supply and different HDMI clock when sound is outputted by the auxiliary, sound only, HDMI port. You should own a speaker setup capable to take advantage of these fine small details though. There are also a lot of subtitle options (color, size, position, font compatibility) that can be applied. Vertical position works also with PGS subtitles (not in menu navigation mode) which is great for the majority of users owning projector screens with added masking. The 3D format is properly handled and supports MVC files aside from the usual .ISO ones. Video upscaling from an SD source is basic due to the lack of a dedicated special processing. You should be able to enjoy your DVD backups just fine though (we found the processing of our Lumagen unit superior, but that is normal since it costs a lot more than the Zappiti unit alone).

Video file type compatibility was also great since all popular codecs are supported. You will also experience zero issues with your home videos since all video files produced by smartphones (Samsung S7 Edge/iPhone SE, X/Xiaomi Mi 9) or camcorders (Sony AX33) had exemplary performance. Zappiti Pro 4K HDR also supports DVD/Blu-Ray/UHD menu navigation for both your backup rips and ISO images. Minor incompatibilities are to be expected just like in any other Realtek based media player. You can always choose the simple playback to avoid any hassle in case of a tricky title. 

If KODI is your thing, the latest Leia 18.2 version works very well with the Zappiti, even though not all features are supported (auto frame rate switching and menu navigation among others). At least HD Audio passthrough works properly.

Wired network performance was excellent even with very high bit-rate 4K files. Skipping chapters is handled instantly with no lags or buffering delays. You must be aware that in order to do so, your network setup should be up to par (Gigabit certified components). Wireless performance was also very good since almost all of our 1080p Blu-Ray backups had no buffering issues. Just like in the wired connection, your access point should also be up to the task (high-speed dual band with good range)

We also got a speedy internal ROM flash module capable of ~ 140mb/s read and 65mb/s write transfer speeds. A good module can be beneficial when it comes to application launching and quick background Play Store updates (we suggest to disable auto-updating).


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Zappiti Software

The exclusive Zappiti software is a major selling point for their whole lineup. The flagship model is no exception.

The one that stands out the most is Zappiti Video. In short it is Zappiti’s solution for a movie wall. Compared to the competition, Zappiti Video takes advantage of Zappiti’s servers in order to store movie info/metadata of your collection. You will only have to register once and you will be good to go. The main procedure is to store your movies inside a “MOVIES” folder and your TV shows inside a “TVSHOWS” one. After the relatively fast scanning, you will end up with an eye-pleasing and heavily customizable poster wall. The results are also very accurate but in case of a miss-match it is very easy to correct the result on your own. You can change literally everything. From the cover and background photos, all the way up to film’s description, actors and eve movie file info! (Video, codec, audio codec, resolution, frame rate etc.) The same applies to TV Shows. Did we mention the background music related to each title while browsing? How cool is that? Our only minor complaint is that the access to each title’s trailer is via the settings menu and not from the title’s poster. You also get Zappiti’s subtitle download service that does not require registration or log in to a 3rd party service.

Zappiti Explorer is actually a file manager to access your HDDs, NAS or Server directly without using Zappiti Video. It is as simple as it sounds and with one click on the video/audio file of your selection the playback will start. It still supports menu navigation and the same video player will be launched with the full set of features (4K/HDR, auto frame rate switching, HD Audio etc.). The only thing missing is the option for downloading subtitles that is available only with Zappiti Video. We had no issues accessing all popular network types (SMB, DLNA).

Zappiti Music is obviously the music playback application. While there is no music scrapping available (probably for the better since we have yet to experience any decent implementation so far), the application can automatically recognize and display images inside the music folder. Playback quality is great and supports a wide range of music file types.

Zappiti also provides better control via smartphones and tablets (Both iOS and Android are supported) with the Zappiti Video Control and Music applications. 


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Android

We haven’t mentioned anything so far related to the operating system used. This is due to the fact that, with the exception of the Android classic settings menu, it is not required anywhere else for all the basic and advanced features of this model. You do get some preloaded software but none can be considered as junk or bloatware. Aside from the Play Store, you also get Aptoide pre-installed for more options. Multitasking is only available through the lower bar that can be shown if you have a mouse/keyboard combo like our trusty Logitech K400.  

The device is not pre-rooted and you will find 11GB of available free space after the first boot. For the price point, a larger ROM module could probably be selected.

The overall system response is very good because of the capable SoC and fast storage flash module. Although this model is not optimized, nor advertised, for gaming you will still be able to have many fun hours with Play Store’s 2D and light 3D titles.

Due to limited DRM licensing, video streaming services like Netflix will be limited to 480p resolution. For the same reason, Google cast is also not supported and you will have to use 3rd party apps instead. You-Tube can go all the way up to 4K if you follow Zappiti’s instructions here. The Google Play variant goes only up to 1080p.

Open WRT is still supported with advanced NAS-like features that now make even more sense with the option of the dual SATA HDD trays. All you need is to enable it from the Android menu and then launch the web-based settings via the Chrome web browser. Open WRT makes even more sense for such a unit supporting up to 32TB of storage but we advise against a continuous 24/7 NAS-type usage. Zappiti Pro 4K HDR is a top-performing media player, not a dedicated NAS.

Zappiti operating system relies on Android 6.0 version. 


Summary

Zappiti Pro 4K HDR is a top performer. Price may be high for many users (in the 700€ range), but this is usually the case when you get special features and high quality build not usually existing in the (media player) competition.

The beautiful aluminum quality chassis with the high-quality power supply, the direct output video mode with the resolutions limiter, the great image quality, the three HDMI ports, the extended connectivity options, and the excessive software tweaking is not something you can easily find.  

Even “branded” UHD disc players of equivalent pricing cannot match the local network streaming capabilities of this media player and usually lack most of the capabilities that Zappiti software has to offer (Movie/TV Shows collection, Smartphone/Tablet usability, Menu navigation). Dolby Vision support is the only feature missing but most will not mind its absence (few titles, not applicable to projectors that usually require tone mapping)  since only a handful of titles are released so far. As far as build quality (power supply, PCB board and quality components) and design is concerned, the Pro 4K HDR is probably the best available media player.

It is easy to recommend the Zappiti Pro 4K HDR model. You can get 85-90% of its performance from other, more affordable Zappiti 4K HDR media players but if you are willing to spend the amount of money required to get the most out of your setup, it is a totally safe choice (you would only have to choose between this and a few other competitive models) ensuring all the aforementioned benefits.

We would like to thank Zappiti for sending over a review sample for a non-sponsored and unbiased review.