Zidoo Z9S


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Zidoo enjoys the spotlight recently with its latest Realtek RTD1296DD SoC based media players. After the more premium X20 and X20 Pro models (you can read our review of the first here), Zidoo released their consumer models, Z9S and Z10. Today we are reviewing the first which is a direct successor to the successful X9S model released almost two years ago.


 

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Packaging – Specifications

The new model arrived inside a slightly bigger cardboard box than its predecessor. The media player itself has the same size so the increased dimensions mostly have to do with the larger remote.

Inside you will find the media player itself, the new backlit remote control, a SATA connector for external HDD connection, an HDMI cable, the power brick and some basic documentation. Batteries for the remote are not included so you will have to buy them yourself.

Specifications are really impressive, especially in terms of connectivity.

The new Realtek RTD1296 (64-bit Quad-core Cortex A53 processor and the Mali-T820MP3 ) lineup is still equipped with 2GB of RAM which is no surprise since the higher end X20 model had the same memory size as well. It should suffice for flawless video playback. 16GB of fast eMMC flash memory fill the bill in terms of pre-installed memory modules.

As we mentioned, connectivity is superb with 2x USB3.0 ports, 2x USB2.0 ones, 2x SATA3.0 ports, 1x HDMI2.0a out (up to 4K@60 with HDR10 support. No Dolby Vision so far), 1x HDMI2.0 In, 1x Composite out and 1x Optical out for legacy A/V receivers. The list is really complete and it will be hard to find anything else to ask for. Especially, users owning lots of external drives will be delighted since USB/SATA drive swapping will not be required.

Network connectivity is also top-notch with 1x Gigabit RJ45 port, Dual band high-speed wireless 867Mbps MIMO module with two integrated high gain antennas and Bluetooth BT4.2 connection protocol.

For the first time, a Zidoo Realtek based model is using Android 7.1 operating system. Judging from the “software custom work” of the past years based on Android 6.0, we are curious to see how the new APIs affect the overall performance.

The feature list in terms of software optimization is still solid. Full 4K HEVC compatibility, full HD Audio bit-streaming (ATMOS and DTS X included), Blu-Ray/UHD menu navigation of your backup discs combined with auto frame rate and resolution switching. Dolby Vision (still not “mainstream” in terms of releases) and video streaming licensing (Netflix/Amazon Video) aside , it is as good as it gets.


 

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(Dune Pro 4K on top, Zidoo X9S in the middle and the brand new Zidoo Z9S at the bottom! Same chassis!)

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Media Player – Remote

This is the easy part since the new model is practically identical to the X9S one, aside to inputs, outputs and chassis color.

It is still all aluminum with premium feel in terms of build quality. The new silver-ish color is eye-catching which is not always desirable. Its size and dimensions are exactly the same as the older unit’s and the last worth noting difference is the non-detachable pair of antennas that may cause slight issues if you want them folded or removed.

On the sides, the I/Os are identical, with one set of USB ports and one SATA connector for your external drives.

On the front we still find the large display, while at the back we can find the Gigabit Lan, the HDMI pair (input and output), the optical port, the A/V out, the RS232 port (designed for smart house control purposes) and the power in. The Wireless antennas are on each side.

The remote is the brand new one we found with the more expensive X20 model. It now relies on Bluetooth protocol (it is also IR compatible) connection for its communication with the main unit for hassle free operation. The backlit option further enhances the overall user experience. Although there is a light button, each time you press one, their light turns on for a few seconds or so. The button layout is easy to learn and the grip is very comfortable due to its large size. Through the pre-installed app you are able to configure specific buttons with certain apps or actions.


 

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Menus – Settings

User interface is still the same as the one we found in the latest firmware releases of the X9S/X10 models. Tablet-like looking, but with large icons suitable for TV use and aesthetically pleasing design (fonts and background). As it usually happens, we get a main page with the main application and setting shortcuts and an applications page (application drawer) for the full list of applications installed. You can also add shortcuts of your favorite app in main page’s last row.

Although we are really fond of the Nougat settings menu, Zidoo implements its own one that is mainly targeted to easy customization of audio and video options. WRT and advanced settings (not casual) aside, you will never need to launch the Android settings menu.

Zidoo is one of really few manufacturers that include such an advanced set of video options. Frame rate and resolution switching, Blu Ray region, 3D and HDR conversion options, HDMI color mode and color space etc. You will be able to fine tune every aspect. If you don’t know what you are doing, just leave it to auto, since chances are that Z9S will correctly detect your hardware.


 

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Testing

What more can we expect from the successor of an already great performer? The answer is nothing really important but that is usually the case in such scenarios were a top performance was already established from previous models.

The already excellent video performance is present here too. All your UHD/BD disc backups will have proper playback (3D/HDR included) with auto frame rate and resolution switching. You will literally have nothing to be concerned of, with the exception of the “Realtek 4K banding issue” that is resolved if you manually switch to 422 color space. This does not affect 1080p playback. We believe that the new generation offers better HDR->SDR conversion, but it could be a placebo effect ( :p ) so more tests are required.

UHD/BD menu navigation is also supported with some exceptions since video glitches or bugs can be found, normally on Java based menus.

During playback, Zidoo’s internal, fine-tuned, player provides lots of customizations and options, both for audio and video. The automatic subtitle downloading is very handy and works really well.

 The latest audio codecs, Dolby ATMOS and DTS:X, are, as expected, supported and if you intend to connect the Zidoo Z9S directly to your TV set, you can enable the stereo down-mix option that works perfectly.

Although it was not pre-installed, the latest 17.6 KODI based ZDMC application had very good playback. You have the advantage to use the KODI interface and all of its tweaks as the user interface and use Zidoo’s internal player for the playback (instead of the in-built KODI one) for your local streams (USB, NAS/SERVER). Streaming add-ons (none are pre-installed) use only the KODI player and you will have great performance for up to 1080p files. 4K ones may experience hiccups every now and then. It is better to prefer ZDMC instead of normal KODI builds due to better video and audio support.

Support of MP3 and FLAC music files is handled nice, but we only got stereo out from multichannel SACD/DSD tracks. Multichannel FLAC files were treated correctly via HDMI. The Zidoo Music 2.0 app is the best way to listen to and access your music files.  

The raw computing performance of the RTD1296 SoC has average scores compared to other more popular chipsets but extreme gaming was never one of Zidoo’s main selling points. Still, gaming is possible, and enjoyable, for casual 2D and light 3D textured titles.

Internal ROM showed great performance with ~150mb/sec read speeds. This results to fast application launching and better overall system responsiveness. USB3.0 port speed is also good (considering that we are dealing with an ARM based media player) with >75mb/sec reading speeds and >35mb/sec in write mode. Not bad at all. SATA interface was really fast just like we imagined with >200mb/sec read speeds when we connected SSD drives.

Wired LAN Gigabit performance is stellar. High bit-rate UHD files had no issues, just like Blu-Ray ones. Switching chapters and long time-jumps are lag and buffer free, even when during playback of very high bit-rate UHD files.

Wireless performance was also incredible since we were able to stream high bit-rate Remux files with no buffering. The 867Mbps Dual Band module, combined with the new high gain antennas are responsible for such performance. Just make sure that your access point can deliver a strong signal to Zidoo Z9S’s position. 

Unfortunately, HDMI input does not support recording functions like the previous generation did.


 

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Poster Wall

One of Zidoo’s main selling points is the integration of the Home Theater 2.0 poster wall application. In a similar fashion to KODI, Zapitti and Yadis, it scans your (selected) folders for films and TV shows and results in a most impressive poster wall with details on each specific title, actors and film contributors.

Options exist to change the main cover and background photos for each film. There many filters with which you can short out the end result. Genre, Alphabetically, Resolution, Year etc. The information shown for each title is rich and very impressive. In case some files are not recognized properly, you can add them manually. We do miss a trailer section for each movie, but it would be hard to implement since You-Tube is not installed on the device (more on that later).


 

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Android

Zidoo did manage to save a surprise for the new model. Aside from the pre-installed apps, there is no Play Store to be found or any of Google’s famous apps besides Chrome for web browsing.

We are not against it since such a move enhances the video playback profile of the unit even further, but truth is that You-Tube should not be missing from any type of media player.

The comforting thing is that you can eventually install the Play Store manually, or try the Aptoide market. With the above options you can eventually install missing apps like You-Tube or Netflix. You-Tube can go up to 4K with specific apk’s (regular ones go up to 1080p) but Netflix playback supports only SD resolutions due to missing licensing. Amazon Video too.

We got confirmation from Zidoo that the official Play Store is scheduled to return in future firmware updates.


Summary

Zidoo Z9S is another great media player from Zidoo. It’s more evolutionary rather than a revolutionary upgrade compared to the already excellent X9S/X10 models.

It will be hard for existing owners to find a reason to upgrade other than the truly astonishing extended connectivity (including the upgraded Wi-Fi performance) and the new BT, backlit remote. After all, the older generation models will get the same (probably) Nougat update soon.

To summarize, Zidoo offered almost all of X20’s features into the Z9S model. The main differences are the chassis, the HDD trays that are now offered in the form of SATA ports, the omission of the second HDMI out for the sound and the user interface that is less refined. Considering its street price is almost 1/3 of the flagship model, the Zidoo Z9S is a perfect choice for video playback mainly targeted to owners of large films collection stored locally. 

Zidoo Z9S was just released and availability should reach peak levels really soon. Amazon stores included.