If you want to play all video files on a television, you still cannot avoid a separate media player. The file support of smart TVs is insufficient to play video and audio in the best quality. Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable media players and mini PCs. We're testing 10.
Many traditional brands have put the production of media players on the back burner. Just think of well-known names such as Mede8er, Eminent and Dune HD. A striking development, because for many brands there are still plenty of areas for improvement. For example, the processing of Ultra-HD images using the H.265 codec (hevc) is still in its infancy. Moreover, porting Android to a media player is still quite a challenge in practice. Fortunately, all kinds of exotic brands have emerged in the past period that effortlessly fill this gap.
The well-known electronics chains often have outdated media players on the shelves that were released several years ago. Of course, the fourth generation of Apple TV is widely available right now, but this one supports very few media formats. Not interesting if you have a large collection of movie and music files stored on a PC or NAS. To obtain the latest media players from this test, you often end up at specialized web stores. Fortunately, there are enough in the Netherlands, so it is not necessary to import new products from abroad. Some media players from the test are, however, available at various physical stores, such as the Popcorn Hour VTEN and Cood-E TV.
For the operating system of a media player on your television, you can choose from roughly three options. Some manufacturers build their own operating system with the basis developed by the supplier of the chipset. In most cases, that's Realtek or Sigma Designs. Nowadays, more and more media players that run on Android are appearing on the market. A positive development is that the players with this mobile operating system are performing better and offering more options. Compared to a few years ago, the operation is smoother, the user interface is neater and there are fewer bugs. Finally, in the form of HDMI sticks, more and more mini PCs that are equipped with an Intel processor are entering the market. The advantage of this is that these devices support the use of Windows 10 and you therefore in fact have a full-fledged PC. We are curious how these new products perform in practice.
MINIX NEO X6
MINIX is a Hong Kong manufacturer that manufactures all kinds of media players with different operating systems. The NEO X6 is an entry-level model of the brand that houses Android 4.4.2 KitKat. The compact housing is made of plastic and feels somewhat cheap. On the side you have the opportunity to connect external storage media via two USB ports and a microSD card reader. On the back we only see a headphone jack, HDMI port and Ethernet port. This NEO X6 plays most media files flawlessly, although there are also a number of caveats. Although the NEO X6 supports the modern H.265 codec, the maximum resolution is 1080p. This media player will not display H.265 files with a higher resolution. Furthermore, the unit does not pass a DTS-HD Master Audio signal to the amplifier.
MINIX has integrated Android well on this media player by means of a menu of blocks. Installing new apps is no problem and the modified version of Kodi works properly for playing media files. In addition to the Ethernet port, the manufacturer has also added a WiFi adapter. However, it is better to use a wired connection for streaming Full-HD files from a NAS. The network speed of the Ethernet port is fast enough to smoothly display full Blu-ray rips.
MINIX NEO X6
Great Android integration
Good network speed
Excellent value for money
No DTS-HD Master Audio
H.265 support without Ultra HD
NEXXT PC Stick
With the NEXXT PC Stick you actually get a full-fledged mini PC that you can connect to the HDMI input of a computer monitor or screen. The housing behind the HDMI connector is quite wide, so that not every television or amplifier has enough space. Fortunately, the manufacturer supplies an adapter for this. In contrast to the comparable Intel Compute Stick, this copy lacks a fan, so there is no noise production. The HDMI stick has a bare version of Windows 10 on board that you can set up to your own liking.
There is a WiFi antenna for connection to the network. Connect a keyboard and mouse to operate the user environment. You can use Bluetooth or a USB port for this. After turning on the NEXXT PC Stick, you enter the well-known Windows environment. By installing a program like Kodi or VLC media player, this device simply acts as a media player. Playing local media files works fine, partly due to the audio and video codecs that the media software used supports. The Intel Atom processor is fast enough to process the images. Unfortunately, streaming media files is less successful due to the lack of an Ethernet port. Especially for streaming Full-HD images, a wireless connection is quite susceptible to interference.
NEXXT PC Stick
Full-fledged mini PC
Choose your own media program
Unsuitable as a streamer
Windows requires antivirus software
Zappiti Player 4K Duo
If you are looking for a device to store and play media files, then you have come to the right place with the Zappiti Player 4K Duo. You can mount two 3.5-inch drives via handy flaps on the front. The storage capacity is then a maximum of 16 TB. If that's not enough, there are no fewer than five USB ports ready to connect external drives. Zappiti has opted for a housing with a standard width of 43 centimeters for hi-fi components. It is a pity that despite the large dimensions, the French manufacturer has not seen a chance to integrate the power supply within the housing.
Once we turn on the player, three options will appear on the screen. You can build a Zappiti media library with movie information and images. A condition for this is that the exact movie title appears in every file name. The second option is to open a file browser where you can play media files.
The Player 4K Duo does this perfectly, with the device transmitting audio formats such as DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD to an amplifier. Furthermore, the display of H.265 files in Ultra HD is no problem at all. Unfortunately, the file browser does not recognize network resources on its own, so you have to enter IP addresses of media servers manually. The third option is Google Play. You can install all kinds of apps, including Kodi. However, this media program is not adapted for use on a media player, so no sound is sent to the amplifier. In addition to a normal remote control, the manufacturer also supplies a so-called 'air mouse' with a QWERTY keyboard on the back.
Zappiti Player 4K Duo
Two hard drives
Supports all video formats
External power supply
Adding network resources cumbersome
The Ockel Nebula is not officially available at the time of writing, because the manufacturer is still working on improving the user interface. The housing of this media player is made of aluminum and feels very sturdy. With more than one kilogram, the Nebula cannot exactly be called a lightweight. On the side there is room for a 3.5-inch drive via a cover. There are also four USB ports to connect external storage media or control devices. This copy has a beautiful front panel in which a screen and touch-sensitive control buttons are incorporated. In short, a beautiful appearance!
Striking is the presence of an HDMI input with which it is possible to record video files via the built-in recorder. The question is whether anyone in a world of countless missed services is still waiting for that. Unfortunately, testing the content of the Nebula is not yet possible, because the player gives an error message every now and then. We cannot charge the player for this, as the product has not yet been officially released. We did see a glimpse of a menu that you can adjust yourself with a pre-installed version of Kodi. The suggested retail price of the Ockel Nebula has not yet been determined.
Content testing not possible
Popcorn Hour VTEN
Popcorn Hour has been a high-flyer when it comes to media player development for years. The company traditionally uses chipsets from Sigma Designs and that always delivers excellent image quality with bright colors. Logically, Sigma Designs also works a lot with television manufacturers. The design of this VTEN is in line with previous Popcorn Hour products. The housing is not very sparkling, but thanks to the use of aluminum it is very strong. Only an HDMI output is available for image transmission. In addition to HDMI, you can also transmit sound to an amplifier via an optical or coaxial output. Only one USB port is available for connecting USB sources.
Furthermore, Popcorn Hour has equipped the device with an SD card reader and eSATA port. The latter connection is useful when you want to connect an internal hard drive directly to the VTEN.
The neat menu is quite static and mainly focused on displaying your own media files. The player takes this task very seriously. Whatever media file we release on this device, the images appear on the screen in excellent quality. With H.265 support in a maximum resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, this media player is future-proof.
The VTEN also knows what to do with full 3D rips and dsd audio files (sacd). The good thing is that the network speed is high enough to download streams of full Blu-rays from a NAS without stuttering. There is no reason to complain about audio support either, because the VTEN neatly transfers film codecs such as DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Digital to the digital domain of a connected amplifier. Popcorn Hour has set up a corner with downloadable apps, but many don't offer that. These apps are developed by third parties and are usually of poor quality. The price of this media player is a bit on the high side. The American Sigma Designs simply asks a high fee for the use of its media chips and this price is passed on to the consumer. Those who have some extra money to spend for a very broad codec support and optimal video reproduction with warm colors will probably not regret it.
Popcorn Hour VTEN
Excellent image quality
Only one USB port