There is a new Android TV Box player in town and it goes by the name VidOn Box. There are already a wide number of Android TV Box manufacturers currently in the market. Furthermore, these devices also face tough competition from established players like the Apple TV, Roku and even Amazon TV. So does the VidOn Box have what it takes to stand out and survive under such intense competition?
The VidOn Box arrived in a plain looking black box with just the VidOn logo on the top of the box plus a tiny label at the bottom that provides the product specs, a barcode plus a couple of safety ratings logos. There are no loud symbols proclaiming Android Kit Kat or XBMC or Full HD 1080p. We really like the look of the box. Simple and classy.
The zen design of the box continues on the inside. The VidOn Box unit is located on one side and covered with a piece of foam for protection. On the other half of the box is yet another simple black box. There are 3 icons on the smaller box – manual, controller and power adapter – which is exactly what this box contains.
We are particularly impressed with the included IR remote. It looks a lot like the Minix Neo M1 controller which is a RF air mouse controller. The VidOn Box controller is very well designed, looks real good, has a nice heft to it and it is by far, the best looking RF controller that comes packed with an Android TV Box that we have ever seen.
The instruction manual is also worth mentioning about. For once the instructions are actually quite useful. Besides explaining the contents of the box and all the interface ports at the back of the unit, It actually has clear instructions on how to setup the system with a TV, a home theater setup via optical cable and lastly a home theater setup using just HDMI cables.
It also has instructions on how to use the IR remote and lastly a QR code that you can scan with your Android phone to download a free app that allows you to use your home as a remote for the VidOn Box. The entire instruction manual is printed on a classy looking folded black paper with gold printing. It is nice to see someone taking so much care and consideration for the instruction manual.
The power adapter is a standard power a standard one. There is one last thing in the box and it is a 1 year VidOn Membership Top Up Card. We will discuss more about this later on in our review. You may have also noticed that we make no mention of HDMI or USB cables because none are included. This may have been a big deal a few years ago but nowadays most people do have a spare cable or two lying around. But still, it would be nice to have all the required cables in the box so that you don’t have to go hunting for one.
The VidOn Box player itself is like a flattened cylinder. The design has a retro feel to it especially with the matte gold coating. The gold casing is actually made from aluminum and it gets warm (although not hot) when in use. The casing probably acts as a heat sink to dissipate the heat from inside the unit.
At the rear of the unit is the Wi-Fi antenna, a reset button, the optical SPDIF port, 2 USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI 1.4 port, a 10/100 Ethernet LAN port and the DC power jack. There are no other buttons or ports on the other sides of the box. The front of the unit does have an power LED that lights up when the unit is powered up. The IR receiver is also located on the front although it cannot be seen.
VidOn Box Specifications
The VidOn Box Quad-core Android player is powered by an Allwinner A31s chipset. The A31s has a Cortex-A7 quad-core CPU that is paired with a PowerVR SGX544MP2 8-core GPU. If you have been keeping up with the ARM-based chipsets that are used to power Android TV boxes, you will know that the Allwinner A31s is a little old and most newer boxes are powered by faster and more powerful chipsets like the ARM Cortex-A9 based Amlogic S802 or the ARM Cortex-A17 based Rockchip 3288. On the other hand, the VidOn Box is priced lower than its competition including budget models from Minix.
The Allwinner A31s was a really popular processor and it was used in many devices coming out of China, especially tablet computers. It is by no means a poor option but it is rather strange to see a brand new box that is still using it. It does have what it takes to power up a device that is primarily used for playing and streaming videos.
The VidOn Box also comes with 1 GB of DDR3 RAM and 8GB of internal storage. It also comes installed with Android KitKat 4.4.
VidOn Box Performance
Upon startup, the VidOn Box guides the user through the entire set up process with a very easy to follow step-by-step process. You start off by selecting the language and then followed with setting up the video display and also audio output. For audio, you can select HDMI or SPDIF and you can also choose to have the audio do a pass through or not. Audio pass through is useful for those who have a separate AV receiver for transcoding surround sound audio signals and send them to a surround sound speaker or home theater system.
Next comes setting up network connection either via WiFi or Ethernet. Once that is done, the system automatically checks for firmware update. If it detects an available update, it proceeds to download and install the latest update. During setup, the unit prompted to install the lastest SDK 1.2 update. The update is more than 300 MB and took quite awhile to download even on a fast connection. If your unit requires an update, you can take some time to chill out as it will take about 15 to 20 minutes for the full update. There may also be more the one update package available.
The next part of the installation requires you to input your VidOn Membership details. Strangely, there is no option to sign up for a membership right from the installation screen so you will have to do this on your computer or on a mobile device. This is also where the VidOn Membership card comes in handy. On the VidOn.me website, you will need to key in a login name and password as well as the subscription code from the card. Fortunately, it only takes a minute at most to sign up for an account.
With the login info on hand, you can now proceed with the installation process on the VidOn Box. Incidentally, there is a check box on this screen. In case you are wondering what it says, it checks if the user is from China. We are not sure what happens if you do check the box but we suspect it has something to do with the Google Play Store app. Users from within China are not able to access the Play Store so the app may be removed for these users.
This completes the setup and you are presented with what VidOn calls the VidOn Media Center. This is a truly no frills interface with just a couple rows of icons and 3 group headings at the top – My Apps, Files and Settings. Most other players we have come across gives an option of a customized launcher or the default Android launcher at first run but the VidOn Box doesn’t. If you don’t like the launcher, you will have to fiddle around with the settings.
However, once you launch the included XBMC app, everything seems to fall into place. XBMC is designed to be easily controlled using a TV remote so the included IR remote works great. If you are a fan of XBMC, you will love this version that runs on Android as it works just as well and runs just as smoothly when compared to the PC version.
As expected, the XBMC media player runs just about anything you can throw at it including TS, MP4, MKV, AVI and VOB files. If you have Blu-Ray ISO files (including 3D ones), the VidOn Box can play them with full support for Blu-Ray menus. However, this feature is only available for subscribers of the VidOn Membership. As you remember, each box comes with a full year subscription. You will have to decide if it is worth extending your subscription to keep this feature after the year is up.
The reason that VidOn is insisting on this subscription service is that the company is actively supporting the development of the Android version of XBMC especially for Allwinner and Amlogic devices. Subscribers can expect the latest features and the best version of XBMC on the VidOn Box. Also, with a subscription, updates for XBMC can be downloaded over the air for hassle free updates.
The other feature that the subscription opens up is the support for HD Audio Output. While we can understand the need for a subscription service to keep on supporting development on XBMC, purposely crippling a hardware feature leaves a bad taste in our mouth. We hope that this is something that VidOn will consider enabling for all users regardless of subscription status.
It is very obvious that the VidOn Box is mainly targeted for users who want a quick and easy way to run XBMC on a TV with very little hassle and setup. Of course, if you have the time and the know-how, you can easily set up something similar using any of the other existing Android set top boxes. It is a very budget friendly media player that works great with XBMC although you do have to take into consideration of the VidOn Membership subscription.
If you are hoping to use the VidOn Box for other tasks such as 3D gaming, you are probably better off looking at the many S802 and RK3288 based players out there.