Update December 2015: New Benchmark score using AnTuTu 6.0
You know the feeling that you’re forgetting something?
It turns out that I’ve forgotten something pretty important. Not on purpose, of course. But, still…
You see, I’ve been using the MINIX NEO X8-H Plus daily for most of this year. It has an important place, right underneath my living room television. It’s surpassed my Xbox 360 as my “go-to” set-top box for Netflix, and HBO Go. It’s even been voted as the “Best Android TV Box” for 2015.
In short, I love it.
The trouble is, I’ve never told you why.
So that’s my slip-up. I’ve been using this TV box for the better part of a year and never written a full review.
It’s time to fix that. So, without any more delay, here’s my long-term MINIX NEO X8-H Plus review.
New for 2015
At the beginning of this year, MINIX announced two new models: the NEO X8 Plus and the NEO X8-H Plus. The NEO X8 Plus was not really a departure from the two previous models in the X8 series. It had almost exactly the same specs as the original X8, but doubled the storage to 16GB.
The top-of-the-line NEO X8-H Plus is by far the more interesting of the two new models. It replaced the wildly popular MINIX NEO X8-H, which happened to win our Best TV Box of 2014 award.
Until now, the entire NEO X8 line was based on the Amlogic S802 CPU series. For their new flagship TV box, MINIX decided to use the more powerful Amlogic S812 chipset instead.
The Amlogix S812 keeps the same basic specs as the S802. It still has a quad-core Cortex A9 and an eight-core Mali 450 GPU. But there are a few extra tweaks under the hood that are great for media streaming TV boxes.
The NEO X8-H Plus includes hardware H.265 video decoding, as well as H.264 that was found in the rest of the X8 lineup. Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac wireless are added in order to better handle heavy streaming bandwidth.
H.265 Video Decoding
What is H.265 and why is that such a big deal?
H.265 is one of the compression formats that Blu-ray discs use. It allows for much higher quality video in a smaller file format.
In other words, you don’t need as much bandwidth (network speed) in order to stream the same quality of video file. Even if you’re showing a video that’s not 4K, this is important, because you’re probably streaming that video to your big-screen TV, and not your small PC monitor, right?
More importantly, it makes a 4K video source look (and stream) better so you have less stuttering, less blotchy video artifacts, and more seamless video playback.
Specs: MINIX NEO X8-H Plus
Quad-Core Cortex A9r4 Processor
Octo-Core Mali 450
802.11ac Dual Band Wi-Fi (2.4GHz/5.0GHz), Bluetooth 4.0
Android™ KitKat 4.4.2
HDMI™ 1.4b, up to 4K @ 30fps
HDMI™ 1.4b, 3.5mm stereo jack, optical SPDIF
Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000Mbps)
SD/MMC card reader (SD 3.0, MMC V4.41), Support HDMI-CEC
USB 2.0 port x 3, OTG port x 1
Microphone jack, Headphone jack,IR receiver (remote included)
DC 5V, 3A adapter included (CE, FCC certified)
Supported Video Format
Supported Audio Format
When I started this site, seeing what was included, and more importantly, what wasn’t included in the box, was a big deal. Now, most manufacturers have gotten pretty good about giving us everything we need to set-up a TV box without having to buy anything extra. Well, except for batteries in most cases. Let’s not go overboard, right?
With that in mind, what’s included with the MINIX NEO X8-H Plus shouldn’t come as a surprise.
It includes a basic infrared (IR) remote control, power adapter, HDMI cable, micro-USB cable and OTG cable, as well as an external dual-band antenna. There are some bundles that you can buy that include either the MINIX NEO A2 air mouse or MINIX M1 gyro-mouse as well. If neither of those are included, and you’re not crazy about the IR remote, then there’s a lot of other air-mice options that will work perfectly well.
Setup was very easy. The Metro-Interface has the same look and feel as the rest of the NEO lineup. This makes it familiar, but a “freshening up” probably wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Every single MINIX TV box I’ve tested has been literally “Plug and Play.” The only challenge is if you’ve purchased a box that shipped with a firmware version before 002, which is when MINIX switched from the old “toothpick method” of upgrades to a much simpler, Firmware Over The Air (FOTA) method.
If you did get one of those older versions, don’t worry, I’ve created a post which will explain how to upgrade the firmware manually. If you’re on a firmware version after 002, then you can just go to the MINIX Update app and run that until it lets you know that there are no more updates. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to go right from, say, version 003 to version 007. You’ll have to process each update manually, but the entire process shouldn’t take that long, depending on your internet connection.
You can check out this list, if you’d like to see what’s included in each firmware version.
As expected, the NEO X8-H Plus provides a nice performance boost over the original MINIX NEO X8-H that we reviewed here. The NEO X8-H scored 28442, which is still a top-performing score, even today. The NEO X8-H Plus ups the ante with an AnTuTu 5.0 benchmark score of 32275, using firmware 007.
UPDATE December 2015: I’ve re-ran this test using the new version of AnTuTu Benchmark v 6.0 to help with comparisons against the newer TV boxes coming out. The NEO X8-H Plus achieved a score of 34102
I have to say that a great benchmark scores doesn’t mean a device is going to perform well in the real world. But, AnTuTu designs their benchmark to be as close as possible.
The original firmware didn’t have very good 4K performance, using either MINIX’s custom implementation of Kodi\XBMC or the other media players that were tested. One of the biggest enhancements in firmaware 002 was it’s improvement in 4K playback. Be sure to take that into account if you’re looking at an early NEO X8-H Plus review.
Long term impressions
Now for the long-term part of this review. Having the MINIX NEO X8-H Plus as a daily use TV box for most of the last year, I was exposed to a a lot of things that I really loved, and a few things that really bugged me about it. I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that the good points far outnumbered the bad points, but I’ll include both here.
Adaptive refresh rate switching
One of the challenges with streaming media from different sources is that every file seems to have different properties. When a video ends, the device has to switch back to the default refresh rate. This can cause some issues if the video was at a much higher resolution than the default launcher. All of a sudden, half of your screen has vanished off the side of the screen.
Adaptive refresh rate switching takes care of this automatically by switching the resolution and refresh rate so that you get a more seamless experience.
OTA firmware updates
Updating a device’s firmware used to be a long involved process which normally involved a delicate balancing act of pressing the power button while holding a toothpick in the reset button on the back of the device. Many Android TV box manufacturers still use this method, which always makes me wonder what they’re thinking.
Windows has a lot of flaws, and most people who use an Android device are very quick to point them out, Still, Windows updates are a simple matter of clicking a button and letting the computer do the work for you. Updating a consumer electronics device like a TV box should be just as easy.
MINIX isn’t the only manufacturer to provide OTA firmware updates, but it’s a nice feature, just the same.
Kodi Diamond Sponsor
There are only five companies that are listed as Diamond Sponsors of the XBMC (Kodi) Foundation. Of those five, only three are hardware manufacturers – MINIX, WeTek and NVIDIA. I don’t know about you, but this makes me feel like there is a higher level of support and commitment to Kodi from MINIX – and also the other way around.
MINIX may bundle a custom version of XBMC into their devices, but any enhancements they make are then given back to Team Kodi and included in subsequent versions.
We’re all part of a big community, and it’s great to see a company giving back.
No UHD Netflix
One of the biggest frustrations that many users have with streaming devices is that you can’t stream Netflix in Ultra-HD unless you have an approved device. If a device isn’t on that list, then the resolution will default back to 720p. It’s just not practical for Netflix to test every device on the market. Unless you’re a manufacturer the size of Roku, NVIDIA, Amazon or TiVo, you’re not likely to be on the list.
If Netflix is one of the main things you’re looking at in a streaming device, then this could be a big downside.
MINIX NEO X8-H Plus review: The Verdict
The MINIX NEO X8-H Plus sets the bar pretty high for streaming devices. It’s stable and performs well – even with 4K video files. all of the initial hiccup shave been addressed with firmware updates. And the fact that there have been seven of these updates in less than a year since the product’s release shows a commitment from MINIX to make the NEO X8-H Plus the best it can be.
The Metro-Interface is extremely user friendly, if a bit dated at this point, and lack of UHD Netflix is a continuing problem. But, if you can overlook these two minor issues, there’s no reason that the MINIX NEO X8-H Plus shouldn’t find a home underneath your television set, like it has found a place underneath mine.