There’s no shortage of boxes that connect to a TV for watching media – they seem to be popping up everywhere from almost every major company. The latest to hit the market is from VidOn, a company responsible for an Android-based box that we’ve taken a look at in the past.
The VidOn Box is an Android-based XBMC machine that is able to output in 1080p thanks to a Cortex-A7 quad-core CPU. The question is: is it any good? Is it worth using this as your go-to media center? Keep reading the review to find out!
Best of all, we have a VidOn Box to give away to a lucky reader! This means you can take home this device without spending a dime! Read through to the bottom of the review to find out how you can win!
Introducing The VidOn Box
The VidOn box is an Android 4.4-based media box that connects to your TV via HDMI. The main thing it sets out to do is provide you an easy way of getting XBMC on your television. There’s a lot of devices, like a Raspberry Pi, that can provide you with XBMC, but most require more effort to get up and running, and none have the ability to handle Blu-Ray menus. This means that digital Blu-Ray files will function as they would with a disc. It’s definitely something that makes the VidOn Box stand out from the crowd.
Speaking of the crowd, VidOn Box exists in a very crowded space filled with far more recognizable brands. It does come with a reasonable price tag of $69, which helps it stand out. The Apple TV costs $99, while the Amazon Fire TV is currently $79 (our review). The fully-loaded Roku 3 (our review) sits at a similar $78 price tag.
As a lesser-known brand, VidOn is fighting for traction in a space with some serious heavy-hitters. Amazon and Apple are two of the biggest tech companies out there, and going head-to-head with them is no easy task. So how does it compare with these more popular models? Is it worth forgoing those in favor of this one, which can install XBMC with no weird hacks? Keep reading the review to find out!
While it doesn’t change your perceptions of the device over the long haul, first impressions always stick. Overall, I was mostly happy with everything I found off the bat with the VidOn Box. The packaging is all black with a small logo on the front. It’s minimalistic, but visually appealing. It gives you the impression that an elegant piece of hardware is underneath, and that’s great.
Upon opening the box, I was happy with the look of the device (we’ll get into that a little more in the next section), the design of the instruction booklet, and the look of the remote. One thing I couldn’t help but notice right away is the lack of HDMI cable. The DC cable is included, but without the HDMI cable in box, it means that everything needed to get started is not included. Sure, HDMI cables are only a couple of dollars, but if one were to buy this from a store shelf and get it home, it would be disappointing to find that you don’t have everything you need to get started.
Overall, the device makes a solid first impression. The packaging, and the hardware within looks good, but what happens when you hook it up? Is the software worth using? You’ll have to keep reading to find out!
The small instruction booklet breaks down the set up process in three steps, and it really is quite easy. Follow the instructions on screen to connect to the Internet, choose basic settings, and so on.
Unfortunately, the set up process didn’t go smoothly for me – it froze while updating the software. I ended up having to use the reset button on the back, starting again from the beginning. Once I did that, everything worked fine, and I was able to get on with using the device.
VidOn includes a one year membership for its premium service. This isn’t required to make the box work, but it does add a couple of neat features – and since it comes with a year anyway, there’s no reason not to use it. After the initial year, it will cost $15 to renew. At that point, it depends on how often you use Blu-Ray menus and how many of the upcoming promised features get added as to whether you choose to sign up again.
For the time being, membership grants you access to the aforementioned Blu-Ray menu feature, which also requires use of the VidOn XBMC Pro app. The only other difference between that and the standard XBMC version is over-the-air updates, which will make it a little easier to keep the device up to date. Otherwise, they are both running XBMC Gotham.
A small complaint is that it leaves both versions of XBMC installed on the home screen when you enter your premium account information. The first time you click on the premium option it has you log in to your VidOn Premium account, but if you don’t remember the logo differences, there’s no easy way to tell them apart. It would be nice if it automatically deleted the free version once when the premium one is installed.
The hardware itself is small and stylish. It features an aluminum gray shell, and a little bit of black on the back. It’s tiny, so it won’t take up a lot of space on your entertainment center. In fact, you’ll barely even see it.
The only issue I have with the design from a looks perspective is the antenna. It’s not a huge antenna by any means, but it still doesn’t look quite as clean as an Apple TV with it sticking out. Still, you’ll definitely find that it’s a cool looking device, and one you won’t mind having in your living room at all, at least as far as the design is concerned.
Specifications And Ports
Because this is a box with Android installed, the hardware specifications are important. After all, this thing is going to be running some pretty intense media apps like XBMC, and it needs some power under the hood to actually run them without hitches. So what does the VidOn Box have as far as hardware is concerned?
- Processor: Cortex-A7 quad-core CPU
- Graphics Processor: PowerVR™ SGX544MP2 8-core
- RAM: 1GB DDR3
- Internal Storage: 8GB
- OS: Android 4.4
All situated around the back of the device, here’s the ports you’ll find:
- 1X HDMI 1.4
- 1X Ethernet
- 2X USB 2.0
- 1X Optical Audio
- 1X DC power
2 USB ports allows for plenty of external storage to be connected. This gives you a little but more flexibility, which is always nice.
The interface is very basic, and could stand to be improved. It’s basically just a few icons that let you access apps like Google Play, YouTube, and most importantly XBMC. The team at VidOn admits that the main interface, which it calls VidOn Media Center, is still in beta, and will improve over time. Still, it’s a little disappointing when you’re using the device outside of XBMC.
Thankfully, the version of XBMC that’s installed works exactly as you’d expect it to. However, the remote, which uses infrared, isn’t as powerful as I’d like to be, and there was a number of times when the box didn’t detect my presses, causing me to hit the same button a few times. It’s not a big deal when you’re navigating with arrows, but when you’re typing something using the on-screen keyboard, any extra presses can prove to be a chore.
XBMC is one of the best media players on the market, and that holds true here. All of the network features you’d expect are there, so you can watch videos on your home network with a uPNP server. You can also use the USB ports to watch videos stored locally on an external HDD or thumb drive. You can of course download XBMC add-ons, which give you access to a slew of content (including a personal favorite of mine, GiantBomb.com). Then there’s the Blu-Ray support, which is definitely cool.
In the end, the interface isn’t great when you’re outside of XBMC, but thankfully, you can set the device to boot straight into XBMC and never touch the other interface elements, which is the way I’d recommend using it. As the main interface is updated, it might become more user friendly, but for now you’re better off skipping it.
So let’s get down to the real nitty gritty of the device, which is watching your media. After all, that’s why you buy a media center in the first place. Before we get into XBMC, you can use apps like YouTube and others from Google Play, but I found them to be a cumbersome experience, as mentioned in the interface section. Sticking with XBMC is the way to go, since you can get add-ons for services like YouTube anyway.
Once you’ve launched XBMC and logged into your VidOn account (a year is included with the purchase of the device), how is the actually media watching experience? It’s perfectly fine. Videos load quickly even when connected to Wi-Fi, and local videos look great. This should come as no surprise, as it’s just XBMC doing what it does best: playing videos.
You’ll find that the Box can handle pretty much any type of video file you throw at it. So if you have a TS, MP4, MKV, AVI, VOB or anything else, you’ll be able to play it without a hitch.
That’s really the one place where a device like this wins out over something like an Apple TV. Apple limits playback a great deal unless you jailbreak your device (something that isn’t even possible on the newest model). If you want to be able to play a wider range of files, you’ll like what’s offered here.
An infrared remote is included with the VidOn Box, and it does the job for the most part. It looks very similar to the remote included with the Fire TV, though none of the voice functions are available. As I mentioned before, there were many occasions where it wasn’t as sensitive as I’d like it to be, and that definitely costs the user experience. Pressing an unresponsive button over and over again is never fun, and it happened a little too often for my liking.
Still, the buttons have a decent feel, and unlike the last device on from VidOn that we reviewed, aren’t too hard to press. It’s not the best remote under the sun, but it gets the job done.
Should You Buy The VidOn Box
In the end the VidOn box is a decent device, but in many ways it feels like a work in progress. By the company’s own admission, the main interface is still in a beta, and it’s hard to pay $69 for a device that isn’t fully completed. However, if you just want to use XBMC, it does a good job of that, and it comes with a reasonable price tag (though you could admittedly buy a Raspberry Pi and install XBMC for less). If XBMC isn’t for you, consider an Apple TV or Roku instead.
MakeUseOf Recommends: Buy only if you need to use XBMC and don’t want to deal with installing it on a Raspberry Pi.
How Do I Win The VidOn Box?
The winner will be selected at random and informed via email. View the list of winners here.
Send your products to be reviewed. Contact James Bruce for further details.