- Relatively simple to set up
- Excellent build quality
- Comprehensive connections
- Good, back-lit remote
- 4K HDR support
- Immersive audio capability
- Frame-packed 3D is no issue
- Cloud synchronisation
- Lovely presentation of media
- Lack of customisation options
- 1080i50 handling needs attention
- Some HDMI handshake problems
- Bakground art can be sluggish to load
- Not cheap
What is the Zappiti 4K HDR?
As the product name would suggest, the Zappiti Duo 4K HDR is Ultra HD capable as well as being able to output the necessary metadata for High Dynamic Range (HDR) video; the Zappitis are currently only compatible with HDR 10 so there is no HLG or Dolby Vision support, although the same can be said for all streaming media players on the market at this time.
There are three devices in the Zappiti 4K HDR series: the Zappiti Mini 4K HDR, the Zappiti One 4K HDR and the Zappiti Duo 4K HDR. In terms of audio and video capabilities, all the products should be identical in performance but there are physical differences between the three – the ‘One’ and ‘Duo’ allow you to add SATA hard drive storage, by means of their built-in bays and you will not be surprised to learn that the ‘One’ has one rack, while the ‘Duo’ contains two.
While the Zappiti 4K HDR range do run on the Android (6.01) operating system, they do offer a lot more than your usual TV box. Over the last few years the company has been building its own media ecosystem including mobile, PC and NAS (Networked Attached Storage) apps, cloud snyching and a host of other features to make them stand out from the crowd. The Zappiti ecosystem is more comparable to PLEX than it is KODI and is emerging as a successor to the Kaleidescape devices in the custom install market. All of these Zappiti players feature the same 64-bit Realtek RTD1295 processor which impressed us in our recent Zidoo X9S review with its 3D, HDR and immersive audio capabilities and if Zappiti can get the most from it, while adding its own features, we should be on to a winner here.
The model reviewed here is the Zappiti Duo 4K HDR which retails for €399, compared to the €299 and €249 the One and Mini command, respectively.
Design & Connections
As you would expect for its relatively lofty price-tag, the 4K HDR Duo is very well built and, given the two HDD enclosures, it’s also pretty substantially sized. There’s a footprint (WxDxH) of 430 x 289 x 74, or 202mm with Wi-Fi antennas up. The SATA HDD racks are designed for 3.5-inch drives that can be ‘hot-swapped’ thanks to the mechanism within. At the front there are two USB 2.0 ports on either side of the drive enclosures and a large, trademark ‘Z’ logo which illuminates in a subdued shade of blue when the unit is powered on – you can turn it off with a button on the remote, if you prefer. There’s a setting in the menus which suggests you can brighten or dim the logo but it seems to have no effect so it’s ‘On’ or ‘Off’ for now.
It’s built like a tank & passively cooled
On the rear panel we have an HDMI input – which can be used for video capture – and an HDMI 2.0a output. There’s also Toslink and Coax digital audio outs, two further USB 2.0 ports plus solitary USB 3.0 and USB Type-C connections. You also get RCA stereo outs and a CVBS (composite) video jack, which really should be avoided for high quality content but could be useful for an external control monitor in a custom set-up. Finally, in terms of the rear-mounted connections, there are Gigabit LAN and WAN ports, although we’re struggling to think of a good use for the latter. To the side we have another USB 2.0 port and a full-sized SD Card slot.
The previous generation of Zappiti players shipped with disappointing remote controls but the one that comes with the Zappiti 4K HDR devices is much better. It curves in to the middle from either end, which makes it comfortable to hold, and features a backlight which automatically triggers when you press a button – it shouldn’t be underestimated how useful an illuminated remote can be when you’re watching a movie in dimmed conditions, especially when the remote has a lot of buttons as the Zappiti example does. There are dedicated buttons for powering on and off, launching the Zappiti Media Center [sic] app and Zappiti Explorer, all the usual playback and transport controls, barring a dedicated stop button and ones to set aspect ratio and engage/disengage the 3D output mode. In the centre are the navigation buttons for menus while, just above those, are a mouse pointer function, Back, Menu and Home keys. Towards the bottom are genuinely useful number buttons – you can numerically enter a percentage point at which to join the video content and, below those, are some basic controls for your TV (Power, Volume, Input Selection) which can be used with the IR learning function of the remote. All in all, it’s an excellent remote we’d rank only just below the one that came with the Popcorn Hour A-500.
User Interface & Set-up
The launcher screen of the Zappiti features a red cinema/movie theatre curtain background over a very simplistic interface. It’s a personal thing but I would never choose red as the main colour for a user interface (UI) and it would be nice to have an option to change it. This can be done in the Zappiti Media Center where there’s the (paid-for) option of adding an extremely cool Silver theme; we understand that Zappiti is a relatively small company but we do think there should be some free alternate themes. We applaud the simplicity, however, with the primary three options of entering the Zappiti or Explorer apps or accessing the other Android apps installed. There’s also an ‘All Tasks Killer’ function and a shortcut to the Android settings menu. In there is an option for Auto 1080p 24Hz Playback under Display settings which we’d recommend you to engage as it’s off by default. Also, under Developer Options is the same functionality for 29.97/59.94Hz signals which also should be engaged. This really should be with the rest of the display settings
On first use of the Zappiti app, you will be asked to log in to/create your Zappiti account to use the Zappiti Cloud and enter a user token which is on the underside of the box – so it pays to make a note of it before you hook up the 4K HDR. It’s a bit of a phaff using the on-screen keyboard as it can cover the dialogue boxes but it really has to be done. You then nominate local and/or networked storage to scan, under either Movie or TV Show designations, and so the Zappiti goes about downloading corresponding covers and fan art for the movies and TV shows. The software scrapes images from TMDb (The Movie Database) and TheTVDb, by default, although you can specify IMDb but we’re of the understanding you need an account for that. In any case TMDb and TVDb do a great job and any covers or fanart you can’t find might well be covered by the Zappiti Db, which can be accessed by individually highlighting any title and clicking the Menu button on the remote.
The only criticism we have on the UI, aside from the limited theme options, is that background art can be a little slow to transition if you have any collections; for instance we have five Star Wars discs ripped that the Zappiti automatically grouped together but moving between the titles would see a noticeable pause of up to 3 seconds between the fan art changing to the correct movie. It’s a minor thing, all things considered, but if Zappiti could find a way to speed this up, it would add to the generally slick feel.
Something to consider before initiating any scan is that the software requires your files to be named quite strictly. In fact, Zappiti recommends nothing more ornate than, for instance, Hacksaw Ridge.mp4 but it will scan more complicated names OK, for movies. In terms of TV show naming convention, it’s stricter so something like Sopranos S01E01 is needed. We guess most will have their files named in such a way but there will be some that need to do a bit of prep work before scanning. That said, getting your files catalogued is still more simple with Zappiti than it is, say, with KODI but PLEX seems better able to deal with less conventional file naming. Of course, the initial scan duration depends on how many movies and TV shows you have stored but our collection of around 70 ripped Blu-rays took around 10 minutes and it’s a one-time job as all the data is then stored on the player. The beauty of the cloud system is that you can then access the content from other devices, e.g. a PC, with all art synced instantly.
Zappiti Explorer, as the name suggests, is a File Explorer app you can use with local, attached or networked storage and its quite a polished tool as well as the place to use the player to access your photo and music/audio files. The Zappiti 4K HDR features support for pictures up to a resolution of 8192×8192 and playback of hi-res audio formats up to 192 kHz / 32-bit in formats including FLAC, AIFF, ALAC, WavPack and Monkey’s Audio APE. The excellent networking capabilities of the Zappiti 4K HDR, both wired and wireless, mean that transferring files around your network using Explorer is as pain free an experience as you could reasonably expect and the SMB server functionality more than usable. There’s also a useful search feature for those with large collections, providing access to your movies or TV shows with ‘smart filters’ on Actor, Director, Length, Rating, Release date etc. Last, but by no means least, the devices are designed to be integrated with ‘Smart Home’ control systems including Control4, Crestron, ProControl, RTI, Pronto and Harmony.
In terms of upcoming features, we are told that very soon owners can expect full Blu-ray menu support, italic subtitles and multiroom functionality, with Zappiti Share, which has a resume video playback in another room feature. We should also see, a Netflix-style, Autoplay the next episode of a TV show option added soon. The mobile app for Android and iOS is still in beta but is already working quite well and it mirrors the Zappiti UI on your phone and tablet, allowing you to browse and launch your collection without the need to pick up the remote. The app also has full remote functionality, naturally.
Video & Audio Perfomance
Unsurprisingly, given the identical Realtek chipset, the audio/video performance of the Zappiti 4K HDR closely followed the results we got when testing the Zidoo X9S. If anything, the Zappiti just edges things ever so slightly, because of being able to cope better with UHD at fifty frames per second, with a caveat, or two (see below).
Testing was carried out via a NAS over a wired Gigabit network, as well as from a USB 3.0 hard drive, on a Samsung UE65JU700 via a Yamaha RXV-679 AV Receiver. Starting with the Ultra HD/4K tests…
Zappiti Media Center
|3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/23.976fps|
|3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24.000fps|
|3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/25.000fps|
|3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/29.970fps|
|3840 x 2160/AVC/MKV/59.940fps|
|3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/23.976fps|
|3840 x 2160/HEVC/MP4/29.970fps|
|3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/59.940fps|
|10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/59.940fps|
|10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/TS/23.976fps|
|3840 x 2160/AVC/MP4/50.00fps||
Video blacked out & wouldn’t play initially. Solution was to switch off UHD Colour Mode on the TV.
|4096 x 2160/AVC/MP4/24fps|
There is no option for 3840 x 2160p at 50Hz in the display settings of the Zappiti 4K HDR, so we weren’t expecting the device to play well with Ultra HD encoded at fifty frames per second and, initially, that’s exactly how it panned out with video refusing to play in this format. It transpired that it was an HDMI issue between the Samsung TV and the Duo as we were able to get the files to play by switching off the UHD Colour Mode of the HDMI input, in the TV settings. We’ve not had this problem with other players (which were able to play the clip in the first instance) so maybe there’s a tweak in the firmware Zappiti could make.
Other than that, the playback of all the Ultra HD content tested was excellent, with a very precise and sharp quality. We don’t currently list tests for HDR content as the TV used is not a true HDR set. It does, however, feature compatibility with HDR signals and will switch in to a faux HDR mode (maxes contrast, dimming features etc) and we can report it happily played a range of sample HDR 10 clips (it’s not Dolby Vision capable) we’ve accrued while reviewing TVs, so owners of proper HDR tellies should have no issues – if any locally streamed content ever becomes available, of course.
We should note that dynamic refresh rate switching, which matches the video signal to the framerate of the content and is crucial for a media player, works perfectly at all resolutions but there is no resolution switching, other than when a 3D signal is detected.
Moving on to some more standard fodder, with high and standard definition video:
Zappiti Media Center
|720 x 576/MP2/mpg/25.000fps – Interlaced|
|1280 x 720/AVC/MP4/29.970fps|
|1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/25.00fps – Interlaced||
Video loses sync after some time
|1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps|
|1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/24.000fps|
|1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/25.000fps|
|1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/29.970fps|
|1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/30.000fps|
|1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/59.970fps|
|1920 x 1080/HEVC/ISO/23.976fps|
|1920 x 1080/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps|
|1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/23.976fps|
|1920 x 1080/VC-1/MKV/29.970fps – Interlaced|
There was only one surprise here and that was an issue with 1080i50 material, where ‘i’ stands for interlaced. It’s part of the broadcast standard in the UK and Europe so if you have TV series stored in that format you want the Zappiti to play, it’s going to be a problem at this time. Most of what we record to network storage from DTV broadcasts is now 1080p25 – where ‘p’ stands for progressive – which proved no issue.
The processor is a bit of a monster and the networking performance of the Zappiti is excellent so we were treated to some excellent performance with video encoded at very high bitrates.
Zappiti Media Center
|1920 x 1080/AVC/M2TS/23.976fps & 90mbps|
|1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 100mbps|
|1920 x 1080/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 110mbps|
|3480 x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 120mbps|
|10-bit 3840 x 2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 120mbps|
|3840x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 140mbps|
|10-bit 3840×2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 140mbps|
|3840x 2160/H264/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps|
|10-bit 3840x 2160/HEVC/MKV/23.976fps @ 200mbps|
Since the maximum bitrate of Ultra HD Blu-ray is pegged at 128Mbps we put the Zappiti through more stringent testing than we really needed to but it’s always good to have a bit of headroom! And the Duo 4K HDR has plenty. We could actually push it beyond 200Mbps but that really would be overkill.
3D support is one of the major selling points of the RTD 1295, and therefore the Zappiti, so we were also expecting good things here.
Zappiti Media Center
|1920 x 1080/AVC/ISO/23.976fps Frame Packed||
Automatically engaged TV in 3D mode
|1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Frame Packed||
See notes below
|1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Side by Side||
Need to press 3D button on the remote
|1920 x 1080/AVC/MKV/23.976fps Top & Bottom||
Need to press 3D button on the remote
We were a little surprised that the Duo 4K HDR wouldn’t initially play the frame-packed 3D video in the .mkv container, especially since the Zidoo X9S will. Well, it did play perfectly well in 2D but that’s not what we want, of course. Zappiti added the capability in recent firmware and assure us they have no problems using .mk3d and we can confirm that with some clips we managed to get hold of. For better compatibility we’d always recommend ripping to ISO, in any case, but the .mkv issue still merits investigation from Zappiti.
UPDATE: We’ve left this part of the review in to alert users they may need to perform a factory reset after downloading the 3.05 software update to make 3D MKV functional. That was certainly the case for us. The good thing is that since all your media is synched in the cloud, getting back up and running is very easy.
Rounding off with the audio tests and, once again, the Zappiti 4K HDR proved itself an excellent performer:
Zappiti Media Center
|AAC (Dolby Digital) 5.1|
|AC3 (DTS) 5.1|
|Dolby Digital Plus 7.1|
|Dolby True HD 5.1|
|Dolby True HD 7.1|
|DTS HD-MA 5.1|
|DTS HD-HR 7.1|
|DTS HD-MA 7.1|
The Zappiti Duo is able to pass-through, decode and downmix multichannel and HD audio and it gave us no issues with DTS-HD or Dolby HD formats, as well as being very capable in all the other areas. We don’t currently have an Atmos or DTS:X capable AV Receiver but we are assured those immersive audio formats are working well.
How future-proof is this video streamer?
|4K Ultra HD playback up to 60 frames per second|
|HEVC decoding Full HD|
|HEVC decoding Ultra HD|
|7 Channel HD Audio pass-through|
|3D ISO playback|
|Over The Air (OTA) Software Updates|
|Dedicated Media Player|
Conclusion – Should I buy one?
First things first, the Zappiti Duo 4K HDR is not just another Android box, it’s designed as a serious media player and ownership brings with it entry to the entire Zappiti Media Center ecosystem which offers a clean and (relatively) simple way to organise your locally and networked stored media collection. It also includes cloud synchronisation, a complementary mobile app plus server software for NAS and PC. You don’t need an external server with the 4K HDR range, however, as it’s all built-in. The Duo, reviewed here, includes two hard drive bays for up to 16TB of SATA storage but if you don’t need all that, you can plump for the Zappiti One 4K HDR – which has only one bay – or the Mini which relies on network or USB connected solutions.
The build quality of the Duo is top notch with a metal casing that is passively cooled to avoid fan noise. There are bountiful connections including Gigabit LAN, HDMI 2.0a in and out ports, 7 USB connections of varying types and dedicated RCA, Toslink and Coaxial audio outputs. The included remote control is backlit – which we love – and sits easily in the hand, while offering a well planned button map and all the options you need, bar a dedicated stop button.
Scanning your media collection in to Zappiti Media Center is about as simple a process you could wish for and the software will then go about collecting posters, background art and content synposes, which it will then present in a very attractive, user-friendly way. What’s more, thanks to the Zappiti Db, if you don’t like any of the art automatically downloaded, you have the option of customising and changing posters and associated artwork. The default interface is dominated by the colour of red, which we’re not massively keen on, but there’a an alternate silver theme, which is much more cool. It’s a shame that you have to pay for that, however, and one of the criticisms we could level at the Zappiti solution is its lack of customisation options, especially when compared to KODI.
In terms of media playback, the Zappiti 4K HDR range is very, very strong in most areas. There is support for Ultra HD video, all the way to up to 60 frames per second as well as HDR 10 and HEVC decoding capability. The Duo (and all the other models), are also capable of 3D playback – including frame-packed – and passthrough and decode of all the important audio formats, including DTS-HD MA, Dolby TrueHD, DTS:X and Atmos. We had a few issues including an inability to replay Ultra HD at 50 frames per second and a failing with a 3D MKV file but the former was remedied by a setting in the TV used for testing and the latter by a factory reset of the player. It doesn’t deal with 1080i50 content well, however, which seems to be a problem with the chipset.
All in all, the Zappiti Duo 4K HDR is a cracking home media streaming solution which very nearly qualifies for the rare accolade of plug’n’play and if you can live without any real customisation options.