PIVOS XIOS DS Media Play Review

Wesstron - 2013-03-02 09:07:45 in Digital Photography/Video
Category: Digital Photography/Video
Reviewed by: Wesstron   
Reviewed on: March 13, 2013
Price: $114.99

PIVOS XIOS DS Media Play Introduction:

The little green Android robot seems to be everywhere lately. Smartphones, tablets, phablets, and also TV set-top boxes. It's a very interesting idea to have that continuation from your cell phone environment to your big screen TV. I personally love my Android-powered phone and find the concept appealing. Usually when we consider a device to complement a high definition TV, it’s either a closed and proprietary box from one service provider or the other, a dedicated media player that will always leave us wanting for more, or a full blown HTPC that will cost quite a bit and becomes obsolete in less than a couple years.

The folks at PIVOS might have just created the unit that will fill the gap left in place by the above listed options. Today I will be reviewing for you the XIOS DS Media Play, a very compact device built with the media lovers in mind and powered by an ARM CORTEX-A9 CPU and a MALI-400 MP GPU. Running the Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system, this device claims to bring together “home entertainment, wide range of internet contents and thousands of mobile applications” to the comfort of our couches.

PIVOS XIOS DS Media Play Closer Look:

The XIOS DS Media Play comes in a solid, high quality box that is literally covered with information about the unit on all sides. The top of the box mentions that the device is designed by the Pivos Technology Group and displays the name of the unit under an “Android-esque” green TV. Towards the bottom are listed the Android, HTML5, Chrome, and APK logos. The newer version of the box proudly displays that the XIOS DS Media Play is the official platform for XBMC Media Center. The back of the box tells pretty much all what a buyer would want to know about the unit. On the top left corner are listed the different video, audio, and picture formats the unit can handle. MPEG, WMV, MKV, DivX, DTS, WMA, MP3, BMP, PNG - you name it and the XIOS DS Media Play will probably play it for you! Next are listed the different connectivity options the unit offers: Wireless b/g/n, Ethernet 10/100, USB 2.0, Micro SDHC, and HDMI. Underneath are listed the various display resolutions available through the HDMI port. The unit supports PAL and NTSC for up to 1080p display at 60Hz. The bottom part displays the contents of the box, a QR code that will take you to the PIVOS website when scanned, and the contact info for the PIVOS Technology Group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving to the sides of the box more details and marketing materials are in display. One of the sides is dedicated to putting more emphasis on the collaboration between PIVOS and the XBMC development team to make the XIOS DS Media Play the only official XBMC ARM-based developer platform. This basically means that the unit runs a custom XBMC build optimized and tweaked for its hardware, which will greatly improve stability and playback experience. The next side panel displays the length and width of the unit; it’s stated here that the XIOS DS Media Play is 3.3” square but a quick verification shows that it’s actually about 4” square. My guess is whoever measured the unit completely omitted the curved section at the corners and just noted the straight edges length, which is actually 3.3”.

On the same side are listed more facts about the unit: it runs Android 4.0 (code-name Ice Cream Sandwich), able to stream local and online media content, and supports HTML5 and Adobe Flash 10.X. Continuing to the next side you'll find more technical specifications regarding the chips powering the XIOS DS Media Play, mainly the Cortex-A9 processor and the onboard Mali-400 graphic chip. It is also mentioned here that the unit is compatible with a wide range of peripherals including wireless keyboard/mouse and the PIVOS Sense wireless remote (sold separately) that unfortunately was not included in the review package.

 

  

  

 

Lifting the top part uncovers the unit sitting nicely in a piece of protective foam and underneath are the accessories including a manual, the basic IR remote, power adapter, and HDMI cable. The bundle is simple yet complete and will let a potential buyer connect and control the XIOS DS Media Play straight out of the box. The bundled infra-red remote is very light weight and a slight pressure with my fingers made it flex in an alarming way. The remote will provide basic functions provided by the following buttons (described left to right, top to bottom): standby, menu, up, left, ok, right, bottom, exit, and notification. The volume up and down rocker is located on the left side of the remote. Towards the bottom is situated the battery slot and a sealed plug that is probably where the charging cable would go if it was a PIVOS Sense remote.

 

  

  

 

Now the sharp ones out there will notice that the sides of the bottom section of the box are actually a quick install guide. The listed seven steps illustrate what to look for in the box, how to connect the unit, and what to do after first boot. The last two steps are a polite reminder to read the user manual before contacting for support. PIVOS please! The economy will collapse and thousands will lose their jobs if we start reading the manuals! 

 

  

  

 

The XIOS DS Media Play unit comes in a very informative packaging containing all what you need to set it up and start using your new toy right out of the box. 

PIVOS XIOS DS Media Play Closer Look:

The XIOS DS Media Play is a very compact unit measuring 4” in length, 4” in height, and is only 0.6” tall. It looks very sleek with its white casing and green accents. The top displays the name of the product and the Android logo, which seems to be going through a warp portal between the top and the bottom. The casing is fairly solid and seems to be able to withstand whatever abuse it may be subject to. The bottom of the unit consists of a protective metal plate; playing also the role of a heat sink and covered with an anti-slip rubber material. The main feature here is the upgrade pinhole used during a firmware “force flash” procedure. It will save the day if the regular upgrade does not work properly. Also visible here is a small sticker indicating the serial number and part number of the unit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

On the front of the XIOS DS Media Play there are three LED lights: power, “!”, and activity. The “!” LED was always a solid orange on the unit I received, be it in standby or during activity. The other two LEDs blinked orange during usage. The right side of the unit contains a Micro SDHC slot for up to 32GB of extra storage and two USB 2.0 ports. The left side shows two stickers with barcodes: a serial number of some sort and a MAC code. The back of the unit offers more connectivity with a third USB 2.0 port, a 10/100 Ethernet port, a 1.3 HDMI port, and a DC power jack. The green power button will only put the unit on standby and will not shut it off as I first thought.

  

  

 

Accessing the inside of the casing is simply done by prying the rubber covered heat sink off with a flathead screwdriver or a similar tool. There are no screws involved here but caution is mandatory as the circuit board could easily be damaged if that screwdriver slips off the edge due to excessive force. The unit received for the review is the M3 revision that uses exactly the same software as the old M1 revision but comes with some hardware differences. The CPU on the M3 revision is slightly faster; it comes with an ARM Cortex-A9 clocked at 1GHz versus 900MHz on the M1. More RAM is available as the M3 comes with 1GB while the M1 is only equipped with 512 MB; both are DDR2 memory. The last difference I could find is the available internal storage. The M3 actually has lost almost 3/4 the available storage compared to the M1 revision; while both versions come with a 2GB Nand, the M3 firmware uses more space and as an end result we are only left with about 500MB available. Our contacts at PIVOS stated that an upcoming firmware update will address this.

On the first screenshot below you can see the Amlogic ARM Cortex-A9 chip situated in a central position on the board. The big NAND chip on the right and the four DDR2 RAM memory modules (256MB each) are manufactured by Hynix. The top side of the board main's features are the wireless module and the differenet connectivity ports.

  

 

Hardware wise the XIOS DS Media Play is not meant to be a very powerful device but it has all what it takes to run the Android OS in theory so far.

PIVOS XIOS DS Media Play Closer Look:

The XIOS DS Media Play unit I received for this review is the new M3 hardware revision and it was shipped already flashed with the latest firmware released on 01/08/13 and thus running an Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) based ROM. I will not go through the OS in detail since it’s out of the scope of this review but I will do my best to cover all the pertinent settings that would affect the user experience relative to the XIOS DS Media Play. The initial start-up took about 32 seconds and I was greeted with a stock Android OS - tablet style - home screen. There was only a clock widget already setup and no shortcuts were added. The right screenshot below shows the apps that were installed out of the box. I actually added them as shortcuts on the second screen to make for a better view. The highlights here are the following apps specific to the unit: Music, AppInstaller, FileBrowser, Network, MoviePlayer, and the XBMC media center that I will go through in more detail in the next section. I actually skipped on the custom launcher that PIVOS offers for the XIOS DS Media Play and installed one of my favorite third party launchers instead. I guess I don't have to point out which is which!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

The Music app is a basic music player and the Android veterans will probably install a third party app that offers more functionality and a friendlier layout. The AppInstaller will scan your device and attached storage for .apk files that can be installed. It provides a user friendly interface instead of browsing around the folders to locate a file. The FileBrowser app is a basic file browser that will do the job to a certain extent but I would suggest installing a third party one from the App Store for added functionality. The same applies to the MoviePlayer app; it’s rendered obsolete by the presence of the XBMC app coded specifically for the XIOS DS Media Play. The Network app is supposed to scan the shared folders in the local area network and display a list of the available windows shares. I personally did not have much luck with this application and it was not listing my shared folders while XBMC was perfectly seeing them.

  

 

On top of the stock Android ICS settings, the list contains some specific options that will help optimize and improve the overall experience while using the XIOS DS Media Play. The first setting I would like to point out is the Ethernet configuration screen. Android OS is meant for phones to start with and smartphones or tablets don’t have an Ethernet port while our review unit does. To take advantage of the extra connectivity, you simply need to set the toggle on the top left to ON. Then it will depend if you are running DHCP or Static IPs; by clicking on the “Configure Ethernet devices” we can then change the parameters and input the IP settings if needed.

  

 

The next interesting settings are found under the Display option. The Output mode will let you pick the optimal resolution for your display up to 1080p. The Display position is there so you can fine tune the position of the screen by increasing or decreasing the width and height. Next is the Font size selection that offers four settings: small, normal, large, and huge. It will depend on your display but for large TVs the Large or Huge setting is recommended. Finally the HDMI-CEC control makes it possible to toggle CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) on and off. If activated, the XIOS DS Media Play will be able to control the awake, sleep, and display functions of a compatible TV.

  

 

Another relevant set of options is found under the Language & Input section. Here we can change the device language, toggle Spelling correction, and manage the Personal dictionary. The Keyboard & Input methods section will let us set the default input method; in the screenshot below you notice that the available options are the Android keyboard or Remote controller input. The latter makes it possible to use the bundled remote for text input if no keyboard or mouse are available.

  

 

Finally the About MediaBox section will provide informations about the device and an extra screen displaying the status of the network, the serial number, and uptime (the last two details are not available with this device). An Easter egg can be found here; if you click repeatedly on the Android version it will display the Android logo in its ICS outfit. If you then click and hold the logo it will switch to an animation of a bunch of Android robots flying through the screen.

  

  

 

Now that we have a giant Android powered tablet in the living room, let's check what might be the best software to enjoy our media. 

PIVOS XIOS DS Media Play Closer Look:

The XIOS DS Media Play is the only platform that runs a dedicated XBMC build with hardware decode. Thanks to the collaboration between PIVOS and the XBMC team, it was possible to port this great software to Android OS and since last January it’s possible to install an experimental XBMC build that has hardware support for the most common graphic chips available in modern smartphones. Hardware decode support makes for a smoother playback of high quality video files of up to 1080p by trying to take advantage of the graphics chip processing power. This software comes in two flavors: an Android APK available exclusively on the PIVOS forums and a Full Linux Firmware that will wipe the original software and transforms the unit into an XBMC-only media player. So if you are not interested in the Android functionality this option is there just for you.

In terms of functionality, XBMC is a powerful media center application that will let you organize and play back the majority of video, audio, and picture formats available nowadays. It will also connect to your network and stream local or online media. XBMC is backed up by a very large online community and since its first release for the original Xbox back in 2004 the development is still going strong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

The next screenshots are from the System Info section in XBMC, showing the hardware and software specification of the XIOS DS Media Play. 

  

 

For further information about thhe XBMC Media Center project, the best source would be the Wiki dedicated to the software available at this link. Even if you don't plan on purchasing a XIOS DS Media Play, you may wanna test it on PC or MAC.

PIVOS XIOS DS Media Play Specifications:

Supported Video Codecs
MPEG 1/ 2/ 4, H.264, VC-1, WMV, M2TS, TS, RMVB, AVI, MKV, MOV, TS, MPEG, FLV, DivX, Xvid
Supported File Types
Video: AVI/ MKV/ TS/ TP/ TRP/ M2TS/ MPG/ MP4/ MOV/ M4V/ VOB/ IFO/ DAT/ WMV/ ASF/ RM/ RMVB/ FLV/ XVID/ DIVX 3,4,5 for up to 1080p resolution
Audio: MP3/ OGG/ WMA/ WAV/ AAC/ FLAC
Picture: HD JPEG/ BMP/ GIF/ TIF/ PNG
Supported Audio Codecs
MP2/ 3, OGG Vorbis, WMA, WAV, WMA PRO, PCM LPCM, MS-ADPCM, LC-AAC, HE-AAC, COOK, RA-Lossless, RM/ RMVB 8/ 9/ 10.
Supported Connections
1 x HDMI A/V out
1 x 10/100 Ethernet
1 x 802.11 b/g/n built in wireless
3 x USB 2.0 ports
1 x MicroSD/SDHC Memory Slot (upto 32GB)
Supported Audio Output
MP2/ 3, OGG Vorbis, WMA, WAV, WMA PRO, PCM LPCM, MS-ADPCM, LC-AAC, HE-AAC, COOK, RA-Lossless, RM/ RMVB 8/ 9/ 10
Supported Languges
Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Czech, Danish, German, Greek, English, Spanish, Finnish, French, Hebrew, Hindi, Croatian, Hungarian,
Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Latvian, Norwegian-Bokmol, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak,
Slovenian, Serbian, Swedish, Thai, Tagalog, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese, Simplified & Traditional Chinese
Supported Subtitle Types
SRT, SMI, SSA, ASS, IDX/SUB, SUB
Requirements
High Definition Display device with HDMI input (up to 1080p resolution for best results)
* Recommended: Wired or Wireless network connection is required for network or internet content. Audio amplifier is required for digital surround sound

 

PIVOS XIOS DS Media Play Features:

All information provided courtesy of PIVOS @ http://www.pivosgroup.com/xios.html

PIVOS XIOS DS Media Play Testing:

Testing the XIOS DS Media Play was done by connecting the unit to the two available displays and trying to perform as many activities as it could handle. Focusing on media playback, I also used the unit to browse the Internet, check emails, and I also tried to play some games. Owning a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 myself, which have higher specs in terms of hardware, I am used to a very smooth and responsive Jelly Bean 4.1.2 Android environment. Without any further delays, let's see what the XIOS DS Media Play is capable of!

Testing Setup:

 

Setup And Configuration:

Out of the box, the XIOS DS Media Play comes bundled with all the needed accessories. It was as simple as plugging the power and the HDMI cable, selecting the proper input option on the Plasma TV, and figuring out the best angle to use the included remote. After five minutes I decided that text input would be less painful using a keyboard and mouse. During the review I used wired peripherals but for optimal results I would suggest a wireless combo. The remote App for Android smartphones available from the PIVOS forums works but I found it to be more of a hassle than useful for my needs.  

In terms of performance, I was honestly expecting a sluggish system but the XIOS DS Media Play proved me wrong. First of all, a cold boot will take less than 35 seconds and coming out of standby is only matter of seconds. The navigation through the Android OS was pretty smooth and only slightly less responsive than on my Note 2. Most applications take less than five seconds to start and the overall experience was very pleasant. It took me less than 15 minutes to feel at home with this unit. Being Android-based, the device is compatible with the majority of the thousands of apps available through Google Play Store and has a tremendous potential for customization.

 

Media Playback:

The XIOS DS Media Play, as one would guess from the name, is intended to be a media player with wireless and wired networking capabilities. The power users out there will want to take advantage of this and stream all kinds of media content from various sources, be it local network or online streaming. I used the unit mainly with three different sources: USB connected drives, shared folders on my main system, and online content. I installed the latest available XBMC app from the PIVOS forums and also various media players from the Google Play Store, including MX Player and the Netflix app. The XIOS DS Media Play handled all my local files perfectly and I did not experience any stuttering or skipping. Overall the picture and sound quality were excellent during playback of media files on local or online. I got better display quality when connected to the 28" screen, which is probably due more to the pixel count than to the XIOS DS Media Play unit. 

The XBMC Media Center Android App developed exclusively for the XIOS DS Media Play is literally the soul of this device in terms of media playback. It offers a solid yet very user friendly platform to organize and enjoy most types of media files. As stated before, it’s the collaboration between PIVOS and the XBMC development team that made the XBMC experience available at such quality on Android devices. The application runs smoother on the XIOS DS Media Play than on my Note 2, which is not a negligible feat considering the superior hardware of the Samsung device. I added various music files and videos to the XBMC library, which lets you access sources attached via USB, in your local network, and also in a remote network. The playback was pretty flawless and the unit handled my 1080p/10bit MKV files like a champ!

After having such a pleasant experience with the XBMC app, I was really disappointed by the Netflix app on this unit. First of all, a system file needs to be modified so the video can be viewed while playing. The alteration will break the behaviour of the notification bar for most apps that use full screen display by default. You then need a third party app to fix the issue and probably you will end up buying the full version from Google Play Store to automate the process to a certain extent. To top all this off, there is apparently a known issue with the Netflix app running on the M3 revision hardware that causes the video to not span properly for a full screen view. The folks at PIVOS are actively working on this and future firmware updates will solve the problem hopefully.

 

Gaming:

The hard-core Android gamers know that there is nothing more exhilarating than smashing cute little birds against huge slabs of ice or making sure that Om Nom gets his candy in a timely manner. Well the XIOS DS Media Play's got your gamer’s fix covered to a certain extent. 

First of all, there is no visible option to rotate the display, which will render gameplay for certain titles impossible. The display is set to landscape and even if the rotation was possible through the settings, I can’t imagine letting anyone rotating my 50” Plasma TV just to play Candy Crush!

Next, we are faced with the fact that Android games are developed with touching the screen as a base for controls. So how would this device fare without an integrated touchscreen and essentially relying on peripherals to emulate all the swipes, pinches, and taps? Very well it turns out! A mouse is all that you need to enjoy games that use simple clicks or swipe controls as long as no multi-touch is involved. Even by combining multiple peripherals, the multi-touch effect is just impossible to achieve. To my knowledge there is an app called “Sixaxis Controller” available in the Play Store that will pair a Sony PS3 gamepad to an Android device through Bluetooth. The gamepad can be then configured to emulate native Android controls through customizable settings and profiles.

I did not have a Bluetooth adapter to test the mentioned app since the XIOS DS Media Play does not offer native Bluetooth connectivity. Instead, I just plugged my PS3 gamepad to the unit using a USB cable just to see what happens. To my big surprise it let me navigate through the settings and I was able to select options by pressing any button on the gamepad. Unfortunately, it was impossible to revert back (action performed by the right button on a mouse), which renders the use of the gamepad impossible without a third party software.

 

Web Browsing:

For web browsing I used the stock browser, Chrome, and Dolphin Browser beta. No matter the browser, the whole experience felt slightly laggier than on a regular PC or on my smartphone. The pages take a few seconds after loading to be fully active; in the meanwhile no scrolling or typing is possible on certain websites. On fully loaded pages, when scrolling I noticed that certain areas look foggy then render properly after a second or so. The Dolphin browser provided the smoothest experience with the stock browser in second position and Chrome lagging behind! I can’t believe why a browser made by Google for a Google-developed OS could show such poor performance. The Dolphin Browser beta also provides more settings and customizations, especially a continued -even if unofficial- support for Flash.

 

File Transfer:

For the purpose of this test I used a 900MB .rar file that I transferred from my PC to the internal Micro SDHC card, then from the card to a USB 2.0 flash drive connected to the XIOS DS Media Play side port. It took about four minutes for the initial transfer then about two minutes and 35 seconds for the second transfer. The Micro SDHC card is accessible via the network with the help of a free app labeled “Samba Filesharing” available from the Google Play Store and recommended on the PIVOS forums. As you can see the transfer times are pretty decent and regular size files shouldn’t be problematic to shuffle around. These results will vary depending on your networking hardware and the quality of the WiFi connection available.

PIVOS XIOS DS Media Play Conclusion:

When I received the unit I was impressed by the packaging and the overall build quality and finish. The XIOS DS Media Play looks sleek and has a very small footprint but packs some interesting features. The Android OS will bring new life to your TV and the thousands available apps in the Google Play Store translate into an impressive potential of fun, productivity, and entertainment. The box provides a great experience as is but PIVOS went the extra mile and collaborated with the XBMC Media Center development team to bring the software with hardware decoding to the Android OS. Add the connectivity capabilities of the unit and we have a serious threat to those fancy HTPC systems at a mere asking price of $115. Built around the ARM CORTEX-A9 CPU and a MALI-400 MP GPU, the XIOS DS Media Play has what it takes to satisfy the needs of the majority of media lovers.

That being said, the XIOS DS Media Play is not meant for a plug and play type of crowd. The unit will reach it’s “full” potential in the hands of those who love to tinker, apply fixes, and heavily customize their settings. Even the XBMC software, although very impressive, is still in a beta stage and is far from being perfect.

PIVOS XIOS DS Media Play is its name and filling your living room with Android goodness is its game! Actually the name strikes me like it could belong to a general of the old Roman Empire. And if the device could talk, I am pretty sure that it will claim a well-deserved "Veni, vidi, vici"! 

 

Pros:

 

Cons: