REVIEW, PART 2 In this part of the review of the highly affordable Mini X / Xplus Android 4.0 TV box, we'll take a closer look at performance, HD media playback, DTS / Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound compatibility, and more.

First off: if the first part of this review didn't send you here, please first:

Performance

Time to put the Allwinner (A10) 1.2 GHz processor and 512 Megs of DDR3 RAM to a test.

Massive heat

For starters, the Mini X's don't have any active means of cooling, which of course makes it completely silent. But it also gets rather hot when it's active. In fact, even if you just turn it on and just leave it, it's enough to make it more than lukewarm. I wouldn't say it's any hazardous temperatures, but it makes me wonder how long the inner components will actually last in this heat. Especially when there's no practical way of shutting the device off. I guess only time will tell...

Games

I dare you to play this game - with a remote!
I haven't tested the Mini X with any games myself, but I'm sure you'll probably be able to play a round of Angry Birds or two on it, as long as you have a mouse attached to it. I wouldn't expect any fancy 3D games to run all that smoothly (if all), however.

Luckily, the enclosure is all made of metal. This should help dissipating heat from the insides, to at least some extent. The metal stand with which the newer Mini Xplus'es come supplied with, might also aid the cooling process a bit further, hopefully.

HD Media Playback

The Mini X comes with a handful of media player apps pre-installed. These could all handle HD videos just fine, although some of them have quite big, ugly graphical interfaces that ruins the video experience. At least one of the apps can handle my Swedish subtitles as well, even though it requires me to change the character set to "Western Europe" each time I have the Mini X rebooted, which obviously becomes a bit of a tedious pain in the long run.

I also tried a bunch of 3rd party media player apps, like MX Player, BS Player, as well as the VLC beta, but these had quite a struggle processing my HD videos, resulting in a very choppy, laggy playback. The firmware upgrade made it a bit better, but your safest bet is to stick with the stock players the Mini X comes with, as they seem to be the most familiar with, and best matched with, the Mini X's hardware.

DTS / Dolby 5.1 surround sound NOT supported

According to the specs at DealExtreme, where I got my Mini X, surround sound formats DTS and AC3 are both supported. This is unfortunately incorrect. Whatever sound encoding you throw at it, whether it be DTS or DD 5.1/AC3 or other surround sound carrying format, the Mini X will still only feed PCM stereo through its HDMI port. It's clearly capable of decoding multi-channel audio streams, as they would be muted otherwise, but the output is still limited to stereo for whatever reason.

The lacking support of surround sound seems to be a common issue with Android devices, unfortunately, and from my research, Android generally don't support multi-channel audio at all.

For a home theatre, proper surround sound is of course a crucial feature. For a media centre, not being capable of delivering DTS nor Dolby Digital surround sound, this is a huge drawback to say the least.

Many Android apps have removed their DTS support on purpose, due to copyright issues, but even older apps stated to still have the DTS codec built-in, still couldn't feed my home receiver with anything other than plain stereo, so I'm guessing this limitation is hardware related. Not even the newest firmware, which claims to add DTS support, could keep its promise. And believe me, I have computers, Blu-ray player, PS3, Xbox 360 hooked up, and they all deliver full 5.1 sound over either DTS or DD with no problems.

Traditional AV cables won't work

The set of RCA cables I bought with the Mini X proved useless. What you need for the Mini X is a 3.5mm plug a bit longer than average, such as the one shown in the inset picture.  Look closely and you'll see the difference in length between the base and the first ring on the metal plug. 
An advantage the Mini X has over other Android based media players and tablets alike, is the analogue AV out. This offers a greater compatibility with older CRT TV's and projectors, for instance. For an analogue connection, the device requires a cable with a 3.5 mm connector at one end, and 3 RCA cables coming out at the other end. A known issue with the Mini X, though, is that it needs a slightly longer 3.5 mm plug in order to work, which most standard composite cables don't have. I even bought an analogue set of cables from DX to go along with this device, but all I got was a black TV screen and a loud hum coming from the speakers, connecting it this way.

Currently have another set of RCA cables coming from Hong Kong, that will hopefully fit the bill. What you need to look for is a 3.5 mm connector of approximately 17 mm in length, whereas your standard connector only measures about 14-15 mm, and hence won't work.

Added Feb 13, 2013:
Tested and confirmed: The AV out on the Mini X does indeed work with the longer 3.5mm plug. This also ups the overall score from a 5 to 7.

The Verdict

The purpose of being a media centre to your home theatre is by large defeated by the Mini X's lack of multi-channel audio support. Even for the less tech-savvy, looking for an upgrade to their old VCR's, will have problems getting much use for the Mini X. Apart from being incompatible with at least 9 out of 10 AV cables, controlling the device with a simple remote control is both clunky and cumbersome.

At the end of the day, it's a neat little device, and with a wireless keyboard and mouse at hand, the Mini X is quite a neat way of adding "smart" functionality to your HDTV. The Mini X is quite a neat little micro PC, fully capable of doing what your regular Android phone or tablet does (minus the fluid touch handling).

Although, if a capable media centre is what you're looking for first and foremost, you're actually better off just renewing your Blu-ray player. Many BD players already add smart TV functionality, as well as being capable of playing back .MKV, .AVI, .MP4 and many other formats, which makes a regular media player redundant.

7 / 10