Review: Zidoo Z9X Pro Media Player

A few months ago I purchased a weird little Android set top box off Aliexpress - the Zidoo Z9X Pro - even though I have an Nvidia Shield TV Pro that works great.

Why did I spend A$500 on the Zidoo? Two very niche reasons:

  1. Full disc Blu-ray rip playback because I got annoyed with missing subtitles, special features, HDR metadata, Dolby Atmos audio or commentary tracks on remuxes. It’s not 100% necessary if your remux rip is done properly and just wanna watch the main feature, but I like the comfort of having the entire disc, knowing I’m not missing anything that the person that created the remux thought was unnecessary.

  2. Dolby Vision HDR tone mapping because my projector (and most projectors) don’t support Dolby Vision natively, so I was often missing out on that extra colour information as the Shield would revert back to SDR depending on the file and how I was playing it back.

The Zidoo Z9X Pro doesn’t replace my Nvidia Shield TV Pro as it lacks Google Play and Widevine DRM, so many legit streaming services like Netflix, Binge, Kayo and so on will not work. These devices compliment each other.

The Zidoo runs Android and you can sideload any old APK you like on there. There’s a USB port for an external HDD and you can share it out over SMB/NFS if you don’t already have a NAS setup. Something I’ve never seen before is an external SATA port on the side of the Zidoo that uses a combined SATA data and power cable so you can just have a bare HDD hooked up over SATA instead of USB. Very odd design choice.

Full disc Blu-ray ISO/BDMV playback

The Z9X Pro basically emulates a Blu-ray player (I think they ripped off the software from an Oppo blu-ray player??) but with ISOs and BDMV folders instead of an actual disc. This means you get the menus, all the features, extra tracks and metadata that are often stripped away or modified with a remux download.

Sometimes disc loading is slow and there’s goddamn trailers/unskippable ads (!!) but that’s often how the original disc works and is not the Zidoo’s fault. Luckily there’s an option to play the movie’s main feature and skip all the menus if you don’t wanna go through that.

Zidoo have their own media playback app that’s kinda like Kodi/Plex and it reads the movies from a source (network or local disk) and displays a “poster wall” showing all your titles with nice metadata and cover art and whatnot.

Sometimes it won’t find a match for the name of the directory or video file and you need to manually tell the app which movie it is. Luckily there’s a web interface so you can quickly organise your media on a computer.

Playback is what you expect. Direct stream audio output plus frame and resolution output matching, along with the menus from the original disc. No dramas.

HDR tone mapping.

This is the main reason most people get a Zidoo device - the Realtek RTD1619BPD SoC and its “VS10” tone mapping engine that allows for non-Dolby Vision capable displays to still get the benefits of Dolby Vision HDR. Why this is even a thing requires a bit of background info about HDR video.

HDR is metadata played alongside the video that tells a display to make some bits brighter and some bits darker. It also usually means the video has a wider colour gamut (aka WCG). HDR10/HDR10+ and Dolby Vision are the main HDR standards. For all practical purposes, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision have the same result - they make the picture look nicer than the “base” SDR video. Dolby Vision even falls back to HDR10 (most of the time) if the display isn’t Dolby Vision compatible.

This article on FlatpanelsHD does a good job explaining Dolby Vision. That said, Dolby Vision isn’t simply on or off, there’s different levels and capabilities within the standard and it’s really confusing. This forum post explains the differences as best as practically possible. It’s pretty confusing!

What I do know is that my projector does not support Dolby Vision at all, so my playback device needs to do something to interpret the HDR metadata to a format the projector understands (which for the Epon TW-9400, is HDR10).

The Zidoo Z9X Pro can use the VS10 tone mapping engine of the Realtek SoC to read the Dolby Vision metadata (but not the enhancement layers) and adapt it to HDR10 for my projector. Even if the content I’m watching has a HDR10 fallback, the Z9X can take the extra info contained in the Dolby Vision or HDR10+ metadata and adapt it as best as possible to HDR10.

Sounds cool, but what’s it like in practice versus the Shield?

For this test I took a 4K Blu-ray of Dune and watched scenes of it back to back on the Zidoo Z9X Pro using the built-in “Home Theatre 4.0” app and then an MKV remux I made of the same disc of Dune on the Shield using Kodi.


ID                                       : 1
ID in the original source medium         : 4113 (0x1011)
Format                                   : HEVC
Format/Info                              : High Efficiency Video Coding
Format profile                           : Main 10@L5.1@High
HDR format                               : Dolby Vision, Version 1.0, dvhe.07.06, BL+EL+RPU, Blu-ray compatible / SMPTE ST 2086, HDR10 compatible
Codec ID                                 : V_MPEGH/ISO/HEVC
Duration                                 : 2 h 35 min
Bit rate                                 : 59.8 Mb/s
Width                                    : 3 840 pixels
Height                                   : 2 160 pixels
Display aspect ratio                     : 16:9
Frame rate mode                          : Constant
Frame rate                               : 23.976 (24000/1001) FPS
Color space                              : YUV
Chroma subsampling                       : 4:2:0 (Type 2)
Bit depth                                : 10 bits
Bits/(Pixel*Frame)                       : 0.300
Stream size                              : 64.9 GiB (95%)
Language                                 : English
Default                                  : No
Forced                                   : No
Color range                              : Limited
Color primaries                          : BT.2020
Transfer characteristics                 : PQ
Matrix coefficients                      : BT.2020 non-constant
Mastering display color primaries        : Display P3
Mastering display luminance              : min: 0.0050 cd/m2, max: 4000 cd/m2
Maximum Content Light Level              : 787 cd/m2
Maximum Frame-Average Light Level        : 239 cd/m2
Original source medium                   : Blu-ray

Original Disc:

Disc Title:     Dune
Disc Label:     Dune_ UHD
Disc Size:      97,316,943,521 bytes
Protection:     AACS2
Extras:         Ultra HD, BD-Java


Name:           00800.MPLS
Length:         02:35:26.608 (
Size:           0 bytes
Total Bitrate:  0.00 Mbps

(*) Indicates included stream hidden by this playlist.


Codec                   Bitrate             Description     
---------------         -------------       -----------     
MPEG-H HEVC Video       0 kbps              2160p / 23.976 fps / 16:9 / Main 10 @ Level 5.1 @ High / 4:2:0 / 10 bits / HDR10 / Limited Range / BT.2020 / PQ / BT.2020 non-constant / Mastering display color primaries: Display P3 / Mastering display luminance: min: 0.0050 cd/m2, max: 4000.0000 cd/m2 / Maximum Content Light Level: 787 cd / m2 / Maximum Frame-Average Light Level: 239 cd/m2

* MPEG-H HEVC Video     0 kbps              1080p / 23.976 fps / 16:9 / Main 10 @ Level 5.1 @ High / 4:2:0 / 10 bits / Dolby Vision / Limited Range / BT.2020 / PQ / BT.2020 non-constant / Mastering display color primaries: Display P3 / Mastering display luminance: min: 0.0050 cd/m2, max: 4000.0000 cd/m2

Honestly, I can’t tell much difference. Flicking back and forth watching the first scene of Dune and it was more or less the same to my untrained eyes.

Kodi is outputting a HDR10 signal to my projector, presumably using the HDR fallback metadata:

The Zidoo is using the VS10 engine to output HDR10 as well, but I don’t know if it’s just taking the HDR10 track and using that, or taking the Dolby Vision data and turning that into a “better” HDR10.

Is the Zidoo Z9X worth it if you already own an Apple TV/Shield?

If you just want Dolby Vision from an MKV you downloaded off the internet to your TV (which probably supports Dolby Vision unless you have a Samsung), Jellyfin and Plex have support articles stating how they handle Dolby Vision. Stick with an Nvidia Shield and Kodi/Jellyfin, the Zidoo isn’t gonna do much for ya. The comments in this Reddit discussion about the Nvidia Shield’s Dolby Vision capabilities are worth a read.

There’s also the fact that the Apple TV won’t output Dolby Atmos audio with Plex/Jellyfin/Infuse and neither it or the Nvidia Shield can’t play back full disc Blu-ray rips, even with a hacked version of Kodi (which works, but craps out on most discs in my experience).

The little niche Zidoo occupies is people who want full disc rip playback and/or don’t have a display that supports Dolby Vision. It’s not the same as a proper Dolby Vision display, but it’s better than no HDR at all - in theory. I couldn’t tell much difference between VS10 image and the HDR10 fallback image that’s on most blu-ray discs.

But even the Zidoo isn’t perfect as it does not support FEL Dolby Vision. The only devices that support FEL Dolby Vision are high end disc blu-ray players. This spreadsheet lists the devices on the market that support the various types of Dolby Vision as MP4/TS/M2TS/MKV files. Seeing as my projector doesn’t support Dolby Vision anyways, I’m not missing out on much here by having a device that can’t handle FEL Dolby Vision, despite it being on a decent amount of 4K blu-ray discs.

If it wasn’t for the full disc rips, I would probably just stick to the Shield, but I like the rips for now and the VS10 tone mapping has a nice placebo effect so I’ll stick with the Zidoo a bit longer.

My main takeaway from this post is I can’t wait for a TV bigger than 100" to go on sale that doesn’t cost the same as a brand new small car, so I can actually view HDR content properly!