You probably would have noticed, Android Media players are popping up all over the places. PIXEPLAY, a Singapore company, has made available the Kuro Smart Player, that brings together Android functionality and a HD-based media player for an all-in-one home entertainment solution.
So how did it fare?
The PixePlay KURO Smart Player has learnt from others, such as AcRyan and also the tons of China-based Android TV sticks, set top boxes etc, and has attempted to combine various features into a user-friendly, one-of-a-kind home entertainment device for the home. User friendliness and overall experience is good and configuration was easy, as after connecting the HDD, and then booting up to a clean interface with the important access to features, such as videos, browser, control settings, etc available on the main homescreen.
There is an software integrated media interface provided by PixePlay, but requires that the folder naming structure for videos to be stored in a “Movie” folder on the root location. It would have been friendlier if it could just search all available videos or at least let one choose the default folder location. Mine was “Movies” and it indicated that no videos were found. No matter, renamed it and it found the videos and displayed cover art if they have folder.jpg or you can download cover art / posters too.
The detailed specifications of the Kuro are listed below, so I will just briefly cover it here. On the hardware front, one convenient aspect is the number of output ports. Connectivity options are significant. Wi-Fi built in and a 100 Mbit/s (RJ45) Ethernet port are included. The device has a Wi-Fi antenna on the back so connecting to your Wi-Fi hotspot isn’t a problem. My router was around 10m away and in another room, and signal strength remained good. As well as the HDMI output there is a composite video jack for the really old tvs. For those who want sound via a different route than the HDMI cable, the device has coaxial and optical outputs. I pretty much only use the HDMI but more options could come in handy for home users with for e.g. separate audio equipment.
Great Support for SATA HDD
On top of all those ports and connectivity options the EZTV also has room for a SATA hard drive. Open up the cover, and slot the hard drive into the molded bracket and you are done! Easy. The device can accommodate and power up a 2.5 inch or a 3.5 inch drive. Once installed the drive appears as a SATA device in Android, and will be mounted at the default location mnt/sda or sdb etc. There’s also USB slots for additional storage or connectivity. There’s also a USB 3.0 port which I didn’t try out but could be handy for faster storage medium.
Powering off the Kuro from the remote also puts the HDD to sleep. This functionality is not easily duplicated on other Android sticks or boxes due to the multitude of factors, such as the USB interface, the USB HDD case and whether it supports sleep, etc.
Great Video Playback Performance
The Kuro runs on Android 4.22, includes 1gb ram and a dual core processor, not the fastest in the market, but it is built with the media player in mind and definitely no problems to handle local 1080p 3D Blu-ray, 3D BD-ISO, MKV, RMVB files and a variety of other HD video formats and codecs. Antutu Benchmark score is only 10K plus though so take note if you are intending to run more intensive android apps, notably games.
I tried it out on a few video formats and well, no issues generally – from your typical 1080p mkv, mp4, etc.
This included the I am Legend – Trailer, LG 3D Demo 1080P Half-SBS clip that they play on the TV sets, and many more.
The only one that really stumbled was the infamous Birds MKV, a 1080p, h264, 40mbps remux clip. You can check it out from Auby Video Test demo here. There was significant frameskip on the PixePlay but that being said, that was the only problematic clip and I similarly encountered frame skipping (albeit lesser) playing it on my desktop computer too.
The Kuro’s Android platform provides easy connectivity to apps, internet, both online and offline content. I installed XBMC immediately, due to my familiarity with XBMC and do note, there’s a customised version of XBMC on the Pixeplay website that you would need to install. If you are a Plex fan, do check out Serenity as well. I tried the Gotham beta from XBMC.org but ran into problems. XBMC on the Pixeplay performed smoothly, playing back as above all the various videos and in addition, also provides a neat and clean interface for accessing the media arranged on my HDD. I find the inclusion of the HDD slot to be one of the best feature for the PixePlay. Coupled with the Android App access, it could easily turn into a low-powered media server, torrent box, etc, in the day and then transformed to an entertainment box at night. There are a number of default apps already installed to ensure easy access to online streaming content.
The provided remote is handy, with RF access so no direct line of sight required, and with a gyro to simulate a mouse. There are buttons for Home, the Play Store and the browser etc. as well as direction buttons. Android is of course designed to be used on a touch screen, but on the STB the remote’s navigation arrows are used to highlight different icons and then pressing OK is the same as a tap. The keyboard appears on screen and each letter needs to be selected and then OK pressed. However, the lack of keyboard can be frustrating and you may want to consider plugging in a keyboard especially during the initial setup phase.
With it working so well as a Media Player, Internet TV Box etc, I wanted to see if it can do more. I tried connecting my Xbox 360 controller and wanted to check out for e.g. Dead Trigger 2 or Real Racing 3, but it was not able to configure the controller. Seems like the keymap is provided, but the xinput.ko file was missing from android systerm/lib/modules. Not too much an issue though, and the processor also probably ain’t really cut out to support the games.
Price and Availability
The company is located at Sim Lim Square #05-79 and you could pop down for a demo. It is currently retailing for $229. Also, besides the convenience of local support, they have also released a new firmware for added features. At least it is comforting to know you will not be left in the lurch. Airplay support should be useful, and it looks like it supports full airplay mirroring so you could stream games, video, etc.
Also Pixeplay Kuro is available from Qoo10, with shipping thrown in – awesome.
Firmware 1.2 Features
- DVD-ISO playback now supported!
- Search function in Jukebox.
- Jukebox marks watched shows with a √.
- Bluetooth enabled (requires USB Bluetooth receiver).
- PixeCast – Mirrors your Apple devices!
- File Manager & Jukebox UI updated.
Update instructions are pretty easy too and you can get the firmware from PixePlay website.
I have dabbled with Android TV sticks before and in terms of functionality and performance, I would say that while the PixePlay is similar to them, the key advantage is the ease of use. Having a Android device that can use an internal hard drive has provided a significant improvement. The PixePlay Kuro is currently having a promotion – a special bundle offer, valid till the 30th of May. For just $268 (SRP $384), the bundle will package a 1TB HDD* alongside the PixePlay KURO – which means the 1TB HDD will basically cost just $39!
*limited to first 50 bundles!
Features of the PixePlay Kuro
• True 3D Full HD 1080p
• 5.1 and 7.1 HD Audio
• Plays BD-ISO files including 3D BD-ISO
• Gigabit LAN for faster transfer and streaming
• Built-in Wifi b/g/n with external antenna
• Flash 11 and HTML5 web browser
• Supports 2.5” and 3.5” HDD with EZ-Flip Case
• Supports USB webcam for Skype video chat
• Movie Jukebox function for auto fetch cover art
• Support 2D/3D games
• Download apps from Google PlayStore
Specifications of the PixePlay Kuro
Dual Core 1.2GHz ARM Cortex A9
1GB DDR RAM
8GB eMMC Flash Storage
Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean)
HDMI v1.4 interface up to 1080p
Internal hard disk slot available (SATA) – 2.5” and 3.5″ SATA/SATA2 hard disk up to 4TB (NTFS)
Outputs: Composite Audio / Video / SPDIF / Optical TOSLink (digital audio)
Supports: External USB hard disk, Media card, USB sticks and other USB mass storage devices
USB2.0 host controller (2x Host Ports – support mouse / keyboard / bluetooth dongle)
1x USB 3.0 Slave Port
Cooling: ! 40mm Low Noise Fan
Video Formats Supported: AVI / MKV / TS / TP / TRP / M2TS / MPG / MP4 / MOV / M4V / VOB / DAT / WMV / ASF / RM / RMVB / FLV
3D Format Supported: Side by Side (SBS), Top and Bottom (TAB) and 3D BD
Dimensions: 198 x 175 x 52mm
Smart Remote bundled – Gyro, RF remote