Getting the most out of streamed video: Netflix and Plex (with NVIDIA Shield Pro?)


For those of you running audiophile grade surround sound setups, I'm wondering what your approach is to achieving HQ results from either
  • Netflix, which will naturally be compressed, lossy 
  • or Plex, which streams local network media.  Depending on your source can be blu-ray equivalent.
For example, when using a smart TV to stream both of these you have 2 choices for connecting audio to your A/V processor:
  1. HDMI ARC (audio return channel) with limited audio bandwidth support
  2. Optical with even less audio bandwidth support.
The verdict:  Smart TV streaming = bad

The solution: Use an external box to stream the services, which has full HDMI output to A/V processor.  Then A/V processor distributes to rest of your system.

Have any of you found a suitable box to stream Plex/Netflix in this way?  

On the short list is NVIDIA Shield Pro.  Although skeptical due to tiny form factor.  comments?

irave
From my laptop I run L/R to my stereo, HDMI to my projector. https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/8367Stereo is the most audiophile HT can be. Surround is more, not better.

Ignore millercarbon as he always remarks very negatively about anything that is more than 2 channels.

First, Plex is basically media player software, which can play media that you own.  You basically have to own the DVD/bluray disc or actual movie file.  It is NOT a streaming service such as Netflix / Hulu / etc.

There are several devices that can stream Netflix/Amazon/Hulu.  Low end ones are things such as Apple TV, Amazon Fire Cube, Roku.  Sony bluray players also have streaming apps for Netflix/Amazon/Hulu.

If you really want to step up the quality, look at higher end media players from companies such as Zidoo, Zappiti and Dune.  They do range in price, but the top end models typically have linear power supplies and nicely engineered circuits.  Additional internal hard drives for content that you can rip or download.  Any google-play apps can be loaded (includes Amazon streaming, Netflix, Hulu, and hundreds of others). 

I have this on my future list to try.  The Zidoo UHD2000 would be the one I want to buy, but all three companies have good products.
Oh another thing, there are some media content that can only be available from a certain streaming provide.  Example would be title like "Stranger Things", "Altered Carbon", "Sense8", which are all only produced and available from Netflix.  Hulu and Amazon have their own shows.
millercarbon, I'm sure your 2-ch setup is stellar, would love to hear it.  I have a setup with separate 2-ch side and surround side, where front L/R are always powered by 2-ch pre/amp.  Surround equipment can remain off when playing music.

auxinput, the Zidoo looks great - first I've heard of it.  

Previously I was considering something like  Sony UBP-X800M2, which provides 4k blu-ray + streaming, but apparently they are drawing back on their app support, which includes the dropping of Plex.  

It seems to be a challenge to find something that supports good 4k blu-ray and Plex/Netflix at the same time.

I've been using Plex for a long time - find it great for tracking what episode you've watched.  You're right, it's not a streaming service like Netflix but it is still network streaming (DLNA style).  Essentially DLNA with a better UI.

Have you found anything specifically that can do  4k blu-ray+Plex/Netflix?

Quarantinewhile, I'll look into the 3 brands you mentioned. Thanks

If you're worried about the 2019 Nvidia Shield Pro size ,that's just a plus (easy to conceal as it uses Bluetooth for remote operation) as it's the King of streamers as far as I'm concerned.I run mine to my Marantz 8805 and then to my Sony 940e. The shield will playback Netflix,Vudu in both Atmos and Dolby Vision if you have opted for the 4k tier (Netflix) Vudu will playback any movies you've purchased via digital at the level you purchased them. Don't for get Netflix recently bumped the audio Quality and as it was before they never limited bandwidth for audio. The Shield will also playback Youtube in 5.1 which is the first streaming device to do so. Another thing the 2019 shield has an advantage is the new AI upscaling for non 4k sources which is just plain fantastic.
@auxinput,

Thanks for your recommendation on Zidoo UHD2000. It would be interesting to compare this with my Apple TV 4K. For now, Apple TV 4K does a great job of providing access to Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube (my top 3) channels. 
@irave - I don't think there's anything that can do everything in one box and also be the best quality.  Zidoo cannot play bluray discs directly.  You can use computer software to rip blurays into an .ISO file or some sort of movie file, then store it on the Zidoo for playback, but this is a complicated and time consuming hassle.  It's just much better to have an actual bluray player for playing physical disks.  Then use your media player for streaming and everything else (unless you also have a satellite receiver).

The Plex media server is available as Android software on google play, so you can load this onto the Zidoo as well if you want. There is literally a ton of different apps available on googleplay.  Zidoo runs on Android OS, so anything Android is compatible.

@lalitk - I have the Amazon FireCube.  Actually, it is not too bad for audio and video quality.  Audio quality is not the best, however.  I have done a side-by-side comparison between stock Firecube and a Tivo unit with a Teradak linear power supply - for streaming Netflix. The Tivo with linear power supply just beat the crap out of FireTV for Netflix streaming in both audio and video quality.  FireTV audio was bright/thin and a bit harsh in comparison.  This is feeding both audio and video through HDMI to a receiver.  There's no substitute for linear power supply and good digital circuits.  They say AppleTV has somewhat better audio than Amazon FireTV.  You can always upgrade to a linear power supply for your AppleTV.

Zidoo, Zappiti and Dune all make high end media player units.  Their top of the line models all have linear power supplies.  If you don't need analog audio outputs, it seems the Zapiiti Pro 4K only has digital outputs (HDMI, coax, toslink).  You guys can always buy one of the lower models and then add a Teradak or SBooster linear power supply for a big improvement, but it's much easier to have the linear power supply built into the same unit, lol.
Comments on the Nvidia Shield Pro.  This is on the same level as the Roku and FireTV stuff, but includes some additional gaming functions (what else would you expect from Nvidia, lol).  Not a bad thing, but you get what you pay for.  Googling around, it appears that this unit requires 19V 2.1A power supply and has a proprietary power connector, which makes it very difficult or impossible to upgrade to a linear power supply.  The Nvidia is great for the common consumer that wants this type of movie / streaming / gaming functionality, but I would avoid this for people who are nitpicky or want the absolute best audio/video quality.
I take it you don't or have never used a Nvidia Shield especially the 2019 version? I'm as picky as they come and its got a place in my setup for streaming why? its simply one of the best at what it does.http://https//www.avsforum.com/forum/39-networking-media-servers-content-streaming/3096760-new-nvidia-shield-tv-pro-announced-faster-soc-dolby-vision-new-remote.html
Shield Pro is no doubt ahead in regards to feature set.  For example, it has Dolby Vision where the other premium choices don't.

Both the Zidoo and Shield are android based, so I'm assuming the Netflix/Plex experience would be very similar.  

I see advantages for the Zidoo for the high end power supply and other parts.  In the end, not sure how much better this will make the Zidoo sound ?  

Zidoo is apparently heavily geared towards playback using its internal storage.  Is there any benefit to using internal storage vs streaming from another PC on the network (via DLNA/Plex) ?  Seems to me this may be just another step - copying stuff to the box.
Ok, great topic and timely for me.  I am building a theater room as we speak and will stream everything from Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Amazon Prime.  I will have a 4K projector either JVC 9 series or Sony.  I am Apple based.  What are the suggestions for the best audio and video output?  I have been using Firestick.  
Zidoo is apparently heavily geared towards playback using its internal storage. Is there any benefit to using internal storage vs streaming from another PC on the network (via DLNA/Plex) ? Seems to me this may be just another step - copying stuff to the box.
The Netflix and Amazon apps allow you to download movies/shows to your local harddrive.  This allows you to watch the content without having to stream from the internet on the fly.  Other streaming services may have similar options.  You can probably download content from services such as HBO/Showtime/etc.  And, like you indicated, you can always copy your own content files to the media player drive if you want.

I kind of leaned towards Zidoo.  Looking at things now, the Zidoo and Dune top models also include analog outputs.  If you are just connecting to a processor using HDMI, you don't need these analog outputs.  The Zappitti Pro 4K HDR top level doesn't have analog outputs, so you're not wasting circuits/money.  Zappiti does have an "Audiocom" version of the top level which is even a step above, but I doni't see it available in the US.

As far as which is the best, it's hard to say.  All 3 are Android OS based.  All 3 have bugs and problems reported by users.  When I was researching, it seemed that Zidoo was more responsive to bugs and has a larger community forum for posts/threads.  I'm sure all 3 would be a good choice.
I have read that some of the newer Zidoo players support HDR and Dolby Vision, but Dolby Vision is not listed directly on the website.  You may want to email them to make sure.

As far as I can tell, Dune and Zappiti do not have Dolby Vision yet.  These are somewhat small companies (not like Marantz/Denon which have a team of 80+ engineers).  New technology updates are always a challenge to keep up with.  But you should ask yourself the question as to what's more important?  New features and functionality?  Or overall audio/video quality.  A lot of content from Netflix/Hulu/etc. is not going to be in HDR or Dolby Vision anyways.
Just to report back some of my research...

The Zidoo (and other similar players) are purposely designed with local storage and a native menu for playing media.

So to get the most of these devices, you would copy media directly to it, then play. And the quality is supposed to be superior to even the Nvidia Shield for pic + audio.

However, support for other apps is limited and possibly clunky. For example, they currently dont have licensing from Netflix therefore you will only get 480 SD (NOT HD) quality when streaming.

I’m not sure what the limitations are for Plex, but then again, the Zidoo is a replacement for Plex for local network play via ethernet. i.e. it has a nice poster wall for displaying remote media.

Conclusion: for streaming services like Netflix, top choice seems to be Nvidia Shield TV Pro 2019. For local media, the Zidoo, Dune and Zappiti are ideal.
Wow, thanks for finding all that!  I had not researched down in the weeds that deep yet.  I've done some more research today and it seems all of these high end players are not Google certified and are actually still using very old Android OS versions (Version 6.0 from 2015, and in some cases Version 5 from 2014).   That's too bad because the hardware is really excellent.

There is a side-install work around for Netflix on these Zidoo.  You have to go into security settings and "allow outside install programs" or something.  But that is only for netflix and you have to get the install directly from the netflix site.

There is one Zidoo device that seems to be newer - Zidoo H6 Pro.  This runs a slightly newer Android 7.0.  All indications do say that the H6 does support Google Play and Netflix 4K HD.  You can upgrade this one with a 5V linear power supply, but you probably have to figure out the proper size DC plug.

So, yeah, the Nvidia Shield Pro has a newer Android TV 9.0 OS and pretty much supports everything, but the power connector is proprietary and will be difficult to upgrade to linear power supply.

I did find a product called Himedia S500 that also runs the Android TV 9.0 and indicates it is fully GooglePlay certified.  It is so new that it's not yet available from a US distributor.  You can order it from a UK/Germany distributor.  Not that expensive at about $98.  You can also upgrade to 12V linear power supply, and you will have to figure out the proper DC plug for this.

An Sbooster with all those different plug adapters could be an easy answer for the Zidoo H6 Pro or the Himedia S500.