Saturday, 29 October 2011

Opticum HD x403 FAQ

What is the Opticum HD x403 ?
It's a cheap, chinese made DVB-S2 HD satellite tuner with a PVR function.

Why are you writing this FAQ?

As a note to myself, basically. I bought one the a while ago to replace an older FTA tuner which is apparently broken. I'll welcome every contribution, on the other hand.

Why did you buy one?
It's cheap (89.9 EUR at Amazon's), it has all the connectivity I need, it has a PVR function, can play media files (not all), has some special features..

Is it a Dreambox clone?
Nope, some of the features are comparable, but it's a completely different hardware.

Is it an Openbox clone?
No. The hardware is very similar (an ALI 3602 based machine) but it runs a completely different software. he menus are organised in a way reminding of the Enigma interface, though.

It must be a clone of something?
It's a clone of itself... It's a chinese OEM product, made (also) by Yoja Technology Co. Ltd. It's known as the Opticum or Globo or Orton HD x403p. It's rebranded by European vendors as the Edision Argus Piccollo, the Amstar, the AMIKO, the SAB,  and many other names sometimes with a slightly different firmware (alternative graphics, etc).

What is the connectivity?
On the front, a CONAX card slot and CI slot. CONAX is an encryption standard used mostly in scandinavian and german-speaking countries. A Common Interface slot theoretically allows to use the receiver to watch every pay-tv with the corresponding CAM module, but there can be compatibility problems. On the back one can find: HDMI, SCART (only one, CVBS/RGB of course but not S-Video), 1x RCA CVBS, coaxial SPDIF, 2x RCA audio out, satellite in/out (that is, passthrough is supported). No optical Toslink. A 10/100 Ethernet port. A 2.0 USB to device connector. A RS232 port.

No headphone output?
That would be asking too much.

Are there different versions of the x403p ?
Yes, there are two generations of remote controllers, the new and the old, each apparently requiring different firmwares. I have the new remote, shown in the photo below.

What does the unit look like? What comes in the box? 
Like this:

The unit comes in a small cardboard box with no internal padding (and Amazon sent it to me in one of those light cardboard covers they usually use for thick books, sheesh), inside I found the unit with the attached power cord, an instruction manual in german, the RC and two spare AAA batteries.

How does the case look like? 
Chinese manufacturing and quality standards have improved lately. It's a very small set top box. The finishing is acceptable, it looks reasonably solid, but don't expect something looking a HUMAX or early Dreambox multimedia machine.

What is the official website for updates, manuals, etc?
Try this: But you won't find much there, at most an english manual and a not-so-updated firmware.

Where can I get service in case of failure, etc?
If it breaks in the warranty period, have it replaced by the seller, otherwise buy something newer. Realistically I mean.

Does it work also with conventional (non HD) TV sets?
 That's what the SCART is for, You can also watch HD programming, downscaled of course. The menus however are almost always optimized for HD viewing, so they are a bit hard to read on a standard tv set (this could be a problem for older people).

What kind of devices is it possible to attach to the USB port?
Flash pendrives and USB hard disks. Both FAT32 and NTFS formatted units are supported. I've tried a couple of 2.5 hd enclosures and they work: of course your mileage may vary, some hd enclosures which do not require an external power supply on a particular pc, could require one on the x403p, or vice-versa. If you plan to use an USB extension cord, use a quality one.

What are the PVR capabilities?
Depending on the USB device speed (a USB 2.0 hard drive will always work at max speed) upto a single HD channel. One can watch another channel on the same transponder while recording. The unit records standard transport stream .TS files. I can watch them with VLC.

What are the media playing capabilities?
It can play most music and video containers and codecs, EXCEPT DVIX/XVID encoded video. That is probably a hardware limitation: most material one can 'find' on the internet IS DVIX/XVID encoded, so it will have to be converted before using. A good option is converting to H.264 with the MKV container. I use the freeware Handbrake utility.

Is the CI slot compatible with the Tivusat SMARcard?
Looks like it is. If I could find a SMARcard which doesn't cost as much as a full receiver I could test it...

What about the tuner sensitivity?
It's pretty good. I have a fixed dish with three LNBs, the third is on a secondary focus 'pointing' to Atlantic Bird 3 for FTA french channels and the signal is rather weak, but the unit tunes it with no big problems.

What's the Ethernet port for?
For updating the firmware via HTTP o FTP and for cardsharing (with 'special' firmwares). No telnet access, no web access, no shell access etc. It supports DHCP or a manual configuration. IP v4 only :^)

What's the RS232 port for?
Firmware updating in case of emergency, channel list editing.

Tell me about the channel list features.
The unit is diseqc 1.0/1.1/1.2 USALS compatible. It comes with a decent list of satellites and transponders, it allows normal and blind scan, and manual editing. Channels can be sorted, found with a 'search' feature, organised in up to ten favourites sections. The channel list can be backed up with the firware on USB and can be edited via RS232 (not by Ethernet) with external utilities. It's usable and reasonably fast (the user interface on the STB I replaced was impossibly slow)

What are the 'special' capabilities?
On many forums you can find patched firmwares with: - different graphics - updated media player capabilities - an embedded softcam currently able to open a few bouquets (not many). Keys must be embedded within the firmware with a couple of freeware utilities, or they must be input manually (press info two times and the red button two times - the usb unit must be disconnected). Sometimes keys embedding works, sometimes not.  Approximately one can access what is currently accessible with a PC and a softcam like VPlug, that is, not much. I suspect the original 'patched' firms are from the manufacter himself, surely there must be a reason why this kind of receivers are top sellers on amazon and in eastern europe... - alternatively, a cardsharing module. It should allow access to cccam cardsharing server, via the netclient submenu in the internet menu. I haven't personally tried this feature.

What are the best sites to find information and software for the unit? - - - (if you can read german, it's the most up-to-date site)

What should I look in new firmwares?
It must be a firmware specific to the x403p (not the Opticum X4 or the Opticum 9600, for example). It must be a firmware compatible with your remote, old or new. The best way to upgrade is to put the .abs image in a flash fat32 pendrive and use the USB upgrade option from the system menu. If the firmware is not compatible, the unit shoud tell you that (it should).  The firmware contains also a bootloader image. If the bootloader is compatible, there is no need to upgrade it. One can choose software only upgrade with the benefit of not losing the channel setting on upgrade. However, if the bootloader is not compatible, it must upgraded with the bootloader image embedded in the abs file, losing the channel list in the process (the channel editing utilities shoud let you save a backup of the channel list anyway)

What are the best utilities around?
There's a free channel editor (AliEditor). There is also a version of a shareware(commercial) well known channel editor utility, but it doesn't make sense for such a cheap unit. AliChipmaker 2.1 updates the keys in an abs image from a server. It works ok, but again, sometimes keys aren't read for no particular reason. Orton Key Editor 1.8 is a .net utility which lets edit keys in an abs image manually, or by loading them from a binary file. Is it possible to load additional software ON the unit? It's not Enigma nor linux (as far as I know) based. You get what's in the firmware. There are three games included with every firmware I've seen, Tetris, Snake, and Othello.

How does the unit work?
Reasonably well. Until just a few years you could get something like this for four, five time the price, at best. I've seen that sometimes media files with incompatible codecs crash the unit goodbye, instead of prompting the usual incompatible codec message, or I've seen the video stream stop while the audio continued. Keep in mind of course that this is a under EUR 100 set top box. If you want the best , spend at least double that amount and get a Qbox HD mini, or a genuine Dreambox.


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