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Mecool KIII Pro Hybrid STB Review – Part 2: Android Firmware, TV Center, and DVB-T2 & DVB-S2 App

March 22nd, 2017 37 comments

Last year I reviewed K1 Plus T2 S2, an Android TV box powered by Amlogic S905 quad core processor with DVB-T2 and DVB-S2 tuner support, which worked with some caveats. VideoStrong has now send me an updated model with Amlogic S912 octa-core processor, which I presented in the post entitled Mecool KIII Pro Hybrid Android STB Review – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing and Teardown, where I listed the specifications, and showed photos of the device and the boards (main board + tuner board). I’ve now had time to play with the device, and in many respects the user experience is very similar to the one I got with KI Plus T2 S2 models, but there are also some tweaks, and a few bugs which I’ll report in the second part of the review below.

KIII Pro Hybrid TV Box Setup, Settings, & Power Consumption

The four USB ports are really convenient, as I could connect a USB hard drive, an air mouse, a wireless game pad, and a USB keyboard without the need for a USB hub. I also connected the usual Ethernet and HDMI cable, plus the cable from my Satellite dish to the DVB-S2 F connector, and the cable from my roof antenna to the DVB-T2 coaxial connector.

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Once we connect the power, the device boots automatically, and usually takes under 30 seconds to do so. The launcher is pretty much the same as KI Plus TV box.

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So I won’t go through it in details again, and will only comment on one change. Kodi is gone and been replaced by something called “TV Center”. So I clicked on it, and it showed a famous Chinese proverb “The installation isn’t installed!”. So I went to the list of apps, and click on TV CENTER, which will do the installation of this mysterious app.

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Once it’s done I can click on TV Center, and the user interface looks familiar.

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So that means they made some modifications to Kodi 17, and change the name to comply with the trademark requirements.

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The TV Center installation also automatically added some add-ons as shown in the screenshot below.

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The Setting app is exactly the same as for other recemt Amlogic TV boxes, and there’s nothing specific to DVB, so I’ll mostly skip it (If you want to see check out Qintaix Q912 review), except to show Storage & USB section that reveals 634 MB is used out of 16.00 GB. That’s obviously a fake number, and it should be around 11 to 12 GB, but the company may have chosen to do so to avoid some customer’s complains that there’s not 16GB storage, as they don’t understand the OS take places on the flash.

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It also shows NTFS and exFAT file systems are supported, but not EXT-4, nor BTRFS.

The About section shows the model is indeed KIII pro running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29. The firmware is rooted by default.

OTA update appears to be supported, but at the time of the review, there was no update available.

I tested the provide IR remote by adding two AA batteries, and it works well up to 10 meters. For most other TV boxes, I’d recommend to use an air mouse, bu in the case of KIII Pro, you’ll need to keep using the remote control in order to support DTV app for DVB-S2/DVB-T2 properly, maybe switching to an air mouse or wireless keyboard + touchpad for some other Android apps. One recurring issue in most TV boxes is still present in KIIIPro however: the mouse cursor is rather small when you set your TV to 4K resolution.

I could install all apps I needed through Google Play, and Amazon Underground without issues.

The set-top box has only two power modes: off or on, and there’s no standby mode. I can turn the device on or off using the IR remote control or the power button.

Power consumption is pretty high in power off, as I tested different options with or without the USB hard drive, but I found a lot of variability with testing:

  • Power off – Test 1: 5.1 Watt; Test 2: 2.2  Watts; Test 3: 3.1 Watts
  • Idle – 7.2 Watts, then 4.3 Watts (2nd try)
  • Power off + HDD – Test 1: 5.1 Watt; Test 2: 2.2  Watts; Test 3: 3.1 Watts
  • Idle + HDD – 9.3 Watts then 8.1 Watts (2nd try)

The good news is that USB ports are turned off in power off mode, so at least the extra power consumption does not come from those ports.

Temperature is a little higher than other boxes, but I’ve not encounter massive CPU throttling during my tests. After playing a 2-hour video the maximum top and bottom temperatures as measured with an IR thermometer were respectively 53°C and 57°C, while after playing Riptide GP2 for about 15 to 20 minutes the temperatures were 51°C and 57°C, but I did not notice any lower framerate in the game as the time went on. I quickly started CPU-Z after quitting the game, and the reported temperature in the app was a high 89°C, so in some conditions performance degradation due to high temperature might be possible, I just did not experience it during my tests. FYR, room temperature was around 30 °C during testing.

KIII Pro Android firmware feels very much like any other Amlogic S912/S905X TV boxes, and it was responsive without any critical bugs. The only small annoyances were the somewhat loud music during the boot animation, the small cursor at 4K resolution, and the relatively high power consumption in power off mode.

Video & Audio Tests with TV Center (Kodi), and DRM Info

As we’ve seen in the section above, Kodi is not installed per se, but instead the box comes with an installer for a fork of Kodi 17.0-RC3 called TV Center.

I enabled “Adjust display refresh rate” in Kodi settings,and started by playing 4K video over Ethernet from a Linux SAMBA share:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Not always smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – The video plays in slow motion and audio delays (NB: 4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by S912 VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – Plays at around 1 to 2 fps (expected since it relies software decode as S912 VPU does not support 10-bit H.264)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – USB hard drive playback: Not smooth as on all other Amlogic TV boxes.
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Plays, but not always perfectly smooth as with all Amlogic S912 TV boxes.

4K video capabilities are pretty much the same as on other Amlogic S912 TV boxes, except for HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 that was worse than usual. Automatic frame rate switching is not working again as is the case on most other S912 boxes, except MINIX NEO U9-H.

Next up I enabled HDMI audio pass-through in Kodi, and since TrueHD is not part of the list, I also enabled Dolby Digital (AC3) transcoding.

Here are the results of my tests with Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver.

Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MX Player / Video Player app)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK, but video not smooth at all OK Audio OK (Dolby D 5.1), Video not smooth
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK Video not smooth, and audio cuts No audio
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio Dolby D 5.1 (transcoding)
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio Dolby D 5.1 (transcoding)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio Dolby D 5.1 (transcoding)
DTS HD Master OK No audio No audio and black screen
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK No audio and black screen
DTS:X OK No audio No audio and black screen

That’s pretty bad if you plan to use HDMI audio pass-through, except for Dolby Digital 5.1 / AC3. The first video has often problem on Amlogic TV boxes in Kodi, but most AC3 video should work fine. A good news is that AC3 is working via MX Player, so if you receive live TV channels with AC3 audio through the DTV app, it should be able to decode AC3 audio properly, something that was not possible in K1 Plus T2 S2.

I also played a 2-hour video to check for stability. The first time, TV CEnter app crashed with the message “Unfortunately TV Center has stopped” after about 5 minutes, and my second attempt was not completely trouble free either, as the video stopped at around the 50 minutes marked, and the system went back to TV Center UI, but I could select the video again, was offered to resume from 49:21, and it could play until the end.

KIII Pro supports Widevine Level 3 DRM. That means no Netflix HD like on most competing Android media players.

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DTV App for DVB-S/S2 and DVB-T/T2

Now to the most important features of KIII Pro hybrid set-top box: DVB-T/T2 and DVB-S/S2 tuner support. The box is using the same DTV app as on K1 Plus T2 S2 with only minor modifications. The first time you launch the app, you should get the following message indicating there aren’t any channels yet, and asking you to scan for channels.

Once you agree, you’ll be ask to select DVB S/S2 or DVB T/T2.

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I’ve gone with the latter first, and I’ll redirect you to the post entitled “How to Configure DVB-S2 and DVB-T2 Tuners in K1 Plus Android DTV Receiver” since the procedure is the same. I got 26 channels for my T2 scan, but somehow I got 30 channels on K1 Plus T2 S2. So I went to check the settings, and this time the Area Setting was already set to Thailand, either automatically, or it was done before sending the device.

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Anyway I could watch both HD and SD channels without any problems, and signal strength are quality are both at 100% or close to it all the time.

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The EPG looks exactly the same, and it still has problems with Thai encoding or font.

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But before testing other features, let’s configure our satellite dish. Press the Menu key on the remote control, select Installation,

and then DVB S/S2.

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You’ll be able to select your satellite from a list, or define your own as I showed in K1 Plus T2 S2 setup guide and review. I did not show Motor Settings last time, so I’ve taken two screenshots one showing DiSEQc 1.2 support…

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… and the other USALS support. I have not tested either since I don’t own a motorized satellite dish.

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Once you are happy with the setting go to Multi Scan menu to see your satellite list, and press the Blue button on the remote control to start scanning.

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I got 25 TV channels and 7 radios after selecting a Blind Scan and FTA (free-to-air) channels only. Last year, I got 55 TV channels and 5 radio with the same “Thaicom2” satellite. Go figure… Signal strength and quality are quite lower in my case at around 55% and 50% respectively. There are some channels without signal, just as with K1 Plus T2 S2.

One nice improvement is that you don’t need to select between DVB-T2 or DVB-S2 when you start DTV app, as all your channels are shown in the list.

I tried EPG scheduling to start playback or record video, and it works exactly like before.

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So  I setup a few “timers, and watched a DVB-T2 channel live, and one minute before a schedule recording on MONEY channel (DVB-S2) the following window overlaid the video:

I did not press any button, and one the count down expire, it switched to MONEY channel automatically (good), and I got the message “recording complete” (bad). I could reproduce this bug several times. I noticed if I schedule a recording on a channel, and stay on that channel it will work fine.

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You can see the list of recording above on my USB hard drive with some started manually (REC key on remote), and several scheduled. All the 0 bytes videos are due to the bug described above. So schedule does not work 100% reliably. However I noticed different current times (shown in top right of EPG) with different channels, for example it was 13:10 on a DVB-T2 channels, and 13:18 on a DVB-S2 channel, so this might explain some of the issues.. Please note that if you schedule program, and turn off the box, it won’t automatically start to record, and some comments in case try to run DTV app in the background and do other things. The DTV app must run in foreground in other to record videos.

I was more lucky with TimeShifting. Pressing the play/pause key on the remote control, will ask you to select a storage device, and you’ll be able to pause and play live TV within a default 5 minutes period, but this is adjustable in the settings. Note that you need external storage, as this won’t work from the flash.

Advanced users will be able to access CCcam, BISS, and PowerVU setting, by pressing the Menu key, selecting Installation and DVB S/S2, and from there enter 111111 on the remote (6 times character 1) to access Smart Data Manager menu.

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I have not done a video again since it’s so similar to the previous model, with just a few minor changes to the user interface, and if you want to check out DTV app into more details, I invite you to watch K1 Plus T2 S2 video review.

Networking (WiFi & Ethernet)

I’ve checked WiFi performance by transferring a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash (and vice versa) using ES File Explorer. I’ve only tried 802.11ac (connected @ 265 Mbps) , and again performance was asymmetric with the download @ 3.70 MB/s and upload @ 1.44 MB/s, and average @ 2.1 MB/s which makes it similar to other recent Amlogic TV boxes.

Throughput in MB/s

However, last time I reviewed MINIX NEO U9-H which had disappointing WiFi results with the same tests, as it was much slower than MINIX NEO U1 despite ahving the same WiFi module and overall system setup. MINIX them showed me their own tests with different routers showing similar performance between NEO U1 and NEO U9-H, so Amlogic may have completely blown up their SAMBA implementation in their Android 6.0 SDK (NEO U1 runs Android 5.0, U9-H runs Android 6.0).

For that reason, I also tested 802.11ac download speed using iperf “download” test:

That’s 216 Mbps (~27 MB/s) with a raw TCP transfer, and while SAMBA is not supposed to be the fastest network protocol, performance should not drop as low as 3.7 MB/s (over 7 times slower) for the SAMBA download unless something is really wrong.

I also tested Gigabit Ethernet with iperf but using a dual duplex test, and performance is fine.

Doing a SAMBA download over Gigabit Ethernet gets a 885 MB file transfer in 59 seconds (15 MB/s) to the internal flash, which is pretty much normal. So it looks like the issues occur when combining WiFi with SAMBA. SAMBA performs fine with Ethernet, and WiFi raw TCP transfer speed is OK.

Storage

KIII Pro supports exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file systems, but not EXT-4 and BTRFS. Benchmarks with A1SD bench shows you should avoid exFAT to record videos with the DTV app, as write speed is rather low (1.35 MB/s), and the write speed (156.09 MB/s) is just incorrect as it is what triggered the “Cached read” in the screenshot below.

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That means your only option is to use NTFS for external storage if you want to support larger video files. Performance is good at 44.43 MB/s for read speed, and  16.74 MB/s write speed.

The eMMC flash (“SD card” in screenshot) performance is not outstanding, but at 41.34 MB/s (read) and 18.29 MB/s (write) is good enough for the system to boot fast, and feel responsive at all times.

KIII Pro Benchmarks

CPU-Z correctly reports an octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.51 GHz with an ARM Mali-T860 GPU. Model KIII Pro is using q20x board, and the pp shows with 2825 MB total RAM, and 11.87 GB internal storage (the real value, but the 16GB shows in Android settings).

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Since I’ve reviewed so many Amlogic S912 TV boxes, and only ran Antutu 6.x benchmark to make sure there was no hidden issue, and the 40,330 points achieved by the TV box is within the normal range.

Conclusion

KIII Pro comes with typical performance and flaws of other Amlogic S912 TV boxes, with Android 6.0 firmware working well, TV Center (Kodi 17 fork) playing 4K videos relatively well, supporting DD 5.1 pass-through, but not the full range of audio codec, and lacking support for automatic frame rate switching. The device is however unique thanks to its dual tuner with DVB-T/T2 and DVB-S/S2 inputs, and the DTV app is about the same as on the previous model (K1 Plus T2 S2), but merges channels from both sources instead of having to choose at launch. Sadly some of the same bugs and shortcomings linger such as font encoding issues, and inablity to run PVR process in the background.

PROS

  • Stable and Responsive Android 6.0 firmware
  • Decent 4K video playback in TV Center (Kodi fork)
  • Support for Dolby Digital 5.1 (AC3) HDMI pass-through and downmixing in all apps
  • DVB-S/S2 & DVB-T/T2 support via DTV app with timershifting, EPG, and PVR support
  • Good 802.11ac WiFi and Ethernet performance
  • OTA firmware update (App is there, but not fully tested as no new firmware available during the review)

CONS (and Bugs)

  • DVB issues and shortcomings:
    • DVB S/S2 signal strength and quality is only around 50 to 55% (on my setup and for others too), which could lead to problems get signals for some channels
    • Thai font encoding issues
    • In some conditions, scheduled recordings will start on time, but stop immediately resulting in an empty video.
    • PVR function does not work in background, so the DTV app must be on the foreground at all time, and the box cannot be turned off when using schedules/timers.
  • HDMI audio pass-through not working (in TV Center) for Dolby Digital+ 7.1, TrueHD and DTS / DTS-HD
  • Automatic frame rate switching is not working in Kodi
  • Potential instability issues with TV Center – The 2-hour video test failed twice: 1st time: crash after 5 minutes; 2nd time the video stopped after about 50 minutes, but I could resume. N.B.: I did not experience other crashes while testing video samples.
  • Mediocre WiFi + SAMBA performance like in other S905X/S912 TV boxes with Android 6.0.
  • Relatively high power consumption (2.2 to 5.1 Watts) in power off mode
  • While I have not noticed obvious CPU or GPU throttling during my tests, temperature does get high (89 °C reported in CPU-Z)
  • Minor issues – Very small mouse pointer @ 4K resolutions, loud music during boot logo

Finally, I also have a user-friendliness remark. If you are just going to use TV Center and DTV app, the provided IR remote control will do, but if you are going to also use other Android apps, I normally recommend to replace the IR remote control with an air mouse. It’s not really possible/practical with KIII Pro, as DTV app has been designed around the IR remote control with keys such as MENU, PVR, REC, EPG… That means you’ll need juggle with both the IR remote control and an air mouse in order to fully enjoy all capabilities of the device. It would be really nice if VideoStrong could come up with an (optional) air mouse with keyboard that also supports DTV app.

Resellers and distributors may inquire Videostrong via their Alibaba page to purchase KIII Pro in quantities. Individuals can purchase KIII Pro Android set-top box on  GearBest ($117.99), Aliexpress ($141 and up), Banggood ($133.99), and other online retailers.

Mecool KM8 P Amlogic S912 TV Box Runs Android 7.1 Nougat, Sells for $39 and Up

March 19th, 2017 21 comments

We’ve already written about Android 7.1 on Amlogic earlier with week with an overview of the system and SDK from a developer, and there were some issues and user interface inconsistencies. However, I’ve just seen GeekBuying is now taking order for Amlogic S912 powered Mecool KM8 P TV box running Android 7.1 for $38.99 and up.

Mecool KM8 P specifications:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912 octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3
  • System Memory – 1 or 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8 or 16GB eMMC flash and micro SD slot up to 32GB
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60Hz with CEC and HDR support, and 3.5mm AV port (composite + stereo audio)
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 ports
  • Misc – IR receiver, status and network LEDs
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 97 x 97 x 10 mm

The box ships with an IR remote control, a power adapter, a HDMI cable, and a user’s manual. It’s running Android 7.1 with Kodi 17.

I’m not convinced it will work as well as Android 6.0 right now, but OTA firmware updates may fix some of the bugs. The 1GB/8GB version is sold for $38.99, but if you prefer the system with 2GB RAM, you’ll have to spend $49.99, and for extra storage (16GB) with 2GB RAM, the price is $54.99. GeekBuying also offers bundles with  various air mice.

ACEMAX Sells Amlogic S905X TV Boxes with LibreELEC, or Dual Boot LibreELEC + Android 6.0

March 16th, 2017 3 comments

There are plenty of Android TV boxes powered by Amlogic S905X processor on the market, but ACEMAX has apparently decided to leverage the community’s work on LibreELEC, and launched two “ACEMAX LE” models with 1GB RAM/8GB flash or 2GB/16GB that runs LibreELEC sold on Aliexpress for respectively $39.99 and $57.99 shipped. You can also buy the second model with a dual boot Android 6.0 + LibreELEC firmware for $59.99 including shipping, instead of only running LibreELEC.

The company uses both “OpenELEC”, “LibreELEC” and “Pure Linux”, but the video demo embedded at the end of this post shows clearly the box booting LibreELEC 7 with Kodi 16.1.

ACEMAX LE TV box specifications:

  • SoC –  Amlogic S905X quad core ARM Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.5GHz with penta-core Mali-450MP GPU
  • System Memory – Model 1: 1GB RAM; model 2: 2GB RAM
  • Storage
    • Model 1: 8GB eMMC flash + micro SD card slot
    • Model 2: 16GB eMMC flash + micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz, and AV port (composite video)
  • Audio Output – HDMI, optical S/PDIF, AV port (stereo audio)
  • Connectivity
    • Model 1 – 10/100M Ethernet, and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi.
    • Model 2 – 10/100M Ethernet, and dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi.
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 ports
  • Misc – Power LED, IR receiver
  • Power Supply –  5V/2A
  • Dimensions & Weight – N/A

The TV Box ships with a remote control, a HDMI cable, and a power adapter. You can normally install LibreELEC by yourself on most Amlogic S905/S905X TV box, but getting it pre-installed should save you a little bit of time, and the need to work around potential issues.

Via AndroidPC.es and theguyuk.

$44 A5X Plus Mini TV Box Runs Android 7.1 on Rockchip RK3328 Processor

March 15th, 2017 17 comments

Rockchip introduced RK3328 processor for TV boxes at CES 2017. The processor is based on a quad core Cortex A53 processor and a Mali-450MP is some other competitors such as Amlogic S9xx series, but what made the processor stand out is that it already supports Android 7.1, and includes a USB 3.0 port. A5X Plus Mini is one of the first TV box based on the processor, and the first “Chinese” TV box I’ve seen running Android 7.x Nougat.

A5X Plus mini specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 1.5 GHz with Mali-450MP GPU
  • System Memory – 1GB RAM
  • Storage – 8 GB eMMC flash + micro SD card
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with HDR10 and HLG support, 3.5mm AV port with composite video and stereo audio
  • Video Codec – 4K VP9, H.265 and H.264. 1080p VC-1, MPEG-1/2/4, VP6/8
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 port, 1x USB 3.0 port
  • Misc – IR receiver, power LED
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions & Weight –  TBD (Fits in hand)

The box runs Android 7.1 with Kodi 17.1 pre-installed, and ships with an HDMI cable, a power adapter, an IR remote control, and a user’s manual in English. Sadly the Fast Ethernet makes the USB 3.0 port advantage pretty much useless, as the bottleneck will be the network.

Since it’s a new processor with a new Android SDK, I’d expect a few issues at least in the first months. If you are interested in the device, you can purchase it for $44 including shipping on Aliexpress.

Via AndroidPC.es

Mecool KIII Pro Hybrid Android STB Review – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing and Teardown

March 13th, 2017 31 comments

K1 Plus T2 S2 review has been a popular post on CNX Software, as many people tried to improve their experience with the device. VideoStrong has just send an updated version of their DVB-T2 + DVB-S2 TV box with Mecool KIII Pro octa-core Hybrid STB powered by an Amlogic S912 processor combined with 3 GB RAM and 16GB storage, and the same dual tuner configuration. I’ve started the review by posting some pictures of the hardware, inside out, before reporting my experience with Android, especially the DTV part, in a few weeks.

KIII Pro Specifications

  • SoC –  Amlogic S912 octa core ARM Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.5 GHz with  Mali-T820MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 3 GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC flash + micro SD card slot up to 32GB
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60Hz with support for HDR10 and HLG, and 3.5mm AV (composite video) jack
  • Audio Output – HDMI, AV (stereo audio), optical S/PDIF
  • Video Codecs – 10-bit H.265, and VP9 up to 4K60, H.264 up to 4K30, AVS+ up to 1080p60
  • Tuner – Combo DVB-T/T2 and DVB-S/S2 with two connectors
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 4x USB 2.0 host ports
  • Misc – Power button and LED, IR receiver
  • Power Supply –  DC 12V/12A
  • Dimensions – 130 x 120 x 32 mm
  • Weight – ~190 grams

The box runs Android 6.0 with Kodi 17 pre-installed.

KIII Pro Unboxing

I received the device in a white retail package marked “KIII Pro Octa-core Hybrid STB” and “OTT TV BOX”.

The bottom of the package has some of the specs.The set-top box ships with a 12V/1A power supply, a largish IR remote control taking two AA batteries, an HDMI cable, and a user’s manual in English.

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The enclosure is very similar to K1 Plus with the edges “smoothed” out.

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The power bottom can conveniently be found on the top cover, one side has four USB 2.0 host ports, a micro SD, and the rear panel features a DVB-T2 coaxial connector, a DVB-S2 F connector, CVBS/LR composite + stereo audio 3.5mm jack, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a HDMI 2.0a port, optical S/PDIF, and the power jack.

KIII Pro Teardown

Let’s open the thing. We’ll have to start with the bottom cover. First we’ll notice a D0:76:58 MAC address which is not registered with IEEE, but the company previously explained that it was for “localized network, and it is the only ID for empowering applications to activate, specially IPTV applications”. Then, the box can be wall-mounted via two “hooks”, which can be convenient in some use cases. Finally, there’s a recovery pinhole on the right of the sticker in order to reinstall firmware if your box does not boot anymore.

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We don’t need to remove all rubber pads, as there are two just screws holding the case together. One under the bottom left rubber pad, and one under the QC sticker, which you need to pierce through. Once we’ve removed those two screws, the box comes apart easily.


We have two boards: main board with heatsink on the CPU, and a yellow board with the tuner circuitry.

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We’ll find two SpecTek DDR3 SDRAM chips: PE029-125 (512 MB) and another chip market “512X16DDR3” (1 GB) for a total of 1.5 GB RAM on this side of the board. The flash is covered by a sticker, which I have not removed, so we’ll see how storage performs in benchmarks. Gigabit Ethernet is done using Realtek RTL8211F transceiver, and Pulse H5900L transformer, while AC WiFi  and Bluetooth LE is implemented via a module marked “KM63351412” which could be equivalent to AP6335 module found in some other devices. Other chips include GL852G USB hub, and DIO2133 audio driver. If you want to hack the board, the serial console should be available via an unpopulated 4-pin header on the bottom left of the photo above.

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The other side of the CPU board comes with a micro SD card slot, and 1.5 GB extra RAM to bring the total to 3GB. We can also see extra cooling with a thick metal plate, covered by a black sheet, itself covered by a thin plastic transparent sheet on the bottom of the enclosure.

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S2&T2_R848_REV1.2 tuner board looks very similar to KI Plus tuner board, but just upgraded from Revision 1.0 to Revision 1.2, and featuring the same Availink AVL6862TA DVB-C/T/T2 + DVB-S/S2 demodulator, but they changed Rafael Micro R848 tuner chip to R912 model, which is not documentation on Rafael Micro website yet.

If you are interested in purchasing KIII Pro in quantities, you may inquire Videostrong via their Alibaba page. Mecool KIII Pro can also be purchased online on sites such as GearBest ($117.99), which by the way currently has promotions for their 3rd anniversary, as well as several shops on Aliexpress ($141 and up) and Banggood ($133.99).

[Update: Part 2 of the review is up @ Mecool KIII Pro Hybrid STB Review – Part 2: Android Firmware, TV Center, and DVB-T2 & DVB-S2 App]

MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware & Kodi 17

March 1st, 2017 24 comments

MINIX NEO U9-H is the successor of MINIX NEO U1 media hub with an upgrade from four to eight cores with Amlogic S912 processor, as well as added support for VP9 and HDR. The company sent me a sample, and I’ve already checked out NEO U9-H hardware in the fist part of the review, so I’ll report by testing results in Android 6.0 and Kodi 17 in the second part. Since the user interface & many of the features have not changed, I’ll refer to MINIX NEO U1 review from time to time.

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First Boot, OTA Firmware, Settings and First Impressions

I connected the MINIX A3 air mouse RF to one of the USB port, a USB 3.0 hard drive to another, and a USB hub to the last one with Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, a USB keyboard to take screenshots for the review, and a USB webcam. There’s also micro USB port, which you could use with the provided USB OTG adapter, but I have not used it. Last I also added USB powered speakers to the USB hub, and connected them to the 3.5mm audio jack. I also connected HDMI and optical audio cable to Onky TX-NR636 AV receiver, and an Ethernet cable to a Gigabit Ethernet swtich. Finally, I added the provided 5V/3A power supply, and pressed the power button on to start it all up. A typical boot takes around 30 seconds, and the first time, you’ll be asked to select between MINIX METRO or Launcher3 “Homes”.

I prefer MINIX METRO (below) as it’s more suited to larger screens, especially when you sit several meters from the TV. It’s the same launcher which I already described in MINIX NEO U1, except possibly for the weather indicator in the time/date window, and the mass storage devices ‘ Label is shown on the top right corner. I’d wish the WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth,and VPN icons on the top left were clickable, but they are not.

Click for Original Size

Launcher3 is basically the launcher you’d get with stock Android plus MINIX background image. You’ll also notice the larger mouse pointer which makes it convenient to use several meters away.

Click for Original Size

The box comes with some pre-installed apps like ES File Explorer, Kodi, YouTube, Google Play, AirDroid, MINIX Power Menu & System update apps, YouTube, Skype,  and so on.

MINIX has supported OTA firmware updates in all of their devices, so I tried with System Update app, but I could not test it there was no update to MHC16G20170216 firmware at the time.If you want to get an idea of how long you may expect to get firmware update, you can look at the forum for older products such as MINIX NEO X8-H. Eleven firmware updates have been released with the first “stock” firmware released on November, 2014 and the last (FW011) firmware released in January 2017, so it has been supported for over 2 years so far.

The Settings app is the same as with other Amlogic devices, and similar to MINIX NEO U1, so I’ll focuses on different and/or specific features.

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Once you enter the Display menu, you’ll find some typical features as well as  “Force RGB output” which may solve color / pink screen issues with some older TV, and HDR specific to Amlogic S905X/S912 processor.

If you enter the Audio settings, you’ll get options to select PCM, HDMI or SPDIF audio (pass-through), as usual, but there’s  also the Device Manager menu to select audio input and output devices.

In my setup I had three input device to choose from: on-board Mic input (3.5mm mic jack), USB-Audio – SAGE AiR Mouse (MINIX A3), and USB-Audio – Venus USB 2.0 camera, which will be important for voice commands, and video conferencing.

The output devices selection will be less useful for most people, as you can only select Auto or HDMI, as 3.5mm audio jack and S/PDIF are all outputted at the same time, and, only USB devices such as a USB sound card will show up.

You also have the same HDMI CEC, Playback settings and power key definition (standby or power off) as in MINIX NEO U1. There are three options for HDMI self-adaptation (automatic frame rate switching):

  • OFF – no processing
  • Level 1 – 23.976fps videos are processed under 1080p60Hz mode;
  • Level 2 – Switching TV’s output according to source video fps

If you go to Advanced Settings you’ll reach Android Marshmallow settings, and the main difference compared to competing Amlogic TV box, but already present on MINIX NEO U1 are “MCU settings” where you can enable autostart (no need to press power button), RTC alarm, and upgrade the MCU firmware.If we go into the Storage & USB section, we’ll find out a 10.89GB partition is available to the user, with about 1 GB used.

The system could also mount both NTFS and exFAT partitions, but not EXT-4.

If we go into About MediaBox, we’ll see the model number is indeed NEO-U9-H, and that it runs Android 6.01 on top of Linux 3.14.29 with the Android security patch dated on August 1st, 2016. The firmware is not rooted, but if that’s something you need I’m pretty sure a method will show on the forums in due time, although I’d prefer a switch in Android option to root and unroot the box as needed.

I shortly testing MINIX IR remote control and it worked at least for up to 10 meters. However, I really recommend getting MINIX A3, or if you don’t need voice input, MINIX A2 Lite air mouse, as it makes a big difference when using various Android apps. If you already own a box with MINIX A2 Lite air mouse, don’t worry that it will interface with MINIX A3 and control two devices at the same time, as my A2 Lite would not work with my A3 USB dongle. Voice input works fine as tested with Voice Search app. Press the microphone key on the remote to enable it, and you can now use “OK Google”, as you’d do on your smartphone. Just make sure Audio device input is set to the remote control. If you want to turn off the microphone, simply press the microphone key on the remote control. MINIX NEO A2 worked well up to 10 to 12 meters, and I could even see the mouse cursor at that distance.

I could install all apps I needed through Google Play, and the free version of Riptide GP2 via Amazon Underground. However, when I tried the free version of Riptide GP: Renegade it to “update your Amazon App to Amazon Underground to start experiencing actually free”. I had already isntall it, but clicked on Update Now anyway, and after update I had the exact same error message.

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That’s probably an issue with Amazon itself than with the box.

Power handling appears to be implemented exactly the same way as MINIX NEO U1, so you can go into standby, reboot, or power off the device with the remote control, or the power button. You can also power the device back on using either the IR remote control or MINIX A3 air mouse.

Power consumption is also similar to the previous model, as measured with or without hard drive using a power meter:

  • Power off – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby – 0.4 to 1.1 Watts (most of the time on 0.4)
  • Idle – 3.0 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 1.2 Watts with the HDD LED off. Be patient it may take about one minute to reach this power level with a hard drive connected.
  • Idle + USB HDD – 5.0~5.4 Watts

As expected, MINIX NEO U9-H dissipate power well thanks to its large heatsink. I measured 36°C and 37°C respectively on the top and bottom of the case after Antutu 6.0, and the temperature went up to 44°C and 49°C after playing a 2-hour 1080p H.264 video in Kodi, and 47°C and 54°C after playing and Beach Buggy Racing & Riptide GP2 for around 30 minutes. I quickly went to CPU-Z after exiting the game, and found the CPU temperature was 71°C.

So my first experience with MINIX NEO U9-H was even better than the very good one I had with MINIX NEO U1, since some of the bugs found the first firmware for the previous model, e.g. device stuck in standby mode, video output falling back from 4K @ 60 Hz to 1080p60 from time to time…, could not be reproduced with the new model.

Video & Audio Playback with Kodi 17.1-RC1, DRM Info

MINIX recommends the use of their XBMC MINIX Edition fork of Kodi for MINIX NEO U1, but with their new model, the company told me Kodi 17 worked well in U9-H, so I just use the pre-installed version: Kodi 17.1-RC1.

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I’m tested various video container formats, and video/audio codec playing files from a SAMBA share via (Gigabit Ethernet), unless otherwise noted.

Linaro media samples and some Elecard H.265 samples could also play fine except for VP8 1080p sample:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK
  • WebM / VP8 480p/720p – OK; 1080p: Not perfectly smooth (Note: software decode)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

I also enabled automatic frame rate switching in Kodi and Android settings (HDMI Self-adaption level 3), and it worked very well, which I think is a first amond the 8 or 9 Amlogic S912 I’ve tested so far.

Next up are some videos with various bit rates:

  • ED_HD.avi – Not smooth at all
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – First time: image freezes after a few seconds; second try: OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Not perfectly smooth
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

So the Jellyfish video plays better than in MINIX NEO U1 (Amlogic S905), but some other problems have showed up with other videos.

I’ve then checked out audio capabilties of the TV box with PCM (stereo) output, as well as HDMI and S/PDIF pass-through in Kodi. I also tested PCM (downmix) with MX Player to make sure those DTS and Dolby licenses are indeed valid for any apps. I could configure Kodi to pass-through AC3, E-AC3, DTS, TrueHD, and DTS-HD.

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MINIX NEO U1 did not support DTS-HD when it launched in December 2015 (firmware updates have fixed that), but MINIX NEO U9-H passed most tests just fine.

Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MX Player / Video Player app)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi)
S/PDIF Pass-through
(Kodi)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D+ 7.1) OK (Dolby D+ 7.1)
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 5.1) Audio Formats Not Supported over S/PDIF, and will show as PCM 2.0 or Dolby D 5.1 depending on whether AC3 transcoding is enabled in Kodi
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK Switch to AC3 audio track (beep), as TrueHD is not supported TrueHD 7.1*
DTS HD Master OK OK OK (DTS-HD Master) OK (DTS 5.1)
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK OK (DTS-HD HR) OK (DTS 5.1)
DTS:X OK OK DTS-HD Master* OK (DTS 5.1)

* My AV receiver (Onkyo TX-NR636) does not support Atmos nor DTS:X, so the fallback to respectively TrueHD and DTS HD Master is normal. So overall HDMI and optical S/PDIF pass-through is working well with my test samples, downmixing from Dolby Digital and DTS to stereo audio works, and the only problem is the lack of downmixing of Dolby TrueHD / Atmos audio in video apps that respect Dolby & DTS licenses.

4K video can now be played pretty well in Kodi, almost as well as with MX Player:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – Not smooth at all, and the problem gets worse when automatic frame rate switching is enabled.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – OK, but it played for about 2 seconds, then buffered for a few more seconds before resuming playback normally
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – The video plays in slow motion (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by S912 VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – Plays at around 2 fps (as expected since it uses software decode as S912 does not support 10-bit H.264)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – USB hard drive playback: Not smooth
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Plays, but not always perfectly smooth as with all Amlogic S912 TV boxes.

It’s all good, except for one 10-bit H.265 video that won’t play smoothly at all. Other problems are related to limitation of Amlogic S912 processor like the lack of support for 10-bit H.264, and 4K H.264 is limited to 30 fps, and very high bitrate videos (~240 Mbps) cannot be played smoothly.

Sintel and AMAT ISO blu-ray files and 1080i MPEG videos could play just fine. Lower resolution Hi10p (10-bit H.264) could play, but 1080p was not that smooth:

  • Commie] Steins;Gate – NCED [BD 720p AAC] [10bit] [C706859E].mkv – OK for video, audio and subtitles
  • [1080p][16_REF_L5.1][mp3_2.0]Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu BD OP.mkv – OK for audio and susbtitles, but the video was not smooth

While my TV (LG 42UB820T) does not support 3D, but I played some stereoscopic 3D videos to find out if they could be decode:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Stays in UI
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

Some movies fron my library with various container/codec combination such as VOB, IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4 and MKV could all play just fine. However, I noticed some micro audio cuts in some videos with AC3 and HDMI audio pass-through enabled. I could not reproduce the issue with all videos, and using optical S/PDIF instead of HDMI solved the issue. Finally, I could play a complete 2-hour video. You’ll be all sample mentioned above here.

I’ve decided not to report Antutu Video Tester in my reviews, since Antutu appears to have stopped development, and the app has been removed from Google Play.

DRM Info results are however quite interesting.

Click to Enlarge

MINIX NEO U9-H supports both Widevine K1 and Microsoft Playready DRM, which means you could get full HD and 4K UHD resolution for some premium apps. However, it is not a certified Netflix device, so if you install Netflix app from Google Play, you’d still be limited to standard definition. However, as previously reported, you should be able to install a Netflix apk that allows HD resolution for any Widevine L1 capable device. I don’t have a Netflix account, so I have not tested myself. YouTube is working fine up to 1080p.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I’ve transfered a 278MB file between a network share (SAMBA) and the internal flash for three times using ES File Explorer, and averaged the results in order to evaluate WiFi performance, testing both 802.11ac and [email protected] GHz. Results are sadly underwhelming. [Update: WiFI performance is OK, but WiFi + SAMBA performance suffers. That’s likely an Amlogic Android SDK issue. See comments]

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I’ve highlighted both MINIX NEO U1 and NEO U9-H results in the chart above as they make use of the same Ampak module for WiFi, but I got much different results, despite the same testing conditions.

802.11ac performance was 2.3 MB/s on average, and 802.11n achieved 1.5 MB/s both of which are below average, but consistent with the performance I got with other Amlogic S912 devices.  The chart however makes it worse than it really is, because download speed was 5.6 MB/s for 802.11ac, and 2.1 MB/s for 802.11n, with upload transfer rate being much lower, and causing the average to be rather low. Note that WiFi results may vary a lot depending on your setup.

I repeated the same file transfer, but with a 885MB file, for Gigabit Ethernet, and the average performance (10.05 MB/s) is somewhat OK, but I got the same behavior as with MINIX NEO U1 with the transfer much faster for download (16.4MB/s) , and slower for upload (7.64 MB/s).

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Since in most case the eMMC flash is the bottleneck for file transfers over Gigabit Ethernet, I also ran iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d to test raw dual duplex performance, and it’s not too bad:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

MINIX NEO U9-H advertises itself properply as NEO U9-H, and not some other funny code, and I had no problems pairing it with Vernee Apollo Lite Android smartphone, and could transfer a few photos. I could also connect X1T bluetooth earbuds and used it while watching some YouTube videos. I skipped Sixaxais app testing (for PS3 gamepads) since the firmware is not rooted.

Storage

My USB hard drive has four partitions for NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT and BTRFS, and only the NTFS/exFAT partitions could be mounted. A FAT32 micro SD card could also be mounted

File System Read Write
NTFS OK OK
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
exFAT OK OK
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK OK

USB storage performance was tested with A1 SD bench app, and read performance was very good (for a USB 2.0 port) with both file systems, but as usual exFAT is very slow to write to @ 6.66 MB/s.

The results were very good for the internal storage with 119.86MB/s read speed and 45.99 MB/s write speed. Note that the read speed is cached, meaning it should be faster than if read directly on the storage device itself, but probably not that different considering theoretical read speed is 285 MB/s for the flash, probably lower for the eMMC controller in Amlogic S912.

Internal Storage Read & Write Speed in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Overall I found that applications started fast, and I had no slowdown or “app not responding” due to I/O access to the eMMC flash.

USB Webcam

I connected the UVC webcam to the box shown in the first picture of this review, logged in to Skype, and successfully run the Echo/Service audio call test, and made a video calls. I had problems last year for MINIX NEO U1 on Google Hangouts, but NEO U9-H works perfectly well with Google Hangouts.

Gaming

Amlogic S912 is know a well known platform, as gaming works just as well as on other devices, if not better since cooling is well implemented.  First, I played Candy Crush Saga with NEO A2 air mouse, and switch to Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad to play Beach Buggy Racing using maximum graphics settings. Both games played perfectly smoothly. As with other Amlogic S912, Riptide GP2 is a bit more demanding, playing very smoothly with default settings, the framerate felt lower with maximum graphics settings, probably around 25 fps most of the time, with some drops to ~15 fps from time to time.

I also played both 3D racing games for a total of 30 minutes, and performance was constant throughout, meaning the large heatsink is doing its job in preventing CPU and/or GPU throttling.

MINIX NEO U9-H Benchmarks

CPU-Z correctly reports an octa-core Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.51 GHz with a Mali-T820 GPU. The model number is NEO-U9-H (q200), with 10.89 GB internal storage, 14790 MB RAM, and a framebuffer resolution set to 1920×1080.

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The first time I ran Antutu 6.x, the device achieved about 38,500 points quite lower than 41,000+ points I got in most other Amlogic S912 TV boxes. I ran it a short time after boot, so maybe there was background tasks at the time, I retried later, I got a 40,543 points, more in line with other competing TV boxes.

I also ran Vellamo 3.x benchmark to double check for issues.

MINIX NEO U9-H achieved 1,239 points, 912 points and 2,338 points for respectively multicore, metal and Chrome Browser tests, which compares to 1,130, 1,012 points and 2,758 points (Not Chrome Browser, Stock Browser). Multicore results has a yellow mark because it failed one of the test, just like M12N, but not other Amlogic S912 boxes:

Sysbench issue with Finepar: Invalid CPU mode

Conclusion

MINIX did again a good job with MINIX NEO U9-H thanks to very good hardware, stable & responsive firmware implementation, working smoothly at all times thanks to good thermal design. 4K video playback works well, I think it’s the first time I see automatic frame rate switching work on Amlogic S912 processor,  and audio pass-through is working fine with TrueHD and DTS-HD. The first version of the firmware also has less bugs than the one I reviewed on MINIX NEO U1 media hub, and slightly better performance. NEO U9-H also adds new features such as HDR, 4K VP9 decoding, Dolby & DTS license used for audio downmixing in all apps, and DRM Widevine Level 1 + Microsoft PlayReady. The only real downside compared to NEO U1 is that WiFi performance is not quite as good, despite using the same Ampak wireless module.

PROS

  • Stable and responsive Android 6.0 OS
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 2160p 60Hz; 24/25/30/50/60 Hz refresh rates supported; HDR should be supported too (not tested)
  • Very good Kodi 17 support with 4K H.265 (10-bit), VP9 and H.264 video playback,automatic frame rate switching
  • Dolby 5.1, Dolby+7.1, DTS HD and TrueHD audio pass-through working via HDMI and S/PDIF (for supported formats).
  • Dolby & DTS license means those audio formats work in all apps.
  • Well implemented power handling with off/standby/reboot mode, managed via an upgradable MCU, low off and idle power consumption
  • Widevine L1 and MicroSoft PlayReady DRM suppored
  • USB webcam working with Skype and Google Hangouts
  • OTA firmware upgrade with frequent update expected (based on previous models history)
  • Active support forums

CONS (and bugs)

  • Some videos with AC3 have micro audio cuts when HDMI pass-through is enabled, at least on my AV receiver. The problem goes away via optical S/PDIF
  • TrueHD dowmixing to stereo audio did not work in MX Player and Video Player apps.
  • WiFi performance is below average for both 802.11n and 802.ac, but similar to other Amlogic S912 TV boxes. Your mileage may vary. [Update: See comments’ section. WiFi performances looks, but combining SAMBA + WiFi is problematic. Likely an Amlogic Android 6.0 SDK issue]
  • List of apps shown in chronological order instead of alphabetical
  • A few videos do not play smoothly in Kodi but should: VP8 @ 1080p, one 10-bit HEVC video with no audio, “elephant dream” sample, “HD DVD” sample.
  • Potential buffering issue with some rare videos – Starts fast, plays for 1 or 2 seconds, buffers for 10 seconds then play again normally

If you’re going to spend the money on MINIX NEO U9-H, I really recommend you add NEO A2 Lite or NEO 3 air mouse, with the latter adding microphone input. Both air mice have the same design, feel comfortable in your hand, and work well as remote control, air mouse, and keyboard, as long as it’s for typing short texts like search query, user name / password, etc…

If you already own MINIX NEO U1, there’s probably little reason to upgrade, as performance will feel similar, except if you need 4K VP9, HDR, Widevine L1, or/and Microsoft PlayReady DRM support.

MINIX NEO U9-H media hub + NEO A3 air mouse sell for $159.90 / 149.90 GBP on Amazon US and Amazon UK, and are listed on GeekBuying, GearBest, and other online retailers with sales starting officially on March 3rd outside of Amazon.

Review of MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub & MINIX A3 Air Mouse – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing and Teardown

February 24th, 2017 14 comments

MINIX showcased MINIX NEO U9-H TV box at IFA 2016 last year, but was not ready to launch the product or provide the full details yet. The company has now completed development of their Amlogic S912-H octa-core TV box, and sent a review sample for evaluation on CNX Software together with their latest MINIX A3 air mouse with voice command function. I’ll start by listing the specifications of the TV box, take some pictures, and tear it apart to check out how it’s been designed in the first part of the review, and test the firmware in the second part which I intend to post in a few days.

MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub specifications

One of the main difference over other Amlogic S912, is the -H suffix which means Dolby and DTS licenses have been paid for so all apps will handle those audio formats:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912-H octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC 5.0 flash, and micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60Hz with HDMI CEC, and HDR support
  • Audio I/O – Via HDMI output, optical S/PDIF, 3.5mm headphone jack, 3.5mm microphone jack
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 4.1
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Misc – IR receiver, power button, Kensington Lock
  • Dual DRM Support – Play Ready 3.0 + Google Widevine Level 1
  • Power Supply – 5V/3A

The device runs Android 6.0.1 with XBMC MINIX Edition. The box does not officially support Netflix, but this apk likely based on a previously reported Netflix hack, should give you better quality than the Netflix app from Google Play.

MINIX NEO U9-H Unboxing Photos

I’ve received the box and air mouse in familiar looking packages (if you’ve ever bought anything from MINIX).

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The TV box has exactly the same shape as previous model, and ships with a WiFi antenna, a HDMI cable, a USB OTG adapter, a micro USB to USB cable in case you want to connect the box to your computer, a 5V/3A power adapter, a MINIX IR remote control, and a user’s manual in English, German, and Chinese.

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The front of the device has a plastic window for the IR receiver, and the power LED, while one of the side includes the power button, three USB 2.0 host ports, a micro SD slot, a micro USB OTG port, and a Kensington lock. The rest of the ports can be found on the rear panel: 3.5mm headphone jack, 3.5mm microphone jack, HDMI 2.0a output, optical S/PDIF, Gigabit Ethernet, and the power jack.

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You’ll also find the recovery pin hole on the bottom of the case, more exactly on the left side on the picture below.

MINIX NEO A3 Air Mouse

NEO A3 air mouse specifications include:

  • Connectivity – 2.4GHz transmission with up to 10 meters range
  • Sensors – 6-axis gyroscope and accelerometer
  • Remote side and QWERTY keyboard side
  • Built-in microphone for voice input.
  • Power – 2x AAA batteries
  • Support for Android, Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows

The remote ships with a user’s manual in English, and an RF dongle located in one of the two battery compartments located on the keyboard side.

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It’s actually very similar to MINIX NEO A2 Lite I’ve been using in all of my reviews for about a year.

MINIX NEO A2 Lite (Left and Top) vs NEO A3 (Right and Bottom) – Click to Enlarge

The main difference on the remote side is the microphone & settings button in the new model replacing respectively the “enter button”, which I never use since the Android button does the same, and the mute button. The keyboard side is very similar, except for some adding characters on the arrow keys.

The remote fits well in bigger hands, and I’m overall happy with my experience with A2 Lite, but I wish that space, dot, and enter did not have alternate keys, as I often have to press the Fn button to switch between mode. For example typing an IP address is not that convenient, but one the other side I understand space is limited on such keyboard, and you may have to compromise. The air mouse works well with MINIX devices, and can also be used with other devices, except that you can’t turn on TV boxes from other brands with the remote. This would require some IR learning function which has not been implemented.

MINIX NEO U9-H and NEO A3 Unboxing Video

MINIX NEO U9-H Teardown

Opening NEO U9-H is straightforward, as you just need to remove the four rubber pads on the bottom of the enclosure, and loosen four screws.

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The bottom of the board includes two SkHynix H5TQ4G63CFR-RDC DDR3 SDRAM chips (1GB RAM), the recovery switch, and a 3V battery for the real-time clock (RTC).

It’s then very easy to complete take out the board, as you can simply pull it out. MINIX is always serious when it comes to cooling, and again they’ve used a large heatsink in their latest model, which means there should be no CPU or GPU throttling issue. The two wireless antennas are connected to u.FL connector with some glue to keep them in place during transport.

The heatsink has a thermal that fits right on top of Amlogic S912-H SoC, which on the top of the board is connected to two more  SKHynix chip brings the total memory to 2GB, and a 16GB Samsung KLMAG1JENB-B041 eMMC 5.1 flash with 285/40 MB/s read/write sequential performance, and 8K/10K random R/W IOPS, so I/O performance should be very good.

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Network connectivity is achieved via a Realtek RTL8211F transceiver, and a RJ45 jack with built-in transformer, as well as the same Ampak AP6356S wireless module found in MINIX NEO U1, and supporting 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi up to 867 Mbps (2×2 MIMO) and Bluetoth 4.1 LE. Other components include Genesys Logic GL852G USB 2.0 hub controller, ES8323 audio codec, and Nuvoton MINI54ZDE ARM Cortex M0 MCU to handle power controls. wjhich were also used in NEO U1 TV box. MINIX also kept the same debug headers with JDEBUG1 with 3.3V/Tx/Rx and GND, ICE1 possibly for Nuvotron MCU, and JUART1 with Tx/Rx/GND. So the hardware looks just as solid as in NEO U1, and the eMMC flash that has been upgraded to a new and faster model, which should help a bit with boot time, apps loading times, and overall performance.

That’s it for the hardware, we’ll have to see if firmware is working as well as on their MINIX NEO U1 model, and I’ll publish a review sometimes next week after completing testing.

MINIX NEO U9-H will be officially released on Friday March 3, with pricing as follows:

  • MINIX NEO U9-H = US$139.90 / 154.90EURO
  • MINIX NEO A3 = US$34.90 / 39.90EURO
  • MINIX NEO U9-H + NEO A3 = US$159.90 / 174.90EURO

GearBest has already listed the device on their site, but it’s currently out of stock, since it will only launch in one week. However, MINIX also told me they had some limited stocks in their Amazon US, Amazon UK, and other Amazon stores.

[Update: the second part of the review is up @ MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware & Kodi 17]

Beelink SEA I Android TV Box, and HDMI Recorder Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown

February 23rd, 2017 12 comments

Realtek RTD1295 SoC is so far found in devices running Android & OpenWrt, and equipped with an HDMI input port for recording, PiP, and UDP broadcasting. I have already reviewed Zidoo X9S with an external SATA port, and Eweat R9 Plus with a 3.5″ SATA bay, and I’ve now received Beelink SEA I offering another option thanks to 2.5″ SATA bay, and a lower price of $98.99 and up using coupon GBSEA16 with the 2GB/16GB version, or GBSEA32 with the 2GB/32GB version. As usual, I’ll start with some photos and a teardown in the first part of the review, before testing the firmware in more details.

Beelink SEA I Unboxing Photos

I’ve received the box in the retail package below showing some of the features like 4K video playback, picture-in-picture thanks to the HDMI input, and supports for games and apps.

Beelink SEA I comes with either 16GB or 32GB eMMC flash for storage, and I received the 16GB version.

The box ships with a 12V/1.5A (18 Watts) power supply, anHDMI cable, an IR remote control with IR learning function, and a short user’s manual.

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Contrary to its competitors which are all equipped with a metal case, SEA I comes in a plastic case, slightly wider than typical TV boxes to accommodate for the 2.5″ SATA bay.

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The front panel includes an LCD display, an IR window, and power LED, one of the side comes with a USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0 host port, and an SD card slot, while the rear panel features one HDMI 2.0 output, one HDMI 2.0 input, a Gigabit Ethernet port, optical S/PDIF, and the power jack.

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If you want to insert an hard drive, you can do so by turning the box around, pushing out the cover, and inserting a 2.5″ hard drive up to 6TB in the slot.

It’s very easy to do, and does not require any tools.

Beelink SEA I Teardown

In order to open the device, we’ll need to remove the two rubber pads at the bottom of the case, loosen the two screws underneath, and use some ridig plastic tool to pop out the bottom cover.

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There’s no much to see on the back side of the PCB, so we can loosen 6 screws, then pull out the board around the LCD area in order to take it out from the plastic enclosure. We can see cooling is achieved with a thermal pad placed on top of RTD1295DD SoC and stuck on a metal shield, which is then in contact with another thermal pad placed on top of a thick metal plate. We’ll have to see how effective it is during testing…

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The company used a 16GB Samsung KLMAG1JENB-B041 eMMC 5.1 flash for storage with 285/40 MB/s read/write sequential performance, and 8K/10K random R/W IOPS, so they did not cut costs on that part, since the theoretical numbers are pretty good. The board also comes with two Samsung K4A8G165WB-BCRC DDR4 SDRAM  chips (2GB RAM). Networking is implemented with an 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0 LE module based on Realtek RTL8821AU, and H2403N transformer for Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. There’s also a chip marked S342 2227, but I’m unclear what it is for, maybe some sort of PMIC. Beelink SEA I is also one of the rare TV boxes with an RTC battery, and if you’re interested in working on the board, for example for RTD1295 mainline Linux kernel, the serial console is clearly marked on an unpopulated header on the right of “Beelink” silkscreen.

The front panel display is controlled via “AIP1618E0” display controller, but I could not find any references online.

I’d like to thank Beelink for sending the review sample. If you are interested in the device, you could purchase it on GearBest as mentioned in the introduction, while if you plan to purchase in quantities, you may want to contact Beelink directly instead.