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Review of MeLE PCG03 Apo Fanless 4K Mini PC – Part 2: Windows 10, Benchmarks, and Kodi

July 12th, 2017 20 comments

MeLE PCG03 Apo is an update to MeLE PCG03 mini PC, and one of the rare Apollo Lake mini PCs to be both fanless, and support HDMI 2.0 output. I’ve already checked out the hardware design in “MeLE PCG03 Apo Fanless Apollo Lake mini PC Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown“, so in the second part of the review I tested Windows 10, focusing on HDMI 2.0 features, audio pass-through in Kodi, and performance and stability tests to see how well it compared to similar actively cooled mini PCs such as Voyo V1 VMac mini.

MeLE PCG03 Apo Setup and System Information

I connected a USB 3.0 drive to one of the USB 3.0 ports, USB keyboard and mouse, and RF dongle for a wireless gamepad to the other USB 2.0/3.0 ports, as well as USB type C to micro USB adapter itself connected to a micro USB OTG adapter in order to add a USB flash drive. Finally I added Ethernet, VGA and HDMI cables, and of course the power supply to complete the setup.

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A typical boot to the login window takes around 15 seconds, but the very first boot, I went through the usual Windows 10 setup wizard to select the language, create a user, etc…, as well as retrieve the latest Windows update. So that’s better than some other Windows 10 mini PCs which are already configured with a default user, and may raise suspicions.

I still wen to Control Panel->System and Security->System to check Windows 10 is indeed activated, and the mini PC is running Windows 10 Home 64-bit on an Intel Celeron N3450 with 4GB RAM as expected.

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The next step was to check HDMI 2.0 support that should allow 4K resolutions @ 60 Hz, and I could select and use 3840×2160 or 4096×2160 up to “60p Hz” without any issues.

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Since we have a VGA port too, I tested dual display setup using extended desktop mode with 3840×2160 resolution @ 60 Hz on my 4K TV, and 1600×1050 on my Full HD TV, as it was the maximum resolution I was offered.

No problem here again, and I could use to independent display one connected via HDMI 2.0, and the other via VGA.

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I’ve also included a screenshot of the dual display setup for those interested.

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I took the screenshot below after starting to download a few programs (but no installation), and 28.9GB storage is really tight for Windows 10, I could not install all programs used for the review, without uninstalling one or more. For example, if I install PCMark 8, complete the benchmark, I had to remove it before install PCMark 10, even when moving all download the USB partitions.

So may want to run Disk Cleanup from time to time, and uninstall some pre-installed games. I may also consider disabling hiberfil.sys file, learn how to do folder redirection and filesystem junction with mklink, which I used for Package Cache directory. You could do this to external USB hard drive, but performance may suffer while loading programs or during databases accesses, so you could consider adding a 80mm M.2 SSD inside the mini PC. I could not get one to test, but the company told me they tested three models available on Aliexpress:

Another thing I discovered is that when you “uninstall” Windows Store apps, there are not deleted, but for some reasons kept in C:\Programs Files\WindowsApps\Deleted directory, so I’d have to take ownership of the directory and delete it if you want to free up some more space.

The 32GB eMMC flash capacity is the most negative point I found about this mini PC, I wished the company could offer a 64GB version, or better a pre-installed 128 M.2 SSD [Update: I forgot this would be a problem with the discounted Windows 10 license]. This will not be a problem if you only plan to use the box as an HTPC, but for desktop use, you really need more external storage.

The mini PC recognized the NTFS and exFAT partition in my USB 3.0 drive, but the USB flash drive which I connected the USB type C port was not found. I tried to connect the keyboard there instead, and then to my computer via a USB type C to USB type A cable, but again no luck in both cases. It looks like the USB C port is not usable for anything. Maybe my sample has some issues.

I took a screenshot of the Device Manager for people who want a few more technical details about peripherals.

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… as well as HWiNFO64 which basically reports the same info as on Voyo V1 Vmac Mini since it’s based on the same Celeron N3450 processor.

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MeLE PCG03 Apo Benchmarks

Let’s start with PCMARK 8  HOME ACCELERATED 3.0 benchmark at 1080p60 resolution and framerate.

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The score here is surprisingly higher than on the fan cooled Voyo mini PC (1,566 points), and not too far to the score I got (1,846)with the Pentium N4200 version of Voyo V1 VMac Mini.

Since PCG03 Apo is a candidate to use as 4K desktop for simple tasks, I run the same benchmark using 3840×2160 @ 60p Hz video output, and the score dropped a little to 1,431 points.

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Please note that only two passes out of three could complete, as the benchmark failed somewhere during the third pass, but the average should not change, it’s just we can 2 test samples, instead of 3. I tried the benchmarks 3 times in total, and the two other times it failed during the first pass ending with no score. You can find the details results here.

FutureMark has recently released PCMark 10, so for future reference I also ran that version of the benchmark using 1080p60 output.

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Check this link for full results. All other benchmarks below were done using 1920×1080 @ 60 Hz video output / resolution.

Passmark PerformanceTest 9.0 confirmed the good performance of the device with 995.70 points, which compares to 998.4 points for Voyo V1 (N3450), and 1087 points for Voyo V1 (N4200).

Note the performance of Disk Mark is quite weaker here, and the Voyo models who got close to 3,000 points, but the latter had the C: drive in a 128GB SSD, instead of a 32GB flash, which explains the massive performance difference here.

I ran three 3DMark tests showing performance that’s almost as good as Voyo mini PC based on Pentium N4200 processor.

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Details for all three results can be found below:

CrystalDiskMark reports up to 258 MB/s sequential read speed, and 51 MB/s write speed, with random I/O up to 28 MB/s for the C: drive (32GB eMMC flash). That’s actually roughly the same as the 32GB eMMC flash in Voyo mini PC, but a big difference compared to the 500MB/s+, you got from the 128GB FORESEE SSD installed in the same devices.

Random I/O performance will be better in the SSD too, so you may considering re-installing Windows 10 in an M.2 SSD if you decide to purchase one [Update: Not a good idea, the Genuine Windows key in the device will be ignore, and Windows 10 will not be activated]. You’ll find BIOS, drivers, and instructions to re-install Windows 10 in MeLE’s forums.

USB 3.0 performance is fine with my USB driver achieving around 100MB/s read and write sequential speed.
The random I/Os number shows why you don’t want to install Windows or apps in such drive.

I used iperf 2.x to measure network performance with using dual duplex transfer over Gigabit Ethernet:

All good, so I connected the mini PC to my AC router…

… and performed WiFi upload and download tests with iperf:

  • Upload
  • Download

Those are decent results with my setup, i.e. the AC router is located about 4 meter from the DUT and with a wall in between. You can see a comparison with some 802.11ac Android TV boxes I’ve recently reviewed.

802.11ac WiFi Download and Upload Speed in Mbps

To give a better idea of the performance I compare it against other low power mini PCs based on Braswell (MINIX NGC-1, Vorke V1), Cherry Trail (Voyo V3, MINIX NEO Z83-4), Apollo Lake (Voyo V1 VMac Mini), and Skylake (Compute Stick) for various benchmarks.

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Note: Ice Storm scores divided by 10, Fire Strike scores multiplies by 4 for scale.

The Skylake compute stick really stands out despite having similar TDP, but it’s also much more expensive. Other mini PCs are closely matched, but the good news is the MeLE PCG03 Apo mini PC fairs well in all benchmarks, except for storage speeds, but it can be made to match other systems if you use a M.2 SSD to run Windows instead of the 32GB eMMC flash.

Kodi 4K Video Playback and HDMI Audio Pass-through

I’ve installed the latest Kodi 17.3, and run it using 1920×[email protected] output.

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You don’t need to set the Windows resolution to 3840×2160 to watch videos, since Kodi will automatically do that if you go to Settings->Player Settings->Videos, and set Adjust display refresh rate to On start / stop, as it will also automatically adjust to the best resolution for the video.

Once I’d done that I tested my usual 4K video samples via SAMBA over Gigabit Ethernet unless otherwise stated:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Mostly OK, but the video seems to skip frames a few times
  • 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) – 4 to 6 fps (Software decode)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – SAMBA: Audio cuts and buffering issue; HDD: OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not super smooth, but no audio delay like on ARM TV boxes. Almost watchable
  • 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) – Maybe 10 fps (Software decode) and buffering issues
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – 4 to 6 fps (Software decode) + buffering issues
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – 4 to 6 fps (Software decode) + buffering issues

Automatic frame rate switching is working well, but playing videos with bitrate over 50Mbps over SAMBA seems to be an issue with this mini PC. VP9 and 10-bit H.264 codecs are not supported by Apollo Lake processor, so Kodi revert to software decoding, but the processor is not powerful enough to handle those codecs at 4K. Hi10p up to 1080p is fine. One small issue worth noting is that almost all videos had a short audio cut after 16 to 19 seconds, but the problem would not reoccur at other points in the videos.

Apollo Lake mini PC are supposed to support audio pass-through, but HDMI 2.0 is implemented via an eDP to HDMI bridge which in the past has created issue with this features. So I enabled audio pass-through in Kodi by going to Settings->System Settings->Audio, enabling Allow passthrough, and selecting DIRECTSOUND: TX-NR636…. as the Passthrough output device before running the tests with various audio codecs.

Video HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 PCM 2.0
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 5.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 7.1 PCM 2.0
Dolby Atmos 7.1 PCM 2.0
DTS HD Master PCM 2.0
DTS HD High Resolution PCM 2.0
DTS:X PCM 2.0

So only AC3 is supported. I changed to WASAPI output device instead, and the results are not much better.

Video HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 5.1 PCM 2.0
TrueHD 7.1 PCM 2.0
Dolby Atmos 7.1 PCM 2.0
DTS HD Master PCM 2.0
DTS HD High Resolution PCM 2.0
DTS:X PCM 2.0

Disappointing, as HDMI 1.4 Apollo Lake mini PCs can normally handle DTS 5.1 as well even with DTS HD files.

User Experience, Stress Test, and Power Consumption

I did a user experience test like with other Windows 10 PCs with multi-tasking by launching an using ThunderBird, Firefox, Libre Office, and Gimp at the same, multi-tab browsing in Firefox playing some Flash games, and watching 4K YouTube videos. I also played Asphalt 8, and as shown in the section above used Kodi to watch videos. The experience felt very similar to other Apollo Lake mini PC with maybe apps not launching as fast due to the eMMC flash. I also run HWiNFO64 in sensor only mode during my tests and benchmarks, and CPU throttling was never reported by the program, so MeLE PCG03 Apo is a solid device with good thermal design.

I have not done any video this time, but if you’re new to Apollo Lake system, you may want to watch Voyo V1 Vmac Mini video below which should give you an idea of the performance.

I also ran AIDA64 Extreme stability test during 2 hours with HWiNFO64 also running side by side, and the CPU temperature never went above 79 °C with the average CPU clock speed being 1.6 GHz right between the base frequency (1.1 GHz) and turbo frequency (2.2 GHz).

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Power consumption is about 6.4W in idle mode with the USB 3.0 drive connected, 1.0W in sleep mode, and 0.0W in power off mode.

Conclusion

MeLE PCG03 Apo is a solid device that stays cool enough under load despite thanks to a good fanless thermal design, and HDMI 2.0 works as expected with 4K @ 60 Hz supported. The VGA port also allows for dual independent display setups. Gigabit Ethernet, and 802.11ac WiFi are performing very well. The main downsides I can see are the small eMMC flash, USB type C port that would not work for anything (sample issue?), and HDMI audio pass-through is limited to Dolby Digital 5.1. The first issue can easily be solved by installing a larger (and faster) 80mm M.2 SSD inside the device.

If you are interested in this mini PC, you can purchase MeLE PCG03 Apo for $159.20 including shipping on Aliexpress. If the price is higher when you check it out, it may pay to wait until the week-end to get a better price.

[Update: MeLE’s answers to some of the issues raised in this review:

Read / Write speed
1. It is clear that MeLE PCG03 Apo (N3450) is far behind VOYO VMac Mini (N3450 and N4200) because MeLE follows Microsoft’s policy strictly to install the genuine Windows 10 Home as C: Disk on 32GB eMMC while VOYO does that on the 64GB or 128GB SSD.
2. According to the policy, the unit price for genuine Windows 10 Home on Apollo Lake mini PC is USD 45 at least if the storage capacity (as C: Disk) is equal or over 64GB. That is why user may see a 64GB SSD as C: Disk on VOYO VMac Mini while there is still a 32GB eMMC as D: Disk on the PCB board. It is a trick which has just been discovered and warned by Microsoft in China.
Audio Setting
1. I will check with technical team on how to make DD & DTS 7.1 working in Kodi as well, I will keep you updated.
2. It will get Audio 7.1 DD & DTS with LAV codecs using MPC-HC as player for example.
USB Type-C
1. It is actually a standard USB 3.0 interface converted into USB Type-C shape.
2. It only supports normal (not fast) power charging, and data transfer directly to USB Drive or HDD in external enclosure with Type-C interface.
3. For this point, we will update our product description on our official store on Aliexpress to make it more specific for every buyer to avoid any misunderstanding.
]

Xnano X5 4K TV Box with Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI Input, USB 3.0, and SATA Goes for $68 and Up

July 12th, 2017 10 comments

Realtek RTD1295 processor allows for 4K TV boxes with DVR and PiP function through HDMI input, and USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 storage interfaces. I previously reviewed Zidoo X9S and EWEAT R9 Plus based on the solution, and I especially liked support with NAS function through OpenWrt running side-by-side with Android 6.0. Those are high-end devices that cost well over $100, but we’ve recently seen cheaper models, likely with less refined firmware, no metal case, and possibly lacking OpenWrt that go as low as $78 shipped with LAKE I Home Cloud TV box. We can now get an even cheaper model, albeit with just 1GB RAM and 8GB flash, thanks to Xano X5 sold for $68.32 including shipping on Aliexpress. There’s also a 2GB/16GB version on the same page going for $82.76.

Xnano X5 Smart Box specifications:

  • SoC – Realtek RTD1295 quad core Cortex A53 processor with ARM Mali-T820 MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 1 or 2GB DDR4
  • Storage – 8 or 16GB eMMC flash, SATA 3.0 connector for external drives, micro SD card slot up to 64GB
  • Video I/O – HDMI 2.0a output with HDR support, AV output (composite), and HDMI input
  • Audio I/O – HDMI in and out, AV out (stereo audio), 1x S/PDIF output
  • Video Playback – 10-bit HEVC/H.265 up to 4K @ 60fps, H.264 up to 4K @ 24 fps, VP9 up to 4K @ 30 fps
  • Audio Features – 7.1 channel audio pass-through
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 with one 5dB external antenna
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 port, 1x USB 2.0 port
  • Misc – IR receiver, front panel display, RTC with battery
  • Power Supply – 12V/2A
  • Dimensions – 132 x 85 x 19 mm

Based on the documentation on the Aliexpress page, the box appears to run both Android 6.0 and OpenWrt, and ships with a HDMI cable, an IR remote control, a user’s manual, a high gain WiFi antenna, and a power adapter. HDMI input support DVR, Broadcasting over UDP, and PiP functions.

The company also published a picture of the board, and for people who want to develop U-boot or Linux on the board (mainline for RTD1295 is in progress), the 4-pin header on the right between the USB 3.0 port and micro SD slot could the UART header to access the serial console. We’ve previously seen USB 3.0, SATA, and Gigabit Ethernet performance is excellent on such box, so it could also make an interesting Linux device/board if more people work on it.

Other Aliexpress sellers offer the box for a few dollars higher, GearBest is not quite as competitive here, as it sells the device for $78 including worldwide shipping [Update: GBCNA coupon brings that down to $67.19].  If you do a group buy of at least five, DHGate sells it for  $62.29 per unit including DHL shipping.

Thanks to Danman for the tip.

LAKE I Home Cloud TV Box with HDMI Input, SATA Bay Sells for $78

June 28th, 2017 3 comments

Realtek RTD1295 based Android TV boxes are usually interesting devices as they play 4K videos relatively well – minus 4K H.264 @ 30 fps -, support HDMI input with PVR and PiP functions, and often come with a SATA interface for NAS functions handled with OpenWrt. Zidoo X9S and EWEAT R9 Plus are examples of such devices, and I found them to work pretty well in my reviews, but they are quite pricey with prices ranging from $130 to $200 (with internal SATA bay) including shipping. A cheaper option is Beelink SEA I, which I started to review, but one firmware update wiped out the HDCP key, and the product became unusable with the company unwilling/unable to provide the HDCP key. There’s now a new even cheaper model with LAKE I Home Cloud TV box sold for $77.99 on GearBest with GBLAKEI coupon.

LAKE I Home Cloud TV box specifications:

  • SoC – Realtek RTD1295 quad core Cortex A53 processor with ARM Mali-T820 MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR4
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC 5.1 flash + SD card slot up to 128 GB + SATA hard disk bay for 2.5″ drives with 9.5mm / 7.5mm thickness
  • Video I/O – HDMI 2.0a output, and HDMI input (recording and streaming up to 1080p @ 60 Hz)
  • Audio I/O – HDMI in and out, 1x S/PDIF output
  • Video Playback – HDR, 10-bit HEVC/H.265 up to 4K @ 60fps, H.264 up to 4K @ 24 fps, VP9 up to 4K @ 30 fps, BDISO/MKV, etc… automatic frame rate switching
  • Audio Features – 7.1 channel audio pass-through
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 with two external antennas
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0, 3x USB 2.0 ports
  • Misc – IR receiver, front panel display, RTC with battery
  • Power Supply – 12V/1.5A
  • Dimensions – 132 x 124 x 27 mm
  • Weight – 210 grams

The “HardDisk” bay shown in the first picture allows you to add a 2.5″ drive inside the box. The box is said to run Android 6.0, but again we don’t know if it also runs OpenWrt just like on Zidoo and EWEAT boxes. One of the picture also indicates “Intel HD Graphics 400” is used to provides 3840×2160, so the information on GearBest page can not be fully trusted. This fanless TV box ships with a HDMI Cable, a power adapter, an infrared remote control, and a user manual.

I asked GearBest for some confirmations, but I did not get a reply in time for the article. Finally, I found out the box on Alibaba, and it is sold by SHenzhen AZW Technology better known as Beelink, and the system is sold a dual OS TV box with Android 6.0 and OpenWrt there.

Via AndroidPC.es

THL Box 1 Pro TV Box Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown

June 22nd, 2017 3 comments

Today we will be taking a look at the THL Box1 Pro box. We will take this is two parts, first being the unboxing and teardown then software and performance. Let’s start with the unit’s specs.

THL Box 1 Pro TV Box specifications

  • CPU – Amlogic S905X quad core ARM Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.51GHz
  • GPU – Penta-core Mali-450MP GPU @ 750 MHz
  • Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC flash + micro SD card slot (up to 32GB)
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60 fps, AV port
  • Audio – HDMI, AV port (stereo audio)
  • Video Codecs – VP9 4K @60fps, 10-bit H.265 4K @ 60 fps, H.264 4K @ 30 fps and more
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n/ac Dual Band Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0
  • Interfaces – HDMI port, RJ45 port (100Mbps Ethernet), 2x USB Host, micro SD Card Slot, AV Out, DC jack
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports
  • Misc – IR receiver
  • Power Supply – DC 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 10.5 x 10.5 x 2 cm
  • Weight – 198g

The THL Box1 Pro so far seems to have promising specs for the price point. Let’s hope these specs are paired with a well built firmware to provide an optimal performance scenario.

THL Box 1 Pro TV Box Unboxing

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The THL Box1 Pro come in a pretty basic brown box. My first thoughts on the packaging was “recycled material” as the box itself does not feel particularly strong. Let’s see if this continues throughout.

First item you will see upon opening the package is the THL Box1 Pro itself. The device is inside your typical plastic bag so no surprises here.

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Pull out the THL Box1 Pro and underneath you will find all of the included accessories. These are the Power Supply, HDMI cable, remote and user guide. From my experience the HDMI cables included with these boxes have not been great, so we will see if this included cable has the ability to hold up during testing.

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The device itself has the IR sensor and LED in the front, USB & Micro SD on the side and on the back AV, USB, Ethernet, HDMI and the power plug. The box overall has a good form factor and would look nice with any standard home theater setup. The box does have rubber pads on the bottom to prevent movement.

The remote it a good size, not the smaller remotes I have experienced with these boxes. Another nice added touch is that the remote has a coating that has a rubber feel and provides a non-slip grip. Upon first look the remote does not have mouse control which can be an issue if you want to control all functions with the included remote. Personally, I prefer a mouse with these units so this is not an issue for me personally.

THL Box 1 Pro TV Box Teardown

Taking apart the THL Box1 Pro proved to be a very simple task. Minimal screws holding the device together and just a few clips, this device was disassembled within a few minutes.

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On the bottom of the device there are the three holes pictured above that are under the label. Since the label spans pretty much the entire bottom of the device these were removed by simply poking through the label instead of removing the label entirely. There are a few clips around the sides of the unit that will need to be released to remove the bottom cover.

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When removing the bottom plate be aware that the Wi-Fi wire is attached to the bottom cover so there is a possibility of ripping the cable if you are not careful. There is plenty of slack in the wire, just don’t pull extremely hard when releasing the clips.

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Pull the board out and you will have access to the top of the device. The CPU does have some thermal tape on the top of it, so it can touch a heat spreader plate built in the top of the unit. This should prevent any overheating issues with the unit given its size. All the solder points look to be well done and overall build quality is good.

To reassemble simply place the board back in the housing, clip bottom back in place and then re-insert the three screws.

Now that we have this unit back together let’s see how she performs. Check back in for part 2 of our review of the THL Box1 Pro for software overview and performance results. I would like to thank Tinydeal for sending the THL Box1 Pro to review, and if you are interested in the THL Box1 Pro, you could purchase it for about $49 from their website. The device can also be found on various other websites including eBay, ChinaVasion, and GearBest.

Marvell 88W8987xA Wireless SoC Supports 802.11ac & 802.11p WiFi, Bluetooth 5 for V2X & IVI Automotive Applications

June 15th, 2017 No comments

Marvell has introduced the new 88W8987xA wireless chip with 802.11ac, 802.11p and Bluetooth 5 Connectivity for V2X (Vehicle-to-Everything) and IVI (In-Vehicle Infotainment) automotive applications such as Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) systems, and secure wireless Gateway systems.

Key features of Marvell 88W8987xA family:

  • Connectivity
    • WiFI – IEEE 802.11ac (wave2) up to 433 Mbps / IEEE 802.11p WAVE (Wireless Access in Vehicular Environments) / 1609.x
    • Bluetooth 5 including Bluetooth Low Energy Angle of Arrival and Departure (AoA/AoD)
    • 2x antenna configuration for Wi-Fi/Bluetooth coexistence
  • Host Interfaces – SDIO 3.0 interface (4-bit SDIO and 1-bit SDIO) @ up to 208 MHz;  high-Speed UART interface (for Bluetooth only)
  • Audio Interfaces – Digital audio interfaces (PCM)
  • Temperature Range – -40°C to +105°C (AEC-Q100 Grade 2 Qualification)
  • Package – pin 8×8 mm QFN with wettable flanks

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The family now includes three pin-to-pin compatible SoCs:

  • 88W8987A with 802.11ac + Qualified Bluetooth 5 Functionality
  • 88W8987PA with 802.11p + Qualified Bluetooth 5 Functionality
  • 88W8987SA with switchable 802.11ac/802.11p + Qualified Bluetooth 5 Functionality

The first time I read the SoC supported 802.11p, I though it might be a typo, but it’s just another WiFi standard specifically designed for automotive applications operating in the 5.9GHz range as explained on Wikipedia:

IEEE 802.11p is an approved amendment to the IEEE 802.11 standard to add wireless access in vehicular environments (WAVE), a vehicular communication system. It defines enhancements to 802.11 (the basis of products marketed as Wi-Fi) required to support Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) applications. This includes data exchange between high-speed vehicles and between the vehicles and the roadside infrastructure, so called V2X communication, in the licensed ITS band of 5.9 GHz (5.85-5.925 GHz). IEEE 1609 is a higher layer standard based on the IEEE 802.11p.[1] It is also the base of a European standard for vehicular communication known as ETSI ITS-G5.

88W8987xA drivers are readily available for the Android, Linux and QNX drivers are available for 88W8987xA, and the family of SoC is sampling today, with mass production starting in Q4 2017.

Via eeNews Europe

Intrynsic Open-Q 835 Development Kit Features Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Processor, Support Android 7 and Windows 10

June 7th, 2017 1 comment

Intrinsyc has just launched one of the first development boards powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor with their Open-Q 835 devkit equipped with 4GB LPDDR4x, 128GB UFS 2.1 flash, 802.11ad WiFi, dual camera support and more.

Open-Q 835 Devkit with Cooling Plate Underneath

Open-Q 835 development kit is comprised of a “processor board” and a baseboard with the following specifications:

  • Processor Board
    • SoC – Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (APQ8098) octa-core processor with four high performance Kryo 280 cores @ 2.20 GHz/ 2.30 GHz (single core operation), four low power Kryo cores @ 1.9 GHz, Adreno 540 GPUwith  OpenGL ES 3.2, OpenCL 2.0 Full support, and Hexagon 682 DSP with Hexagon Vector eXtensions (dual-HVX512)
    • System Memory – 4GB LPDDR4x RAM
    • Storage – 128GB UFS2.1 Gear3 2 lane Flash
    • Connectivity
      • Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2.4/5Ghz 2×2
      • Bluetooth 5.0 + BLE
      • WiGig60 802.11ad with on-board antenna
    • Dimensions – 70 x 60 mm
  • Carrier Board
    • Display – 1x HDMI 2.0 out up to 4K Ultra HD, 2x 4 lane MIPI DSI + Touch Panel connector for optional LCD panel accessory
    • Audio
      • On-board Audio Codec; Audio in & out expansion headers, 1x ANC Headset Out
      • Optional SW features – Qualcomm Fluence HD with Noise Cancellation, high fidelity music playback 24-bit/192kHz, Dolby 5.1 support
    • Camera
      • 3x 4-lane MIPI CSI connectors
      • Dual Qualcomm Spectra 180 ISP
      • Optional SW Features – Qualcomm Clear Sight camera; Hybrid Autofocus, Optical Zoom; HW-accelerated Face Detection; HDR Video Record
    • Other Interfaces
      • GNSS daughter card with GPS, GLONASS, Beidou, and Galileo, PCB antenna and SMA connector option
      • 1x UART debug (USB micro-B)
      • 1x USB3.1 Type C
      • 1x uSD 3.0 UHS-1
      • I2S, SPI, GPIO, sensor header
    • Power Supply – 12V/3A DC; optional 3,000 Li-Ion battery
    • Dimensions  — 170mm x 170mm (mini-ITX form factor)

The company provides support for Android 7 Nougat, and Windows 10 should be feasible too but you are asked to “contact sales”. An optional WQHD AMOLED LCD is also available. Intrynsic explains the development kit is particularly suited for OEMS and device makers evaluating the processor and peripherals, and for premium mobile device development.

The “Early Adopter Version” of Open-Q 835 development kit can be purchased for $1,149, subject to an approval process. You may be able to find additional details on the product page.

U5PVR Deluxe Set-Top Box & NAS Review – Part 2: Android TV, Debian, and Live TV App

June 6th, 2017 8 comments

U5PVR Deluxe is an set-top box with digital TV tuners that runs Android TV 5.1, and support 2.5″ and 3.5″ hard drive. I’ve received a model with a dual DVB-T/T2 tuner, and already posted “U5 PVR Deluxe Android Set-Top Box Review – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing, Teardown, and SATA HDD Assembly” a few weeks ago, where I described the hardware, and I inserted a one terabytes 3.5″ hard drive. I’ve now had time to test the device, but it took much longer than expected due to a partial firmware update issue, which forced me to redo many of the tests. There are also some undocumented features, so if you want to make the most of the device, be prepared to spend time in the forums.

U5PVR Connections, OTA Firmware Update, and Setup Wizard

The box have one USB 3.0 ports, and three USB 2.0 ports, so most people won’t need an extra USB hub, and for the review, I connected a USB 3.0 hard drive to the former, as well as two RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad, and a USB keyboard to take screenshots.

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I also connected Ethernet and HDMI cables,  as well as my terrestrial TV antenna to the RF coaxial input of the device. You’ll probably want to connect the RF output to your TV if it comes with a DVB-T2 tuner, but I don’t have a cable for that so I skipped.

Finally I connected the 12V power supply, and pressed the power switch on the back panel to start the device up.

My box had a firmware dated 31st of March 2017 without OTA support, so I went to the forums to find the latest firmware dated May 4th. I downloaded the file, and proceeded with the firmware update, and everything seems to work with the Android logo and progress bar, as well as a slightly different UI, so I kept proceeding with the review at this stage. But later, as I had used the remote control to take screenshots, and found out all files were there by empty. So I contacted the company via their Google+ community, and found out my firmware was still stuck at March 31st. Noooo! The company gave me a new firmware file dated May 29th, which I first copied to my SATA hard drive to complete the update, but after going through the procedure, no change, so I repeated the steps by copying the file to one of the partition of my USB hardware, and it went through probably. They also told me that I could install the Linux part via OTA, which I did.

But wait a minute.. Linux? What is it for exactly on this box? Answer:

  1. Plex media Server accessible via BoxIPAddress:32400/web using ID : u5pvr; password : u5pvr
  2. Transmission server accessible via BoxIPAddress:9091 using ID : u5pvr password : u5pvr
  3. FTP Server using u5pvr as username and password
  4. Second TVHeadEnd server accessible via BoxIPAddress:9981 using  ID : u5pvr password : u5pvr
  5. SSH using root username with u5pvr password.
  6. Install various other Linux program like Webserver, Audio streaming server, Rclone for Google drive. Asterisk voice server etc…. Similar to Synology NAS

They call this “Android Over Linux (AoL) ” and it allows to run both Android TV and Debian apps. I’ve quickly tried to login to SSH, and you indeed access to an ARM Debian machine:

That’s all nice and convenient, but for user who don’t know what installing “Linux” does, it somewhat expose them to hackers with a default username and password. U5PVR should not be accessible directly from the Internet, but it’s still not ideal. Asking users to set usernames and password right after installation would be beneficial. People who know can easily change the default password as they wish.

The support guy on G+ (William Tedy) also went on with some other Android features that I was not all aware of, and you may read about them on Google+ as the list is rather long, and due to time constraints I won’t test it all, especially Wio GPS board is looking at me with its big beautiful eyes (antennas) asking why I’m not taking care of it yet….

Nevertheless, I don’t expect people to have the same problems as I had with firmware update since boxes selling now come with OTA firmware enabled. For the very first boot, you’ll be asked to Select a Home app. Going with Home Screen will bring you to the default launcher, while Setup Wizard will guide you through the first time setup.


I’ve selected Setup Wizard and Just once to check how useful it would be. You’re first welcomed and asked to select your language.

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Then you can select you network. If you are using Ethernet with DHCP, you don’t need to change anything, but if you prefer WiFi you can configure it here.

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The next Windows will let you sign-in to your Google account. That’s where I found out the air mouse would not always work here, as while I could type the text, clicking on Next would do nothing, and I had to use the IR remote control, or switch to remote mode on the air mouse instead.

Once the Google Account is completed, the Setup is finished. So it was only minimal, and you may still have to setup the rest of the device in the Settings and Live TV app.

U5PVR Android TV, Settings, and First Impressions

You’ll then be directed to the launcher, and to my surprise it was Android Leanback launcher, and as we’ll see below the box is running Android TV, as opposed to just Android as on most TV boxes on the market.

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I had a pretty bad first impression of Leanback launcher, as it included some “recommended” videos that I did not care at all for, including some with fairly disgusting thumbnails. The screenshot above is for the older firmware, and it seems the company has now disabled recommendations and it just shows “Some recommendations are hidden. To enable, go to Settings”. I’ll show how to enable/disable this a little later. The new firmware also have some extra icons and different pre-installed apps.

There’s a row of icons with some common apps which can be deleted, added, and moved as required, and the last row included two settings app: ATV settings (Amlogic settings app) and Settings (Android settings), as well as Network, QuickClean and Power icons. The former shows “unknown SSID” as I’m using Ethernet.

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The list of pre-installed apps is shown above, and you’ll notice Kodi is not there. We’ll see why later…

The ATV settings app is shown below.

After scrolling the top row to the right.

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If you’ve ever used an Amlogic TV box it should look similar. Options are pretty much the same as on other boxes except there’s a Ethernet/WiFi menu on top of the network menu, as you can use both Ethernet and WiFi at the same time.HDMI CEC is enabled by default, which may not be the best idea, as it may confuse some people, who don’t understand why their TV will turn off when they turn off the box. The HDR10 option just enable and disable HDR support, something I cannot test since I’d need a new 4K UHD TV with high dynamic range support.

The Color Space menu will allow you to switch between RGB444, YCbCr444, YCbCr422, etc… It’s mostly useful in case you have some strange colors, or even a pink screen due to interoperability issues between the TV and the box. I did not need to use this.

The second row has a Home Screen menu, which you can enter to change Leanback launcher behavior via two menu: Recommendation row and app and games row

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I just disabled everything so I don’t need to get annoyed by videos thumbnails in the launcher. You can always enable sources that are useful to you, and disable others.

The Settings icon redirects to Android TV settings with pretty much typical options. SAMBA Service has been added and enabled by default without password, but you can add your own password if needed.

The Home menu allows you to switch between Leanback and Live TV app for the launcher. Beside starting live TV automatically, we’ll see the later is perfectly usable as a launcher since you can access apps from it. Which launcher would prefer depends on your main use case. If you mainly like to watch online videos from YouTube and other services, then Leanback might be good for you, while if you are mainly watching live TV over DVB-T/T2, live TV may be a better choice.

Since I lost all screenshots taken with the remote control due to the firmware issue, I only have storage data at the end of the review. We can still see 10.99 GB space is available to the user out of the 16GB flash, and at the end of the review, I still had 8.04 GB available.

The bottom of the settings also has some extra menus for System Upgrade and Advance options (Color Space, and HDR mode selection: SDR/Dolby/HDR10/Auto).

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The About set-top box section shows the model number is “BADA” and it runs Android 5.1.1 on Linux3.18.24 for Hisilicon Hi3798 CV2x processor. The Build numbers shows the firmware is also running “Internal Linux”.

Google Play Store is different on Android TV, and more suitable to the TV experience thanks to larger icon and fonts.

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The downside of that is that the store will filter apps, and only show apps made for the big screen and compatible with Android TV.

So for example, I could install ES File Explorer, and Kodi, while Antutu would not show in the list. I find it ironic that ES File Explorer is considered TV-friendly, as it’s a total pain to use with the remote control… But nevertheless, I tried to use alternative app stores such as Amazon Underground, but since I could not find half the apps I needed there, I eventually installed most app through APKPure app, which is great to work around all sort of limitations including geolocalization ones, as it just installs the APK. What you gain in convenience, you may lose in terms of security, so only install apps you trust.

The IR remote control works well and I tested range up to 10 meter. I could also use the IR learning function to program some of my TV keys (volume, power…). As with other TV boxes with tuners, using the IR remote control is not really optional, as you’ll need the keys in the live TV app. I’ve also noticed Android TV did not always accept clicks from my MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse, so I had to revert to remote control mode.

Power handling is a bit different from other devices. The remote control only allows you to go in and out of standby, and if you want to go into power off mode, you’ll need to use the mechanical switch at the back, after going into standby. You can only reboot by using the Power button in the launcher.

I measured U5PVR power consumption with a power meter in different configuration:

  • Power off (SATA HDD) – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby (SATA HDD) – 10.1 Watt
  • Idle (SATA HDD) – 10.3 Watts
  • Power off (SATA & USB HDD) – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby (SATA & USB HDD) – 11.0 Watts
  • Idle (SATA & USB HDD) –  11.2 Watts

That standby power consumption is pretty, but there’s a good reason for it: U5 PVR continue to act as a NAS when in Standby mode contrary to product based on Realtek RTD1295 like Zidoo X9S or EWEAT R9 Plus. So you can still access SAMBA, copy files through FTP, and perform BitTorrent download with Transmission BT…

U5PVR enclosure stays cool at all times. I measured just 33°C and 39°C max on the top and bottom of the case with an IR thermometer after playing a 2-hour video with Kodi 17.3, and after about 15 minutes playing Riptide GP2, the temperature went up to just 34°C and 44°C. The frame rate in the game was typical of other devices based on Mali-450MP, i.e. playable but not ultra smooth with max settings, and performance was constant during my test of the game.

So while I had various issues with my first use of U5PVR, those were mostly due to the older firmware when I initially tested the box (I don’t expect firmware update issues anymore in the retail device), and my lack of familiarity with Android TV since it was my first device with the OS. I was pleasantly surprised to find a Debian rootfs in the device making a versatile NAS system, and U5PVR support team was helpful in helping me resolve the issues, and make me learn more about their device.

Audio & Video Testing, YouTube, and DRM Info

As we’ve seen in the section above, Kodi was not pre-installed in the firmware, so I decided to install the latest version (Kodi 17.3) from the Play Store, and ran some test from a SAMBA share – except otherwise indicated – with 4K videos:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  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) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – Not perfectly smooth
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – Not smooth at all most of the time
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Slideshow (image updated every 3 seconds. Not support by hardware)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – Not smooth after a while
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK (and for this video in particular, I noticed colors were much more vivid than on other TV boxes I’ve recently tested)
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  Visual defects from time to time
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – ~1 fps and lots of artifacts and  (software decode, not supported by VPU)
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Choppy at times
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Plays, but not 100% perfect

So there’s a good reason Kodi is not pre-installed in the box, as it’s not working very well, and later I also realized H.264 1080p would not play smoothly. The developers told me they are working on hardware video decoding for Kodi 18 Leia, so in a few months Kodi might be more usable.

There was no point in continuing testing Kodi at this stage,so instead I reverted to Media Center app which can play files from storage devices , UPnP, NFS, and “LAN” (i.e. SAMBA). The user interface is not really beautiful, almost retro, but it does the job.

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I repeated the test 4K video tests, and results are way better:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  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) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Almost smooth, and audio delay (H.264 @ 4K60fps not supported by 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) – Back screen with audio only at first, then massive artifacts.  (Hi10p codec not supported by VPU)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Network: not always smooth; HDD: OK
  • 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) – The video plays better than other boxes I’ve used, as it is always smooth., but no audio (Vorbis likely not supported)

Automatic frame rate switching also worked, but it’s not enabled by default, so you’d need to go to Settings->Video Output, and check “Output format adaptation for 2D stream” to enable it. Again I also noticed some videos looked quite better due to more vivid colors than on other TV boxes I tested.

I also tested 720p/1080p videos (Big Buck Bunny) with various codecs taken from Linaro media samples and Elecard:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – 1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – 1080p – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – 1080p – OK

No problem at all here. I continued the review with videos with various bitrates:

  • ED_HD.avi (MPEG-4/MSMPEG4v2 – 10 Mbps) – Very choppy and slow, audio delay
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

Only Elephant Dream video (ED_HD.avi) failed to play, as the system don’t seem to support Microsoft MSMSPEG4v2 very well.

I also test audio capabilities with HDMI audio pass-through via Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver, as well as stereo ouput (PCM 2.0) for people getting audio through their TV’s stereo speakers. HDMI audio pass-through needs to be enabled via Settings->Sound->HDMI Output set to RAW, as Auto mode did not work for me.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK
TrueHD 5.1 No audio OK
TrueHD 7.1 No audio OK
Dolby Atmos 7.1 No audio Dolby True HD 7.1*
DTS HD Master OK OK
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK
DTS:X (not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636) OK DTS HD Master

* My AV receiver is supposed to work with Dolby Atmos, and I have the latest firmware, but somehow it will only show Dolby True HD 7.1, despite the developers having successfully tested Atmos on (apparently the same) Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver.

Audio results are pretty good, unless you try to play videos with TrueHD audio tracks only using stereo downsampling.

No problems found with Blu-Ray ISOs (Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso), and MPEG2 1080i videos. Hi10p will play with video artifacts, and showing subtitles with a not-so-beautiful font. U5 PVR is supposed to support 3D video, but it’s not something I can test due to a lack of compatible hardware. I was still able to decode 1080p SBS and Over/Under 3D videos with the box. 4K 3D stereoscopic videos are not supported, as on all other devices I’ve tested so far.

I could several videos from my libraries with MKV, AVI, XViD/DViX, MP4, and FLV, but IFO files would not play at all with Media Center displaying the message

Video Problem – Can’t play this video

The Youtube app is the one designed for Android TV.

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I had no problem playing various videos, and for the very first time I’ve got a device that can play 4K videos (2160p) in YouTube.
What you won’t get from other Android TV TV boxes is DRM support, as there is none at all.

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Live TV app & DVB-T/T2 Tuner

The Live TV app to watch live TV over DVB or ATSC looks the same as on U4 Quad Hybrid, the previous model from the company, which I have already reviewed, so I won’t detail the settings in much detils yet again. U5PVR can support DVB-C/T/T2, DVB-S/S2 and ATSC depending on the model you’ve purchased. The model I have for review comes with a dual DVB-T/T2 tuner.

The initial setup will let you select the country, since since Thailand is still not in the list, I selected Vietnam instead just like I did with the previous model, before starting the scan.

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For some unknown reasons, the signal from my roof antenna is shown to be rather weak in this box, and I only got 9 channels instead of the 26 channels I got in Mecool KIII Pro.

I even repeated the scan later on, and only got 6 channels. Hopefully, this is just an issue with my sample, and not a design problem.

You can bring up the menu in Live TV app by pressing the Menu button on the remote control.

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The TV section will give you access to Live (DVB) TV, and IPTV for channels from the Internet. The latter is empty, but you could import your own. EPG will allow you to select between single or multiple channel views of the electronic program guide. Fav App and All App section is what makes the app suitable as the default launcher since you can start the app to watch live TV, but also easily access other apps from it. Finally you have the Setup menu basically the same as on U4 Quad Hybrid to configure live TV and various system settings.

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The File Manager will allow you to browse your storage and networked devices, including videos recorded with the PVR section.

I started playing with the PVR function by pressing the Record key on the remote control to manually start a recording. The interesting part is that you can select between Storage deviuce (SATA or USB drive connected to U5PVR), or Network Drive to record to SAMBA. I tried the later and it works very well. If you buy U5PVR Slim model without hard drive support, it could be a really nice option to record to your own NAS. Note that I had to press Start several times, as the system would often start recording, and stop it a few seconds later. After several tries, I could record normally…

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I’d assume few people will use manually recording hower, as the EPG is a much better to schedule timers to record or start programs. The two screenshots above show Single Service and Multiple Service views of the EPG.

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Once you’ve select a program you can press the Record key in this menu to add a timer to a storage device or SAMBA/NFS, select recurrence type, and so on.

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If you have several Timer set,you cn access the list by going to EPG, then pressing the Menu key to show up a Popup menu with various options, and select Timer List.

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You’ll be able to edit, delete and add timer there.

PVR function worked well for me, as it can record in the background (e.g. you can watch YouTube, browse the web and son), and even watch any other channels during recording thanks to the dual demodulator in the box. However, recording from standby mode did not work for me.

Timeshifting is working as long as a USB drive is connected. If I only connect my SATA HDD, it will show no storage device is connected.

It’s also possible to stream live TV to your computer or smartphone using TVheadEnd with Kodi 17.x (See Stream Live TV to Your Computer or Smartphone with U4 Quad Hybrid Android TV Box, Kodi and TVheadend for details), Plex, or Android TV’s Live Channel.

If you want to watch recordings on other device, you can do so easily by going to the pvr directory using SAMBA, or use UPnP or Plex server running on the box.

If you use the former, you’ll find the video to be nicely sorted with a directory for each channel, and the recorded file name with the name of the program and time.

Storage & Network Performance

I’m using A1 SD bench app to evaluate storage performance, as the eMMC flash used is rather fast with ~100 MB/s and ~60 MB/s read and write speeds respectively.
However, the USB and SATA partition were not detected at all bythe app, maybe because of Android TV has a different way of presenting those. I also had constant problems when connecting a USB 3.0 hard drive to the USB 3.0 port on the front panel, as the partition would not show, or sometimes just a short time, and boot may also fail when the USB 3.0 HDD is connected. I did not have such problems when moving the USB 3.0 HDD to a USB 2.0 port, and NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT, and FAT32 file systems are supported.

I tested SATA performance from Debian instead using iozone3 benchmark in an SSH terminal:

It’s working pretty well with up to 195 MB/s sequential read speed, and up to 155 MB/s sequential write speed, which should allow you to record videos, and use the NAS function at the same time with good performance.

I then testing NAS performance over Gigabit Ethernet by copying files over SAMBA and FTP to the SATA drive I installed in the box.

Gigabit Ethernet SAMBA Transfer on U5PVR

A 13MB/s file copy is not very performance, as running the same SAMBA transfer test on Zidoo X9S – a TV box with similar NAS features but using RTD1295 processor and OpenWrt – yielded a 50 MB/s transfer rate, so there’s some work to do on U5PVR.

Gigabit Ethernet FTP Transfer on U5PVR – Click to Enlarge

FTP is much faster, and basically maxes out Gigabit Ethernet bandwidth @ about 104 MB/s.

If you plan on using the box as a NAS, you should really use Gigabit Ethernet for higher and constant performance. But I’ve also switched to testing 802.11ac WiFi performance, by copying a 278MB file between the box’s flash and a SAMBA server back and forth. At l least that’s the theory… While I could copy a file from SAMBA to the internal flash @ 3.61 MB/s, copying from the flash to SAMBA was much slower (500 KB/s), but would never complete as ES File Explorer would simply crash after a while.

So instead I reverted to using iperf to test WiFi performance

  • 802.11ac WiFi upload:

  • 802.11ac WiFi download:

The results are quite weaker than for example Yundoo Y8’s WiFi performance with over 200 Mbit/s in both direction.

U5PVR / HiSilicon Hi3798C V200 Systen Info & Benchmarks

I had to run CPU-Z before running any benchmarks. Hilison Hi3798C V200 is detected as a quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 400 MHz to 1.60 GHz with a Mali-T720 GPU. The manufacturer and model as shown as NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV since they likely spoofed the popular box to get more apps working with all features including YouTube 4K.

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I ran Antutu 6.x, and results as pretty good for this kind of system with 41,337 points, quite higher than both Amlogic S905X (33K) and Amlogic S905 (38K) devices.

Conclusion

I did not have the best of start with U5PVR Deluxe, due to firmware update working partially at the beginning, but the more I used it, the more I liked it. The TV box is one of the rare device with Android TV operating systems, it also runs Debian making running server services a breeze for people familiar with Linux, and Live TV app does it job, despite a low strength signal on my sample at least.

PROS

  • Rare TV box with Android TV OS, albeit only Android 5.1.1 version
  • Debian rootfs running in parallel with Plex Server (with some limitations), FTP, Transmission BT, SSH.. pre-installed. Other packages can be installed with apt
  • Excellent video playback in Media Center with automatic frame rate switching, vivid colors
  • HDMI audio pass-through working for Dolby, DTS, True HD, and DTS HD. Dolby Atmos is also supposed to work.
  • Live TV App with EPG, PVR function to SATA, USB, NFS and SAMBA, Timeshifting, and broadcasting over the network via TVHeadEnd
  • Dual DVB-T/T2 tuner allowing for watching and recording at the same time. Support for SmartCard for model with DVB-S2 tuner.
  • YouTube 4K support
  • Internal bay for 2.5″ and 3.5″ SATA drive; NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT, and FAT32 support
  • IR remote control with IR learning function and useful shortcuts
  • OTA firmware update
  • Good support from the developers via Google+ or the forums

CONS / Bugs

  • Android TV limitations: Play Store can only find a few apps (workaround: apkpure), clicks with air mouse not always working
  • Kodi is currently not well supported
  • Problems with USB 3.0 port. HDD partitions cannot be mounted, and device may not boot at all.
  • Audio – TrueHD / Atmos down-mixing is not working, Vorbis audio not supported with Media Center app
  • Video – IFO/VOB files (DVD rips) cannot be played in Media Center app
  • Live TV app – Manual recording does not always start; recording from standby mode not working (minor); antenna signal weak in my box
  • No DRM support at all
  • Underwhelming WiFi performance
  • Steep learning curve to make use of all features, nothing is explained in user guide, so spending time reading in the forums or G+ to learn is probably a must.

I’d like to thank Shenzhen Vivant for sending a review sample. You can purchase U5PVR on Aliexpress for $229.99 including shipping via DHL for the DVB-T2/DVB-S2 version, not the dual DVB-T2 tuner reviewed here. However, you can purchase the dual DVB-T/T2 tuner, dual ATSC tuner, and DVB-S2+ATSC tuner separately on Aliexpress for $30 to $35.

Review of Vorke Z3 Android Mini PC with SATA – Part 1: Unboxing & Teardown

June 6th, 2017 6 comments

After Yundoo Y8 review, I’ve received another Rockchip RK3399 mini PC for review: Vorke Z3, which was sent to me by GeekBuying. Both devices are quite similar for Vorke Z3 adds an external SATA interface, and two external high-gain antennas. I was also expecting Android 7.1 Nougat on Z3, but I’ve been told the current SDK has too many bugs, so the device still ships with Android 6.0.1. I’ll start the review by looking into the hardware inside out, before reporting on my experience with the firmware in the second part in a few weeks.

Vorke Z3 Unboxing

The retail package is quite bland, but most people will probably not care a bit about this little detail.

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The devices ships with a 12V/2A power supply, a simple IR remote control, a HDMI cable, a SATA cable, and Vorke Z3 “4K media player” user manual.

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The device feels of good quality with its metal enclosure. The front panel is characterised by its long ventilation holes, one of the sides come with a USB 2.0 port, a USB 3.0 port, a micro SD slot, and the SATA connector, and the rear panel features the rest of the connectors and ports: two WiFi antennas, a 3.5mm audio jack, optical S/PDIF output, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI 2.0 port, USB type C port with USB 3.0 and DisplayPort 1.2 (requires separate adapter), power jack, and power switch.

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Vorke Z3 Teardown

You can disassemble the device by loosening the four screws on the bottom of the case. I started with a precision screwdriver, but I had to upgrade to a larger screwdriver since the screws were too difficult to take out.

I actually damaged one with the precision screwdriver, and I could only remove three, so I had to very lightly bend and rotate the bottom cover.

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There’s no much to see here, except the RTC battery, and a sticker for “R99-V2.0” board. If we remove four more screws, and disconnect the cables to the power switch we can ckeck out the board with the processor, memory and eMMC flash covered by a large heatsink.

The heatsink is very easy to remove, and includes a large white thermal pad underneath. Rockchip RK3399 processor is connected to a “Mainstream” 32GB Samsung KLMBG4GEND-B031 eMMC 5.0 flash (250/100 MB/s R/W, 6.5K/12K R/W IOPS) which should provide very good performance, and two Samsung K4E6E304EE-EGCE LPDDR3 RAM chip (4GB RAM).

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Gigabit Ethernet is implemented via Realtek RTL8211E transceiver coupled with a SWAPNET NS892407 transformer, and while an Ampak AP6356S wireless module brings 802.11ac 2×2 WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1 LE connectivity to the device, and is indeed connected to the two antennas, contrary to some other devices that use dual antennas for aesthetic purposes. SATA has been properly implemented as R99 board designers leveraged Rockchip RK3399 PCIe interface with ASMedia ASM1061 x1 PCI Express to 2x SATA 3.0 ports. Other chips include Rockchip RK808-D PMIC, and Everest Semi ES8316 low power audio codec.

I’d like to thank GeekBuying for proving Vorke Z3 review sample. You can purchase the mini PC from their website for $164.99 shipped. Vorke is a GeekBuying brand so you won’t find it in many websites, but a few resellers on Aliexpress do offer the box.

Continue reading Vorke Z3 Rockchip RK3399 TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware