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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 Kodi is gone and been replaced by something called “TV Center”.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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Ebox T8 V Octa-Core Android TV Box Review – Part 2: Android Firmware, EBMC, and Benchmarks

January 25th, 2017 1 comment

EBox T8 V (version 5) is the new EntertainmentBox.com  TV box specially geared towards the UK market with its choice of apps and online shop based in the United Kingdom. It’s an upgrade to EBox T8-4 I reviewed last year, replacing Amlogic S905 quad core processor by Amlogic S912 octa-core processor, but keeping most of the same features including the SATA bay and EBox user interface. Since we’ve already checked out the hardware, likely based on Zoomtak U Plus, I’ll focus on the firmware in the second part. It will be a shorter reviewed than usual since I have already tested many Amlogic S912 TV boxes, and I’ll refer to T8-4 review when the user interface is identical, and instead focus on what has changed, and the usual suspects like audio pass-through, 4K video playback, DRM support, WiFi performance, etc…

EBox T8 V Setup Wizard, Setup, OTA Firmware Update, and Default Apps

I had already plugged the provided 1TB SATA drive into the device during the unboxing post, but I’ve also connected another USB hard drive, as well as HDMI and Ethernet cables, the RF dongle for S77 Pro air mouse that came with the box, a USB keyboard to take screenshots, and finally the power cord.

Click to Enlarge

The power button on the box should be red, so if you want to start the TV box, press the button on the box, or the power button on the IR remote control, the power button will change to blue color, and the display will show “boot”. If you want to use the air mouse to turn on the device, you’ll need to use the IR learning function to learn the power key from the IR remote control. I’ve tried and it works well. The boot normally takes around 30 to 35 seconds. Note that the boot animation includes some music, which can be annoying if other people sleep, and you forgot to turn the volume down…

The first time, you’ll go through a setup wizard for language, screen scale network, since nothing has changed here, I invite you to check EBox T8-4 Setup Wizard & Configuration section of my previous review for details.

Beginners Launcher – Click for Original Size (1920×1080)

The launcher is also the same, but you now have an option to switch between the “beginners launcher”, which includes Ebox Apps Hub and Ebox app for support, and the more barebone “experienced launcher” shown below.

Experienced Launcher – Click to Enlarge

The Experienced Launcher setting interface is exactly the same as in T8-4, but the company made another Settings app for the Beginners Launcher.

Click to Enlarge

As fas I could tell however, all settings were the same, but just presented in a different way. The Speed Test is new, but it’s just an Ookla speed test to check your ISP performance. Note my fiber optic connection is 20/10 Mbps to the bandwidth was maxed out in that test.
The Advanced icons redirect to the familiar Amlogic Settings app.

It’s also interesting to quickly check out the system info that shows the model number is q201_9377, which can be useful in case you’ll want to use an alternative firmware. Few people will likely try that, since you pay extra for firmware and support for the box.

Click to Enlarge

The list of app is what makes this box further different from the competition with UK specific apps such as BBC iPlayer, FilnOn Live, and WookieSports, with the latter not present in T8-4.

The company did not include TVCatchUp app this test, but for people who wants to watch UK programs but live outside the country, IPvanish app was added to let you setup VPN. You may want to check Installed App & IPTV streaming section in T8-4 review for details about the UK streaming apps.

Finally, I went to EBox OTA, it could find a new firmware, and the upgrade went smoothly.

Click to Enlarge

Check out OTA firmware section of my previous review for more info about that.

Power consumption is fine with 0.2W is power off mode with the two hard drives connected, and around 8 Watts at idle. The air mouse also worked well, and once you’ve programmed the IR remote control’s power button to the air mouse, you won’t need the IR remote at all. If you exclusively run Kodi (EBMC) then the IR remote control might be a little better since you can access some features like Zoom, aspect radio, and audio directly from the remote, and you won’t need a mouse pointer at any times.

The user experience of the new T8 V was very much like the one of the previous model with the firmware working well, except that I had a “App not Responding” window appear twice, and the mouse cursor is quite small when you set video output to 4K.

Video and Audio Support in EBOX MC (Kodi 16.1) & DRM Info

EBOX Media Center (EBMC) is based on SMPC 16.4, itself a fork a Kodi 16.1 with optimization for Amlogic processors.

Click to Enlarge

Before playing any videos, I disabled amcodec as instructed in a paper included with EBOX T8 V package.

I also enabled automatic frame rate switching via “Adjust display refresh rate” option….

… as well as audio pass-through, with Dolby and DTS. Note that DTS-HD and TrueHD options are missing, and as we’ll see below not working, so you’d better enable Dolby Digital (AC3) Transcoding too.

I played 4K videos over a SAMBA share using Gigabit Ethernet:

  • 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) – plays, but not perfectly smoothly
  • 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 – Not smooth, and audio delay (OK, not supported by Amlogic S912)
  • 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
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Slow motion
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – OK, but not perfect at all times.
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Plays but could be smoother

4K video playback working about as well as on other Amlogic S912 TV boxes, but automatic frame rate switching does not work, so if the video output is set to 4K @ 60 Hz, and you play a 24 fps video it might not be as smooth as it could be.

HDMI audio-pass through works but is limited to Dolby and DTS 5.1. Tested with Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver.

  • AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 – OK (Dolby D 5.1)
  • E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 – OK (Dolby D 5.1)
  • Dolby Digital+ 7.1 – PCM 2.0, no audio *
  • TrueHD 5.1 – PCM 2.0, no audio *
  • TrueHD 7.1 – PCM 2.0, no audio *
  • Dolby Atmos 7.1 – PCM 2.0 with audio *
  • DTS HD Master – DTS 5.1 only
  • DTS HD HR – DTS 5.1 only
  • DTS:X (not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636) – DTS 5.1 only

* If you set “Dolby Digital (AC3) Transcoding” in the settings, audio will be transcoded, and output Dolby D 5.1 audio.

DRM Info – Click to Enlarge

DRM Info apps shows Widevine Level 3 is supported.

EBox T8-4 Benchmarks – Antutu, Storage and Networking

I’ve run Antutu 6.x to make sure the system did not have any issue with performance, and T8 V achieved above 41,000 points, in line with the scores of other Amlogic S912 TV Boxes.

The 1TB internal hard drive (NTFS) shipped with the device was properly recognized with performance ~30 MB/s you’d expect from USB 2.0, while my external hard drive NTFS and exFAT partition could be mounted, and also delivered as expected with the recurring low write speed (5.88 MB/s) on exFAT partitions typical of the vast majority of Android TV boxes. Note that the 44.50 MB/s read speed for the exFAT partition is likely wrong, and affected by the slow write speed.

Click to Enlarge

Internal storage performance (35.01MB/s & 12.15 MB/s) is OK without being outstanding, and works well enough.

My very first experience with WiFi did not quite go accordingly to plans, as the box hung when I enabled WiFi in the settings. My second attempts was successful with a 433 Mbps connection to my 802.11ac router. Performance was however underwhelming with an average of 2.4 MB/s transfer rate, that’s quite typical of Amlogic S905X and S912 TV boxes.

WiFi Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Conclusion

EBox T8 V offers user experience very similar to EBox T8-4, with slightly faster performance, decent 4K video playback which adds VP9 support, better support for audio pass-through albeit limited to Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1, and a few pre-installed video streaming app for the UK. I did not have any issues with the internal hard drive this time, but WiFi performance is not quite as good as on EBox T8-4.

PROS

  • Stable and responsive firmware
  • Easy to setup & e thanks to setup wizard, and bundled Air mouse.
  • 4K video playback in EBMC (based on SPMC) with H.264, H.265 and VP9 well supported
  • HDMI audio pass-through working for DTS and Dolby Digital (AC3) 5.1
  • Pre-installed IPTV apps for the UK market such as BBC iPlayer and Filmon, as well as a VPN app.
  • 2.5″ internal SATA bay
  • OTA firmware update
  • Good customer support with Live chat, forums, and online documentation

CONS

  • HDMI audio pass-through does not work for Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD
  • Automatic frame rate switching is not working
  • WiFi performance could be better
  • DRM support limited to Widewine Level 3
  • No Dolby and DTS licenses
  • Small mouse pointer when 4K is selected
  • Boot animation includes some music (potential issue at night).

EBox T8-4 + S77 Pro air mouse + 1 TB HDD bundle I reviewed can be purchased for 185.87 GBP including VAT (~$234 US), but you can also purchase the box with the standard IR remote control only for 104.99 GBP including VAT (~$132 US), or select other bundles with gamepad and/or wireless keyboard.

Mecool BB2 Pro Review – TV Box with DDR4 Memory – Part 2: Android Firmware, Benchmarks, Kodi

January 12th, 2017 10 comments

Most Android TV box comes with DDR3 or DDR3L memory, but Mecool BB2 Pro comes instead with 3GB DDR4 memory that’s supposed to offer 50% increased memory bandwidth. That’s why I was interested in reviewing the box. I’ve already checked out BB2 Pro hardware in the first part of the review, so the second part will focus on the firmware, video playback in Kodi 17, and benchmarks to find out if there’s any improvement over other Amlogic S912 using DDR3 memory. It’s not the first DDR4 box I’ve tested however, as Eweat R9 Plus powered by Realtek RTD1295 processor also included DDR4 memory, but based on my tests, there’s was no noticeable differences with Zidoo X9S based on the same processor, but with DDR3 memory. But this time, we’ll see if it is any different with Amlogic platforms.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I connect a USB 3.0 hard drive to one of the USB 2.0 port, and a USB hub to the other port with two RF dongle for an air mouse and a gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard. I completed the setup with HDMI and Ethernet cables, and finally the power supply.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The system will boot automatically when you connect the power, no need to press the power button, and the boot will typically take around 25 seconds. Please note the boot animation logo could with some music, so the boot is not silent, which may be annoying if you want to use the box while others are sleeping, and turned on the TV before the box.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The launcher will look similar to regularly readers as it’s exactly the same as the one found in K1 Plus, another TV box also made by Videostrong. The notification bar is enabled by default, but not the status bar which can be enabled in the settings. This option should really be present in all boxes.

mecool-bb2-pro-appsThe list of preinstalled apps include the Play Store, Kodi, Netflix and others. You’ll also notice Kodi Updater, an app to update the likely-custom version of Kodi used in the box.

bb2-pro-kodi-updaterMy version was Kodi 17.0-Beta3 and was the latest available at the time.

The settings are also basically the same as in K1 Plus, and other Amlogic S905/S905X/S912 TV boxes. I had no troubles using WiFi and Ethernet, and set my resolution to 4k2k-60Hz supported by LG 42UB820T Ultra HD TV. Some less common settings include RGB mode (maybe to fix some pink screen issues), and Status bar (on/off), and there are settings for HDR and HDMI self-adaptation (auto framerate switching).

The internal storage has a single unified partition with 762MB used. The total capacity is reported to be 16.00GB but that’s obviously a hard-coded value, possibly to avoid customers complaining there’s not 16GB storage in their 16GB TV box box.

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The box could also mount NTFS and exFAT file systems in the USB hard drive. A FAT32 micro SD was also supported.

The “About MediaBox” section report the model number is BB2 Pro running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29. The firmware is rooted. OTA firmware update appears to have been implement through “Update” app, but it would detect no new firmware, so I could not test it.
bb2-pro-about-mediabox Google Play Store worked just fine, except for Bluetooth LE apps such as Mi Fit or Vidonn Smartband. Albeit it should be easy to fix, this is an issue common to almost all Amlogic S912 TV boxes. I also install the free version of Riptide GP2 through Amazon Underground.

I had no troubles using the infrared remote control up to 10 meters, and the IR learning function worked too. However, I used MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for most of the review since it’s more convenient in Android. I’d recommend an air mouse with keyboard and IR learning function (to be able to turn on the device) for the best user experience.

A short press on the power button of the remote control will trigger standby mode, while a long press will pop-up a window to confirm you confirm to power off the define. I could also restart the box from the power button from the remote and the unit.

Power consumption measured in 6 different configurations:

  • Power off – 1.0 watt
  • Standby – 1.3 watt
  • Idle – 3.0 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 1.0 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 1.4 watt
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.2 watts

Idle power consumption is the same as M12N TV box, but power off power consumption is a bit on the high side possibly partially because of the red LED that is quite bright.

This time I only measured the temperature on the top of the case, as the bottom is bright and my IR thermometer reported wrong values for the bottom. The top of the case temperature was 39°C max after Antutu 6.x, and 44°C max after playing Riptide GP2 for about 15 minutes. I also checked the soc-thermal value in CPU-Z after the games and it was 78°C, against around 55 °C in idle mode. Riptide GP2 played fine, but not perfectly smooth, like on other Amlogic S912 TV box, and performance was constant. I did not notice any obvious improvement over S912 TV boxes using DDR3 memory.

Mecool BB2 Pro feels like using other Amlogic S912 TV boxes with a stable firmware, and good performance overall, but again I could not really noticed any performance boost from DDR4 memory.

Video and Audio Playback with Kodi, Antutu Video Tester, and DRM info

BB2 Pro runs Kodi 17 Beta 3, or at least a custom version of it with TVaddons.org add-ons installed. I played most videos samples from a SAMBA share through Gigabit Ethernet.

4K video playback was OK, but for whatever reason I could not play any VP9 videos:

  • 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) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Won’t play, stays in UI.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (as expected since the VPU does not support 4K H.264 over 30 fps)
  • 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) – HDD: Slow motion, and many artifacts (Not supported by S912 VPU, software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: Not smooth
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – Won’t play, stays in UI.
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) –Won’t play, stays in UI.

I also tried the 3 VP9 videos above with MoviePlayer with all I got was a black screen. That’s too bad, as I wanted to see if DDR4 memoryu would improve “Curvature of Earth” playback that is not 100% smooth on all other devices I’ve tested. Automatic frame rate switching is not working in Kodi, and MoviePlayer, so you won’t get perfect playback for 24 fps videos, unless you set the frame rate manually.

Audio support is not quite perfect, just like in other Amlogic S912 TV boxes I’ve tested. PCM output (stereo downsampling) works with Kodi, but not MX Player/MoviePlayer apps, and HDMI pass-through using Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver is a disaster in Kodi, and somewhat works with MoviePlayer.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 17 Beta 3)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 17 Beta 3)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Dolby D 5.1 (OK), but video not smooth Dolby D 5.1 – OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK Dolby D 5.1 – OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 – no audio Dolby D+ 7.1 – OK
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 – no audio TrueHD 5.1 – OK
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 – no audio TrueHD 7.1 – OK
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 Dolby D 5.1 – continuous beep
DTS HD Master OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1

BB2 Pro got 851 in Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark, a little less than in other Amlogic S912 based TV boxes.

mecool-bb2-pro-antutu-video-testerThe three videos with “partial support” are exactly the same as on other devices.
antutu-video-tester-partially-supportDRM Info app reports Widevine Level 3 DRM is supported by the device.

bb2-pro-drm-info

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Network (WiFi + Ethernet) Performance

In order to test WiFi performance, I copied a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal storage – and vice versa – using ES File Explorer, both using 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and 802.11ac (433 Mbps). The results are not that good, although download speed is quite faster than upload speed.

WiFi Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

WiFi Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge!

Sadly those poor WiFi numbers are quite typical of Amlogic S912 TV boxes. Note that download speed for 802.11ac was 5.05 MB/s on average, so not so bad, but upload speed @ ~1.5 Mb/s brought the average down significantly.

For some strange reasons Gigabit Ethernet suffered from the same issue, as transferring a 885MB file took 50 seconds to download (17.7 MB/s), but  2 minutes 18 seconds to upload back to my local server (6.41 MB/s). I’ve never seen that problem on other devices. My SAMBA server is connected via Gigabit Ethernet and uses a SATA drive (not USB) capable of 100 MB/s writes.

Trying a full-duplex transfer with iperf confirmed the issue:

Asymmetric performance happens more often with iperf since transfers occur in both direction at the same time. Nevertheless there seems to be some minor issues with Ethernet.

Storage performance

We’ve already seen the system could handle NTFS, exFAT and FAT32 file systems for external storage, so I tested the performance of both NTFS and exFAT partition on my hard drive as well as the internal memory using A1 SD bench app.

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Note that both internal memory and exFAT partition had “cache reads”, which means reading operation was at least partially done from RAM. We can discard read results for both, especially since 65.71 MB/s is totally impossible over USB 2.0. What we can see however if that exFAT write speed is quite poor, but again that’s common to almost all TV boxes I’ve review. USB 2.0 NTFS partition read performance is about the best you can get through USB 2.0, and write performance is OK. The eMMC flash write speed is quite good @ 48.57 MB/s, so read speed is likely to be good too, but lower than the 104.58 MB/s reported by the app due the “cached read”.

Gaming

As I looked for benefit from DDR4 memory in this review, I was hoping that maybe games would benefit one way or other. Riptide GP2 with maximum graphics settings seemed to perform just like other Amlogic S912 TV boxes, that is… playable, but not extra smooth like on Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced for example. Performance was constant over the 15 minutes I played the game, so I did not notice any overheating and throttling issues.

Mecool BB2 Pro Benchmarks

So far I have to say I could not notice any user experience benefit from using DDR4 memory, but maybe benchmarks could give a different picture. Let’s check CPU-Z first.

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The device is BB2 PRO (q20x) with 8x Cortex A53 cores @ up to 1.51 GHz and a Mali-T820 GPU as expected. Other settings are as expected, and we can see the real internal storage capacity available to the user: 11.87 GB. That’s perfectly normal once we take into account the space taken with the bootloader and Android operating system.

Then I ran Antutu 6.x and compared the results to M12N TV box benchmark results.

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BB2 Pro got 363 points extra, but we can consider both devices had about the same performance. RAM test should be interesting and BB2 Pro was about 12% faster. So maybe there’s some benefit, but very minor based on those Antutu results.
mecool-bb2-pro-vellamo
Vellam score is about the same story with BB2 Pro getting 1,488, 1,020 and 2,811 points for respectively multicore, metal, and browser tests, against 1,103 (test failed to complete), 1,052 and 2,758 points on M12N. If we discard the multicore that failed to complete on M12N, results are basically the same.

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The last benchmark of this review, 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme, shows a little improvement as BB2 Pro got 6,000 points against 5,732 points for M12N. But it’s hard to tell if it is because of the DDR4 RAM, or some improvements of the GPU drivers. If we look into details of the score, most of the improvement is with the Physics score & test (9263 point / 29.4 fps vs 8163 / 25.9 fps).

Conclusion

I have not been able to find a single use case showing a clear benefit from using DDR4 memory instead of DDR3 memory. Apart from that Mecool BB2 Pro works reasonably well, it feels fast enough and the firmware is stable. However, it also comes with most of the same caveats found in other Amlogic S912 TV box, including mediocre WiFi performance, lack of HDMI audio pass-through support in Kodi (except Dolby Digital 5.1) and DTS HD 7.1 not working in the local player (MoviePlayer), automatic framerate switching not working at all, and for some reasons I could not play any VP9 in the device.

PROS

  • Responsive and stable Android 6.0 firmware
  • Acceptable 4K H.265 and H.264 video playback in Kodi 17and MoviePlayer apps
  • HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, and TrueHD 5.1 and 7.1 in MoviePlayer
  • Good internal storage performance leading to fast boot time (<25 seconds), and overall good system performance
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage
  • IR remote control working up to at least 10 meters and IR learning function
  • OTA firmware update support (could not confirm whether it is working since no new firmware has been released yet)
  • Option to disable/enable status bar in settings

CONS (and bugs)

  • HDMI audio pass-through and automatic frame rate switching not working properly in Kodi, except for Dolby Digital 5.1
  • HDMI DTS-HD MA/HR 7.1 not supported in MoviePlayer (uses DTS 5.1 instead)
  • BB2 Pro firmware won’t play VP9 videos; tested with Kodi and MoviePlayer apps
  • Mediocre WiFi performance, especially for uploads. Ethernet is also somewhat slow for uploads (no problems for downloads).
  • DRM: Only supports Widevine Level 3
  • Dolby & DTS licenses not included (Only a problem for apps other than Kodi, for people not using HDMI or S/PDIF audio pass-through)
  • Power off power consumption on the high side (1 watt)
  • Boot logo includes some music (not too high volume, but it can be an issue if you start the box at night, and forgot to mute or lower the volume)
  • Google Play can’t install apps with Bluetooth LE requirement

I’d like to thank VideoStrong for providing a sample for review. Distributors and resellers may contact the company via the product page to purchase in quantities. Mecool BB2 Pro can also be purchased for $66.66 and up on Banggood, GearBest, and eBay, or  about the same as YokaTV KB2 with 3GB DDR3 instead of 3GB DDR4, but 32GB storage instead of just 16 GB, with the rest of the specifications being equal.

Eweat R9 Plus TV Box Review Part 2 – Android, OpenWrt, and HDMI Recording

December 24th, 2016 25 comments

Eweat R9 Plus is a device powered by Realtek RTD1295 SoC combining main functions: Android 6.0 TV box, OpenWrt NAS/router, and HDMI recorder thanks to its HDMI input port. It competes directly with Zidoo X9S which has the same features, except while Zidoo X9S has no internal SATA bay and your 2.5″ hard drive just hang outside the box, Eweat R9 Plus comes with an internal 3.5″ SATA bay that makes it much neater on your furniture… We’ve already seen that in the first part for review “Eweat R9 Plus unboxing and teardown“, and I was impressed by the hardware, but the software is even more important, and that’s what I’m going to check out in the second and final part of this review.

First Boot, First Impressions and Setup.

I’ve first inserted a 1TB 3.5″ SATA drive in the device, and then I connected an extra USB 3.0 hard drive, HDMI and Ethernet cables, two USB dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, and a USB keyboard to take screenshots, as well as U4 Quad Hybrid Android TV box to the HDMI input.

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Connect the power, press the mechanical power switch on the back, and the device will boot, typically in about 40 seconds, to the main launcher. There’s no setup wizard like in Zidoo X9S, so you’d have to change configuration separately.

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The top left corner includes status icons for USB, Ethernet, Bluetooth, and WiFi, and the top right corner shows the current date and time. The first time the time and date were not correctly update, and I did not get any IP address from my router… That’s because I connected the Ethernet cable to the WAN port, but once I connected it to the LAN port, everything worked fine. It’s just WAN and LAN markings are not quite correct…. Let’s go back to the launcher with 7 large icons, the “R9 Plus” icon is linked to Chrome browser (so we have two Chrome links), apps to the list of apps, EWMC links to Kodi 16.1, and 4K to the local file browser/media player. We also have 3 shortcuts on the botton that can be customized to your needs. Sadly, there’s no status nor notifications bars which can be a pain in some use cases. The small blue “rocket” on the of EWMC icon, is actually the mouse cursor (red in reality, but the screenshot app turns that blue).

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The system comes with a bunch of apps including Netflix, HDMIRecorder, and QuickSupport, and I could install my own without any issues using Google Play and Amazon Underground.

eweat-r9-plus-displayThe front panel display on the unit is a little more useful than most, as it will show the current time of the day when not playing videos or music, and instead display the current video time with 4K video player, but not Kodi, while playing media files.

If you are interested to find out more about the settings, I invite you to check the Settings section of Zidoo X9S review, as Eweat R9 Plus has basically the same settings, except only “Auto 1080p24” option is available in the Display section, Deep Color Mode (AUTO, 12-bit, 10-bit, OFF) is gone, and the Playback section is missing together with “Auto 29.97/59.94 Hz”, “Force SD audio”, “Enable low performance mode (less buffer for playback)”.

I could set the resolution (“TV System”) to 3840x2160P @ 60Hz without any issues, but I’ve noticed the video output will sometimes fall back to 720p or 1080p after a power cycle. I could not find any option to adjust overscan either, so I had some black zone on all edges of my TV. Those are issues, but the latter at least should be easy to fix via firmware upgrades.

Once I found that LAN is actually WAN, and WAN is LAN, I had no troubles at all with Ethernet and WiFi, and OpenWrt options are also exactly the same as on Zidoo X9S.

You only get 9.31GB of the 16GB in Android because some part is reserved to OpenWrt, but it still more than the 8.91GB I had on X9S. In theory it should be plenty enough, but after a day or two of use, my internal storage was completely full, despite not installing that many apps.

android-storage-fullEventually I found that since my 1TV hard drive had millions of files, Android’s “Media Storage” activity had created two very large databases. Disabling Media Storage fixed the issue, and after clearing the data from “Media Storage” I had close to 8GB free. Alternatively you can add an empty .nomedia files in the directory you do not want to system to scan, for example the root of the harddrive if you don’t want it to scan anything.

Going into the About device section, we can see “R9Plus” model runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 4.1.17.

about-device-r9plusThe firmware is rooted, and OTA firmware update is done with SystemUpdate app, and I could upgrade from R9PLUS_V1.1_20161130 version to R9PLUS_V1.02_20161217 version which I used in most of the review. I had to disconnect the USB drive, or the update will fail. You can leave the SATA drive inside the box during firmware upgrades.

eweat-r9-plus-firmware-updateThe update went well, and did not mess with my settings, apps, and media files.

The included IR remote worked fine up to 10 meters, but I’d really wish higher end devices such as R9 Plus would ship with an air mouse by default. I had to jungle between the IR remote control and MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse quite often depending on the app I used. Realtek apps such as HDMIRecorder, 4K media player, and File Manger may work better with the infrared remote control.

Eweat R9 Plus firmware is stable and responsive, but there are a few small bugs here and there that should be fixed, like the lack of screen scale option, video output resolution set by the user is not always used after a reboot, there’s no status nor notification bars, etc… I’d also wish such higher-end systems would come with an air mouse with keyboard by default to be able to fully control the TV box with a single remote.

Power Consumption and Temperature

Power control support is basic with only on or off, no standby or reboot, but the power consumption numbers are OK, albeit a little higher than Zidoo X9S, maybe because of the 3.5″ SATA drive instead of 2.5″ SATA drive:

  • Power off (SATA HDD) – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle (SATA HDD) – 9.2 Watts
  • Power off + SATA & USB HDD – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle + SATA & USB HDD –  11.2 to 12 Watts
  • SATA HDD (Copy file to SAMBA share) + Play 4K video from USB HDD + miniDLNA in the background – 18 to 19 Watts

If you has a drive with many files, miniDLNA – enabled in OpenWrt settings as DMS (Digital Media Server) – will take a lot of CPU and I/O resources, so if you don’t need it, make sure to disable it. Idle power consumption numbers are with DMS disabled.

While there’s no standby mode, we’ve seen with Zidoo X9S that standby mode is not that useful as networking and drives are all turned off. It’s just must faster to boot than from power off mode. Most cheap Android TV boxes cannot handle more than one USB hard drive, but Eweat R9 Plus had no troubles with a SATA hard drive and a USB 3.0 drive. It might be possible to add yet another USB 3.0 drive, as the power supply has a 30 Watts capacity.

It’s no surprise that with a large metal case, the device stays relatively cool at all times. The maximum temperatures measured with an IR thermometer on the top and bottom of the device were 35 and 37 °C respectively after Antutu benchmark, and 40 and 50 °C after playing Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes.

Video & Audio Playback with Kodi 16.1 and 4K App, Antutu Video Tester, and DRM Support

R9 Plus comes with Kodi 16.1 (EWMC) and 4K app to browse and play media files with the internal player. So I’ve started by testing 4K videos with both. Bear in mind that while Realtek RTD1295 supports 10-bit HEVC/H.265 up to 60 fps @ 4K, H.264 is limited to 24 Hz, which will be a problem with you shot 4K H.264 30 fps videos with a camera or your smartphone, and 4K VP9 @ 60 fps is supposed to be supported, and with DDR4 memory I had hope some progress may be made here, but unfortunately the limit is really 30 fps, which could be an issue with some (downloaded) YouTube videos. Out of Specs videos are prefixed with OoO.

Kodi 16.1 4K App
OoO – HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) Not smooth Not smooth, although better than Kodi
sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) Not smooth OK
Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) 1st try: 1 second and exit
2nd try: OK
OK
Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) 1st try: 1 second and exit
2nd try: OK
OK
Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) 1st try: 1 second and exit
2nd try: OK
OK
MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) OK OK
phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) OK OK
BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) Not perfectly smooth OK
OoO – big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 Not smooth at all Not smooth
OoO – big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 Not smooth at all, and artifacts Not smooth, audio delays
Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) 1st try: Still image (first frame) + audio
2nd try: OK
OK
Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) OK OK
Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) 1st try:plays a few frame, then freezes, audio still playing
2nd try: OK
OK
OoO – 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) 1fps, audio cuts Can’t play
OoO – Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) Not smooth Slow motion
tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) Unwatchable, and many audio cuts Not smooth audio cuts
The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) Not smooth at all, some audio cuts Not smooth, no audio

For some reasons Kodi 16.1 will fail to start playing some videos the first time, but play them the second time. Just like on Zidoo X9S – but worse – Kodi 16.1 implementation is not as good as the internal player, so for best user experience you’d have to use the 4K player. Automatic refresh rate switching works with 4K app, with 23.975/24Hz, 25 Hz, 29.97 Hz and 59.94 Hz with the latest firmware. It does not work at all with Kodi.

For so the audio tests, I’ve stopped using Kodi, and only used 4K app with PCM 2.0 downmixing and audio pass-through via HDMI.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK Audio OK (DD 5.1), but wrong aspect ratio
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK (DD 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK (Dolby D+ 7.1)
TrueHD 5.1 OK OK (TrueHD 5.1)
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK TrueHD 7.1
DTS HD Master OK OK (DTS-HD MSTR)
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK (DTS-HD HR)
DTS:X (not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636) OK DTS-HD MSTR

So HDMI audio pass-through is working very well, and I did not experience some of the audio cuts I had on Zidoo X9S with Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver. Those may have been fixed since Zidoo X9S review however.

Below are a few screenshots from 4K video app starting with the list of storage devices/partitions…

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… the menu available once you’ve selected a storage device…

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.. and subtitle options while playing a video.

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I’ve also quickly tested Blu-ray ISOs (Sintel and Amat videos) and both could play. Finally, I play a 2-hour 1080p video to make sure the system can play a full movie, which I does.

Antutu Video Tester score (820 points) is a little lower than on Zidoo X9S (888).

eweat-r9-plus-antutu-video-testerBut the videos that failed are exactly the same:

zidoo-x9s-antutu-video-tester-resultsDRM info crashed each time, just like on X9S, so there’s problably no DRM support at all.

HDMIRecorder App

Eweat R9 Plus HDMIRecorder, as its name implies, allows you to record video from an HDMI input source. It can record up to 1080p @ 30 fps using H.264 codec in TS or MP4 container format, with a bitrate up to 10Mbit/s.

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It will also record audio, and you can select the output with the “Path” field. It will create a new “hdmi” directory to store the recorded videos.

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Once recording has started, it will work in the background (see recording info in the top right corner below) and you can browse the web, watch other videos, and so on during recording.

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I could then connect to the device via SAMBA, and play with the recorded video with both Totem player ad VLC in my Ubuntu 16.04 computer.

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That part works fine, and looks similar to Zidoo HDMI In app, however it lacks some goodies like PiP support and UDP broadcasting found in Zidoo X9S. So if so those functions are important to you, Zidoo X9S clearly has an edge of Eweat device here.

OpenWrt and NAS functions

If you want to learn more about settings up OpenWrt on Eweat R9 Plus, I’ll redirect you to OpenWrt and NAS functions section of Zidoo X9S review as all features are identical.

You can control OpenWrt main functions in Android settings…

eweat-r9-plus-openwrt

… and fine tune OpenWrt settings through LuCi web interface.

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I tested SAMBA, FTP, and Bittorrent. Performance on Eweat R9 Plus was very good with FTP transfer at ~105 MB/s, and 40 MB/s for SAMBA file copy to the internal SATA, very similar to Zidoo X9S with respectively about 90 MB/s and 50 MB/s.

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Eweat R9 Plus FTP Transfer – Click to Enlarge

eweat-r9-plus-samba-transfer

Eweat R9 Plus SAMBA Transfer

Contrary to my experience with Zidoo X9S, BitTorrent worked just fine and the transfer quickly saturated my 20 Mbps Internet connection.

eweat-r9-plus-bittorrentBear in mind that firmware evolves overtime and it’s quite possible Zidoo has already fixed the issue.

This time I also tested OpenWrt opkg system manager to see if it would work. After connecting to the device through ssh, I tried to update the packages and it failed miserably:

So if you want to install packages, you’d probably have to build them yourself, or copy and install opkg packages built for ARM architecture manually.

WiFi Performance

We’ve already seen Gigabit Ethernet works perfectly above with transfers at 105 MB/s through FTP basically saturing the Gigabit Ethernet bandwidth, so I’ll only focus on WiFi in the network performance section. Eweat R9 Plus has excellent WiFi performance with both 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and 802.11ac (433 Mbps), roughly matching Zidoo X9S equally good performance.

Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

All you need to know is that Eweat R9 Plus is one of the top devices for WiFi  for all devices I’ve tested over the year.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I could pair Vernee Apollo Lite Android smartphone with “Realtek Bluetooth”, however once I started transferring files from my phone to the device, I either got the message “Unfortunately Bluetooth has stopped”, and when lucky, the transfer was initiated with Eweat R9 Plus showing an overlay message reading “”Incoming file from another device, please confirm…”. That’s all good but since there’s no notification bar, and no pop-up window, I had no idea where to confirm the transfer, and it eventually time out. I could not test Bluetooth Low Energy, because all my device are either broken or lost.

Bluetooth is not completely useless however, as I could get Sixaxis to work with my PS3 BT gamepad clone, and I paired X1T Bluetooth earbuds successfully, and listen to a YouTube video.

Storage

Eweat R9 Plus could mount NTFS, EXT-4, and NTFS partitions on a 1 TB USB 3.0 Seagate expansion harddrive with only BTRFS failing to be recognized. A FAT32 micro SD could also be mounted in read/write mode, as well as my SATA drive formatted with NTFS.

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

A1SD bench app shows excellent sequential read and write for the SATA interface, a decent performance for all supported file systems through USB 3.0:

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  • USB 3.0 + NTFS – Read: 37.93 MB/s – Write: 39.28 MB/s
  • USB 3.0 + EXT-4 – Read: 37.67 MB/s – Write: 39.43 MB/s
  • USB 3.0 + exFAT – Read: 37.04 MB/s – Write: 39.28 MB/s
  • SATA + NTFS – Read: 140.78 MB/s – Write: 86.30 MB/s

Eweat R9 Plus looks faster than Zidoo X9S using SATA + NTFS, but bear in mind that the hard drive used was different, so it may explain the difference. However, Zidoo was quite better for USB 3.0 using EXT-4 and NTFS, but quite poor for exFAT, which R9 Plus appears to support well.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Read and Write Speed in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I also measured internal storage performance, but unfortunately A1SD bench reported “Cached Read”, so the read speed is not valid. The write speed of about 55 MB/s is valid, and this is quite good. The actual read speed in the chart below should be lower than 140+ MB/s, but usually read speed is faster than write speed, so performance should still be good.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Gaming

I played Candy Crush Saga with the air mouse, and Beach Buggy Racing (with max quality) using a gamepad, and both games played perfectly well. Then I switched to Riptide GP2, again with maximum resolution settings. It’s started begin playable – but not quite 60fps – just like on Amlogic S905/S912 TV boxes, and Zidoo X9S, but then I noticed the image would freeze from time to time, and after a race was completed,  it may have a 10 seconds black screen before going to the main menu. So I checked the CPU usage in OpenWrt (SSH terminal), and notice miniDLNA with a high CPU usage. So I disabled DMS in Android’s OpenWrt settings, miniDLNA stopped running, and I could play the game for 15 minutes more without issues, nor performance degradation over time.

Eweat R9 Plus Benchmarks

Let’s start with CPU-Z.. R9PLUS (rtk_kylin32) model with a quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 1.4 GHz and a Mali-T820 GPU, so no surprise here.

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The device reached 36,076 points in Antutu 6.2 against 34,976 points for Zidoo X9S Antutu score.
eweat-r10-plus-antutu

There are a few potential explanations for the small difference: 1. R9 Plus firmware is more recent, 2. it’s winter here (~ 22 °C), and 3. R9 Plus has DDR4 ram instead of DDR3 RAM. However the strange thing is that R9 Plus RAM score is 3,046 points, but Zidoo X9S got 3,960 points which does not make any sense.

eweat-r9-plus-vellamo
Vellamo 3.x scores are pretty similar with R9 Plus getting 1,430, 881 and 2,539 points for respectively multicore, metal, and Chrome Browser benchmarks, against 1,457, 831 and 2,638 points for Zidoo X9S. So it looks like DDR4 memory does not help for any benchmarks, including 3Dmark’s Ice Storm Extreme.

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Click to Enlarge

4,359 points for Eweat R9 Plus against 4,574 for X9S.

Conclusion

Eweat R9 Plus is a solid device, and I really like the internal 3.5″ SATA bay, internal and external storage, as well as networking performance is really outstanding too. However I would have wished the firmware to have fewer bugs, and just like for Zidoo X9S, Realtek RTD1295 SoC has some limited 4K capabilities when it comes with H.264 and VP9. Getting the optimal performance may require some tweaks like disabling some server services.

PROS

  • Responsive and stable Android 6.0 firmware
  • 4K app plays 4K H.265 videos very well with automatic frame rate switching, and HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio
  • Excellent Ethernet and WiFi performance
  • Excellent internal and SATA storage performance, and good USB 3.0 performance
  • NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT, and FAT32 file systems are well supported
  • HDMI Input (up to 4K60 input) with video recording up to 1080p30 (4K input is also supported but record at 1080p30 max)
  • OpenWrt NAS functions such as SAMBA, FTP, and BitTorrent running at the same time as Android, as well as router functions thanks to its two Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • Proper power handling with power off, standby, and reboot, and low power consumption in off/standby modes. The provided 36W power supply also allows the connection of multiple hard drives.
  • Dolby & DTS audio licenses are included, so audio will work in any apps
  • OTA Firmware update
  • Good hardware design with internal 3.5″ SATA bay

CONS (and bugs):

  • Realtek RTD1295 VPU limitations:
    • 4K H.264 up to 24 fps which will be an issue for 4K videos recorded with some actions cameras (GoPro/Xiaomi Yi) and smartphones
    • 4K VP9 up to 30 fps, as 60 fps is not well supported. This will be an issue for some 4K videos downloaded from YouTube
  • Kodi 16.1 (EWMC) is not really working that well with many 4K videos not playing smoothly (even those within specs) and automatic frame rate not working. So 4K app is recommended
  • No DRM support (DRM info app will crash)
  • HDMI input works, but does not include features like picture-in-picture and UDP broadcasting found in Zidoo X9S
  • You’ll probably have to use both the include IR remote control AND a air mouse or other input device to fully use the device. A air mouse specifically designed for the box would be a plus.
  • Scale screen option missing in firmware, so I had black edges on my TV the whole time (should be easy to fix with firmware update)
  • No option for status and notifications bars
  • Bluetooth file transfer is unreliable (crash) and there’s no way to confirm file transfer (related to notification bar above)
  • Tweaks may be needed (e.g. disable Media Storage and DMS) for optimal performance if you have a hard drive with many files.
  • The system will not always remember the video output set by the user (e.g. 4K 60 Hz set, but falls back to 1080p or 720p).

Eweat also lacks a community forum like Zidoo, but as long as they keep firmware updates rolling, it may or may not matter to you. Overall, Eweat R9 Plus is also a good device combining 4K TV box, OpenWrt NAS, and HDMI recording functions. Whether that’s right for you depends on your requirements and budget.

The manufacturer sent me the review sample directly. Distributors can inquire the company to purchase in quantities, but if you just need one or a few you can purchase it on Aliexpress for $175.99 plus shipping (about $200) on Aliexpress.

Merry Christmas to all!

YokaTV KB2 Review – Amlogic S912 TV Box with 32 GB Flash

December 15th, 2016 14 comments

CNXSoft: This is another review by Karl about Amlogic S912 based YokaTV KB2 TV box.

Introduction

Today we will be looking at Videostrong YokaTV KB2. Below are the specs from Videostrong website.

yokatv-kb2-specifications

This is my first S912 device so I had high expectation. I have been using it for quite some time now with no major issues. I received approximately 6 OTA updates since I started testing and some welcome updates have come.

yokatv-kb2-package

yokatv-kb2-remote-control-power-supply

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Build

When I receive a box first thing I do is take it apart and check out the inside. I was excited when I found out it had 32 gig of storage. It is not too common.

yokatv-kb2-bottom-case

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Click to Enlarge

Then when I opened the box I was really happy to see an antenna that wasn’t soldered on. Makes it easy to add a different one. +1 for KB2. Then I noticed the heat sink. It seemed a little small. I was right, it runs warm.

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Simple Mod

First thing to do: get this baby running cooler. When stressing the box, the temperature got over 80+°C a couple times. It ran between 70 and 75 °C on average before the mod. The case is mostly plastic except the bottom cover. Bingo! A couple squares of 5mm thermal pads between the board and the bottom of the case and thermal issues are gone.

yokatv-kb2-thermal-hack

I started SetCPU and ran the built-in stress test, it tops out around 72 °C, and quickly cools after stopping the test. I put a square approximately where the CPU is and while I had it open, where the memory is although I don’t think it is necessary. After the mod, the box runs about 60 deg Celsius.

Antutu

For this test I use SetCPU to set the Min and Max frequency for the CPU to 1.5 GHz which is the max for this processor. It will give the best score.

yokatv-kb2-antutu

Network Test

I am not sure why my WiFi was slow on the tests below. I don’t have an AC access point yet. The best I have is N, maybe that is the cause. Some friends over on Freaktab are getting some really good speeds on AC with this box. I might have damaged something when I opened the box.

Below are the results but take them with a grain of salt. I do a simple file transfer test of a large movie with optimum conditions for WiFi then one in more real world scenario.  

5ghz 3ft from NAS to internal SD

kb2-5ghz-wifi-nas-to-flash

2.4ghz 3ft from NAS to internal SD

kb2-2-4ghz-wifi-nas-to-flash

Gigabit Ethernet from NAS to internal SD (This is as fast as my NAS can transfer)

kb2-gbe-nas-to-flash

Next is more real world where AP’s have more obstruction.

5ghz 30ft from NAS to internal SD

kb2-5ghz-wifi-nas-to-flash-30feet2.4ghz 30ft from NAS to internal SD

kb2-2-4ghz-wifi-nas-to-flash-30feetSome More Benchmarks and Info

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Apps

I’ve used several apps and only Netflix and Direct Now had some issues:

  • Sling TV
  • Netflix (SD) – Stopped working after updating the app
  • Kodi
  • Chrome – Chrome works really well. I open a bunch of heavy URL’s and it performs excellent. Nothing scientific here. Go to several sites that I visit daily and I felt no lag.
  • Plex
  • Emby
  • HDHomeRun
  • Crackle
  • DirectTV Now – Worked with some hacking
  • Player-MediaCenter App – I will admit it has been a while since I tested out this app. It acts as a DLNA receiver and Airplay receiver. I didn’t have much luck in the past but I tested on my one Apple device the screen mirroring worked.

At some point Netflix stopped working. Keep getting few seconds of video then error 0013 “Sorry, we could not reach the Netflix service….” Not sure if it is Netflix update or box update that caused the issue. I went back and did some more testing to narrow the issue down. If I reverted back to the Netflix that came pre-installed I had no issue.

DirectTV Now is a new service in the US. With some persistence I was able to get it running. Video wasn’t perfect but neither was it on any devices I tested. It was surprising that it plays better on KB2 then Nvidia Shield. It is mostly watchable but stutters some. It is new so hopefully ATT will get this fixed soon. I had to do a couple things to get it working. After Googleing and a lot of experimenting I used 2 apps from play store: Hide My Root and Fake GPS. I also had to make 2 build.prop changes: ro.build.type=userdebug to ro.build.type=user and ro.build.tags=test-keys to ro.build.tags=release-keys. I tried on a couple different boxes after figuring this out and seems to work universally.

Remote Control

The remote is big but there is a built in app that is pretty convenient. There are 4 color coded buttons on the remote that you can customize to launch the apps that you want through an app on the box. There is also a dedicated app button that brings up a listing of all the apps. Everything else is pretty standard. You can also program the remote to turn your TV on and off through a learning feature. But alas I still prefer either an air mouse or touchpad with full keyboard.

yokatv-kb2-remote-control-configuration

Status Bar

Thank the gods…there is an option to turn the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen off and on in Android settings…It is about a 50/50 split for people that like them and those that don’t. This was the first box that I have tested that gives the user an option.

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Audio Passthrough

All the below tests worked. I set Android to SPDIF. I tested with latest SPMC 16.4.2 and Kodi 16.1. Turned on pass-through DTS and AC3 and all the videos below worked with no clipping. I have a 5.1 system. If I didn’t have the AC3 ticked I would get no audio on some. First box with 100% working that I have tested on stock firmware.

yokatv-kb2-kodi-audio-pass-through-settings audio-file-list-dts-dolby-truehd4K Video

4k testing went well. I was able to play all videos smoothly with one player or another that it was supposed to play. Below are the test results. This box does not play 4k H.264 video @ 60fps per sec, so stutter is expected. Kodi and derivatives play best with amcodec turned off. The box ships with Kodi 17 beta but since it is beta, it is not very stable. I uninstalled it, and tested with Kodi 16.1 from the Play Store instead. I am not sure why 4k 8bit H.265 works better with amcodec turned on. I found the same results on S905x boxes. For the testing, I wanted to find the best overall solution and that is Kodi with amcodec turned off.

Test File Name With Amcodec Without Amcodec MX Player
23.976fps (in MP4) GoPro Epic Russian Wingsuit in 4K good
24fps (in MP4) SPRING 4K (ULTRA HD) good
25fps (in MP4) Burj Khalifa Pinnacle BASE Jump – 4K good
29.970fps, 51Mbps (hdmkv’s iPhone 6S 4K clip) iphone6s_4k good
59.940fps (in MKV) samsung_seven_wonders_of_the_world_china_uhd-DWEU wont play stutter stutter
60fps (in MP4) COSTA RICA IN 4K 60fps (ULTRA HD) w Freefly Movi wont play good
H264, up to 30fps Sony_Alpha_7R_II_video-test-4K good
H264, 50-60fps linkin_park_ultra-hd wont play stutter stutter
H265 8bit, up to 30fps LG_4K_View-the-Feeling good stutter good
H265 10bit, up to 30fps Samsung_UHD_Dubai good
H265 10bit, 50-60fps Samsung_UHD_7Wonders_of_the_World_Italy good
UltraHD HDR 10bit HEVC, 24fps Exodus_UHD_HDR_Exodus_draft good
VP9 The Curvature of Earth 4K 60FPS good not as good best

Alternate Firmware

Super Celeron has put together a nice modification of the latest stock firmware from 11/23. He cleaned up the firmware and made some adjustments to boot to bring idle down to about 1% and got auto frame rate switch working. See full changelog.

So to get 100% working pass-through and auto frame rate switching after installing the firmware above, as well as SPMC version 16.5.2. Codec acceleration is a little muddy at times. 4K files work best with amcodec off, and anything less work best with amcodec on. Below are my settings.

yokatv-kb2-custom-firmware-automatic-frame-rate-switching yokatv-kb2-custom-firmware-audio-pass-through yokatv-kb2-custom-firmware-video-codecsConclusion

I had this box for a while now and used it as my main box and it has performed really well. Consistent updates from Videostrong is much needed in the box world. I hope it continues. Gigabit Ethernet performed really well. Pass-through working 100% is fantastic and will make a lot of people happy. Video support in Kodi is really good. VP9 support is not 100% but MX player gives everyone an option if they have movies in that format.

I would like to thank Videostrong for sending a review sample. YokaTV KB2 can be purchased on Gearbest, Geekbuying, and Aliexpress for about $68.

Firefly-RK3399 Development Board Will Fly with Rockchip RK3399 Hexa-core Processor

November 25th, 2016 13 comments

ARM Cortex A72 class development boards are usually quite expensive, and cheaper boards like Mediatek X20 development board ($200) appears to be out of stock very often, and software support is limited to Android 6.0. But things look to improve soon, as T-Chip is about to release Firefly-RK3399 development board powered by Rockchip RK3399 hexa-core Cortex A72/A53 processor.

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Firefly-RK3399 (preliminary) specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3399 hexa-core bit.LITTLE processor with dual core Cortex A72 up to 2.0 GHz and quad core Cortex A53 processor with ARM Mali-T860MP4 GPU with OpenGL 1.1 to 3.0 support, OpenVG 1.1, OpenCL and DX 11.
  • System Memory – 2 to 4 GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16 to 32 GB eMMC flash + micro SD card
  • Video Output & Display Interfaces – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60 Hz, eDP 1.2 interface, YUV interface, 1x MIPI DSI interface
  • Video Decode – 4K VP9 and 10-bit H.265 video codec support up to 60 fps
  • Audio – HDMI, 3.5mm headphone jack, optical S/PDIF, built-in microphone
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet (RJ45) port, WiFi and Bluetooth
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x USB 3.0 port, 1x USB 3.0 type C port
  • Camera – 2x MIPI CSI interfaces
  • Debugging – 3-pin serial header
  • Expansion
    • GPIO female header
    • mini PCIe 2.1 M.2 slot
    • SIM card slot
  • Misc – RTC battery header; power, reset and recovery buttons; IR receiver
  • Power Supply – 12V DC
  • Dimensions and Weight – TBD

The board will support Android 6.0.1 and Ubuntu 16.04, and can achieve around 75,000 points in Antutu. I got all information above from the video embedded below.

There’s a WIP Wiki page for the board currently in Chinese only, based on support for their previous Firefly-RK3288 board, we should soon have pretty good documentation and software support in English.

What I don’t know is pricing, but T-chip is not one of the Chinese manufacturers trying to cut price with almost zero margin, which explains why they can provide decent support for their board. For reference Firefly-RK3288 board is selling in 2GB/16GB and 4GB/32GB configuration on GeekBuying for respectively $159.99 and $219.99, so I’d expect the new board to go for less than $200 / $250 based on the same configurations. The end of the video also gives the clue that the board will be launched on Kickstarter, I just don’t know exactly when.

Thanks to Nanik for the tip.

R-Box Pro 3G Android TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware

November 21st, 2016 102 comments

The vast majority of octa-core Android TV Boxes sold on the market comes with 2GB RAM, but Amlogic S912 based R-Box Pro TV box was interesting with its 3GB RAM option (aka R-Box Pro 3G), as I wondered if I would see any noticeable improvements during my tests with the extra RAM. We’ve already confirmed the the hardware comes with 3GB RAM using 2x 1GB + 2x 512MB RAM chips configuration in the first part of the review last month, and it’s now time to check out whether this translates to anything in Android, as well as go through the usual hard-to-get features to work like automatic frame rate switching and HD audio pass-through.

r-box-pro-3g

First Boot, Firmware Update, and First Impressions

One positive with the device is the four USB ports, so this time I did not need an USB hub at all, and connected a USB HDD, two RF dongles for an air mouse and gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots. I completed the hardware setup with Ethernet and HDMI cables, and plugged the power supply to boot the device. Boot time is rather slow compared to competitors at about one minute.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

The launcher used is exactly the same as on Rikomagic MK22, and the list of apps is also quite similar with IPTV apps such as Mobdro, Netflix, FilmOn Live, and UkTVNow.
r-box-pro-app-list

r-box-pro-apps-list-2The setup is also exactly the same, so if you want to find out more about the interface and setup options you can read Rikomagic MK22 review, while you’ll find more details about the IPTV apps (Mobdro / Filmon) in MXQ Plus / M12N TV box review.

I had no troubles with the settings when configuring WiFi and Ethernet, and the system kept the video output resolution I set (3840x2160p60) even between reboot. Part of the 16GB flash is used for the operating system, and the user still get 11.38 GB to play with, and at the end of the review after installing apps and some copying files, I only had used 3.26 GB.

r-box-pro-storageYou can also see exFAT and NTFS file systems are supported as usual, and a FAT32 micro SD card could also be mounted.

about-mediabox-r-box-proThe “About Media” box section shows R-BOX Pro 3G runs Android 6.0.1 with Linux 3.14.29, no surprise here. The firmware is rooted. I received the box early October, and when I first boot up the device the firmware was dated in September, so I checked for firmware update. They’ve done something pretty stupid as they’ve included both UPDATE&BACKUP and WirelessUpdate apps in the firmware, which is sure to confuse customers. But basically UPDATE&BACKUP app is not configured and trying to get an OTA firmware update will results in “Check Failed! Check Your OTA Servier Argent” (sic), while WirelessUpdate app appears to be configured, but can’t get any update firmware from the server, probably because they did not bother to copy any firmware… Finally, I could find new firmware on GeekBuying, but again on for “USB Burning Tool” with IMG extension, so I decided to try some new SD card method with Amlogic IMG firmware in Linux and Windows, and I finally managed to flash the firmware without using Amlogic USB Burning Tool. It took me nearly a full Saturday to make it work, but at least now I know how to do.

Nevertheless, this is 2016, and OTA firmware update is now working on most TV boxes, even some cheaper ones, so manufacturers should not expect end users to work with tools reserved to factory workers…

I had no problems using both Google Play and Amazon Underground to install apps. The remote control worked well enough up to 8 meters, and I could turn on and off the box with it.

Power handling is properly implemented with power off and standby modes, but the latter is pretty much useless based on the power consumption values I got on my power meter (with all USB devices connected as shown in top photo):

  • Power Off – 0.0 watt
  • Standby – 6.4 watts (USB HDD still on, Box LED is red)
  • Idle – 6.2 watts (Box LED is blue)

The case top and bottom temperatures were  respectively 41 and 51 °C max after Antutu 6.x benchmark, and after 15 minutes playing Riptide GP2, they rose to 42°C and 60°C respectively. The game performance was constant over time, and about the same as on other Amlogic S912 with highest resolution settings, i.e. not perfect, but playable.

Since one of the first thing I do with a new box is to check for new firmware, not having OTA firmware update, nor a simple SD card or USB flash drive ZIP firmware is not a good way to start. Sadly, even after the frustration of flash a new firmware, I had sluggishness issues with some apps show the “App is not responsive window” aking to wait or kill the app a bit more often than I’m comfortable with, and as we’ll see below my Kodi experience was one of the worse with 4K videos and audio pass-through. I certainly did not feel any benefit of having 3GB RAM over 2GB RAM with this device, as I was hoping the extra read/write buffer for the storage might improve the performance, but the opposite happened, likely because of sub-optimized firmware.

4K and Audio pass-through in Kodi 17.0 and DRM Info

The firmware I used for review (October 13, 2016) comes with Kodi 17.0-Alpha3 built on July 31, 2016 with TVaddons installed. I connected to my video samples SAMBA share and started testing some 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) – Won’t play, stays in UI
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – Started well, but after 30 seconds or so the image intermittently froze from time to time
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (hardware does not support this type of video)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK (although video did not seem as sharp as usual)
  • 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
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Not smooth
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Won’t play, stays in UI
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Won’t play, stays in UI

Most people probably don’t have VP9 videos, but considering one of the key selling on Amlogic S912 over Amlogic S905 is hardware video decoding support for VP9, it’s quite an unexpected issue, especially it is working on other Amlogic S912 TV boxes I tested so far.

Unsurprisingly, automatic frame rate switching is not working either…
kodi-17-audio-pass-through

I continued testing Kodi with HDMI pass-through to Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver was quite a disaster:

  • AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 – Audio OK (Dolby D 5.1), but video not smooth
  • 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 – Black screen and no audio
  • DTS HD High Resolution – Black screen and no audio
  • DTS:X – Black screen and no audio (not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636, but should normally be heard as DTS-HD MA)

The box supports Widevine Security Level 3 DRM, which should allow for SD playback of some premium video services, but not HD or UHD.

r-box-pro-drm

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WiFi and Internal Storage Benchmark

I’ve copied a 278 MB file between the internal storage and a SAMBA server using ES File Explorer in both direction in order to estimate WiFi performance. R-Box Pro support 802.11n and 802.11ac WiFi, so I tested both on different routers, and the system achieved 1.4 MB/s throughput using 802.11n, and 2.0 MB/s for 802.11ac on average.

WiFi Throughput in MB/s

WiFi Throughput in MB/s

rbox-pro-wifi-802-11ac-serverThe chart makes is clear that neither 802.11n nor 802.11ac performance is very. I must note than in the case of 802.11ac download performance was much higher than upload performance averaging about 3.4 MB/s. The chart on the right shows both Download (Upload from TV box – top) and Upload (Download from TV box – bottom) shows the traffic shape for 802.11ac transfer. 802.11ac download shows the performance is not stable, but at least there are no stalls, but the upload shows mostly constant throughput with several 3 stalls during transfer, so the connection does not appear to be entirely stable.

I measure Internal storage performance with A1SD bench, and the eMMC flash used in R-Box Pro delivered 39.28 MB/s read speed, and 19.31 MB/s write speed. Not the best, but those values should be enough to have responsive firmware in most conditions. So the slow loading apps issue if most probably due to a firmware/software issue then a problem with the hardware itself.

R-Box Pro 3G System Info and Antutu Benchmark

The board name is q6330, exactly the same as Rikomagic MK22, so I’d expect the firmware between those models to be very similar. R-Box manufacturer releases different firmware with their 2GB and 3GB RAM version however. CPU-Z also reports Amlogic S912 is an octa-core Cortex A53 clocked at 1.51 GHz with a Mali-T820MP GPU. 3 GB RAM is detected, or more exactly 2810 MB taking into account the hardware buffers), with 11.38 GB storage available to the user.

r-box-pro-3gb-cpu-z

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I ran Antutu 6.x to verify the performance, and 39,846 points is about what we’ve come to expect from Amlogic S912 TV boxes, with some devices getting as high as 42,000+ points.

r-box-pro-3g-antutu

Conclusion

I was intrigued with R-Box Pro 3G because of its 3GB RAM, but I ended getting the worse Amlogic S912 TV box of the six models I’ve reviewed so far.  OTA firmware is not working, the company does not seem to have a webpage for firmware, so I had to look on the Internet to find something on GeekBuying, with only IMG firmware requiring some Windows tools, or building your own parser in Linux in order to flash it. Clearly not user friendly. Kodi 17.0-alpha3 is installed in the box, and the list of issues is impressive: Vp9 videos can’t play, some 4K H.264 @ 30 fps video won’t play smoothly, automatic frame rate switching is not working either, and I only managed to get audio pass-through in Kodi work for a Dolby Digital 5.1 with some DTS-HD videos just showing a black screen. WiFi performance is rather weak both using 802.11n and 802.11ac WiFi, and the apps are not always loading very fast, leading the system to ask whether to wait or kill the apps. I’m pretty sure I missed some issues, but needless to say the company has a lot of work to do to make it a worthwhile device.

Kingnovel provided R-Box Pro 3G for review, and resellers & distributors can contact the company via their website. Individuals should probably not buy the device at this stage, but you can still purchase it for about $70 and up on GeekBuying,and Aliexpress. Note that the 2GB RAM version is often sold side-by-side with the 3GB RAM version, and price starts at $66.