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Posts Tagged ‘bluetooth’

Dot is a Location Aware Bluetooth Beacon Used as a Digital Post-it, for Home Automation, and More (Crowdfunding)

August 25th, 2016 3 comments

Dot physical push notification is another Bluetooth beacon, but the company – Iota Labs – has designed and promote it in a location aware device that gets triggered when you move in a specific area with your smartphone. For example, somebody can leave a dot with a message such as  “remember to take the trash out” in the kitchen, and once you walk pass you’ll receive a notification, or you can use a dot to automatically turn on the light if you enter a room at night.

Bluetooth_dotThe full technical specifications have not been made available but here’s what we know:

  • MCU – Nordic Semi nRF51822 (or similar) ARM SoC with Bluetooth radio
  • Connectivity – Bluetooth 4.0 LE with a range up to around 45 meters
  • Misc – RGB LED
  • Battery – Replaceable battery good for 6 months to one year

Android and iOS apps will allow your to configure your dots.

Dot_app

It will also be hackable with a JavaScript API provided. Kunal Chaudhary, Dot project leader, explains further:

For advanced hackers we will likely leave the programming headers exposed, as well as 3-4 GPIO pins.  Hopefully at least one of the pins will be PWM capable and one will be Analog input capable in order to read a sensor.  We are hoping to have a glue-less case design so the internals can be easily accessed by hackers and for battery replacement.
As for the javascript API, we basically set it up so that a user can write up a script, upload it through our website, and then get it running on their phone within seconds. They write their script in a skeleton file that they download from us, and they basically fill it in with whatever functionality they desire. This JavaScript file runs in a headless UI browser on the actual app, executing the code and returning us a string of commands, from which we control the Dot. We built the API so that you can do very simple requests, or handle all the stuff under the hood like polling rate, distance, etc.
IFTTT might also be supported. All use cases are location dependent, for example the Dot can launch a GPS navigation app when you enter you car, work as digital post-it notes as explained above, control the lights/heating/aircon when you enter or leave a room, send notifications relevant to your location (e.g. tweets related to the sports event you’re watching on TV),  be used as a reminder device with the LED changing color whether you have brushed your teeth or not, and so on.

I find dot to be of limited use for my personal case, since I’m not the kind of person to carry my smartphone with me everywhere and all the time, nor I check it each time I have a notification, but if you and your phone are one at all time,s then it might be useful. There could be some other use cases I have not thought of too.

The project launched on Kickstarter yesterday, and has already surpassed its $20,000 funding target. You’ll need to pledge $20 for a dot, and they have discount for various quantities up to 10 dots for $170. Shipping adds $2 to the US, and $5 to the rest of the world, with shipping planned for March 2017.

M12N Amlogic S912 Octa-core TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware

August 24th, 2016 31 comments

Shenzhen Shiningworth MXQ Plus M12N is one of the first TV box powered by Amlogic S912 octa-core processor also bringing a faster GPU, VP9 and HDR support compared to the earlier Amlogic S905 processor. I’ve already shown the device, its accesories, and its internal degisn in the first part of MXQ Plus M12N review, so today I’ll spend time reporting my finding testing features and performance with Android 6.0 firmware.

MXQ_Plus_M12N_TV-Box_HDD_Onkyo_AV_Receiver

Setup Wizard and First Impressions

Since there are only two USB ports, I connected my USB hard drive to one, and used a USB hub to connect input devices including two RF dongles for an air mouse, and a gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots. I also added Ethernet and  HDMI cable, and finally connected the power supply to boot it up.

M12N_Setup_Wizard_LetterboxBut as you can see from the picture the very first boot was not quite as expected, as all I can see what a mini version of the user interface in the top left corner of my TV (please ignore the vertical line(s) in my pictures, as it is a problem with my LG 4K TV). I contacted the Shenzhen Shiningworth about this issue, and they told me to try to reboot the device… To my surprise, the issue was gone, and I’ve never been able to reproduce it.

MXQ-Plus-M12N-Setup_Wizard

The very first screen will be a welcome from the setup wizard. Select/Click on Next to select the language.M12N_Wizard_Language_Settings

You’ll only have four choices at this stage: English, simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, or Japanese. M12N_Wizard_Overscan_Settings

The Next window is for overscan compensation in case you have black zones on the edges of your TV.M12N_Wizard_Network_SettingsThe final settings in the wizard is for Network. If you have connected an Ethernet cable just click Next, but if you want to use WiFi instead set Wireless from close to open, select your access point, and enter its password. Both 2.4 and 5.0 GHz (802.11ac) networks are supported.

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Once everything done you get to the main launcher with icons for Google Play, Kodi, YouTube, Netflix, “Local” apps, All apps, a Game app (KO GameBox), and a links to Settings. There’s also a customizable bar at the bottom for favorite apps. Boot is normally achieved in less than 30 seconds.

M12N_Android_AppsThe pre-installed app are mostly pretty common, except some IPTV apps – BangTV, Mobdro, and Show Box – which I’m not familiar, and check out later in the review.

MXQ-PLus_M12N_SettingsThere are 6 main menus in the settings:

  • Networks – Wireless, Ethernet, Broadband (PPPoE), and wireless hotspot
  • Device – BlueTooth, Keyboard, HDMI CEC control, Sound settings (PCM, SPDIF passthrough, or HDMI passthrough)
  • General – Device Name (default: MXQ Plus), Date & Time, Language, and More settings (Android 6.0 settings)
  • Security – Security redirecting to Android 6.0 Security Settings, Add Account
  • Display – Adjustment, Resolution, Wallpaper, Screensaver
  • MXQ About – Device Name, System Info, Developer mode, ROM update, and Restore factory status

About_MXQ_PlusI haven’t had any problems with neither WiFi or Ethernet connectivity, and I could setup HDMI output up to [email protected] Hz, however the system would almost always revert to 1080p60 after a reboot. The mow usual annoyance that I can’t turn off my AV receiver while it’s connected to the device still occur, even if I disable HDMI CEC. I could not find any HDR options in the settings.

While we have the most useful option in Settings app,  you can still access Android 6.0 settings via General->More settings, and set other parameter like accessibility, printing, developer options, Languages and Input (with many languages), and so on.

Like most new devices to the market, the TV box has a unified partition for apps and data with 11.87 GB storage, and at the end of the review I had only used 2.99 GB with all installed apps and some files copied to the download directory. So there will be enough space for the requirements of most people.

Going to About MediaBox section shows MXQ Plus running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29. The firmware is not rooted. The company told me that OTA firmware is supported, but it won’t work through UPDATE&BACKUP app, which reports OTA failure connecting to server, and instead you’d have to go to Settings->MXQ About->ROM update. I have not been able to confirm whether it works since the company has not release a new firmware since I’ve received the device. [Update: The company has now pushed a new firmware on their OTA server, and I’m tested it. See section below]

While I used MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for most of the review, I’ve also quickly tested the infrared remote control, and it works with a range up to 10 meters.  Google Play store worked well, except for BLE (Bluetooth LE) app such as Mi Fit or Vidonn Smartband, which I had to side-loaded. I had no problem installing the free version of Riptide GP2 through Amazon Underground.

Power handling is OK with a short press on the power button of the remote control making the device go into standby, and a long press, popping up a window to power it off cleanly. I could also use the remote control to power it back on.

I measured power consumption in 6 different configurations:

  • Power off – 0.4 watt
  • Standby – 0.4 watt
  • Idle – 3.0 to 3.4 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.4 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 1.0 watt (HDD LED was turned off)
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.2 watts

All good numbers, and behaviors. Unless you consider the 30+ watts consumed by my A/V receiver which I can’t power off while connected to MXQ Plus M12N…

Thermal design as seen in the teardown post with two thick thermal pad connecting the processor to the metal case, was not very convincing, but during use the case does not get very hot. After Antutu 6.x, top and bottom temperatures were both 41°C max, and after playing Riptide GP2 for about 15 minutes, the temperatures only went up to 43°C and 45°C respectively. The game frame rate was also constant during the whole duration of the game.

Considering Amlogic S912 is a brand new processor, and putting aside the very first boot letterbox issue. my first impressions were quite good with MXQ Plus M12N with the stable and responsive firmware most of the time. Other small annoyances and bugs included the lack of status and notification bars, the device preventing me from turning off my A/V receiver, and in two or three occurrences having the system ask whether I wanted to close or wait for an unresponsive app.

A Quick Look at IPTV apps

As previously mentioned 3 IPTV apps are installed.

BangTV plays Chinese TV stations in Mandarin, but also some in foreign languages (Russian, French, Arabic…) in SD resolution.

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Mobdro app categorizes live video feeds by Channels, News, Shows, Movies, Sports, and Music, and more.

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Once you enter a category, you will be presented by a list of channels with logo and descriptions.

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I could play Sky Sports F1 from the list in SD resolution, and it worked well, except the quality was rather low. Watching sports on TV is often a paying endeavors, so I assume this may not be legal everywhere…

Finally Show Box app starts in the News section, which you can navigate to access various entertainment news about movies and TV shows.

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But you can also select Movies and TV shows in the left sidebar, which brings you to a list of movies.

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I selected one, and it looks like it’s pointing to stream or download the movie through bittorrent.

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I’ve checked Tarzan for two minutes and it could stream fine at 720p (with somewhat low quality)… Again it may not be fully legal in all locales…

OTA Firmware Update

Note: this section had been added after the review since the company only pushed the new firmware one day later.

So soon after starting the device, I got a pop-up window prompting for an Update together with a short changelog.

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I clicked “Yes” and then… nothing. I asked the company if this was normal, and was informed that download occurs in the background, and a down arrow is shown during the process.

Amlogic_S912_Firmware_Update_Icon

So I minded my own business doing other things for a few minutes, and finally I got another pop-up asking me to applying the update.MXQ_Plus_M12N_Firmware_Download_CompleteI clicked “Yes”, the system rebooted, applied the update, and then complete the installation for a reboot. Around 5 minutes later everything was completed, and I still had my files and apps. So no problem and it went smoothly.

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

I’ll switch to local video playback. The first time you start Kodi, you’ll be asked whether you want to install Add-ons. I selected “Not install” myself, since I don’t need it for review.

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Kodi 16.1 is installed, probably a custom version built on July 4, 2016.

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I’ll play all videos from a SAMBA share over an 100Mbps Ethernet connectivity, unless otherwise stated (HDD = played from USB hard drive).

I’ve started with some Linaro media samples, and Elecard H.265 videos:

  • 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 (software decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p – OK (ff-vp8 software decode), 1080p – some frames are skipped
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

I enabled automatic refresh rate in Kodi, but this did not work well.

Videos with various bitrates were next:

  • ED_HD.avi (H.264 / 10 Mbps) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – Not 100% smooth (software decode)
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Audio only, stays in UI
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – HDD: OK

The worry here is that the system can’t play some videos with software decode that could be played without issues in Amlogic S905X devices like MINI M8S II, so it could be the CPU is throttling under load.

I also tested PCM output (stereo downsampling) via Kodi and MX Player/MoviePlayer app using my TV’s speakers, and HDMI pass-through in both using Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver for advanced audio codecs.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 16.1)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer or Video Player)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 16.1)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer or Video Player)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Dolby D 5.1 detected, but audio starts with noises, video not smooth OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio Dolby D 5.1, but with 3 audio cuts OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio no audio Video plays in slow motion without audio
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio no audio TrueHD 5.1
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio no audio TrueHD 7.1
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 Dolby D 5.1continuous beep
DTS HD Master OK No audio DTS 5.1 with 2 audio cuts DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio DTS 5.1 with 1 audio cut DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK No audio DTS 5.1 DTS 5.1

No audio with PCM output using apps other than Kodi is expected since the processor is Amlogic S912, and not Amlogic S912-H with the proper Dolby and DTS licenses. HDMI pass-through is still in a sorry state, especially in Kodi. It’s still usable in other apps, as long as you are satisfied with 5.1 audio.

4K video playback is pretty good however, at least for supported HW codecs:

  • 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) – OK
  • 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 hardware is not supposed to support it)
  • 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 perfectly smooth for either NTFS or exFAT partitions
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK watchable but not 100% perfectly smooth.

I had already written about 4K video playback on Amlogic S912 SoC, and if you haven’;t seen it already you can watch some of the videos above playing in M12N in the embedded video below.

Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso (non encrypted) Blu-Ray ISOs, and two MPEG2 1080i videos could all play without an issues. I was expecting Amlogic S912 to handle 1080p 10-bit H.264 video software decoding thanks to its 8 cores @ 2.0 GHz, but while a 720p Hi10p would play perfectly with audio, video and subtitles, the 1080p Hi10p video was not perfectly smooth, and even suffered from artifacts and audio cuts from time to time. The culprit could be M12N specific thermal design, so the issue will have to be confirmed or disproved with some other S912 models.

My TV does not support 3D videos, but I normally still checked if the TV box can decode the videos, and Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver is capable of detecting 3D content (shows 3D icon) for MVC videos as shown in  Zidoo X1 II review, so I check whether the 3D icon is lit up:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Audio only, stays in UI.
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK
  • 3D-full-MVC.mkv (Full-frame packed MVC 3D MKV) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on Onkyo receiver
  • ISO-full3D-sample.iso (Full-frame packed MVC 3D ISO) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on Onkyo receiver

I completed Kodi videos testing by playing various VOB/IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4, XViD/DViX, and MKV 720p and 1080p videos from my library and all could play fine. I also played one complete video for 2 hours without issues.

I’ve also run Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark, and MXQ Plus got 895 points, which is quite similar to the 909 points achived on MINI M8S II. The best devices normally get over 1,000 points.

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DRM info shows only Widewine Level 3 is supported. No surprise here.

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YouTube works fine, but is limited to 1080p max.

Video samples used in Kodi for this review can be downloaded via links in the comments section of my video sample post.

Network Performance

I copied a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal storage test WiFi performance, both using 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and 802.11ac @ 433 Mbps.

M12N_802.11ac_WiFiResults are below average, and during the 802.11n test, I even got a stalled and failed transfer. Performance is also asymmetric with “downloads” (SAMBA-> flash) faster than uploads (flash to SAMBA). 802.11n achieved 1.6 MB/s on average, while the file was transfered @ 1.9 MB/s over 802.11ac on average.

Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

For Fast Ethernet, I instead ran iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d to test full duplex transfer, a worse case scenario, and performance is good:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

After pairing my Android smartphone with “MXQ Plus” I could transfer a couple of photos over Bluetooth. I side-loaded Mi Fit, and it recognized and sync data with Xiaomi Mi Band 2 fitness band, however the app was displayed in portrait mode.

Xiaomi_Mi-Fit_Portrait

I skipped Sixaxis app test with my PS3 Bluetooth game controller clone since the firmware is not rooted, and for some reasons the TV box completely failed to detect my Bluetooth headset.

Storage

My Seagate USB hard drive with 4 partitions got NTFS and exFAT partions recognized and mounted  and a FAT32 micro SD could also be moutned in read/write mode.

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

Once I tried to copy a file from NTFS to exFAT in ES File Explorer but it failed due to permissions issues. I had not such issues with File Manager app. A1SD bench app shows fast sequential read speed in both partitions with 30MB/s (NTFS) and 33.86MB/s (exFAT), but write speeds are on the low side at respectively 6.42MB/s (NTFS) and 23.83MB/s (exFAT). I checked the NTFS partition with ntfsfix in my PC, and repeated the benchmark but the write speed was still very low.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

I repeated the test for M12N Samsung eMMC flash, and the results were excellent with 99.00 MB/s read speed and 69.40 MB/s write speed, which really makes me wonder why the box are the “unresponsive” app issue.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Gaming

I’ve already written a specific post about Gaming on Amlogic S912 TV box, and performance is clearly better than on Amlogic S905 TV boxes. The included retro gaming app “KO Gamebox” is also interesting. You can see the performance in several games in the video below.

MXQ Plus M12N Benchmarks

I’ll refer to you to the post entitled M12N Amlogic S912 TV Box Benchmarks for details, but let’s say results are disappointing, and I was expecting a larger performance jump compared to Amlogic S905 platforms.

Antutu_6_Amlogic-S912_M12N

Conclusion

MXQ Plus M12N works reasonably well with a stable and responsive firmware, good 4K video playback in Kodi, and decent gaming performance, however it feels like the device does not fully leverage Amlogic S912 processor performance based on benchmark results and video software decoding performance, and it still has some bugs like lack of HDMI audio pass-through in Kodi, and no automatic frame rate switching, problem with remembering HDMI resolution, slow WiFi, and so on.

PROS

  • Recent, stable, responsive (most of the time) Android 6.0 firmware
  • Good 4K videos playvack for VP9, H.265 and H.264 in Kodi
  • HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, and TrueHD 5.1 and 7.1 in Video Player/MoviePlayer
  • One of the fastest internal storage I’ve seen in any TV boxes leading to reasonably fast boot (< 30 seconds)
  • Good 3D gaming performance
  • Proper power handling, and low power off, standby, and idle power consumption
  • OTA firmware update support
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage
  • IR remote control working up to at least 10 meters
  • Bluetooth file transfer and BLE are working

CONS

  • HDMI audio pass-through and automatic frame rate switching not working properly in Kodi. Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD 7.1 not supported in other apps
  • Disappointing performance compared to Amlogic S905 TV boxes (only ~ +10/15% boost in many benchmarks), and some videos (10-bit h.264) are not playing as well as in Amlogic S905X devices using software decode. Possibly a thermal design issue
  • User set HDMI output mode is not always remember, often falling back to 1080p60 after a reboot, even if I set it to 4K 60Hz previously.
  • “App not responding” issue appearing from time to time (not too often, but still noticeable)
  • Poor WiFi performance
  • Likely HDMI CEC issue as the device will not let me turn off my A/V receiver even after disabling HDMI CEC or automatic HDMI output
  • Bluetooth audio may not be working
  • Lack of status and notifications bars
  • 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)

The manufacturer, Shenzhen Shiningworth, provide the sample for review, and wholesalers and distributors can contact the company to purchase in quantities. They also sell the MXQ Plus M12N to individuals on Aliexpress for $69.90. Alternatively you can buy their customers’ design, with a slightly different firmware, such as Acemax M12N for $65 on GearBest, or $69.99 on Aliexpress, as well as ENYBOX X2 sold on GeekBuying for $79.99.

Evive is an Arduino Compatible Platform with Enclosure, Lots of I/Os, Buttons, and an 1.8″ Display (Crowdfunding)

August 12th, 2016 No comments

Engineers at Agilo Technologies, an Indian startup based in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, felt that the wire mess often produced while learning or prototyping with Arduino boards could be an issue, and it was easy to mis-wire your setup, so they’ve decided to create a user and student friendly Arduino compatible system with many of the items you’d normally use with Arduino board such as buttons, probes inputs, an 1.8″ color display, headers for ESP8266, Bluetooth, and XBEE moduels, etc.. and all of that enclosed in a neat case. Evive was born.

Evive_Arduino

Evive specifications:

  • MCU – Atmel ATmega2560 8-bit AVR MCU @ 16 MHz with 256KB flash, 4KB EEPROM, 8KB SRAM
  • Storage – micro SD slot up to 32GB
  • Display – 1.8″ TFT display; 160×128 resolution; 18-bit color
  • User inputs – Tactile and slide switches, joysticks, and potentiometers
  • Probes inputs – Voltage / Intensity sensing inputs
  • USB – USB device port
  • Expansion Headers
    • 3.3V I/Os header
    • Digital to Analog converter header
    • Timer inputs
    • Plug & play hardware interface for motors, steppers, relays, servors…
    • Arduino Mega headers for shields with PWM, Analog inputs, digital I/Os, etc… 3.3 and 5V headers
    • WiFi header for ESP8266 module (ESP-12)
    • Bluetooth header for HC-05 module
    • XBEE header
  • Misc – Power button (off, ext. int.), 7x status & user LEDs, RTC, buzzer, small breadboard
  • Power Supply
    • Variable 3.3V to 5V DC through DC jack or Vin
    • 2,600 mAh Li-Ion battery
    • Reverse polarity protection
  • Dimensions – Arduino compatible – Arduino Mega 2560 form factor

You can watch the specifications videos (4min30s) for a clear and detailed description of Evive specifications.

Evive_specifications

The system supports the Arduino IDE, Scratch, ROS, Matlab Simulink, LabView MakerHub, Atmel Studio, etc… You can find some hardware & software files, as well as documentation on Evivetoolkit github account, and several demo projects have been posted on Instructables, such as a DIY piano built with Scratch, a scientific calculator, a plant monitoring and watering system, an obstacle avoiding robot, and so on.

Evive has raised about $10,000 on Indiegogo (flexible funding due to India’s banking regulations) so far, with 14 days to go. Perks start at $89 for the early bird basic kit with Evive, a USB cable, and two multimeter leads. Various kits are also offer for IoT or Robotics projects, and you can also order packs with up to 10 kits. Shipping is free to India, $10 to US, and $15 to the rest of the world, with delivery planned for December 2016 (early bird), and January 2017. You may also want to visit Evive website for more details.

NEXBOX A95X (Amlogic S905X) TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 and Kodi 16.1

August 5th, 2016 41 comments

Last week I publish the first complete review of an Amlogic S905X device with MINI M8S II TV box review, and while the device work in a smooth and stable manner, some features did not work as expect such as HDMI audio pass-through. I’ve now had the change to compare  it to another S905X with NEXBOX A95X, not to confuse with its “homonym”: NEXBOX A95X with Amlogic S905 processor. I’ve already taken pictures of the device and accessories, and checked out the hardware in the first part of the review,  so today, I’ll report my finding playing with Android 6.0 firmware, Kodi video and audio capabilities, and check whether bugs and issues found on MINI M8S II are also present in the device.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

NEXBOX A95X is really a tiny device, so it’s no surprise that it only comes with two USB 2.0 ports, and I used one with my 1TB hard drive, and connected a USB hub to the other with 2 RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots.

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The typical 30 second boot is a little faster than on MINI M8S II, possibly thanks to faster eMMC flash, or more optimized firmware. I was also happy to see a different launcher for once.

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Click for Original Size (1920×1080)

The top row of the user interface shows the current time, network connectivity status, and weather for your selected city. The Home screen has 8 pre-definied (and non customizable) icons for Kodi, YouTube, File Manager, Browser, Google Play, Kodi Center (add-ons installer), Netflix, and a shortcut to All Apps.NEXBOX-A95X_IPTV_Video_Streaming

The “Recommend”, “Online” and “Local” tab are folder where you can add or remove your favorite apps. The Online tab comes with HGTV Watch, HuffPost, Hulu, Pandora, and Plex by default.

NEXBOX-A95X-S905X_Launcher_Setting SystemInfo will show a summary of the device specifications and firmware, Other will only allow you to disable/enable “touch sounds”, Weather is used to set your city,  and Settings points to the usual Amlogic settings.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Again it’s very similar to other box, but like on MINI M8s II, it adds the HDR (High Dynamic Range) option, and storage also shows external storage like the 4 partitions of my USB drive. HDMI-CEC is also missing, which is a problem as I can’t disable it, and the box will prevent me from turning off my Onkyo A/V receiver.

NEXBOX_A95X_HDR

The one extra options I found on NEXBOX A95X is “Power key definition” to select either “suspend and resume” or “shutdown” when pressing the power key on the remote control.

Android_Power_Key_Definition I personally recommend using “Suspend and resume”, as you can also power off the device with a long press on the Power button.

If you are using a USB drive, the following window should show up a few seconds after the boot is complete. That’s a little annoying since it will happen for every boot, but there’s an extra option compare to M8S II, as you can setup the hard drive as internal storage.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

That’s great, unless you already have data on your hard drive, as it requires it to be formatted. So I skipped that step. But if you are going to use that hard drive permanently with the box, then that’s a good option, as you’ll have very large storage for app and data, and I assume you won’t be shown the “USB drive connected” after each boot.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

So instead I setup a class 10 micro SD card as internal storage, and formatted it as shown above. Android complained that “This USB drive appears to be slow” however, but I could carry on, and was asked whether I wanted to “Move data to SanDisk SD card”, which I accepted by clicking on “Move now”. Once this is done you’ll strangely see the device storage with a total of 32GB, instead of 16+8 = 24GB, but at least that mean available storage has been increased thanks to the added micro SD card. I understand this is a new feature of Android 6.0.

Android_6.0_Internal_Store_micro_SD

About_NEXBOX-A95XThe flash on NEXBOX A95X (S905X) has a 16GB capacity, at least on my model, and is partitioned as a single unified partition for app and data with around 1.41GB used after the first boot (with micro SD card used as internal storage yet).

Another identical behavior between MINI M8S II and NEXBOX A95X was that HDMI output was set to 4K SMPTE (4096×2160 @ 24 Hz) by default. I set it manually to 4K 60 Hz (3840×2160) manually, but I noticed it would sometimes fall back to 1080p60 after a reboot. It’s quite easy to notice since the mouse pointer is much smaller (maybe too small) when 4K output is selected. Those common issues are likely due to Amlogic SDK, so I’d expect most Amlogic S905X TV boxes to suffer from those.

I clicked on “More settings” to enter Android 6.0 settings and access other options like Accounts, Language & input, Printing, and so on… The “About MediaBox” section reports NEXBOX-A95X running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29. The firmware used for review is NEXBOX-A95X-AP6330-6.0.1 dated July 15th, 2016. The firmware is rooted. OTA firmware update is not supported.

The included remote control has a decent range as it worked up to 8 meters (but not 10m), and the IR learning function works well as I was able to register and use the power, input selection, volume, and mute keys of my TV remote control. However, as usual MINIX NEO A2 Lite was my favorite input device since beside acting as a remote, I also use it as a mouse and keyboard, and is much more convenient to use in various parts of Android and apps.

Google Play worked fairly well, except it would not install Mi Fit or Vidonn Smartband apps, possibly because of Bluetooth LE requirements. All other application needed for review could be installed from the store. I also downloaded Amazon Underground with the web browser to install the free version of Riptide GP2.

Power implementation is bit better than on MINI M8S too, mostly thanks to added option to go to standby mode. That means I could go into and out of power on/off, and standby using the remote control. Power consumption was measure with a power meter in 6 different configurations:

  • Power off – 0.4 watt
  • Standby – 0.4 watts
  • Idle – 2.4 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 1.1 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 0.4 watt
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.1 to 5.2 watts

It looks rather good. The only oddity is that Power off with USB hard drive consumes more than in standby, and there does not appear to be advantages (in terms of power consumption) of going into power off mode, instead of standby. Standby will also save you some time, as you don’t need to wait for 30 seconds to boot. Power off might be a little safer for your data, depending on how the firmware has been implemented.

When I opened NEXBOX A95X the thermal design seemed OK, except the processor and heatsink were pointing down, instead of up, so in theory the heat could be end up being trapped inside the device. During use, the case gets a little hotter than MINI M8S, but not that much as the maximum temperature on the top and bottom of the case after Antutu 6 was respectively 45°C and 52°C max, and after 15 to 20 minutes playing Riptide GP2, the tempeatures went up to 50°C and 56°C. However, performance (e.g. frame rate) was constant during game play.

My first impressions with NEBOX A95X were pretty good, with the device running a stable and responsive firmware, and the main downsides were small annoyances like the USB drive connected windows after each boot, and the device preventing me from turning off my A/V receiver. The lack of OTA firmware support with the Update & Backup app reporting “Check Failed! Check Your OTA Servier Agent” (sic.) was also a disappointment, but a common problem with cheaper devices.

Audio & Video Playback in Kodi 16.1, and DRM Support

I can also see piracy add-ons pre-installed together with Kodi 16.x with more an more devices, and NEXBOX A95X is no exception.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

The box is using Kodi 16.1 like in M8S II, but the build date is different, so there may have been some modifications.

NEXBOX_A95X_Kodi_16.1

I’ll get straightaway with 4K video testing from a SAMBA share over 100M Ethernet, unless otherwise stated (HDD = USB hard drive):

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – HDMI_4K_SMPTE (24 Hz): OK; HDMI_4K_60Hz: 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) – HDMI_4K_SMPTE (24 Hz): OK; HDMI_4K_60Hz: OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • 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) – Network: Audio cuts during playback, then silence; HDD: 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 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: System hangs after a few frames
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK most of the time, except for ~5 seconds period @ 2:08 with severe artifacts.

NEXBOX A95X does not suffer from poor video playback when 24 fps videos are played using 4K SMPTE (24Hz) video output, any improvement over MINI M8S II, but streaming over Ethernet may not be as good, as one 51.4 Mbps video suffered from audio cuts due to buffering. The system also completely hanged with a very high bitrate (243 Mbps) video played from the USB hard drive. The artifacts in one VP9 videos occurred at the exact same time on both devices.

I enabled automatic frame rate switching in Android and Kodi, but sadly this does not work.

Audio testing looked much more promising when I went into Kodi Audio output settings with not only AC3 and DTS options, but also TrueHD and DTS-HD options present in the settings.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The results however were disappointing, so I also used HDMI audio pass-through using MX Player / MoviePlayer app too through my Onkyo AV receiver that can handle TrueHD, DTS-HD and Dolby Atmos.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 16.1)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer or MX Player)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 16.1)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer or MX Player)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Audio OK (DD 5.1) but video not smooth OK (DD 5.1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio DD 5.1, but two short audio cuts OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, and no audio Video Plays in fast forward mode, system has no time to setup audio output
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, and no audio TrueHD 5.1
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, and no audio TrueHD 7.1
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, and lots of “audio farting”. Continuous beep
DTS HD Master OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, no audio, and video not smooth DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, no audio DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK No audio “PCM 2.0/Unknown” switching, no audio DTS 5.1

Not really the results we want to see, even for new devices…

I also played a 2-hour H.264 1080p videos over Ethernet to test stability, and I had no problem there.

NEXBOX A95X supports Widewine DRM Level 3 only. This has to be expected however.

Nexbox_A95X_DRM

Click to Enlarge

Download links to video samples used in this review can be found in the comments section of this Video/Audio sample post.

Network Performance

I’ve tested both 802.11n and Fast Ethernet by transferring a 278MB file between SAMBA and the internal flash a few times, and averaged the results. WiFi supports both 2.4 and 5.0 GHz (no 802.11ac), the connection is stable, but the performance is rather poor with average transfer rate of around 1.6 MB/s.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

The same test with Ethernet shows a more standard performance of 6.7 MB/s for a Fast Ethernet interface.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooth worked reasonably well, and I could transfer a few pictures after pairing NEXBOX-A95X to my Android smartphone, and get Xiaomi Mi Band 2 data after side-loading Mi Fit app. So that means Bluetooth LE is working. I could not use my Bluetooth headset, as the system kept on asking for a pin code during pairing, something my phone, and most other Android devices have never asked for that headphone.

Storage

If you’ve been following my reviews of Amlogic TV boxes, you may know my expectation of getting write support on my USB hard drive are pretty low, ever since Amlogic moved to Android 5.1 SDK and the “10MB bug”. But when I realized NEXBOX A95X would actually allow me to copy files and run benchmarks on some of the partitions of my USB hard drive I felt like the second was coming, and could barely control my emotion with tears coming out of my eyes after around 10 months of hardship :).

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

Contrary to MINI M8S II, the hard drive partitions are apparently detected as SD cards in NEXBOX A95X, so they were also listed as in A1 Bench, and I could run the benchmark on both NTFS and exFAT partitions of the driver with a very good 37 MB/s sequential read speed for both, and less impressive 6.78 MB/s & 17.66 Mb/s write speed respectively.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Read (Bluet) and Write (Red) Speed in MB/s

exFAT used to have very poor performance across devices, so maybe Android 6.0 improve exFAT support a lot.

The 16GB eMMC flash performance is OK with 45.8 MB/s read speed, and 15.24 MBs write speed.

Click to Enlarge

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Gaming

I’ve focused on Riptide GP2 only, playing it with Mars G01 wireless gamepad. The game was perfectly playable using default settings, but not quite as smooth as I like when settings the graphics settings to “max resolution”. I kept playing the game for 15 to 20 minutes, and performance was OK, and constant over time. Amlogic S905X is not the ideal processor for gaming, but it’s good enough for casual gaming.

NEXBOX A95X (Amlogic S905X) Benchmarks

Before running running benchmark, let’s have a look at the info reported by CPU-Z.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Amlogic S905X processor is again confirmed as a quad core Cortex A53 processor running between 100 MHz and 2.02 GHz, and with an ARM Mali-450MP GPU. Internal storage partition capacity is 11.87GB, total RAM 1775 MB, and the frame buffer resolution is set to 1920×1080.

Despite having the exact same CPU frequencies, we’ve already seen in our Amlogic S905 vs S905x benchmarks comparison that Amlogic S905X did not performance quite as well. But with NEXBOX A95X the results are even lower possibly due to its non-optimal thermal design as previously discussed.

NEXBOX-A95X_Antutu_Amlogic_S905X

The device achieved 28,519 points in Antutu 6.x, against 33,553 for MINI M8S II.

NEXBOX_A95X_S905X_Vellamo_3.x

The picture is the same with Vellamo with Multicore, Metal and Browser being respectively 1,184, 824, and 1,641 against 1,491, 910, and
1,885 points for MINI M8S II.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

3DMark Ice Storm Extreme score @ 3,703 points is also lower despite the CPU running at 2.0 GHz for most of the benchmark during. MINI M8S II achieved 4,183 points in that same test. So the system is slower, but it’s hard to pinpoint what happened.

Conclusion

NEXBOX A95X (S905X) firmware was stable and felt fast, although benchmarkls indicate a lower performance compared to competitors. Video playback in Kodi 16.1 for 10-bit and 8-bit H.265, H.264, and VP9 videos up to 4K @ 60 fps was also good, and I like some details like the ability to set the power button behavior, and setup external storage (micro SD or USB) as internal storage.

PROS:

  • Stable and responsive Android 6.0 firmware
  • Kodi 16.1 supports 4K 10-bit H.264, H.264 and VP9 videos fairly well
  • HDR (High dynamic range support) for the latest televisions (not tested as LG 42UB820T UHD TV does not support it)
  • Proper power handling (standby/power off) and low power consumption in all modes.
  • Internal storage expansion via external storage devices (micro SD, USB flash drive, USB hard drive).
  • Above average internal storage performance leading to fast boot, and low app loading times
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage with read and write support (except in ES File Explorer)
  • IR remote control with IR learning function and good range (up to 8 meters)
  • Bluetooth working for file transfer and sync to fitness trackers (BLE)

CONS:

  • Video & Audio playback issues: HDMI audio pass-through not working well, automatic frame rate switching not working, Lack of Dolby & DTS licensed for downmixing to PCM 2.0 (stereo audio) in apps other than Kodi
  • Video output settings not always remembered. e.g. set to 4K @ 60 Hz, but fall back to 1080p60 at next reboot
  • Stable but poor WiFi performance
  • Lower performance compared to MINI M8S II, at least in in benchmarks
  • Lack of OTA firmware update support
  • Pairing issue with Bluetooth headset
  • DRM: Only supports Widevine Level 3
  • TV box will force my AV receiver to turn on, even as I manually turn it off (likely HDMI CEC issue)
  • Lack of notification and status bar, leading to some inconvenience after download or Bluetooth transfers for example.

I’d like to thank NEXBOX for sending the device for review, and resellers and distributions can contact the company via their website to purchase the box in quantities. The version of NEXBOX A95X featured in this review (Amlogic S905X, 2GB RAM, 16GB flash) is sold for $42.99 on GearBest and $51.99 on Banggood. Both sites also sell cheaper version with 2GB/8GB ($38.2) and 1GB/8GB ($33), and GeekBuying too. However, if you don’t think you need Android 6.0 features, VP9 and/or HDR, NEXBOX A95X model with Amlogic S905 processor might be a better option, and sells for around $25 with 1GB RAM.

Ipega PG-9057 is a Bluetooth Gaming Gun for Android & iOS Smartphones, TV Boxes, Computers, etc…

August 3rd, 2016 1 comment

I first came across Ipega brand when I reviewed E-Box T8-4 TV box which included Ipega PG-9028 Bluetooth game controller, which also serves as an handle for your smartphone, so that you can easily play game on your Android smartphone while holding the gamepad. That kind of controller is now pretty common, but Ipega 9057 might be a little less common as instead of a gamepad, a gun carries your smartphone instead making it suitable for first person games such as Dead Trigger, Shadowgun, or Modern Combat.

Ipepa_PG-9057-Bluetooth-Gun-for-SmartphonesPG-9057 gun specifications:

  • Connectivity – Bluetooth 3.0; 8 meters range
  • Stand – 45 to 95mm for smartphones with up to 6″ displays
  • USB – 1x micro USB for charging
  • Controls – Various buttons and joysticks (See graph below)
  • Misc – LED for battery level, vibration motor, reset pinhole
  • Battery – Built-in Lithium 600mAh; up to 25 hours play time; up to 2 hours for a full charge

Smartphone_Gun_ButtonsThe gun is particularly interesting for Android 3.2+ smartphones and iPhones running iOS 7 or greater, but it’s a standard Bluetooth human interface device (HID) such it will also work with other Bluetooth enabled products like Android TV boxes, Windows computers, and so on.

It would probably much fun if it supported motion control with the games responding to your movements, but based on the demo below you need to stay static, and press buttons as you play.

The gun is sold for about $50 to $55 including shipping on various shops such as Aliexpress, Amazon US, eBay, and Banggood. You can find a few more details in the user’s manual.

Categories: Android, Hardware, Video Tags: bluetooth, gamepad, games, ipega

Mini M8S II TV Box (Amlogic S905X) Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware

July 30th, 2016 70 comments

Mini M8S II is one of the first Amlogic S905X TV box to hit the market, with the new processor adding 4K VP9 hardware video decoding and HDR support compared to Amlogic S905 processor. I’ve already taken pictures of the device and torn it apart to check its hardware & thermal design in the first part of the review, and in the second part, I’ll boot it up, check performance, features, and video playback capabilities.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I plugged-in a USB hard drive into one USB port, but since the device only fetures two ports, I had to use a USB hub to connect two RF dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse, and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots. I completed the hardware setup by connecting HDMI & Ethernet cables before starting the device by connected the provided power adapter.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Booting takes around 40 seconds, and you’ll be greeted by the very common launcher below found on most Amlogic based Android TV boxes.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

A few seconds later, the system showed me a “USB drive connected”. It’s not to know my drive is working, but since it happened every single time I booted the TV box this was more annoying than useful.

MINI-M8S-II-USB_Drive_ConnectedThe settings are again about the same as on other TV boxes, and if you want to see an in-depth review of the launcher and settings I recommend you check out K1 Plus review. There were some noticeable differences however which I detail below.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The first difference is that HDMI-CEC option is missing. It’s not a feature I’d use in Android anyway, but the problem is that it seems enabled somehow, and if my AV receiver is turned on at the same time as MINI M8S II, I won’t be able to turn off my AV receiver, as the box will turn it back on as soon as I turn it off…

HDR support in the Display section is the second difference, and you can enable or disable it. It’s not something I could test however since my current 4K TV does not support high dynamic range.

Amlogic_S905X_HDR_OptionThe final difference I noticed is that the Storage & reset menu will now show removable storage too.

MINI-M8S-II_USB_Storage_File_Systems

The screenshot above show my hard drive with four partition is correctly detected (USB3_XXXX are volume names), and exFAT and NTFS partition mounted.

About_MINIM8S_IIWhile the eMMC flash has 8GB capacity, the system takes some, and the internal storage partition is just 4.70 GB in size with 598MB used at the beginning of the review.

HDMI output support a wide range of resolution and refresh rate, and my system was first automatically set to 4K SMPTE (24 Hz) despite my TV supporting 4K @ 60 Hz. I could manually change the output to that setting, but I’ve noticed the TV box does not always remembers the user-defined value, and a few times I saw video output set to 1080p60 after a reboot.

I can access Android Marshmallow settings by clicking or selecting “More settings”, where you can access some extra options like Printing, Date & Time, Backup & Reset and so on. So I went to the  “About MediaBox” to find out a bit more about the firmware, and “MINIM8S II” model number runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29. Please note that the firmware is NOT rooted.

I also quickly tested the included IR remote control, and the range is very good, as it works very well even 10 meters away. However, for most of the review I used NEO A2 air mouse as IR remote controls are completely useless outside of the launcher and Kodi in Android.

MINI-M8S-II_App_ListThe Google Play Store worked for most apps required for the review, except Antutu Video Tester, Vidonn Smart Band & Xiaomi Mi Fit (both require BLE support), BitTorrent and a few others from my list. Apps requiring GPS and/or phone/SMS support, such as Whatsapp, would not install either, but this is not really an issue. I had no troubles installing Riptide GP2 through Amazon Underground.

Power handling is OK with power on working from the IR remote control, and power off from the remote control or Power icon on the status bar. There’s no standby/sleep mode, so  I’ve measured power consumption with and without USB hard drive (HDD) in the two available power modes:

  • Power off – 1.2 watt
  • Idle – 2.2 watts
  • Power off + HDD – 1.2 watt
  • Idle + HDD – 5.0 watts

There are two good news here: USB power is turned off in powered off mode, and idle power consumption really low. The downside is that the system draws 1.2 watts in power off mode, while the best devices don’t draw anything noticeable by my power meter, or at least well below 1 watt.

MINI M8S II does not overheat, and after Antutu 6.x, the maximum temperature on the top and bottom of the case was respectively 39°C and 45°C max, and after over 15 minutes playing Riptide GP2 this went up a little to 43°C and 56°C. I did not notice any throttling / slowdowns during game play.

MINI M8S II feels responsive, and the firmware is stable, with the only small issues I had were the Windows appearing at each boot to tell me my USB drive was connected, and the box will automatically turn on my A/V receiver when I turn it off likely because of HDMI-CEC feature which can’t be disabled in the settings. The mouse pointer is also rather small when 4K output is selected.

OTA firmware update

One of the first thing I did before checking out the settings and Google Play as described above was to check out for new firmware. So I went to the UPDATE&BACKUP app, to check for new firmware, and the system did get an update for 2016-07-04 to 2016-07-07, which is kind of unexpected for a low cost device.

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Click to Enlarge

I went ahead with the tiny 14.13MB download, before clicking on Update now to reboot and complete the firmware update.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

But it did not work, and failed with error. So I decided to disconnect my USB hard drive, reboot the system, and re-try the update and it went smoothly. So remember remove external storage (USB and/or micro SD card) before upgrading the firmware to avoid this issue.

However, some people mentioned they had manually installed 2016-07-19 firmware, so I went to UPDATE&BACKUP app again, and it found another larger 2016-07-19 firmware update, which went without issue.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

I check again for a third firmware update before carry on with the review, but that was it.

Audio & Video Playback in Kodi 16.1

Kodi 16.1 (or a fork) is pre-installed on the device, and the manufacturer also included several piracy add-ons.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

Kodi_16.1_MINI-M8S-II

All videos, except otherwise stated, were played over Fast Ethernet from a SAMBA share. I’ve first played some videos found in Linaro media samples, as well as Elecard H.265 samples:

  • 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 (software decode)
  • WebM / VP8 480p/720p/1080p – OK (ff-vp8 software decode)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

While all videos played, please note that automatic refresh rate does not work even after enabling it both Kodi and Android settings (HDMI self-adaptation).

The next step was to play some videos with various bitrates (HDD = USB hard drive):

  • ED_HD.avi (H.264 / 10 Mbps) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Stays in UI, but audio plays
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – HDD: OK

I also tested stereo audio downmixing (PCM 2.0) via Kodi and MX Player/MoviePlayer app using my TV’s speakers, and HDMI pass-through in Kodi using Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 16.1)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer or MX Player)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 16.1)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Audio OK (DD 5.1) but wrong aspect ratio (1:1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio No audio
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio No audio
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio No audio
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0
DTS HD Master OK No audio DTS 5.1, but two short audio cuts during playback
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio DTS 5.1, but two short audio cuts during playback
DTS:X OK No audio DTS 5.1

So you should not have problem if you play videos directly with your TV using Kodi, but some apps won’t have any audio for Dolby/DTS, and audio pass-through is limited to 5.1 channels with some bugs (audio cuts).

Now let’s see how well 4K playback works, especially for VP9 videos. Please note that some videos have been tested at both HDMI_4K_SMPTE (default) and HDMI_4K_60Hz video outputs as I had some interesting issues:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – HDMI_4K_SMPTE (24 Hz): video not smooth; HDMI_4K_60Hz: 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) – HDMI_4K_SMPTE (24 Hz): video not smooth; HDMI_4K_60Hz: OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK. CPU usage is quite high though despite “amc-h265(S)” hardware decoding? in Kodi overlay debug window
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (as expected since hardware is not supposed to support it)
  • 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 (expected as not supported by S905X VPU)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: Not perfectly smooth
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK most of the time, except for ~5 seconds period with severe artifacts.

Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso Blu-Ray ISOs could both play just fine, as well as two MPEG2 1080i videos. 10-bit H.264 is a normally an issue, but Kodi 16.1 here handle it by software decode, and the 720p video was fine (with very high CPU usage on all 4 cores), but the 1080p video was not always smooth or artifact-free. Maybe that’s something Amlogic S912 will be able to handle with its 8 cores.

My TV does not support 3D videos, but it’s still interesting to check whether videos can be decoded anyway. My A/V receiver is however capable of detecting 3D content (shows 3D icon) for MVC video as I demonstrated with Zidoo X1 II:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Audio only, stays in UI.
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK
  • 3D-full-MVC.mkv (Full-frame packed MVC 3D MKV) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on Onkyo receiver
  • ISO-full3D-sample.iso (Full-frame packed MVC 3D ISO) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on Onkyo receiver

Finally I played various VOB/IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4, XViD/DViX, and MKV videos from my library and all could play fine, with the only issue occurring when using DTS or Dolby HDMI audio pass-through with audio cuts in some, but not all, videos.

Beside Kodi, I’ve also run Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark, with MINI M8S II getting a decent 909 points, while the best devices get a little over 1,000 points. All videos could be played, with 3 videos not playing smoothly.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

DRM support may be important for premium video services like Netflix, and Hulu, and MINI M8S II support Widewine Level 3 for SD resolution video playback, but no Level 1 which is one of the requirement for HD and 4K video support for this type of online video services.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

In case you wonder about YouTube, it only works up to 1080p. 4K YouTube video playback requires “Android TV” platforms.

Download links to video samples used in this review can be found in the comments section of that post.

Network Performance

I normally test both WiFi and Ethernet in my reviews, but I broke the WiFi antenna during the teardown, and could not properly re-solder it. So I only get a “fair signal” strength (about 2 bars out of 4), and throughput of around 1MB/s while using WiFi. This is quite poor, but likely due to the antenna issue. Other people also reported poor WiFi performance with earlier firmware, but firmware 2016-07-19 – used for this review – allegedly improved WiFi performance greatly. Note that only 2.4 GHz WiFI is supported by this device, not 5.0 GHz.

I’ve tested Fast Ethernet by transferring a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal storage, and performance averaged 5.9MB/s placing it in the middle of the pack of devices limited to 10/100M Ethernet.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I could pair “MINIM8S II” to my smartphone in order to transfer some pictures over Bluetooth. However, the TV box could not find Xiaomi Mi Band 2 Bluetooth 4.0 LE activity tracker (not install any BLE app through Google Play), while the system could detect my “SH09” Bluetooth headset pairing would not work, and I had to skip Sixaxis PS3 Bluetooth game controller test since the firmware is not rooted.

Storage

We’ve already seen that a  Seagate USB hard drive was recognized in the upper part of this review with NTFS and exFAT file systems supported, and after adding a micro SD card, I could also confirm FAT32 is supported, but Android 6.0 permissions do not seem to allow write access to external storage.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK No
EXT-4 Not mounted Not mounted
exFAT OK No
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted
FAT32 OK No

This behavior is not suitable at all for TV box, so they’ll have to find a workaround.

I had to skip A1 SD bench with USB drives due to this read-only issue, but still checked out internal storage performance with the app, and the eMMC flash achieved 34.69 MB/s sequential read speed, and 15.87 MB/s write speed. Not a bad results.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga was a little sluggish the very first few seconds, but then it could play the game with air mouse, and without any noticeable slowdowns.

I switch to the wireless gamepad to play Beach Buggy Racing which was smooth at all time, even after settings Graphics settings to the “highest resolution”.  Riptide GP2 was fairly smooth with the default settings, but once I switched to “highest resolution” settings, the frame rate went down a bit, and while it was still playable, I did not find as quite as enjoyable. It’s pretty typical for Amlogic S905 platforms though, and the good news is that the performance was constant over the 15 to 20 minutes I played the game.

MINI M8S II Benchmarks

So is Amlogic S905X processor clocked at up to 1.5GHz (like in the specs), or up to 2.0 GHz (like in marketing materials for TV boxes)? CPU-Z agrees with the latter as the maximum frequency is reported to be 2.02 GHz just like in Amlogic S905 processors.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The board is p212 (useful if you want to try alternative firmware), the frame buffer resolution is set to 1920×1080, and there’s 1775MB total RAM for the system out of the 2GB RAM installed.

However, Antutu 6.1.4 score at 33,330 is slightly lower than on Amlogic S905 based devices (36,000 to 39,000 points) which looks more consistent with a lower CPU frequency… For example MINIX NEO U1 Antutu 6.0 score is 38,032 points.
MINI-M8S-II_Antutu
Let’s double checked the results with Vellamo 3.x.
MINI-M8S-II_Vellamo
M8S II got 1,491, 910 and 1,855 for respectively Multicore, Metal and Browser benchmarks, while MINIX NEO U1 achieved 1,586, 1,235 and 2,157 points. If we compared it to a cheaper model like Videostrong K1 Plus with 1,572, 763, and 2,002 the difference is not as clear, but performance of Amlogic S905 does seem higher than Amlogic S905X in most cases. We also have to take into account that all devices I tested with Amlogic S905 were based on Android 5.1, while MINI M8S II is running Android 6.0.1, which should be a little faster than Android Lollipop.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

3D graphics performance does not seem to be affected as much as Amlogic S905 TV boxes would normally get around 4,300 points in 3DMark ICE Storm Extreme, while Amlogic S905X based M8S II got a similar 4,183 points.

Conclusion

MINI M8S II TV Box has a good performance/features to price ratio, a responsive Android 6.0 firmware, decent video playback in Kodi for 10-bit and 8-bit H.265, H.264, and VP9 videos up to 4K @ 60 fps, but there are still a few firmware issues such HDMI audio pass-throguh, Bluetooth issue, read-only USB storage, etc.. to solve.

PROS:

  • Stable and responsive device with recent Android 6.0 firmware
  • Good (although not quite perfect) video playback in Kodi 16.1 with support for 4K 10-bit H.264, H.264 and VP9 videos
  • HDR (High dynamic range support) for compatible TVs (not tested as my 4K TV does not support it)
  • Proper power handling, and low idle power consumption
  • Relatively fast internal storage leading to 40 seconds boot, few slowdowns during operation
  • OTA firmware update
  • Device stays cool under load
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage
  • IR remote control working with long range (at least 10 meters)

CONS:

  • External storage (USB and micro SD) are read-only due to permissions.
  • Some Kodi issues: HDMI audio pass-through not working well, even for Dolby / DTS 5.1 or 2.0 audio, automatic frame rate switching not working, 24 fps videos may not be smooth when played using 24 Hz video output.
  • Lack of Dolby & DTS licensed for downmixing to PCM 2.0 (stereo audio) in apps other than Kodi
  • Bluetooth issues – No Bluetooth LE support, problem pairing with Bluetooth headset. (File transfer with smartphone is OK)
  • DRM: Only supports Widevine Level 3
  • Some apps (that should) can’t be installed via Google Play (e.g. Antutu Video Tester, Bittorrent…)
  • TV box will force my AV receiver to turn on, even as I manually turn it off (likely HDMI CEC issue)
  • USB device connected full screen window shows up after each boot if you have connected an USB drive

So not a bad start, but you’ll have to rely on firmware updates to get fixes for some of the issues listed above.

I’d like to thank GearBest for sending a sample for review, and if you are interested, you could consider buying the device for $35.99 including shipping (if the price has gone up, GBM8SII coupon might help) from their online shop. Other shopping options include Banggood, Aliexpress, and Amazon US, but they are roughly $10 more expensive at this time.

RuuviTag Open Source Bluetooth & NFC Sensor Beacon is Based on Nordic Semi nRF52832 SoC (Crowdfunding)

July 27th, 2016 2 comments

I’ve recently featured Puck.js Bluetooth 4.2/5.0 Beacon on CNX Software, but there’s another similar option with RuuviTag, also powered by the latest Nordic Semi nRF52832 ARM Cortex-M4 SoC, and RuviiTag+ version that includes multiple sensors: 3-axis accelerometer, and temperature, humidity, and pressure sensor.

RuuviTag

RuuviTag & RuuviTag+ specifications:

  • SoC – Nordic Semi nRF52832 ARM Cortex-M4F micro-controller @ 64 MHz with Bluetooth Smart and NFC
  • Connectivity
    • Bluetooth 4.2 Smart, Bluetooth 5.0 Ready; over 500 meters line of sight range (with -4dBm power); up to 1.4 km with +4 dBm
    • Integrated NFC antenna
  • Expansion – 8x through holes with 6x GPIOs, and 2x power signals
  • Sensors
    • On-chip temperature sensor
    • RuuviTag+ – Bosch BME280 environmental sensor (pressure, humidity, and temperature), STMicro LIS2DH12 3-axis accelerometer
  • Misc – User/reset button, 2x LEDs, 10-pin SWD debug connector
  • Battery – CR2450 / CR2477 battery up to 10 years depending on application
  • Dimensions – N/A
  • Temperature Range – -40°C to +85°C (requires a high temperature battery, CR2450HR, included in perks)
Ruuvi_Arduino_Shield

Arduino Shield for RuuviTag

RuuviTag can be used as a standard EddystoneiBeacon proximity beacon compatible with Android 4.3.2 or higher, or iOS 8.0 or higher mobile devices, but thanks to its sensors, you can also create a personal weather station (see web interface sample), and it’s also compatible with the Physical Web or Web Bluetooth. While no programming knowledge is required to get started, and firmware is upgradeable over the air with your smartphone, advanced users will be able to use with nRF52-DK evaluation board through a shield and Arduino IDE with access to I2C, SPI, and GPIOs, as well as a SWD bus to hack the tag. RuuviTag has been designed with KiCad, and is open source hardware with all hardware files released.

The project has raised over $100,000 so far on Kickstarter, where you can get RuuviTag for $20 or RuuviTag+ for $25 including worldwide shipping. Interestingly, Ruuvitag won’t be manufactured in China, but by Gravitech, a Thai manufacturer based in Bangkok, which previously handled TESPA Hawk IoT board based on ESP8266.. Delivery is scheduled for October 2016.

Thanks to Freire for the tip.

Bagel is a Smart Bluetooth Tape Measure Compatible with Android and iOS Phones (Crowdfunding)

July 26th, 2016 1 comment

The tape measure is a pretty simple tool allowing you to measure length, and I assume most people will write results on a piece of paper. Battery powered Bagel tape measure changes that as it allows measurements with a string, through a wheel, or an ultrasonic sensors, store the data in its internal memory with voice to text memo, and also sends back data over Bluetooth to your smartphone.

Smart_Tape_Measure

Bagel Labs tape measure specifications:

  • Three measure modes – string (up to 3 meters), wheel (up to 10 meters), or ultrasonic sensor (0.3 to 5 meters)
  • Storage – 32 MB flash for up to 100 measurements and voice memo (Both metric and imperial units supported)
  • Connectivity – Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • Audio – Microphone for voice to text recording
  • Display – 0.96″ OLED display; 128×96 resolution
  • USB – 1x micro USB port for charging
  • Misc – laser pointer for ultrasonic measurement; save record, mode, reset, and power buttons; status LED
  • Battery – 500 mAh LiPo battery that lasts up to 24 hours and averages 8 hours with constant use
  • Dimensions – 80 x 80 x 30 mm
  • Weight – 118 grams

Bagel_tape_measure

You can take measurement in four steps: 1. measurement from one of the three method, 2. record voice memo (e.g. length of bed), 3. synchronize with your phone, 4. organize data on soon-to-be-released free Android or iOS app. The app will allow you to export data as CSV to use on your computer.

Bagel tape measure has so far been very popular on Kickstarter, as the project has raised over 1 millions dollars from close to 9,000 backers with 8 days to go. The “early bird” pledge is still available for $69 for the device with a micro USB port. Shipping adds $14 to the US, and $29 to the rest of the world, while delivery is scheduled for November 2016.