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ARM TechCon 2014 Schedule – 64-Bit, IoT, Optimization & Debugging, Security and More

July 23rd, 2014 No comments

ARM Technology Conference (TechCon) 2014 will take place on October 1 – 3, 2014, in Santa Clara, and as every year, there will be a conference with various sessions for suitable engineers and managers, as well as an exposition where companies showcase their latest ARM based products and solutions. The detailed schedule for the conference has just been made available. Last year,  there were 90 sessions organized into 15 tracks, but this year, despite received 300 applications,  the organizers decided to scale it down a bit, and there will be 75 session in the following 11 tracks:ARM_TechCon_2014

  • Chip Implementation
  • Debugging
  • Graphics
  • Heterogeneous Compute
  • New Frontiers
  • Power Efficiency
  • Safety and Security
  • Software Development and Optimization
  • Software Optimization for Infrastructure and Cloud
  • System Design
  • Verification

There are also some paid workshops that take all day with topics such as “Android (NDK) and ARM overview”, “ARM and the Internet of Things”, or “ARM Accredited Engineer Programs”.

As usual, I’ve gone through the schedule builder, and come up with some interesting sessions with my virtual schedule during the 3-day event:

Wednesday – 1st of October

In this session, Dr. Saied Tehrani will discuss how Spansion’s approach to utilize the ARM Cortex-R line of processors to deliver energy efficient solutions for the automotive MCU market has led the company to become a vital part of the movement toward connectivity in cars. Beginning with an overview of the auto industry’s innovation and growth in connected car features, he will explain how these systems require high performance processing to give drivers the fluid experience they expect. Highlights in security and reliability with ARM Cortex-R, including Spansion’s Traveo Family of MCU’s will also be presented.

HEVC and VP9 are the latest video compression standards that significantly improves compression ratio compared to its widely used predecessors H.264 and VP8 standard. In this session the following will be discussed:

  • The market need for GPU accelerated HEVC and VP9 decoders
  • Challenges involved in offloading video decoding algorithms to a GPU, and how Mali GPU is well suited to tackle them
  • Improvement in power consumption and performance of Mali GPU accelerated decoder
  • big.LITTLE architecture and CCI/CCN’s complementing roles in improving the GPU accelerated video decoder’s power consumption

ARM’s Cortex-M family of embedded processors are delivering energy-efficient, highly responsive solutions in a wide variety of application areas right from the lowest-power, general-purpose microcontrollers to specialised devices in advanced SoC designs. This talk will examine how ARM plans to grow the ARM Cortex-M processor family to provide high performance together with flexible memory systems, whilst still maintaining the low-power, low-latency characteristics of ARM’s architecture v7M.

IoT devices as embedded systems cover a large range of devices from low-power, low-performance sensors to high-end gateways. This presentation will highlight the elements an embedded engineer needs to analyse before selecting the MCU for his design. Software is fundamental in IoT: from networking to power management, from vertical market protocols to IoT Cloud protocols and services, from programming languages to remote firmware update, these are all design criteria influencing an IoT device design. Several challenges specific to IoT design will be addressed:

  • Code size and RAM requirements for the major networking stacks
  • Optimizing TCP/IP resources versus performance
  • Using Java from Oracle or from other vendors versus C
  • WiFi (radio only or integrated module)
  • Bluetooth (Classis versus LE) IoT protocols

Thursday – 2nd of October

Amongst ARM’s IP portfolio we have CPUs, GPUs, video engines and display processors, together with fabric interconnect and POP IP, all co-designed, co-verified and co-optimized to produce energy-efficient implementations. In this talk, we will present some of the innovations ARM has introduced to reduce memory bandwidth and system power, both in the IP blocks themselves and the interactions between them, and how this strategy now extends to the new ARM Mali display processors.

Designing a system that has to run on coin cells? There’s little accurate information available about how these batteries behave in systems that spend most of their time sleeping. This class will give design guidance on the batteries, plus examine the many other places power leakages occur, and offer some mitigation strategies.

64-bit is the “new black” across the electronics industry, from server to mobile devices. So if you are building or considering building an ARMv8-A SoC, you shall attend this talk to either check that you know everything or find out what you shall know! Using the ARMv8 Juno ARM Development Platform (ADP) as reference, this session will cover:

  • The ARMv8-A hardware compute subsystem architecture for Cortex-A57, Cortex-A53 & Mali based SoC
  • The associated ARMv8-A software stack
  • The resources available to 64-bit software developers
  • Demonstration of the Android Open Source Project for ARMv8 running on Juno.

Rapid prototyping platforms have become a standard path to develop initial design concepts. They provide an easy-to-use interface with a minimal learning curve and allow ideas to flourish and quickly become reality. Transitioning from a simple, easy-to-use rapid prototyping system can be daunting, but shouldn’t be. This session presents options for starting with mbed as a prototyping environment and moving to full production with the use of development hardware, the open-source mbed SDK and HDK, and the rich ARM ecosystem of hardware and software tools.Attendees will learn how to move from the mbed online prototyping environment to full production software, including:

  • Exporting from mbed to a professional IDE
  • Full run-time control with debugging capabilities
  • Leveraging an expanded SDK with a wider range of integration points
  • Portability of applications from an mbed-enabled HDK to your custom hardware

Statistics is often perceived as scary and dull… but not when you apply it to optimizing your code! You can learn so much about your system and your application by using relatively simple techniques that there’s no excuse not to know them.This presentation will use no slides but will step through a fun and engaging demo of progressively optimizing OpenCL applications on a ARM-powered Chromebook using IPython. Highlights will include analyzing performance counters using radar diagrams, reducing performance variability by optimizing for caches and predicting which program transformations will make a real difference before actually implementing them.

Friday – 3rd of October

The proliferation of mobile devices has led to the need of squeezing every last micro-amp-hour out of batteries. Minimizing the energy profile of a micro-controller is not always straight forward. A combination of sleep modes, peripheral control and other techniques can be used to maximize battery life. In this session, strategies for optimizing micro-controller energy profiles will be examined which will extend battery life while maintaining the integrity of the system. The techniques will be demonstrated on an ARM Cortex-M processor, and include a combination of power modes, software architecture design techniques and various tips and tricks that reduce the energy profile.

One of the obstacles to IoT market growth is guaranteeing interoperability between devices and services . Today, most solutions address applications requirements for specific verticals in isolation from others. Overcoming this shortcoming requires adoption of open standards for data communication, security and device management. Economics, scalability and usability demand a platform that can be used across multiple applications and verticals. This talk covers some of the key standards like constrained application protocol (CoAP), OMA Lightweight M2M and 6LoWPAN. The key features of these standards like Caching Proxy, Eventing, Grouping, Security and Web Resource Model for creating efficient, secure, and open standards based IoT systems will also be discussed.

Virtual Prototypes are gaining widespread acceptance as a strategy for developing and debugging software removing the dependence on the availability of hardware. In this session we will explore how a virtual prototype can be used productively for software debug. We will explain the interfaces that exist for debugging and tracing activity in the virtual prototype, how these are used to attach debug and analysis tools and how these differ from (and improve upon) equivalent hardware capabilities. We will look in depth at strategies for debug and trace and how to leverage the advantages that the virtual environment offers. The presentation will further explore how the virtual prototype connects to hardware simulators to provide cross-domain (hardware and software) debug. The techniques will be illustrated through case studies garnered from experiences working with partners on projects over the last few years.

Attendees will learn:

  • How to set up a Virtual Prototype for debug and trace
  • Connecting debuggers and other analysis tools.
  • Strategies for productive debug of software in a virtual prototype.
  • How to setup trace on a virtual platform, and analysing the results.
  • Hardware in the loop: cross domain debug.
  • Use of Python to control the simulation and trace interfaces for a virtual platform.
  • 14:30 – 15:20 – GPGPU on ARM Systems by Michael Anderson, Chief Scientist, The PTR Group, Inc.

ARM platforms are increasingly coupled with high-performance Graphics Processor Units (GPUs). However the GPU can do more than just render graphics, Today’s GPUs are highly-integrated multi-core processors in their own right and are capable of much more than updating the display. In this session, we will discuss the rationale for harnessing GPUs as compute engines and their implementations. We’ll examine Nvidia’s CUDA, OpenCL and RenderScript as a means to incorporate high-performance computing into low power draw platforms. This session will include some demonstrations of various applications that can leverage the general-purpose GPU compute approach.

Abstract currently not available.

That’s 14 sessions out of the 75 available, and you can make your own schedule depending on your interests with the schedule builder.

In order to attend ARM TechCon 2014, you can register online, although you could always show up and pay the regular on-site, but it will cost you, or your company, extra.

Super Early Bird Rare
Ended June 27
Early Bird Rate
Ends August 8
Advanced Rate
Ends September 19
Regular Rate
VIP $999 $1,299 $1,499 $1,699
All-Access $799 $999 $1,199 $1,399
General Admission $699 $899 $1,099 $1,299
AAE Training $249 $299 $349 $399
Software Developers Workshop $99 $149 $199 $249
Expo FREE FREE $29 $59

There are more types of pass this year, but the 2-day and 1-day pass have gone out of the window. The expo pass used to be free at any time, but this year, you need to register before August 8. VIP and All-access provides access to all events, General Admission excludes AAE workshops and software developer workshops, AAE Training and Software Developers Workshop passes give access to the expo plus specific workshops. Further discounts are available for groups, up to 30% discount.

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Amptek iCon is an ARM Cortex M3 Board for IoT Running uCLinux (Crowdfunding)

June 28th, 2014 No comments

Up until now, the only company I ever heard running Linux on ARM Cortex M3/M4 was EmCraft Systems with their system-on-modules and development kits based on Freescale Kinetis, STMicro STM32 and Actel Smartfusion micro-controllers. But there’s now another option thanks to Ampek Technologies, a Canadian based company funded in 2002, and their iCon (Internet Connectivity) board featuring NXP LPC1788 Cortex M3 connected to 64MB RAM which is plenty enough to run uCLinux. The board can be used for applications such as industrial control systems, wireless sensors, or smart home appliances.

iCon_Linux_Board

The iCon board specifications are as follows:

  • MCU – NXP LPC1788 ARM Cortex-M3 MCU @ 120MHz with 512 KB flash memory, and 96 KB SRAM
  • System Memory – 64MB SDRAM (external chip)
  • Storage – 32MB flash for firmware
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0. Ethernet is supported via an add-on module
  • USB – USB 2.0 host port, mini-USB debug port
  • Other ports and headers:
    • CAN port (+5V ground connector)
    • RS-485 port (+5V ground connector)
    • JTAG interface
    • 2x expansion headers at the back of the board with access to I2C, SPI, UART, RMII, PWM, GPIO, 10-bit DAC, 12-bit ADC, and 16-bit RGB LCD interface.
  • Misc -RTC with battery backup
  • Power – 5V DC
  • Power Consumption @ 5V – 260mA after boot (idle), 390mA with WiFi 802.11g, 400mA with WiFi 802.11g and Bluetooth
  • Dimensions – 86 x 54mm
iCon Boards and LCD Modules

iCon Boards and LCD Modules

The company can also provides 4.3″ (480×272) and 7″ (800×480) TFT LCD modules with a resistive touchscreen. The board runs uClinux 2.6.33-ARM1, and includes support for BlueZ, TCP/IP, WPA, Boa web server, and Inadyn DDNS client. There’s no word about documentation and source code.

The board appears to be fully developed, and the company has made a demo with OWI-535 robotic arm controlled wirelessly by a web interface running on the iCon.

Amptek iCon is now on Kickstarter, and you can pledge $109 CAD (~$102 USD) to get the board, and up to $199 CAD for iCon + the 7″ touchscreen LCD display. The Ethernet add-on board shown in the demo is not available in any perks.

With 7 days to go and only, around $3,500 CAD pledged out of a $55,000 CAD, it seems unlikely the crowdfunding campaign will succeed, but the boards will certainly be available (in quantities) afterwards. You can find more details on Amptek Technologies website.

Via LinuxGizmos

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Soap is a Touchscreen Enabled Router Supporting Gigabit Ethernet and Lots of Wireless Standards (Crowdfunding)

June 12th, 2014 2 comments

Soap is a strange creature, and I’m not convinced there are that many use cases for such hardware, but I find it interesting that the developers decided to pack a Freescale i.MX6 Solo/Dual or Quad SoC powered Android 4.4 tablet and a router supporting five Gigabit Etherner ports, as well as WiFI 802.11ac, Wi-0Fi 802.11 b/g/n,  Zigbee, Z-wave, Bluetooth 4.0 (BLE), Insteon RF, X10, 433Mhz, NFC, and infrared into one and only device which they call an “Intelligent Home Management Hub”.  It’s also complete with an HDMI output port so that you can use it as a media player.

Soap_Router_Tablet_Automation_Gateway_STB

Let’s go through the specifications for the four version this little monster (Soap Solo, Soap Dual, Soap Quad, and Soap 8.4):

  • SoC
    • Soap Solo – Freescale i.MX6 Solo single ARM Cortex A9 @ 1 GHz with Vivante GC880 3D GPU
    • Soap Dual – Freescale i.MX6 Dual dual ARM Cortex A9 @ 1 GHz with Vivante GC2000 3D GPU
    • Soap Quad and 8.4 – Freescale i.MX6 Quad quad ARM Cortex A9 @ 1 GHz with Vivante GC2000 3D GPU
  • System Memory – Soap Solo: 1GB DDR3 @ 1066MHz, Others: 2GB DDR3 @ 1066MHz
  • Storage
    • Soap Solo – 8GB internal storage,
    • Soap Dual and Quad – 32GB internal storage
    • Soap 8.4 – 32 GB internal storage, and 128GB SSD
    • All – Internal micro SD card slot and SATA II connections
  • Display
    • Soap Solo/Dual/Quad – 7″ TFT LCD display; SVGA resolution (800×600)
    • Soap 8.4 – 8.4 TFTP LCD display; SVGA resolution (800×600)
  • Connectivity – 1x WAN Eternet port, 4x LAN Ethernet ports, 4 SMA antenna ports for a dual band 802.11ac Wi-Fi 4×4 MIMO module (Up to 1.3 Gb/s), and a dual band 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi module. Bluetooth 4.0 LE, Zigbee, Z-Wave, Insteon RF, X10 RF, 433MHz RF and NFC
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI
  • Misc – Infrared sensor
Android and iOS Apps are Available for Soap Routers

Android and iOS Apps are Available for Soap Routers

The Freescale i.MX6 is brought to the device via Congatec SoM, probably their conga-qmx6 Q7 modules. Beside the Android kitkat tablet, router, home automation, and media player applications possible with this device, the developers are also promoting the device for its parental control abilities, controlling when you kids can play games by the touch of a button, preventing them to access not-safe-for-kids websites, and so on.

The project is now on Indiegogo (Fixed funding) where Soap’s designers plan to gather $42.000 or more to start production. Soap Solo starts at $240, Soap Dual at $280, Soap Quad at $360, and the most expensive option, Soap 8.4, will go for $500. Shipping to North America is $6, and $35 for the rest of the world. Delivered is scheduled for February 2015. Please note it’s not the first time the project is crowd-funded, as it was on KickStarter last March with perks at a much lower price point.

Via Hack a Day

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Meet Samsung Smart Bike fitted with an Arduino, a Rear Camera, Lasers and More

June 12th, 2014 1 comment

Samsung Maestros Academy has introduced a Smart Bike prototype integrating various “smart” components within its aluminum frame, such as an Arduino board connected to a Wi-Fi + Bluetooth module, a battery, four laser projectors, and a digital camera controlled by a Samsung smartphone.
Samsung_Smart_Bike

The camera is fitted at the back just under the seat, and allows the riders to have a real-time rear view image on the phone. The four lasers are used to create a virtual bike lane in case a real one is missing, and remind other drivers to keep a safe distance to your bicycle. The bike can also detect ambient conditions using the smartphone sensors, and modify its behavior. For example, it can switch on or off the laser beams depending on the brightness sensor data from the smartphone. Each bike also tracks daily routes of the riders using GPS, and can let local authorities know where bicycle traffic is most intense, and where they should build bike lanes.

For information is available on www.maestrosacademy.it/progetto-sbike.

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Beken Bluetooth Audio Chip Features Beyond Semi BA22-RT RISC Core

June 4th, 2014 No comments

I would normally not mention a Bluetooth audio chip in this blog, but you may remember my posts about Beyond Semi BA21 and BA25 RISC cores. The Slovene company’s IP cores are not found in many silicons right now, but one Chinese fabless semiconductor company called Beken Corporation, has chosen BA22-RT core instead of an ARM core for their latest Bluetooth audio chip.

BA22-RT Block Diagram

BA22-RT Block Diagram

Beken required a system capable of supporting real-time audio decoding plus a Bluetooth stack with the A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile), AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile), and HFP (Hands free Profile) protocols, and it also had to provide both a low cost and low power consumption solution.

During their evaluation of several 32-bit IP cores, Beken engineers noticed their program code would fit into a 128KB memory using BA22-RT (Real Time) core, instead of 170 KB for a competing solution simply referred to as “the most obvious supplier”, which is likely to be ARM. So they decided to go ahead with BA22-RT with 128 KB memory, instead of another solution with 256 KB memory, in order to save on cost, decrease overall power consumption, and because BA22-RT core matched their other requirements.

Design and testing is almost completed, and Beken Bluetooth chip is expected to hit the market later this year.

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Categories: Audio, Processors Tags: beken, beyond semi, bluetooth

Blend Micro Arduino Board Integrates Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy Connectivity for 25 Euros

June 1st, 2014 1 comment

RedBearLab’s Blend Micro is an Arduino compatible board with Bluetooth 4.0 Low Enery (aka Bluetooth Smart) connectivity, that’s part of Arduino-at-heart, a partner program initiated by the developers of Arduino boards. It has been made to help design low power Internet-Of-Things (IoT) projects quickly and easily.

Blend_MicroBlend Micro technical specifications:

  • MCU – Atmel ATmega32u4 @ 8 MHz with 32KB flash (4KB used by bootloader), 2.5 KB SRAM, and 1KB EEPROM.
  • Connectivity – Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy via Nordic nRF8001 chip
  • USB – 1x micro USB port
  • I/Os:
    • Serial (Tx/Rx)
    • I2C, SPI
    • PWM
    • U to 16 Digital I/Os
    • Up to 6 Analog inputs
  • Operating Voltage – 3.3V
  • Input Voltage – 5V (USB), and 3.3-12V (VIN)
  • Power Consumption – 2mA (average – using Interrupt mode)
  • Dimensions – 43.6 x 18.4 x 4.3mm
  • Weight – 4g

The specs are very similar to BLEDuino, except it’s slightly smaller. Blend Micro can communicate with BLE enabled devices running one of the following operating systems:

  • iOS 7 – iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPod Touch 5, iPad 3/4/mini/Air
  • Android 4.3 or above, but Android 4.4 is recommended for stability. E.g. Nexus 4, Nexus 7.
  • Windows 8.1 with built-in Bluetooth 4.0 or USB dongle
  • Linux with BlueZ 5.1 with built-in Bluetooth 4.0 or USB dongle

I understand these are supported via Nordic Bluetooth Smart SDK for Arduino, and development can be done via the standard Arduino IDE, and soon it will even be possible to download your sketch over the air. RedBearLab has also released “BLE controller” demo app for Android and iOS.

You can find more information, including a getting started guide, on RedBearLab’s Blend Micro page, and order the device via Arduino Store for 25.40 Euros + VAT and shipping.

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Review of M8 Android Kitkat TV Box Powered by Amlogic S802 SoC

April 17th, 2014 67 comments

A few days ago, I wrote an Unboxing and Specs post about the M8, an Android TV Box powered by Amlogic S802 quad core Cortex A9 processor. The review took a little as I was waiting for a new firmware. I’ve now upgraded this S802 Box, and been able to complete a review. As usual , I’ll start by giving my first impressions, have a look at the user interface and settings, test different king of video files, evaluate Wi-Fi performance, and try to cover most hardware features including Bluetooth, external storage, USB webcam, and so on. The overall user’s experience, is very similar to Tronsmart Vega S89, but there are some notable differences I’ll go through during the review.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

Shenzhen Tomato sent me a sample unit which they call TM8 (Tomato M8?), but I’ll just refer to the device as M8 in the review. The device comes with a simple IR remote comes, but did not include two AAA batteries. I only use the remote shortly, as I prefer using an RF remote with Android, and I used Mele F10 air mouse during testing which includes a QWERTY keyboard, and a gyroscope to easily move the mouse pointer. Beside the IR remote, the sample I received only included a 5V/2A power supply, so i also had to take a spare HDMI cable. Retail versions of the box may included an HDMI cable however. Before connecting the power, I’ve connected an Ethernet cable, an HDMI cables, and the Mele F10 USB RF dongle. There’s no power button on the device, so as soon as you connect the power, a blue LED lits up, and the device boots to the same Windows 8 / Metro-style user’s interface as Tronsmart Vega S89.

M8 Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

M8 Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

At the top of the screen there are status icons (Ethernet/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/Storage), the weather (only Chinese cities are available in the settings), as well as the time and date. There are also six main menus, the same a Vega S89, but with different apps: Online Video (One Chinese app), My recommend (favorite apps), Setting, The firmware in M8 as quite a few Chinese apps, which were not present or removed from Vega S89 firmware. There are also shortcuts on the bottom of the screen with 4K player, Music, Chinese IPTV app, and APK installer by default. You can add and remove the ones you want as you wish, and I’ve done this with XBMC and Play Store as you can see from the screenshot. The user interface resolution is 1920×1080.

The “Setting” menu gives you access to the settings shown in the same Metro-style with four sub menus: Network, Display, Advanced and Other.

Advanced Setup (Click for Original Size)

Advanced Setup (Click for Original Size)

The network settings allow you to select Ethernet or Wi-Fi, the display settings has exactly the same options as Vega S89: autodetect resolution, UHD / 4K output support, hide or show the status bar, adjust the display size, and screensaver. I’ve enabled the status bar, as it’s more more convenient to use that way, and the bar automatically hides when you play videos. The Advanced menu will let you start Miracast (Source only, not a display), enable the software Remote control (RemoteIME.apk, adjust CEC controls, set your location (only Chinese cities are available), set the screen orientation, and select digital audio output (PCM, SPDIF pass-through, HDMI pass-through). The Other button will give some details about the Android version (4.4.2) and kernel version (3.10.10). There’s also an OTA System Update menu, which does not work. You can access the standard Android settings by going through Setting->Other->More Settings. The Android settings in this box are based on the phone interface, not the tablet one, which requires a few more clicks.

You can check the user’s interface and settings in the video below. If you have already watched Vega S89 UI walk-through video, you may have well skip this one as it’s the same, except from the pre-installed apps which are a little different.

I’ve used HDMI output with 1080p during my testing, which was automatically detected as I started the device. But If I switch to manual mode, I can also see 4K video output at 24, 25 and 30 Hz, and as well as 4K SMPTE.  There’s also an AV output, which is automatically used, if HDMI is not detected. It works fine including stereo audio output. Once you are using AV output, you can go to the setup menu to select between 480cvbs and 576cvbs. To switch back to HDMI, insert the HDMI cable. and select the input on your TV. A reboot is not necessary.

M8_About_MediaboxThere’s 5.75 GB space reserved for the user out of the 8GB NAND flash, and right after firmware upgrade, there’s over 5GB free space on the single partition available. The firmware was rooted. Looking into the “About MediaBox” section shows the model number is  “K200″, and just like the custom settings section, it shows Android 4.4.2 is running on top of Kernel 3.10.10.

I could install most applications from Google Play Store including Facebook, ES File Explorer, Root checker, Antutu, Quadrant, Vellamo, Candy Crush Saga, etc… Sixaxis Controller failed to install returning an error in Google Play. It’s the same behavior as Vega S89, and I’ve been told all paid apps won’t install. I’ve also installed the Amazon Play Store, to use one of the free app of the day I previsouly downloaded on another device (Riptide 2).

As mentioned previously there’s no power button on the device, and all you can do is to used the IR remote to enter and exit standby mode. A real power off will require you to disconnect the power.    I’ve checked the temperature of the box after running a 3D game. The top was 55 °C, the bottom 43 °C, with my room temperature around 28 °C. This is exactly the opposite of Tronsmart Vega S89 where the top is “cool”, but the bottom is hot.

As expected performance is good, and the system is extremely responsive, but the firmware is not that stable, as I experienced several hangs up / freezes, requiring a power cycle. This happened during benchmarks, gaming and while taking screenshots. In two instance, the device apparently turned itself off automatically (Blue LED off), maybe due to overheating. I also had some text input issues from times to times (double characters) using Mele F10, and it also happened with Vega S89 but I forgot to mention it.

Video Playback

XBMC 13.0-beta 1 is pre-installed on the device, so I’ve used XBMC for video testing. I only used MX Players in case of errors, and to double check Dolby / DTS audio.. The videos are played from a SAMBA share on Ubuntu 13.10 using the Ethernet connection of the device. I had no problem for SAMBA configuration in XBMC nor ES File Explorer.

I started with the videos from samplemedia.linaro.org, plus some videos with H.265/HEVC codec from Elecard:

  • 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), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – Failed. Nothing happens.
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p/1080p is – OK. (1080p failed in Vega S89)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container, 360p/720p/1080p
    • XBMC – Audio only then crash,
    • MX Player – Can play and audio works, but everything is in slow motion with many frames skipped.

I’ve also tested some high bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – No video, audio only.
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK. No audio/video sync issues as in Vega S89.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Video is supported but some frames are skipped.

I’ve also tested common audio codecs below, using PCM in XBMC, and I got the same results as with Vega S89:

  • AC3 – Can decode audio, but video was very slow
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – OK

MX Player, however, won’t output any audio when playing these files using the H/W decoder.

Sintel-Bluray.iso, a free Blu-ray ISO file, could play just fine in XBMC, and I could also navigate between the eight chapters of the video.

I’ve tested several 4K Videos in MX Player (XBMC does not work – audio only):

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (60 Mbps) – OK
  • Sintel.2010.4K.mkv – Frequent pauses (buffering?) during playback after enabling S/W decode for AC3 5.1 audio. No audio output using the H/W audio decoder.
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – Slow motion video playback in MX Player…

I also tested several AVI, MKV, FLV and MP4 videos, and they could all play, except one FLV which only had audio output. I did not experience the audio/video sync issues I found in Vega S89 in any of the videos.

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

Wi-Fi Performance

Using ES File Explorer, I’ve transferred a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa, repeating the test three times. I’ve tried testing the transfer at different times to avoid the issues I had with Vega S89. But the results were more or less consistent. Wit5h this device there’s a clear difference in performance between transfers between SAMBA to the flash, and vice versa. Transferring the file between flash and SAMBA took between 3:16 and 4:54, but in the reverse direction it took between 5:51 and 7:47.  The transfer times averaged a poor 5:02 (0.92 MB/s), which makes M8 the laggard among devices I’ve tried.

M8_Wi-Fi_PerformanceI’ve tried to play some of the 1080p videos from Linaro samples, and none of them could play without pauses due to buffering.

I’ll add the usual disclaimer about Wi-Fi: “Please bear in mind there are many factors when it comes to Wi-Fi performance, and the results you’ve got with your setup may be greatly different from the ones I’ve gotten here.”

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooh is built-in in this Android TV Box, and you can enable it only from the standard Android settings, as there’s no option in the Metro style settings. M8 won’t find any devices (I have a Linux PC with a Bluetooth dongle and an Android phone). However I can pair my phone (ThL W200) to M8. Unfortunately it does not seem to work that well, as I failed to transfer any files, as there’s no notifications after sending a picture from either direction. My Ubuntu PC can detect M8, but fails to pair.

I’ve skipped Sixaxis Compatibility Check (free app), as M8 can’t install paid apps, in this case, Sixaxis Controller.

External Storage

I could use both an SD and a USB flash drive formatted to FAT32 successfully, and played some MP3 and videos.

USB Webcam

I could use a low cost no brand USB webcam with Skype. Video was OK, the “Echo Test” in Skype could record my voice using the webcam mic, and repeat my voice. I could also start a video call in Google Hangouts, something that did not work with Vega S89.

Gaming

I’ve tested  games: Angry Birds Star Wars, Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide 2. The first two are simple games that play fine on all recent dual core or quad core hardware. I’ve configured Beach Buggy Blitz to maximum graphics settings, and it could still run smoothly. Riptide 2 could run very well too. With the Mali-450MP6 GPU there should not be any problems running the vast majority of Android games with high graphics details.

Since we can’t install paid app, I could not test Sixaxis controller. I found it’s usually difficult to play games on Android TV devices, but I’ve seen SomeCoolTechs video review of the Vega S89 using G910 bluetooth gamepad that works with many games without much hassle, which I may have to check out. You could also use with your smartphone as a controller using Droidmote.

M8 / TM8 Benchmarks

CPU-Z gives bascially the same information for M8 as for Vega S89. The CPU is reported as a quad core Cortex A9 r4p1 clocked between 24 MHz to 1.99 GHz with an ARM Mali-450 GPU, and the board is also the same: k200. However, the firmware won’t be fully compatible as Vega S89 Elite (8 GB flash) uses AP6220 Wi-Fi module (2.4 GHz), and Vega S89 (16 GB) and M8 (8GB) uses AP6330 (2.4/5GHz).

M8_CPU_Z

The rest is also exactly the same including pixel resolution (1920 x 1008), “dp” resolution (1280 x 672) 1578 MB RAM (available to Android), and 5.75 GB flash for the user.

Antutu 4.3.3 (Click to Enlarge)

Antutu 4.3.3 (Click to Enlarge)

M8 gets 24,133 in Antutu from, the play store, against 22,603 for Vega S89 Elite. In Vega S89, Antutu detailed results showed “4x cores @ 1104 MHz”, but in M8 it shows correctly “4x cores @ 1992 MHz”. Firmware is newer in the M8, so this may one reason. Some people have reported reaching 30,000 points in Antutu, with allegedly the same firmware, so I wonder if it’s because of some thermal management, as my room is relatively warm at 28 degree C. Just as with Vega S89, the GPU benchmarks have been run in portrait mode (607×1080), instead of full screen mode, which means other apps are likely to have issues too. I’d like to point out M8 failed to completely run Antutu once or twice, so it may be possible they’ve extracted some more performance as the expense of stability.

Quadrant (Click to Enlarge)

Quadrant (Click to Enlarge)

With 6536 points, M8 gets a significantly better score than Vega S89 Elite (5363) in Quadrant.

Vellamo failed to run completely in M8.

Conclusion

M8 / TM8 has very performance, unfortunately the firmware is not always stable, and there still quite a few issues that needs to be fix.

Let’s summarize the PROS and CONS

  • PROS
    • Smooth and fast firmware.
    • Android 4.4 Kitkat
    • XBMC 13 pre-installed
    • Blu-Ray ISO and 4K video playback
    • 1080p user interface
    • 4K video output up to 30 fps supported
    • Good Ethernet performance (60 Mbps video playback OK)
    • Good video formats/codecs support
    • USB webcam works with Skype and Google Hangouts
    • HDMI CEC support
  • CONS
    • Stability problems. Not catastrophic, but the device may still hang a few times. Could it be temperature related?
    • Bluetooth not working.
    • Poor Wi-Fi performance.
    • Can’t install paid apps via Google Play.
    • Sometimes non-optimal user’s experience:
      1. Need to switch between XBMC and MX Player depending on video files
      2. Multiple input devices required, e.g. if you use an air mouse, you still need to access the IR remote to put the device into Standby.
      3. Bluetooth not available from default settings menu
      4. Only Chinese cities available for weather
    • H.265 not working smoothly (frames skipped). Probably not fixable (not supported by hardware, and GPGPU not supported by Mali-450)
    • DTS, Dolby, AC3 not supported by hardware, but software decoded in XBMC (Can’t be fixed, SoC related)

As with Vega S89, the firmware needs some work. The main problems are the stability of the firmware, and Wi-Fi performance is very poor. Bluetooth does not appear to be working properly either, at least with my phone. Compared to Vega S89, M8 however provides a better video playback experience without any audio/video sync issues, and the USB webcam could be used with both Skype and Google Hangouts. There’s the same need to jungle between XBMC, and MX Player depending on the video codecs or container formats used.

I’d like to thanks Shenzhen Tomata for providing a sample, and if you’re planning to buy M8 in quantity you could consider purchasing via the company Alibaba website. Individuals can purchase the box through Aliexpress, DealExtreme, or GeekBuying for about $100.

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