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Variscite Introduces TI Sitara AM437x SoM with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

January 30th, 2015 No comments

News about Texas Instruments Sitara AM437x processors first surfaced in 2012, before being officially announced last summer. Beside TI’s own development kits, I had not seen any hardware based on the company’s Cortex A9 industrial processor, but Variscite has now unveiled their VAR-SOM-AM43 systems-on-module (SoM) powered by AM4376 , AM4378, or AM4379 SoCs.

Variscite_VAR-SOM-AM43VAR-SOM-AM43 specifications:

  • SoC – Texas Instruments AM437x single core ARM Cortex A9 processor @ 1.0GHz:
    • AM4376 – No GPU, 4x PRU @ 200 MHz
    • AM4378 – PowerVR SGX530 GPU, 4x PRU @ 200 MHz
    • AM4379 – PowerVR SGX530 GPU, 4x PRU @ 200 MHz, and EtherCAT slave support
  • System Memory – 256MB to 1GB DDR3
  • Storage – 0 to 512MB SLC NAND flash, and 4GB to 32GB eMMC flash b module. 3x SD/MMC via edge connector
  • Display Interfaces – 24-bit RGB interface up to 1400×1050 resolution; 4/5-wire resistive touch support
  • Connectivity  – 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet PHY + 10/100/1000 Mbps RGMII,  802.11a/b/g/n with optional MIMO, and Bluetooth 4.0 (TI Wilink 8 WL183xMOD module)
  • Other I/Os and interfaces available via the 204-pin SO-DIMM connector:
    • Audio – Analog / digital microphone, S/PDIF, and Line In/Out
    • USB – 1x USB 2.0 host, 1x USB OTG
    • 5x UART up to 3.6 Mbps
    • 3x I2C, 4x SPI, 1x One Wire/HDP, 2x CAN bus
    • RTC (on carrier board)
    • Camera – 1x CPI
  • Power Supply – 3.3V DC; Digital I/IO: 3.3V / 1.8V
  • Dimensions – 67.8 x 38.6 x 3 mm
  • Temperature Range – Commercial 0 to 70°C; Extended: -20 to 70°C, or Industrial: -40 to 85°C
VAR-SOM-AM43 Block Diagram

VAR-SOM-AM43 Block Diagram

VAR-SOM-AM43 modules support Linux 3.14 and Yocto 1.6 (Daisy) with Qt 5, and Android 4.4 support is coming soon. Software documentation is available on the module’s Wiki, and support on Variscite’s forums. The company also provides mechanical and hardware documentation including a product brief, a datasheet, and mechanical design files (DXF) for the module, as well as schematics and a datasheet for VAR-AM43CustomBoard, the baseboard used for development and/or evaluation. TI AM437x TRM can also be downloaded directly from TI website.

VAR-AM43CustomBoard

VAR-AM43CustomBoard Carrier Board

The baseboard has the following key features:

  • SODIMM-200 socket to support VAT-SOM-AM43 system-on-module
  • External Storage – micro SD socket
  • Connectivity – 2x Gigabit Ethernet
  • Display – 18-bit 3 pair LVDS interface; 4-wire touch panel and capacitive touch panel support
  • Audio – 3.5mm jacks for heaphone and line INl; digital microphone on-board
  • Camera – Parallel CMOS sensor interface
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports (including on OTG?), 1x micro USB port for debugging
  • Serial – 2x RS232 header (UART1 / UART3), micro USB debug port, RS485 header, 2x CAN buses
  • Expansion Headers – Several headers with access to 8-channel ADC, SD/MMC interface, SPI, I2C, McASP, and GPIOs
  • Misc – RTC + CR1225 battery socket, 4x buttons.
  • Power Supply – 5V DC input, 2.5mm DC jack
  • Dimensions – 11.1 x 8.6 x 2.4 cm

A complete evaluation kit (VAR-DVK-AM43) is also available with VAR-SOM-AM43 SoM, VAR-AM43CustomBoard baseboard, a 7″ WVGA LCD with resistive/capacitive touch, a power supply, an Ethernet cable, an RS232 debug cable, boot/rescue SD cards, and a DVD with documentation and source code.

Variscite Sitara AM437x modules and development kits are available now, with pricing starting at $42 in 1K order. Further information, including hardware documentation, may be found on Variscite’s VAR-SOM-AM43, VAR-AM43CustomBoard, and VAR-DVK-AM43 product pages.

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Atmel Introduces Wi-Fi / Bluetooth Combo SoCs for the Internet of Things

January 22nd, 2015 3 comments

Atmel has recently announced two SoCs supporting Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 that target M2M and IoT applications, namely WILC3000 wireless link controller and WINC3400 network controller which both integrate a power amplifier, LNA, switch and power management unit.

WILC3000 Block Diagram (Click to Enlarge)

WILC3000 Block Diagram (Click to Enlarge)

WILC3000 and WINC3400 should share the following specifications:

  • MCU – Cortus APS3 32-bit processor
  • ROM/Flash – 256KB instruction/boot ROM (160KB for 802.11 and 96KB for Bluetooth) along with a 768 bits of non-volatile eFuse memory
  • RAM – 420KB instruction RAM (128KB for 802.11 and 292KB for Bluetooth), and a 128KB data RAM (64KB for 802.11 and 64KB for Bluetooth), as well as 160KB shared/exchange RAM (128KB for 802.11 and 32 KB for Bluetooth)
  • Wi-Fi

    • IEEE 802.11 b/g/n RF/PHY/MAC SOC (2.4 GHz)
    • IEEE 802.11 b/g/n (1×1) for up to 72 Mbps
    • Wi-Fi Direct and Soft-AP support
    • Supports IEEE 802.11 WEP, WPA, WPA2 Security, China WAPI security
  • Bluetooth
    • Version 4.0 Low Energy
    • Class 1 & 2 transmission
    • HCI (Host Control Interface) via high speed UART
    • PCM audio interface
  • On-chip memory management engine to reduce host load
  • 1x SPI, 1x SDIO, 1x I2C, and 1x UART host interfaces
  • Operating Voltage – 2.7 – 3.3 V
  • Operating temperature range – -30°C to +85°C
  • Package – 6x6mm QFN;  48 pins. WLCSP (Wafer Level Chip Scale Package) is also available.

According to the information available on Atmel website WILC3400 adds the following:

  • Fast boot options:
    • On-Chip Boot ROM (firmware instant boot)
    • SPI flash boot (firmware patches and state variables)
    • Low-leakage on-chip memory for state variables
    • Fast AP re-association (150ms)
  • On-Chip Network Stack to offload MCU:
    • Integrated Network IP stack to minimize host CPU requirements
    • Network features: TCP, UDP, DHCP, ARP, HTTP, SSL, and DNS

So as I understand it the main difference between WILC3000 and WINC3400 is that the former provides low level Bluetooth / Wi-Fi connectivity, but the IP stack must be handled on a separate MCU / processor, while the latter also embeds the IP stack and Bluetooth Smart profiles.

WILC3000 chip is available now, and a fully certified module of this chip will be available in April 2015, and WINC3400 SiP and its module will be also be available at the same time. Pricing information has not be disclosed. A WINC3400 integrated module on an Xplained Starter Kit platform is also planned for Q2 2015. A few more details can be found on WILC3000 and WINC3400 product pages, including WILC3000 datasheet.

Via Embedded.com

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Categories: Hardware, Processors Tags: IoT, atmel, bluetooth, m2m, wifi

Review of CX-S806 TV Box Powered by Amlogic S812 Processor

January 4th, 2015 29 comments

I’ve already reviewed one Android media player based on Amlogic S812 processor with MINIX NEO X8-H Plus. Today, I’m going to have a look at another S812 TV box, namely CX-S806, with lower specs, and less support, but that sells for half price compared to the MINIX device. I’ve already published pictures of CX-S806 media player and board, so today I’ll focus on testing the performance and features of the device.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

The package include a simple IR remote control, so I inserted two AAA batteries to give it a try, and it seemed to work OK, but as usual I switched to use Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse for the rest of the review. Since I’ve connected Ethernet and HDMI cables, a USB hard drive, a USB webcam, and a USB hub with two RF dongles for the air mouse and wireless gamepad, and a USB flash drive. The box will start automatically as you connect the power, which had to be expected since there’s no power button. The boot takes 1 minutes and 29 seconds with all devices attached, no a speed daemon, but still faster than MINIX NEO X8-H Plus which takes nearly 2 minutes to boot when all devices are connected. So it seems Amlogic S812 are not optimized to boot fast like Rockchip RK3288 media boxes.

MediaBox Launcher (Click for Original Size)

MediaBox Launcher (Click for Original Size)

The media player features the usual metro-style MediaBox launcher. The main difference is that apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus are pre-installed, and have a shortcut in the main screen. I have not tested these since I don’t have an account with them. Other noticeable pre-installed apps include Flash Player, Plex and Quikcoffice among others. The resolution was correctly automatically detected and set to 1080p, and the user interface resolution is 1920×1080.

The Settings menu is also typical of Amlogic box with four sub-sections: Network, Display, Advanced and Other:

  • Network – Enable and configure Wi-Fi or Ethernet
  • Display:
    • Automatic or manual HDMI resolution: 480p/i @ 60 Hz, 576p/i @ 50 Hz, 720p @ 50/60 Hz, 1080i @ 50/60 Hz, 1080p @ 24/50/60 Hz, or 4k2k 24/25/30Hz/smpte
    • Hide or Show status bar
    • Display Position
    • Start screen Saver (Never, 4, 8 or 12 minutes)
  • Advanced:
    • Miracast
    • Remote Control (For Rockchip/MINIX remote app)
    • Google TV Remote (for Google TV remote app)
    • CEC Control
    • Screen Orientation settings
    • No Output to USB Audio
    • Digital Audio Output (Auto, PCM, S/PDIF pass-through, or HDMI pass-through)
  • Other – System Update: Local file or OTA (No connection to server), Backup; “More Settings”: redirects to standard Android Settings.

About_MediaBox_Sunchip_CX-S806There’s a single 5.26 GB partition in the 8GB eMMC flash, and at the end of my testing, I had 1.99 GB free space. In the “About MediaBox” section in the standard Android settings, the model number is “S806″ , and the system runs Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux kernel 3.10.33. You’ll also notice the email string in the Kernel version reads “tianfeng@sunchip-To-be-filled-by-O-E-M #1″, as Sunchip is a manufacturers, so they don’t sell to end users, which also explains why OTA is not working. They told me the OTA function can be enable with their customer’s OTA servers.  I noticed GeekBuying provided an updated firmware for CX-S806, so I asked Sunchip is I could use that one, especially since the firmware in my box is dated from October 2014, and they told me it’s only for AP6330 version, and since I have the AP6210 version I didn’t need to upgrade. CX-S806 model with Amlogic S802 processor will be phased out. The firmware is rooted with supersu installed.

Google Play Store worked relatively well, although I had to install Vidonn smart band app and Antutu Video Tester with their apk, and they were reported as “Incompatible with my device”. I also download and installed Amazon AppStore in order to get the “free app of the day” Riptide GP2.

The device only supports stand by mode with the remote control, there’s no way to cleanly power off the device. A long press on the remote control power button will still go into standby. After Antutu 5.5 benchmark (excluding 3D graphics test which fails), the max. temperatures were 46°C and 51°C on respectively the top and bottom of the case, and after 5 races in Riptide GP2, the max. measured temperatures went up to 47°C and 52°C.

CX-S806 firmware is stable, and smooth, and I did not experience any slowdowns, freezes, or hang-ups while using it. Boot time is a little slow however. (1 minute 30 seconds with several USB devices attached).

Video Playback

XBMC 13.1 (built-in June 2014) is pre-installed in the box, so that’s what I used, as I never known if a company made modifications to the source code, but as we’ll see below, it miht be a good idea to install Kodi 14 instead. XBMC user interface renders at around 60 fps @ 1920×1080, somehow much faster than the 35 fps reported by XBMC 13.3 in MINIX NEO X8-H Plus. I had no problems connecting to SAMBA shares in Ubuntu 14.04 in either XBMC or ES File Explorer. Most videos have been tested with XBMC over Ethernet, but I also switched to “4K MoviePlayer” app to play some 4K videos, and MX Player for audio codecs.

Videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, plus some H.265/HEVC videos (Elecard), and a low resolution VP9 video:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – XBMC will exit/crash
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK, but could be smoother.
  • WebM / VP8 – XBMC will exit/crash
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (360p/720p/1080p) – Audio only, and the 1080p video makes XBMC exit/crash.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – Does not play at all (Stays in XBMC UI).

I also played some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – audio only
  • 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) – Plays at 15 fps instead of 29.970, and XBMC also reports skipped frames.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK (using USB drive)

High definition audio codecs below has been tested in XBMC and MX Player using PCM output, because currently XBMC is using audio software decode, while MX Player is trying to use HW decode by default:

Video PCM Output
XBMC
PCM Output
MX Player
HDMI Pass-through
XBMC
SPDIF Pass-through
XBMC
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Crash XBMC (VOB file) OK Not tested, since I don’t own an AV Receiver. If you want me to test pass-through for these audio format, you can consider donating below. I plan to buy Onkyo TX-NR636 which supports all codec tested here and costs 25,000 to 30,000 Baht locally ($760 to $900 US), Suggestions for cheaper options are welcomed.
AV Receiver Donation



Other Amount:



E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK, but videos plays at 17 to 24 fps OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK Blackscreen, and app not reponsive
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio, slow video (S/W decode)
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio, slow video (S/W decode)
DTS HD Master OK No audio
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio

Blu-ray ISO are supported. Tested with Sintel-Bluray.iso. 1080i MPEG2 videos (GridHD.mpg & Pastel1080i25HD.mpg) could also play, but GridHD video seemed to blink during playback.

4K videos playback is not working very well in XBMC, especially since H.265/HEVC is not supported:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK.
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Audio only

4K MoviePlayer app included in the firmware performs better, except with new Bt.2020 format, 10-bit HEVC, and VP9 videos:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Shows a complete mess with some picture from the previous video, and the current video mixed, and more like a slideshow of still images rather than videos.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – “Not supported media”
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Black screen

3D video testing results are about the same as for the MINIX device:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK, but XBMC reports it playing at 50 fps instead of 60 fps.
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Audio only
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

Please note that My Panasonic TV is not a 3D TV according to the specs, so I can only check if video decoding is working.

Most AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB, and MP4 videos could play without A/V sync issues, or noticeable frame dropped. Strangely even a VOB/IFO video (MPEG-2) played fine, while MPEG-2 videos from Linaro made the system crash, so it might a container issue, rather than a codec issue. Some FLV videos would also make XBMC exit/crash.

I also played a full 1080p movie (1h50 / MKV / 3GB) to test stability. At first, I was a little too optimistic, and I did that over Wi-Fi, but unfortunately the movie stopped after 51 minutes due to a “connection timeout”. I started again with Ethernet, and the movie could play fully. XBMC reported nearly 14,000 frames were skipped during playback, but I found the video was rather smooth, when I checked it out.

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

CX-S802_Antutu_Video_TesterAntutu Video Tester could play all files, and gave 675 points to the device. That compares to 263 points for Open Hour Chameleon (RK3288), and 631 points with Infocus CS1 Allwinner A83T tablet, with the best devices scoring just over 700 points.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

Networking is one part of the specs where CX-S806 is much weaker than MINIX NEO X8-H Plus as it comes with Fast Ethernet + 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi, while the latter features Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac Wi-Fi. To test performance, I transfer a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share (Ubuntu 14.04) and the internal flash using ES File Explorer, repeating the test three times, and averaging results. CX-S806 averages 2.76 MB/s (22.08 Mbps) with 802.11n, right in the middle of the pack.

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve done the same test transferring the file over Ethernet, and the performance is one of the best of the 10/100M platforms.

CX-S806_Ethernet_Performance

Throughput in MB/s

I’ve also checked the raw Ethernet performance with  iPerf app using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line:

Throughput ion Mbps

Throughput ion Mbps

And here, it seems Ethernet is a weak point in Amlogic SoCs, as none can reach the level of performance of RK3288 (when it works) or Exynos 5422.

iperf output:

------------------------------------------------------------
 Client connecting to 192.168.0.111, TCP port 5001
 TCP window size:  136 KByte (default)
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 [  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 37479 connected with 192.168.0.111 port 5001
 [ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
 [  4]  0.0-60.0 sec   569 MBytes  79.6 Mbits/sec
 [  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   491 MBytes  68.6 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Just like MINIX NEO X8-H Plus, CX-S806 is advertised as “bluedroid″, and I had no problem pairing the device with ThL W200 smartphone, and transferred pictures over Bluetooth.

I could use mmy PS3 wireless gamepad clone with Sixaxis Compatibility Checker by following these instructions.

Vidonn X5 activity tracker was used to test Bluetooth Low Energy )Bluetooth Smart), and Vidonn smartb and could could the device, but for some reasons it could not retrieve data afterwards, and showed the message “No bracelet connected”.

Storage

There’s no (micro) SD slot in this device, but a USB flash drive formatted with FAT32 could be recognized and mounted by the system. NTFS and FAT32 partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted and accessed, but no the other file systems.

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

A1 SD Bench was used to test storage performance in Android. The first time I run the test I only got a read speed of 11.42 MB/s, and a write speed of 8.92 MB/s for the NTFS partition in my USB hard drive (mounted in /storage/external_storage/sda1). That’s an extremely low score, and since I noticed a decreased in performance in my updated WeTek Play review, I decided to run the hard drive through a disk check and defragmentation in a Windows netbook. I did not expect much difference, since I only use this hard drive for reviews, seldom writing data, except to test write support and SAMBA to USB storage performance, and run A1 SD Bench. But somehow, I got a massive performance boost with 24.50 MB/s read speed, and 27.57 MB/s write speed. So it’s quite possible some of my latest reviews (WeTek Play 2nd Review, MINIX NEO X8-H Plus, …) under-reported USB NTFS performance.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

The 8GB eMMC flash in the device achieves 24.47 MB/s (read) and 12.57 MB/s (write), which places the box slightly below average.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

USB Webcam

Skype was pre-installed, and I installed Google Hangouts from the play store. Both app worked pretty well, the Echo service audio was rather clear, video worked, and I could even send a video message, something that often makes other boxes crash. Hangouts worked well too.

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Racing, and Riptide GP2 were used to test gaming performance.  I played Candy Crush Sage with MeLe F10 air mouse, no problem here. Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad was automatically recognized by both Beach Buggy Racing  and Riptide GP2, but if I set the resolution to the highest level, the games were not particularly smooth. Changing the settings for a smoother framerate made the gaming experience much more enjoyable.  Riptide GP2 did not have the freeze issues found in some other Amlogic devices It could be because of better firmware, or because Riptide GP2 developers fixed a bug.

CX-S806 (S812) Benchmarks

I started to run CPU-Z again to compare it to what I got with MINIX NEO X8-H Plus.

CX-S806-CPU-ZThe app reports the same processor with four ARM Cortex A9 cores clocked between 24 MHz and 1.99 GHz coupled with a Mali-450MP GPU. The model is S806 (n200), the resolution 1920×1080 (240dpi) and the system has 1,606 MB RAM available to Android with 5.26 GB internal storage. Interestingly, n200 is the same code as MINIX NEO X8-H Plus.

Antutu 5.5 fails to complete, stopping at the 3D graphics test, so I only got a partial Antutu score of 22,369 points. If the 3D graphics score had been the same as for the MINIX device (9,296), the total score would have been 31,665.

CX-S806_Antutu_5.5_No_3D_GPU
The media player got virtually equal scores in Vellamo 3.1 for Metal Benchmark (766) and Browser benchmark (1789), but for some reasons, it only achieved 1253 points in the Multicore against over 1,800 for the MINIX device. Go figure…

CX-S806_Vellamo

Conclusion

CX-S806 media player mostly does the job, and its firmware is stable. Performance of storage, Wi-Fi and Ethernet are all average, but the results match the relatively low price of the device, and I could not really find any really weak point. Amlogic S812 SoC is also good enough for most tasks, except some 3D games with max graphics settings. As with so many other platforms, you may have to juggle between two media players app with XBMC for most videos, and 4K MediaPlayer for 4K videos, especially H.265 videos. The XBMC version installed in the device (XBMC 13.1) is quite buggy too, but replacing it with Kodi 14 or SPMC might improve things.

PRO:

  • Firmware is stable, and fast.
  • Video Output – Supports 1080p24/50/60 (but not 25/30 Hz), and 4K2K up to 30Hz/SMPTE
  • 3D games play without issues (Although you may have to decrease 3D rendering quality for a smoother experience)
  • H.264 / HEVC 4K video playback with 4K MoviePlayer app
  • High Antutu Video Tester score (685).
  • USB webcam works well with Skype and Google Hangouts

CONS:

  • XBMC 13.1 installed in the device is buggy (Some MPEG-2, VP8 and FLV videos make the system crash)
  • H.265 / HEVC not supported in XBMC
  • No real power off, only standby on/off is possible.
  • Boot time could be faster. 1 minute 30 seconds with several USB devices connected.
  • Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) may not work reliably.

The lack of OTA firmware update server would have made it to the CONS too, if Sunchip (who provided the box for review) was not a manufacturer, and sold directly to end users. Instead the company relies on their customer to setup the update servers. There’s also an unofficial OpenELEC image for the device.

You can contact Sunchip via their CX-S806 product page (Contact link is on top), if you plan to purchase in quantities.  Individuals can purchase the box for $80 on Amazon US, Ebay, GeekBuying, as well as Aliexpress. The model might be slightly different depending on sellers, as CX-S806 may come with AP6210 wireless module (2.4 GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi) as in this review, or AP6330 module (2.4GHz/5GHz Wi-Fi). Sometimes you’ll get 1GB RAM, while other times 2GB RAM, and older models with S802 processor may still be sold, so make sure you check the specs carefully wherever you purchase the box.

Disclaimer: Although this post is not sponsored, Sunchip is currently a sponsor of CNX Software.

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WeTek Play Review with Android 4.2.2 Firmware v1.1.1

December 29th, 2014 10 comments

I had already reviewed WeTek Play Android DVB-S2 STB this summer, but at the time it was still an early sample, so the company asked me to review it again with the latest firmware that includes bug fixes and new features such as WeCloud Antenna IPTV service with over 180 Live TV channels, now that they’ve officially launched WeTek Play with either a DVB-S2 tuner as in my sample, a DVB-T/T2/C tuner, or no tuner at all. You can find pictures of WeTek Play in my unboxing post. As usual the review will include my first impressions, video testing, and various benchmark, but I’ll also have sections for WeCloud Antenna Live TV over IP service, and WeTek Theater for live TV from my satellite dish.

OTA Firmware Update

But first of all, I’ll test OTA firmware update, as many companies claim to support OTA updates, but you often end up have to sideload the firmware, or worse, use some Windows based upgrade tool. I already already updated the firmware to Firmware v1.1 last week which added WeCloud Antenna app, CPU overclocking, and 1080p24 support among other features, but as I clicked on WeTek Update icon in the main menu, I was greeted with the message “There is a new update available!” as shown below.
WeTek_Play_V1.1.1_Firmware_UpdateWeTek Play v1.1.1 firmware adds support for Google Widevine, useful for online video apps like Voyo, HBO GO, etc…, and EXT2/3/3 file system support for external hard drives, as well as various other improvements. You can to enter mouse mode with the remote, to scroll down, and click on Download. After the download is complete (a few hundred megabytes), click on Update Now, and Start Update to complete the process.
WeTek_Play_V1.1.1_Firmware_Update_ApplyAfter a short time, the system will reboot into recovery mode with the typical Android update logo, and complete the installation.

Android_Firmware_Update_LogoThe box will then boot into Android automatically, so it just takes three clicks to update the firmware, with very little interaction from the user. Ideally, I’d prefer a one-click update, but overall it was an hassle free experience, and it also kept all my settings, and apps.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

WeTek Play come with an RF air mouse also integrating an IR transmitter to handle power on and off, which also means you can turn on and off comfortably from your sofa using the provided remote control. The air mouse works quite well, and a button at the back allows to conveniently switch between mouse or remote control modes. There’s no QWERTY keyboard on the air mouse, so I also use Mele F10 Deluxe to input text when needed, also it should be possible to use the soft keyboard together with mouse mode to input short texts. You’ll also need two AAA, as there’s no built-in battery in WeTek remote control / air mouse. The “recent apps” key on the remote does not seem to do anything, but it might be I got an early engineering sample. I’ve also connected an HDMI cable, an Ethernet cable, my satellite dish cable, a USB hard drive, and a USB hub with a webcam, two RF dongles for MeLe air mouse and a Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad, as well as a USB flash drive.

The boot takes 90 seconds, which lasts much longer than the 40 seconds I had for my initial review. Just in case some of the devices caused issues, I disconnected all USB devices, and tried again. Results: 64 seconds, so at least one of the device slows down boot time by 25 seconds, but for some reasons (extra features, or apps installed), booting take 65 seconds instead of 40 seconds during my first review.

Normally, the very first time you boot the device, you should go through a Welcome Wizard to select your language, network connectivity, check for the latest firmware (OTA update), activate your device, login to  Google Play, and optionally configure your satellite reception. But since I had done that in August already, I did not have to do it again even after the firmware update. The main screen has not changed.

Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

From top to bottom, and left to right, we’ve got the date, time, and weather forecast (and I could find Chiang Mai this time!) on the top row, then 5 icons for TV (WeCloud Antenna / WeTek Theater), Apps, Web, Local (File manager), and XBMC, and in the last row some user configurable shortcuts. On the left side of the screen four more icons are accessible for Settings, Power Off, Connected to Internet (Network settings) and Recent Apps, as well as shortcuts to connected external USB drives. The user interface is 1280×720, but for some reasons when I take screenshots with Screenshot Ultimate app the captured image is 1280×1080, with an offscreen black zone.

The “Setting” icon takes you to a “WeTek Settings” page with access to Android Settings, Weather Settings, and WeTek Services. The weather settings let you set your location, temperature unit, and update period (default is 30 minutes). WeTek Services are actually part of the Android Settings, and you can activate your device, check services status, as well as Backing up your setting in the cloud thanks to partnership with Box.com, but it’s not something I tried. There’s also a new option for WeControl, an app to control the box from your Android smartphone or tablet.

About_WeTek_PlayThe Android settings are mostly the same, except for some extra features and options. The Wireless & Networks section has not changed at all with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, Data usage, and “More” for VPN and portable hotspot support. Digital audio output menu has been added in the Sound section to select PCM, SPDIF passthrough, or HDMI passthrough. The Display section is mostly the same with  overscan, but they’ve added 1080p 24 Hz to video output selection: 480cvbs / 576cvbs, 480i / 576i, 720p, 72p50, 1080p, 1080p24, 1080p50, 1080i and 1080i50. Another new option is HDMI-CEC to enable/disable HDMI-CEC, select One key Play, One key power off, and auto change language. A single 1.89GB partition is available for apps and data out of the 4GB NAND flash, and it can fill up pretty quickly, as at the end of the review, I only had 240 MB free space, but that includes all apps I had to install for the review, plus screenshots, and a 280MB video I used for testing networking performance. The company also added a new Overclock section, to boost the device performance a little bit. The “About WeTek” section displays the model number “WeTek Play”, and Android 4.2.2 is running on top of Linux kernel 3.0.50, just like for the earlier firmware.

My system was already connected to Google Play from my previous review, so i mostly add to update apps, and install a few ones. WeTek Play is a device certified by Google and include Google Widewine DRM which means apps should work pretty well, including some online video app that may not work with most Android TV boxes. But for some reasons, the Play Store reported Antutu, Antutu Video Tester, and iPerf as being incompatible with my device. When I updated the app it often got stuck “waiting for network”, but it’s most likely due to network issues that I had with Ethernet and Wi-Fi, and the company told me the networking issues were only happening with engineering samples, and retail products won’t be affected.

You can turn on and off the system cleanly from the power button on the unit or the remote control. There’s no standby mode, only on and off. You won’t see the power on message as in other Android boxes, but there’s will be an animation duplicating the effect on old TVs, and once the box is really off, you’ll see the LED on the unit turn red. I used the box with Overclocking on all the time, and after Antutu benchmark, I measured the max. temperature to be 52°C on the top, and 60°C on the bottom, with exactly the same temperature measurements after 15 minutes playing Riptide GP2.

Amlogic AML8726-MX processor is an older processor, and at times reaction times may be a little slow, like 2 or 3 seconds after click, so a few times I ended up clicking twice. The flahs is a little slow too, so when you install or update apps, you should probably not expect to do other tasks. It’s also possible the issue may have been amplified as I got “space running low” warning a few times. Apart from that, the firmware is rock solid, and most of the time responsive enough. Despite the 12V/1.5A (18W) power adapter, if I connect all USB devices mentioned above, the hard drive partitions won’t mount, so I had to remove the USB flash drive to make it work.

Video Playback

XBMC 14.0–alpha1 is pre-installed in the firmware, and that’s probably the exact same version of in August, and it was compiled in June 4, 2014. Since WeTek is a Kodi sponsor, it’s probably a good idea to simply install Kodi 14 from kodi.tv, but as usual, I simply tested the version provided in the firmware, as it’s what most people would use. The videos are played from a SAMBA share using the Ethernet connection of the device. I had already configured SAMBA in XBMC and ES File Explorer without issues in my previous review, so I did not have to reconfigure again. Unsurprisingly, the results are very similar to the August firmware.

Videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, plus H.265/HEVC and VP9 (low resolution) videos:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK, but the 1080p video is playing at 20 fps instead of 25 fps as reported by XBMC debug screen.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – RV8, RV9, and RV10 all play, but only at 12 fps instead of 50 fps (software decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p OK, 720p playing @ 17fps with some audio cuts, 1080p playing in slow motion and frequent audio cuts (Software decoded, VP8 not supported by AML8726-MX)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – 360p OK, 720p playing @ 12 fps with audio cuts, 1080p slideshow and frequent audio cuts

I’ve also tested some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – audio only
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – Beginning is slow but after it’s OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Plays at 15 fps instead of 29.975 fps.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – Does not show video (Played from USB drive)

High definition audio codecs below has been tested in XBMC and MX Player using PCM output, because currently XBMC is using audio software decode, while MX Player is trying to use HW decode by default:

Video PCM Output
XBMC
PCM Output
MX Player
HDMI Pass-through
XBMC
SPDIF Pass-through
XBMC
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1  OK  OK Not tested, since I don’t own an AV Receiver. If you want me to test pass-through for these audio format, you can consider donating below. I plan to buy Onkyo TX-NR636 which supports all codec tested here and costs 25,000 to 30,000 Baht locally ($760 to $900 US), Suggestions for cheaper options are welcomed.
AV Receiver Donation



Other Amount:



E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1  OK (But 100% CPU usage)  OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1  OK  Video starts, but then hangs without buffering. Network issue?
TrueHD 5.1  Audio cuts, and video choppy  No audio
TrueHD 7.1  Audio cuts, and video choppy  No audio
DTS HD Master  Audio cuts  No audio
DTS HD High Resolution  Audio cuts  No audio

I’ve have re-tried the “PCM output – XBMC” test by playing video from a USB hard drive, and perform is much better, but I still got one or two audio cuts while playing TrueHD and DTS-HD audio files, so the system won’t support high bitrate videos with “advanced” audio codecs very well, at least via PCM output. I suppose it might be better using pass-through (if it works), as the box won’t need to decode audio.

Sintel-Bluray.iso could play OK, although XBMC reported playback at 20 to 22 fps instead of 24 fps. 1080i MPEG2 videos (GridHD.mpg & Pastel1080i25HD.mpg) could also play. 4K videos are not supported by AML8726-MX, but I still tried to play two to make sure XBMC does not crash, and the system simply played the videos with audio only.
I’ve also tested 1080p SBS (Side-by-Side) and Over/Under 3D videos. My current Panasonic TV is not a 3D TV according to the specs, so I can only check if video decoding is working.

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – Audio only
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

I also tested several AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB/IFO and MP4 videos, and the majority of videos could play fine without audio/video sync issues, and at or close to native frame rate. Only some FLV videos would not play, only outputting audio. A 2-hour video could be played until the end, but around the 19 minutes mark, the video paused automatically (maybe network issue in my engineering sample), but I could resume without issues. XBMC reported around 14,000 skipped frame in this video, which happens with some other media boxes too.

So overall WeTek Play is fairly good at playing videos, but it won’t support VP8/VP9 and H.265 video files very well because AML8726-MX does not support these video codecs, and if you plan to play Blu-ray with some lossless high-definition audio codecs, playback might not be super smooth over the network, but a bit better from the USB hard drive.

I’ve also installed Antutu Video Tester, but the test got stuck at 40%, so I could not get a score.

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

WeTek Theater DVB-S2 / PVR App

The TV icon in the main screen will pop-up a window asking you to select between WeCloud Antenna (IPTV) or WeTek Theater (DVB), and you can make the default selection permanent, or be prompted each time. If you make the selection permanent, a long press on the TV icon, will pop-up the selection prompt again.

WeTek Theater was already part of this summers’ firmware, but at the time I had to input Thaicom 5 satellite coordinates (78.5° East) manually, while this time I just had to chose from a list of satellites, which makes setup much easier. I could not filter satellites by location/country however.

WeTek_Theater_Dish_Setup

To complete the setup, press 1 Scan channels,  select “Blindscan” mode, FTA channels, and All. I ended up with  66 TV channels and 25 radios. You can actually select FTA (Free-to-air) or Crypted channels, and since there’s no smartcard slot, I though only FTA channels would be available, but apparently a method (probably more or less legal) to decoded crypted channels using OSCAM (Open Source Conditional Access Module) as been posted on some forums. I have not tried. Nevertheless once scanning is complete, you can press OK, and start watching TV.

The EPG (Electronic Program Guide) is also available, but it may not support some languages such as Thai, as you can see from the screenshot below.

Wetek_Play_EPG_DVBYou can switch to mouse mode, and click on one of the program for scheduling viewing or recording to an external USB mass storage device. The “Book List” option will display current bookings. The system currently does not handle programming overlap, so for example if program A is shown between 22:00 and 22:30 and program B is shown between 22:15: and 23:30, there won’t be any warnings.

I’ve tried the PVR function manually on Thairath HD, one of the few HD channels available, by pressing the record button on the remote, and it works pretty well. The shows are recorded in TVRecordFiles in your chosen USB mass storage, and you can play them back with XBMC, or another video player app. TimeShifting function is available in the setup. Strangely, I could not find a working setup button in the remote, so to enter setup, I press the EPG key, and the back key. There are for main menu in WeTek Theater settings: Antenna Settings (For inital setup), Channel Options, Video Settings (aspect ration, and language options for audio and subtitles), and System (subtitle on/off, parental rating, passwordm, TTX region..). The most interesting part is Channel Options where you can edit channels, set some EPG settings, set or check the record storage and path,  manage PVR recordings, use TimeShifting, and enable/disable TS recording. TimeShifting is working as expected, recording 10 minutes of live video by default.

You may want to watch the embedded video in the next section to see WeTek Theater in action.

WeCloud Antenna IPTV Service

WeClodu Antenna is a complete new app introduce in the latest firmware, and currently includes over 180 Live TV channels from various countries. This service requires online activation, and you’ll be provided a card with a code, that you need to input on WeTek Signup page. If you don’t perform this step, trying to access WeCould Antenna app will results in error messages such as “lease provide username, password, UID and device type (ios, android, …)” or “Wrong username or password”. Once you’ve activated your device online, you should see a list of live TV channels with some EPG data.

WeCloud_Antenna_Live_Channels

Live Channels (Click for Original Size)

You can scroll down many channels. If you don’t watch BBC Word News, Bloomberg, ProSieven Max, you can re-arrange the listing in your online profile in WeTek website. You can also filter channels by clicking the top left blue icons (three horizontal bars), and select categories such as Music, Cultural, Italy, Arabic, Turkish, Sports, and so on.

You can also access EPG data for the channels that provide it in the EPG section.

WeCloud_Antenna_EPG

EPG (Click for Original Size)

In this view, you can click on a program, and setup a reminder. Contrary to WeTek Theater, you can only set viewing reminders, and it’s not currently possible to record live TV channels on WeCould Antenna. The settings include your contact details, and subscribed packages, currently only WeCloud Antenna. I’ve included a screenshot of BBC News so that you can evaluate the video quality.

BBC News Screenshot (Click for Original Size)

BBC News Screenshot (Click for Original Size)

WeCloud Antenna may be listed as a subscribed package, but the company confirm it will stay free, and no recurring yearly fees are needed. However, they may add some premium channels later on. I’ve also been promised a link to the 180 channels, which I’ll add later on. From what I’ve seen all channels in that list are legally free, no so piracy is involved.

For more details, about WeTek Theater and WeCloud Antenna, you may want to watch the video review below.

 Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

The network test consist in transferring a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash, and vice versa, repeating the test three times. There’s a problem with Wi-Fi apparently because the box I have is an early engineering sample, and also when I opened the box, I broke the internal antenna connection, and I had to resolder it.  This means my sample a only a fair signal strength (2 bars out of 4), and from time to time transfer stalls. Ethernet also has some problem, as transfer may stall randomly during transfer in ES File Explorer. However, I managed to get iperf benchmark over Ethernet working OK for 60 seconds (the length of the test), and when it works, performance is acceptable.

Throughput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

iperf log:

Client connecting to 192.168.0.107, TCP port 5001
TCP window size:  178 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 56818 connected with 192.168.0.107 port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  4]  0.0-60.0 sec   562 MBytes  78.5 Mbits/sec
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   438 MBytes  61.2 Mbits/sec

The company told me the retail products would not have the Ethernet and Wi-Fi issues my engineering samples had, so I won’t take these into account in my conclusion.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

WeTek Play failed to find Infocus CS1 A83 tablet, but the tablet could fid the TV box, and the devices could pair just fine, and I managed to transfer pictures from the tablet to the TV box without issues.

I managed to use my Sony PS3 wireless gamepad clone using Sixias Compatibility Checker app.

Bluetooth Low Energy is not supported, because the system is running Android 4.2. We would have to wait for Android 5.0 firmware release to test whether this feature works.

External Storage

I could use an SD card formatted to FAT32 successfully. I’ve also connected my USB 3.0 hard drive with NTFS, EXT-4, FAT32, and BTRFS partitions, all partitions could mount, except BTRFS. However, the EXT-4 partition is read only so you can’t write to it.

File System Read Write
NTFS OK OK
EXT-4 OK Failed
FAT32 OK OK
BTRFS Not supported

I used A1 SD Bench to test internal storage and USB NTFS performance. I set the custom path to /storage/external_storage_sda1 for the NTFS, and the read speed ended up being 22.23 MB/s, and the write speed 11.27MB/s, strangely significantly lower than the ~25MB/s I got for both in my first review. Maybe I should defragment my NTFS partition from time to time… Not sure why though, as very little data is written to it, except during benchmarks.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Read and Write Speed in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

A1SD reported the 4GB NAND flash in this system is the slowest ever with 9.5MB/s read speed, and a lowly 1.13 MB/s write speed, however I wonder if this results has not been impacted by the low disk space I had when doing the benchmark, as the device should really be unusable at times if it really had a 1.13 MB/s write speed, and I’m not sure we should trust these results.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Read and Write Speed in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

USB Webcam

My UVC USB webcam could be used with both Skype and Google hangout, but the system felt like freezing when the video was on, and I could not move the mouse at all for several seconds at time, so to recover I had to press the Home button.

Gaming

I’ve tested three games: Candy Crush Saga, the new Beach Buggy Racing, and Riptitde GP2,  I used WeTek air mouse to play candy crush,  and Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad to play the two other racing games. All three games were very playable most of the time, but the advanced quality settings in Riptide GP2 automatically disabled some graphics features that are normally enabled in more powerful platform such as boxes based on Rockchip RK3288 processor. Riptide GP2 also also started to act funny after the third race where the 3D graphics started to freeze for short period of time, before resuming. Mars G01 gamepad can also be used in Android home screen, but the OK button is “X” instead of “A”.

WeTek Play Benchmark

I run CPU-Z to see the effect of enabling overclocking but I saw no differences with the max frequency reported to be 1.5 GHz. So instead I’ve been told they simply set the governor to “performance” when this is enabled. Last time, I got a score of 12,951 points in Antutu, but with Antutu 5.5, the new firmware, and performance governor the score went up to 14,365 points.

WeTek_Play_AntutuI also ran Vellamo 3.1 to get an alternative benchmark, and it confirms the hardware performance is rather low end by today’s standard.

WeTek_Play_Vellamo

Conclusion

By the end of 2014, WeTek Play is rather a low end hardware with a dual core Cortex A9 processor, 1GB RAM, 4GB flash, and at times, you can feel some limitations of the hardware, with sluggishness become apparent from time to time. However, the system is very stable, and WeTek has probably extracted the best in term of performance they could extract from the chosen hardware. I could not recommend this device is you main use to browse the web or play games, but if you just want to watch 1080p videos, watch one of the 180 Live TV channels, or live TV via the DVB-S2 (or DVB-C/T/T2 tuner found in other the other WeTek play model), and use the EPG and PVR function, it does the job.

PRO:

  • Stable firmware
  • User friendly remote control with IR for power, and air mouse function, and all buttons you would expect in Android
  • DVB-S2 tuner with very good app (WeTek Theater) supporting EPG, PVR, and TimeShifting features
  • Live TV app (WeCloud Antenna) with access to over 180 free-to-air channels from the Internet
  • Google Certified Device, also including Widevine Level 1 and Level 3 DRM required by apps like Voyo, HBO GO.
  • Decent video playback, except for VP8 (VP9) and H.265 which are only decoded by software, some high bitrate videos, and some 3D videos.
  • Support for multiple firmware image including Android and Linux, as well as support for CMW  and TWRP recoveries – See (old) list here, and download page on WeTek website. Android 5.0.2 firmware is currently worked on, as well as Android TV.
  • OTA updates (Tested successfully), Cloud backup (not tested)
  • 1080p 24Hz has now been added
  • Proper power handling (Clean on/off from remote control or unit)
  • External serial console port (for developers and troubleshooting)
  • Support Forums

CONS:

  • Older hardware which may feel sluggish at times, especially if you are used to faster platforms.
  • Some languages are not supported in WeTek Theater EPG (e.g. Thai languages)
  • UI set to 720p, which could be an issue for people requiring “true” 1080p output.
  • Automatic frame rate switching not available.
  • External USB hard drive partitions may not mount if you have some other USB devices, despite a 18W power supply.
  • Skype and Google Hangouts detect the camera, but are very slow (unusable)

I also had some critical issues with Ethernet and Wi-Fi transfers (stalling), but the company told me if was because I had an engineering sample, and these issues have all been fixed for the retail products, so I have not listed these in the CONS, trusting the company claims.

WeTek Play with DVB-S2 tuner can be purchased on the company’s website for 108.86 Euros including VAT and international shipping, so you should be able to pay less if you live outside European Union. A DVB-C/T/T2 version is available for the same price, and a version without tuner is sold for 98.86 Euros.

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Infocus CS1 A83 (C2107) Android Tablet Review

December 16th, 2014 4 comments

I’ve already shown some picture, listed specs and reported Antutu benchmark results for Infocus CS1 A83 Android tablet powered by Allwinner A83T octa core processor. I’ve been using this tablet as my main mobile device for about a week, and for about 3 to 5 hours a day, and I’m now ready to write a full review reporting my experience with this Full HD tablet.

General Impressions

I mainly use a tablet to browse the web, check emails, play some casual games like Candy Crush Saga, watch some YouTube videos, and Skype calls, and I could not really fault the tablet for any of these applications. Having said that, my reference device is only ThL W200 smartphone powered by Mediatek MT6589T processor with a 5″ display @ 1280×720, and for all the tasks listed Infocus tablet is much better because it’s more responsive, the 1920×1200 is crisp, and the cameras are working (for now). I could get a GPS fix quickly too, but GPS is something I tested thoroughly on the tablet.

Battery life is also good for my needs as a charge of the 3,550 mAh battery lasts for well over 24 hours, and takes 2 hours to complete (8% to 98%). They say the first impression is what count, and CS1 A83 (aka C2107) does a good job at that since it boots in about 15 seconds. I’ve only experienced two major annoyances with the volume down button, which requires a strong press to work, and Wi-Fi connectivity does not always work after getting out of standby, requiring a reboot. I worked around the latter issue, but setting Wi-Fi always on in the settings.

Benchmarks: Antutu, Vellamo, and 3DMark

Benchmarks are useful as a quick way to evaluate a device’s performance, but they should not be the only reason for your to buy a particular tablet, smaprthone, or any other device.

I’ve already run Antutu last week, but I’ll include it again today, which shows a score (26,000) a little  lower that what you’d get with an Amlogic S802 device (4x Cortex A9 @ 2 GHz + Mali-450MP6 GPU).

Infocus CS1 A83 Antutu Score (Click to Enlarge)

Infocus CS1 A83 Antutu Score (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve also run two more benchmark to evaluate browser, and multicore performance with Vellamo 3.1 , and 3D graphics with 3DMarks Ice Storm Extreme.

Vellamo 3.1 and Ice Storm Extreme Scores (Click to Enlarge)

Vellamo 3.1 and Ice Storm Extreme Scores (Click to Enlarge)

Vellamo Score browser score is about the same as LG Nexus 4 smartphone (Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro – APQ8064), and at 3,448 points for 3Dmark Ice Storm Extreme, InFocus C2107 is certainly not a gaming beast, but as we’ll see below it’s still very much usable.

Internal Storage and Wi-Fi Performance

Internal storage performance is important for overall system responsiveness, as for example while installing apps some system slow down considerably due to I/O activity, and for boot and app loading time. So far, InFocus CS1 A83 is the best device I’ve ever tested with regards to eMMC performance thanks to 58.87 MB/s read speed, and 29.36 MB/s write speed. Benchmark app used: A1 SD Benchmark. Please note that InFocus CS1 A83 us the only tablet in the chart below.

Infocus_C2107_Internal_Storage_Performance

Read & Write Speed in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve also tested the tablet Wi-Fi performance by transferring a 278 MB file over SAMBA using ES File Explorer. I obviously placed the tablet in the same location I normally place TV boxes and development boards.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

The tablet transferred the file at 2.72 MB/s (21.76 Mbps) on average which puts it in the middle of the pack. It’s quite possible I should not really compare Wi-Fi performance of a tablet with the one of media player, since these are different form factors. Your environment, including your router firmware, may also greatly impact the relative Wi-Fi performance between devices.

Performance is average, but I never lost Wi-Fi connectivity during active use. The first couple of dauys everything worked fine, but then I started to be unable to connect to my Wi-Fi router when getting out of stack. First I rebooted the tablet to work around the issue, but finally I went to Wi-Fi Settings-> Advanced (Via … green icon on top right),, and set “Keep Wi-Fi on during sleep” to always. This may affect battery life a little bit, but at least this annoying Wi-Fi issue went away.

Rear and Front Facing Cameras

Rear Camera

The 8MB rear camera does the job, and it clearly delivers better pictures than ThL W200 smartphone, but it struggles in low light conditions for for still pictures and videos, I suppose like most devices. I was also impressed by its ability to take close pictures such as text on books or PCBAs thanks to its autofocus, which at times takes about 1 or 2 seconds to focus. Beside slow focus, and poor quality in low light conditions, the lack of flash may be one of the main downside.

Since photos speak more than words, I’ve include photos samples, as well as video samples at night and day time which I’ve uploaded to YouTube, such make sure you watch them at the max (native resolution).

Video Samples


Other video samples:

Font-facing camera

The 2MP front facing camera is mostly used for selfies, and video conference, so I’ve taken a few close shots of pets and statues.

I’ve also use Skype with the device, and it worked as expected, although the picture is quite dark, and I have not found a way to adjust the front-facing camera brightness, so you’d have to make sure you call in a well lit environment for an optimal visual experience.

Video Playback

In order to test video playback, I simply installed Antutu Video Tester, and run to test to find out Allwinner A83T gets a very good score of 631 points which makes it close to the top of the rankings. This app uses the stock video player test audio/video codecs, and video quality.
Allwinner_A83T_AntutuVideo_Tester_1

Allwinner_A83T_Antutu_Video_Tester_2The device fails to play a realVideo 4 video, and can’t decode ac3 (Dolby Digital 5.1) and DTS audio.

As a comparison a device such as Open Hour Chameleon (Rockchip RK3288) can play all video files, but also fails to decode AC3 and DTS (with the stock player), and only gets 263 points due to the poor video quality of Rockchip RK3288 processor (so far, and hopefully firmware upgrades can fix this). To work around the audio issue, you could also install XBMC / Kodi which (most probably illegally) decodes AC3 and DTS by software.

Battery Life

Battery life is an important feature of mobile devices. For my usage, i.e. 3 to 5 hours per day watching YouTube videos, browsing the web, checking emails, some games, and Skype video calls, a full charge is good for over 24 hours.

In order to get a more standardized evaluation of the battery life, I’ve been recommended to use LAB501 Battery Life app which provides ways to test battery life for web browsing, video playback (720p), and gaming use cases. I planned to fully charge the tablet, and stop the test when the battery level reached 15%, however for some reasons the browser test stopped at around 50% twice. A full charge sometimes stops at 98%, and won’t go to 100% even after one hour or more. Wi-Fi was on, and brightness set to 50% for all tests.

Here are the results:

  • Browsing (98% to 53%) – 229 minutes (3h50). Extrapolating a linear discharge, it would have last around 7 hours
  • Video (100% to 12%) – 397 minutes (6h37). It should be good enough for 3 to 4 full movies on a charge.
  • Gaming (99% to 15%) – 276 (4h36)

Allwinner_A83T_Dashboard_Power_SavingThe tablet also comes with a Dashboard app showing CPU, memory & Storage usage, as well as battery charge, and option to clean junk, boost memory (by killing apps), and as shown above, set some power savings parameters. I’ve only used the tablet in Normal mode, but if you need extra battery life, or a boost in performance for game, these may be options to consider.

Miscellaneous

Bluetooth

Both file transfer  and Bluetooth Smart (BLE) worked just fine. The latter was tested with Vidonn X5 smartband.

GPS

I haven’t done much testing with GPS, and at first I thought the tablet may not have GPS, because there are not options for GPS in the Settings. Eventually, Google Maps, Nike running+, and GPS test confirmed the tablet supports GPS, and can get a GPS fix relatively fast, at least when I have an internet connection. I have not tried to roam outside.

Infocus_CS1_A83_GPS_testGaming

I’ve played Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Bleach, and Riptide GP2 on the device, and all three games played rather nicely, albeit I noticed a little of sluggishness in Candy Crush Saga. The two racing games played quite well, but it’s probably because they adapt the level of details to the device used.

Others

Multitouch app showed the touchscreen supports five touch points max.

The auto brightness works, but is not really well suited to my eyes / preferences, so most of the time, I set the brightness manually. The good thing is that in the dark, I can set the brightness low enough, so that I don’t need third party apps like Lux Lite. I wish it would be possible to teach the device the level of brightness depending on lighting conditions.

The stereo speakers at the back of the tablet are clear and loud, much louder than my smartphone speakers, but this is probably to be expected.

Video Review

I’ve also shot a video review to show a bit more of different options, benchmark results, gaming (Candy Crush Saga, and Riptide GP2), GPS, PDF reader (Acrobat) performance with a large PDF file (ODROID mazagine), and more. The video has been shot with a sports camera, explaining the lens distortion (fisheye effect).

Conclusion

I really like this tablet, as the screen is sharp, performance is good enough for my need, as well as battery life. The main annoyances for me are the Volume down button not working well, and auto-brightness not configurable.

Here are the list of cons and pros based on my experience.

PROS

  • Clear and crisp 1920×1200 display
  • Fastest internal storage I’ve tested so far
  • Good video playback (based on Antutu Video Tester results)
  • Decent Battery Life – > 24 hours on a charge for my usage
  • Auto focus allows for clear pictures even at close distance (in good light conditions).

CONS

  • Volume down only working when pressing hard (Probably only with my early sample)
  • Wi-Fi may fail to reconnect after getting out of standby (Work around -> Set Wi-Fi always on).
  • Video / still picture quality poor in low light conditions, and lack of flash
  • Some games may feel a little sluggish (Candy Crush Saga)
  • Front-facing camera image is darker than usual in Skype, but this may be a Skype issue, rather than a problem with the tablet’s camera (TBC)
  • Auto-brightness can’t be customized (but it should be fixable via a paid app)

Allwinner and Foxconn sent me an early sample of the tablet, and it’s not available for sale just yet. I’m not even sure of the exact name, maybe it will be sold as InFocus C2107, or maybe InFocus CS1 A83. Price on the invoice was $170. As reference, I’ve checked the price for Amlogic M802 / Mediatek MT6592 tablets with a 7″ display using 1080p or 1920×1200 resolution, 2GB RAM, 16GB flash, and other similar specifications which should provide similar performance than the Infocus tablet.  On such model is Chuwi-VX3, which sells for about $180 to $190 but also includes 3G support, so Infocus CS1 A83 should be cheaper than this model, and $150 to $170 including shipping would be a competitive price (IMHO).

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MINIX NEO X8-H Plus Review

December 12th, 2014 21 comments

I posted pictures of MINIX NEO X8-H Plus media player a few days ago, and in this post I will report my impressions and testing results for the box, the first Amlogic S812 device I’ve fully reviewed so far, which adds H.265 video decoding up to 2160p, Gigabit Ethernet, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi to the original MINIX NEO X8-H. You can check my previous post for the full specifications of MINIX NEO X8-H Plus.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

The package includes both MINIX IR remote, and MINIX NEO M1 RF air mouse. I did not use the infrared remote at all, and instead I mostly used the provided air mouse, together with Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse when I needed to input text, or for comparison. NEO M1 comes with a built-in battery, and Off/On button, and can be used as a standard remote control, or as a wireless mouse. In most cases it works fairly well, but inputting text may be a little cumbersome as you need to use the software keyboard, and I’ve noticed when I scroll several times, for example in Google Play going through my list of apps, its behavior becomes erratic, and frustrating to use. I’m tried to charge the NEO M1 again, and re-calibrate it, but it did not help. I’ve also disconnected the other RF dongles to make sure there was no interferences. The Mele F10 (Deluxe) does not have this problem, so overall the “air mouseness” of NEO M1 isnot as good as the one of Mele air mice.

I’ve connected an Ethernet cable to my Gigabit hub, an HDMI cable, an SD card, a USB hard drive, a USB webcam, and a USB hub with three RF dongles for the two air mice, a wireless gamepad, and a USB flash drive. After connecting the power, you need to press the button to start the device. The boot took a massive 1 minute and 54 seconds, which seems really slow for a recent high-end device. So I removed all USB devices, and boot time decreased to one minute, better, but not really a fast booting beast. For refernce some RK3288 devices boot in 20 seconds with all devices connected.

Android Home Screen in NEO X8-H Plus (Click for Original Size)

Android Home Screen in NEO X8-H Plus (Click for Original Size)

The status bar is hidden by default, but you can simply pull it up if you need it. As with other MINIX NEO device you can choose between MINIX Metro launcher, or the default Andrid Home Screen as shown above. If you want to checkout the user interface in more details, read my review of MINIX NEO X6, which includes screenshots of MINIX Metro, and a video walk-through.

The resolution was correctly automatically detected and set to 1080p, and the user interface resolution is set to 1920×1080. Although I connected the box to Ethernet, Wi-Fi was selected in the settings, so I had to go into settings before I get an Internet connection. Small detail.

The Settings menu is very similar to NEO X6 with a MINIX green and grey skin with four sub-sections: Network, Display, Advanced and Other, but it adds some extra options highlighted in bold:

  • Network – Enable and configure Wi-Fi or Ethernet
  • Display:
    • Automatic or manual HDMI resolution: 480p/i @ 60 Hz, 576p/i @ 50 Hz, 720p @ 50/60 Hz, 1080i @ 50/60 Hz, 1080p @ 24/50/60 Hz, or 4k2k 24/25/30Hz/smpte
    • Hide or Show status bar
    • Display Position
    • Start screen Saver (Never, 4, 8 or 12 minutes)
  • Advanced:
    • Miracast
    • Remote Control (For Rockchip/MINIX remote app)
    • Google TV Remote (for Google TV remote app)
    • CEC Control
    • Screen Orientation settings
    • No Output to USB Audio
    • Digital Audio Output (Auto, PCM, S/PDIF pass-through, or HDMI pass-through)
    • Dolby DRC settings – On/Off, and DRC mode selection (LINE or RF)
  • Other – System Update: Local file or OTA (connects to server OK), Backup; “More Settings”: redirects to standard Android Settings.

4K video output and S/PDIF are extra hardware options supported by MINIX NEO X8-H Plus. DRC stands for Dynamic Range Control, and it aims to improve audio quality in various environments.  Here’s an explanation of what it does (Source: Dolby Metadata Guide):

Different home listening environments present a wide range of requirements for dynamic range. Rather than simply compressing the audio program at the transmission source to work well in the poorest listening environments, Dolby Digital encoders calculate and send Dynamic Range Control (DRC) metadata with the signal.
This metadata can then be applied to the signal by the decoder to reduce the signal’s dynamic range. Through the proper setting of DRC profiles during the mastering process, the content producer can provide the best possible presentation of program content in virtually any listening environment, regardless of the quality of the equipment, number of channels, or ambient noise level in the consumer’s home.
Many Dolby Digital decoders offer the consumer the option of defeating the Dynamic Range Control metadata, but some do not. Decoders with six discrete channel outputs (full 5.1-channel capability) typically offer this option. Decoders with stereo, mono, or RF-remodulated outputs, such as those found on DVD players and set-top boxes, often do not. In these cases, the decoder automatically applies the most appropriate DRC metadata for the decoder’s operating mode.

Most people won’t probably use this, but in case you want to turn it on, I understand you should probably select LINE if you own a 5.1/.1 capable AV receiver, and to RF for other audio receivers / TV. Corrections are welcome.

NEO-X8H-PLUSMINIX NEO X8-H Plus features a 16 GB eMMC flash with a single 12.48 GB partition, with plenty of free space (11.5GB+). In the “About MediaBox” section of Android settings, the model number is “NEO-X8H-PLUS″ , and the system runs Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux kernel 3.10.33. The firmware is not rooted, and I did not try to root it either, but the micro USB OTG port means it should be feasible. At first, I thought NEO X8, NEO X8-H, and NEO X8-H Plus shared the same firmware, and seeing a new release, I tried to update my box, but don’t do that, as a separate firmware is available for NEO X8-H Plus. The latest release is dated November 22, 2014, but since only recovery mode changed, I kept the pre-installed firmware (November 14, 2014). I tried the online OTA update, but after a slow checking on the server, it just reported “no updates available”. MINIX seems to have a two weeks window between the firmware update, and the availability of their OTA server(s) in Hong Kong.

Google Play Store worked pretty well, and I did not need to side-load any apps for this review. The only apk I installed was Amazon AppStore, in order to play Riptide GP2.

The power button on the side of the box cane be used to power on the device, enter and exit standby mode (short press), and call the power menu (long press) showing “Sleep”, “Restart”, or “Power Off”. NEO M1 power button can only be used for standby mode, as a long press does nothing. Mele F10 Deluxe can only be used to enter standby mode, but not exit it, probably because the power key is an Infrared key on NEO M1, and Mele code is different. You can still power on the device with any remote by clicking on the “soft” power button on the task bar to activate the power menu. It’s not possible to turn on the box with the remote control. NEO X8-H Plus does not overheat. After Antutu 5.3 benchmark, the max. temperature was 38°C and 44°C on respectively the top and bottom of the case, and after 4 races in Riptide GP2, the max. measured temperatures went up to 45°C and 55°C.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus is fast, and stable. I never experienced slowdowns, freezes, or hang-ups. The only time I felt there may be issue is when doing repeated scroll downs with NEO M1 air mouse, where the mouse pointer did not feel responsive, but this had nothing to do with the device, only the air mouse limitation, as I had no such repeatable issues with Mele F10 Deluxe.

Video Playback

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus came with XBMC 13.3 MINIX Edition pre-installed, and contrary to my review with MINIX NEO X6, I did not install XBMC 13.3.3 Beta MINIX Edition, which supports automatic refresh rate switching, and better support for .ts files, and just kept using the release version (Built on July 28, 2014). So I installed it to give it a try. XBMC user interface renders at around 35 fps @ 1920×1080. I had no problems connecting to SAMBA shares in Ubuntu 14.04 in either XBMC or ES File Explorer. Most videos have been tested with XBMC, but I also switched to “4K MoviePlayer” app to play some 4K videos.

Videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, plus some H.265/HEVC videos (Elecard), and a low resolution VP9 video:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – Mostly OK, but some people may feel a slowdown @ 1080p. 480p/720p playback at 24 fps (instead of 25 fps), and 1080p at 20 fps.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK, although XBMC reports 720p/1080p video playing at 22 fps instead of 25 fps.
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (360p/720p/1080p) – Audio only, and the 1080p video makes XBMC exit.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – Does not play at all (Stays in XBMC UI).

I wanted to install the “Frequency Switcher” in the Video Add-ons, but all I got was a message saying the platform was not supported. So no automatic refresh rate switching is possible for now, at least with this version of XBMC.

I also played some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – audio only
  • 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) – Plays at 15 fps instead of 29.970, and XBMC also reports skipped frames.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

As usually I played high definition audio codec using HDMI PCM output since I don’t have an AV receiver, and all files played perfectly including audio and video:

  • AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 – OK
  • Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 / 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-HD MA & HR– OK

Blu-ray ISO are supported. Tested with Sintel-Bluray.iso. 1080i MPEG2 videos (GridHD.mpg & Pastel1080i25HD.mpg) could also play.

4K videos playback is quite a disaster in XBMC, especially since this version of XBMC does not seem to support HEVC:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK.
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Does not even start (stays in XBMC UI)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Audio only

If you are a regular reader, you may noticed that I added two new videos, one 10-bit HEVC/H.265 sample by NGCodec, and a BT.2020/Rec.2020 sample.

Since most videos did not play, I reverted to 4K MoviePlayer app install in the box which yields to better results:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – “Not supported media”
  • 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) – Fails to play.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Shows the first image, but get stuck at 1 second.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Plays but with several wide horizontal bluish / purplish bands with some transparency in from of the video.

Please note that XBMC-13.3.3 Beta 6 apparently support 4K playback support for X8-H PLUS, but people also report AV sync issues in the beta version. (I’ve seen that after testing).

I’ve also added one SBS (Side-by-Side) 3D videos to Over/Under 3D videos. My Panasonic TV is not a 3D TV according to the specs, so I can only check if video decoding is working. NEO X8-H appears to handle 1080p well, but can play my 3D 4K video:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK, but XBMC reports it playing at 57 fps instead of 60 fps. Hardly noticeable to me.
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Audio only
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

Most AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB, and MP4 videos could play without A/V sync issues, or noticeable frame dropped. However, I could not play IFO files, only VOB, and I noticed XBMC sometimes report videos are not played at the original frame rate. For example, while playing a complete 1080p video (1h50 / MKV / 3GB) to test stability, I noticed the frame rate oscillated between 22 and 26 fps, instead of 23.970 fps of the video. I’m not sure if this is expected, or improvements are needed. Nevertheless, I had no problem to play the movie fully, but over 14,000 frames were skipped as reported in XBMC live debug log.

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

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I transfer a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share (Ubuntu 14.04) and the internal flash using ES File Explorer in order to evaluate network performance of Wi-Fi, repeating the test three times, and averaging results. NEO X8-H Plus support both 802.11n and 801.11ac, so I tested both. The first one with my older TP-Link TL-WR940N, and the second standard with TP-Link TL-WDR7500 (Archer C7). The device averages a disappointing 2.11 MB/s with 802.11n, and a more respectable 3.50 MB/s with 802.11ac.

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

The actual performance you get may vary depending on the router used, and your environment.

Transferring a 885MB files over Ethernet showed similar performance as other Gigabit Ethernet devices, but this tests is mostly bound by the internal flash performance.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Transferring a file from a FAT32 partition on a USB hard drive to a SAMBA share (SSD drive) was done at a higher 24.58 MB/s

Checking the raw Ethernet performance with  iPerf app using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line, showed some serious limitations of NEO X8-H Plus (or Amlogic S812), although they can’t really be seen for typical usage:

Throughput in Mbps

Throughput in Mbps

iperf output:

------------------------------------------------------------
 Client connecting to 192.168.0.106, TCP port 5001
 TCP window size: 85.0 KByte (default)
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 [  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 39357 connected with 192.168.0.106 port 5001
 [ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
 [  6]  0.0-60.0 sec  1.26 GBytes   180 Mbits/sec
 [  4]  0.0-60.0 sec  1.67 GBytes   239 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus is advertised as “bluedroid″, and after pairing, the first transfer failed for some reasons. Subsequent photo transfers worked just fine.

I skipped Sixaxis Compatibility Checker test, since I was lazy to root the device.

The AP6335 wireless module used in this device is supposed to support Bluetooth 4.0 BLE. So I tested with protocol with Vidonn X5 activity tracker, and successfully connected using its Smartband app, and retrieved my “fitness” data.

Storage

Both a USB flash drive and a micro SD card formatted with FAT32 could be recognized and mounted by the system. NTFS and FAT32 partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted and accessed, but not the EXT-4 and BTRFS partitions, as with most devices, the exceptions being Open Hour Chameleon and M-195, which also support EXT-4.

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

A1 SD Bench app can test the read and write performance of any storage device in Android, and that’s what i used to evaluate the eMMC and USB NTFS performance. The read speed was 23.83 MB/s, and the write speed 20.06MB/s for NTFS partition in my USB hard drive (mounted in /storage/external_storage/sda1). Good devices with USB 2.0 normally get close to 30MB/s in both directions, so NEO X8-H Plus is a bit of a weak player here. Results well above 30MB/s are only achievable via USB 3.0 ports.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

The 8GB eMMC used in the device only achieves 14.27  MB/s (read) and 12.43 MB/s (write), which again is quite disappointing, especially the read speed, for a supposedly high-end device, and this explains the rather slow boot time.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

The device are now classified with the total read + write speeds, and NEO X8-H Plus is close to the bottom of the scale.

USB Webcam

I could install both Skype and Google Hangouts, but Skype refused to make any calls (nothing happened), even using Skype “Echo / Sound Test Service”. I could make a call successfully with Google Hangouts but something the image was garbled.

Gaming

I played the three usual suspects: Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2, and all three games worked very well.  I played Candy Crush Sage with the air mouse and . Beach Buggy Blitz and Riptide GP2 with  Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad, and both games were very smooth even with settings maxed out. Riptide GP2 advanced settings set all settings enabled and to high, except Shader Complexity was set to low, and Physicals Wakes & Shadow Details were greyed out. Riptide GP2 usually came to a halt after several minutes of play, but it did not happen in this device. It’s however unclear if it’s because of an updated firmware, or Riptide GP2 developers fixed some of the issues.

MINIX NEO X8-H Plus / Amlogic S812 Benchmarks

CPU-Z correctly reports a processor with four ARM Cortex A9 cores clocked between 24 MHz and 1.99 GHz coupled with a Mali-450MP GPU. The model is NEO-X8H-PLUS (n200), the resolution 1920×1080 (240dpi) and the system has 1,605 MB available to Android with 12.48 GB internal storage.

Amlogic_S812_NEO_X8-H_Plus_CPU-ZMINIX NEO-X8-H Plus gets 31,204 points which is the highest score I’ve seen for a device based on Amlogic S802/S812 processors so far, probably due to firmware optimizations.
MINIX_NEO_X8-H_Plus_Antutu
In Vellamo 3.1, the media player gets 792 points for the Metal benchmark, 1,808 points for the Multicore test, and 1,880 points for the Browser benchmark.

MINIX_NEO_X8-H_Plus-VellamoThe device gets 6056 points in 3DMarks Ice Storm Extreme, lower than the score obtained in Rockchip RK3288 and Allwinner A80 devices, but it’s expected for a Mali-450MP GPU.

MINIX_NEO_X8-H_Plus_Ice_Storm_ExtremeConclusion

MINIX NEO X8-H firmware is extremely stable, and the user experience is smooth, but when you get into performance of individual components like Wi-Fi, Ethernet, eMMC flash, and USB storage the performance is disappointing, especially for an relatively expensive device. XBMC playback is quite good, except for H.265 and 4K, but that’s probably becaue the XBMC version in the current firmware, is not the latest one, and current beta XBMC app looks more promising..

PRO:

  • Firmware is stable, and fast.
  • Video Output – Supports 1080p24/50/60 (but not 25/30 Hz), and 4K2K up to 30Hz/SMPTE
  • 3D games play without issues.
  • Good power handling, although the device can’t be turned on with the remote control.
  • Air mouse included in package
  • H.264 / HEVC 4K video playback with 4K MoviePlayer app
  • USB webcam works with Google Hangouts
  • Support forum and community

CONS:

  • Wi-Fi, Ethernet, eMMC, and USB / NTFS storage performance is disappointing for a device at this price.
  • USB webcam did not work reliably in Skype
  • The remote control can’t power on the device.
  • Poor 4K support, and H.265 supported in included XBMC version. (Will be fixed in subsequent XBMC apk updates)
  • Relatively slow boot time. 1 minute without USB devices, almost 2 minutes with several USB devices connected.
  • Air mouse is not as good as some other product in the market such as MeLe F10 Deluxe, because in some circumstance it may be difficult to control the mouse pointer.

I’d like to thank GearBest for providing the sample for review, and if you are interested in this device you may consider buying from Gearbest for about $160 including shipping [Update: use Coupon MX8HPCN to get it for $149.99].  Other shipping options includes Amazon US, DealExtreme, TinyDeals, GeekBuying, and many others. Prices are about the same for every seller.

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Zero Devices Z5C Thinko 4K H.265 TV Stick Review

November 26th, 2014 2 comments

Zero Devices Z5C Think is one of the rare HDMI TV sitck powered by Rockchip RK3288 quad core Cortex A12/A17 processor available on the market. I’ve already take a few pictures of the device and internals, so today I’ll focus on testing the firmware, and performance of this thin and nice looking TV stick.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

There was a time when HDMI stick were powered by much slower, but power efficient processor based on Cortex A5 cores. One of these was CX-01 mini PC, and they could be powered by the USB port of the TV without problems. Now the processor are much more powerful, so normally you can’t power the device directly from the TV, but since I’ve seen people claim it was possible to drive RK3288 stick directly from the USB port of some TVs, I gave it a try, connected the stick to my Panasonic TV via the HDMI cable extension, as the two HDMI ports on my TV are too close, connected the micro USB to USB cable to my TV, and the power LED turned on, but the screen would stay black, and the TV display the message “Overcurrent error on USB device occured. Please remove the USB device and switch off the TV by mains power switch”.

Overcurrent_error_panasonic_TVSo that did not work out, but it was expected, and it’s not a problem with the stick, just that the TV can’t handle device with high power requirements.

So instead I used the power supply, and added a RF dongle for the Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse. Boot time is one of the best on the market so far, as it takes just 25 seconds between the time connecting the power supply, and getting to the Android Home Screen.

Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

Android Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

But the very first time, you’ll get through a wizard that let you select simplified Chinese, English or Others languages, scale your display for overscan compensation, and configure Wi-Fi. Unfortunately the first time, it did not find any Wi-Fi access point, so I went to Android Settings to check, and there was no MAC address either, probably meaning the Wi-Fi module was not detected. But everything got back to normal after a reboot, and Wi-Fi worked just fine.

Let’s have a look at the e Android settings. The Wireless & Networks sections comes with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet (for external USB dongle), and Data Usage menus, as well as a “More” section with VPN and Portable Hotspot. The Display settings mainly include font size adjustment, overscan compensation menu, and HDMI resolution selection between 9 modes: 1080p 24/25/30/50/60Hz, 720p 50/60, 720x576p-50 or 720x480p-60. Options for 4K output will be display if you own a 4K UHD TV. You can select the “Sound Output Device” in the “Sound Devices Manager” either “Default Output”, “Spdif Passthough” (which is not available on the stick), and “HDMI Bitstream” (HDMI pass-through).

About_Z5C_ThinkoThe 8GB eMMC is partitioned into two partitions:  a 0.95 GB “Internal Storage” partition for apps with 658 MB free, and a 8 GB (black magic yet again) “NAND FLASH” partition for data, with about 5.20 GB available space.

The “About Z5C Thinko” section reports the model number is Z5C, and it’s running Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux 3.10.0, and the vendor software version is 1.0.3. There’s also a System updates menu, that appears to properly connect to a server, but no new firmware was available at the time of the review.

Google Play works pretty well, and I could install apps such as ES File Explorer, Antutu, Beach Buggy Blitz, CPU-Z, etc…, with the only incompatible apps I’ve noticed being Vidonn Smartband app (as usual), and Real Racing 3. I’ve also installed Riptide GP2 through Amazon AppStore. However, I quickly ran out of space because of the sub 1GB app partition.

There’s no power button, and not proper power handling with this stick. Pressing the power button on the status bar will come up with a power off menu, but all it will do it reboot the device. Pressing the power button on Mele F10 Deluxe will simply blink the screen for one second, but it’s probably a remote key handling issue, which I’ve seen on another device, so after a fix, standby should be supported. But there’s probably nothing to be done to support power off, since it’s probably the way the hardware has been designed.

One of the biggest problems with Z5C Thinko is that it gets really hot, and sometimes hot enough to have the chip reboot itself. After Antutu, I could measure between 55 to 90°C, with the temperature especially hot on top of the Rockchip SoC, and close to the HDMI connector, since that’s where the heatsink spans.  The maximum temperature I got was 118°C. During idle time (i.e. in the home screen), the temperature is between 45 to 55°C, and in Kodi user interface it goes up to about 70°C. I’d like to point out the temperature varies a lot (-/+ 20°C on one given spot), probably because of the ventilation holes. So sometimes my IR thermometer may point to the plastic case, but sometimes I might measure the temperature directly from the heatsink, at least that’s my theory.

As long as you don’t perform demanding tasks, the firmware is mostly stable and smooth, but there are also various bugs, as I had to reboot to get Wi-Fi and Bluetooth work, USB storage connection may not be reliable, and because of the high temperature, it’s basically impossible to play 3D games, and even playing videos for over one hour may cause reboots. The tiny app partition is also annoying, but it’s something that’s easily fixable with a firmware update.

Video Playback

Kodi alpha 14 was pre-installed in the stick,. and it even let me know I should update, but since I don’t know whether the XBMC/Kodi version installed as been customized or not, I’ve tried using that version. Normally I play video from a SAMBA share, but for some reasons Kodi did not manage to find my computer, as it happened frequently in my previous review. So I switched to using my USB hard drive. I tried to connect it via the micro USB OTG port with the OTG adapter, but it was not recognized, and I tried a USB flash drive, but same problem. So instead I attached a USB hub to the single USB host port of the Android dongle, and my hard drive LED went on, but at first I could not see any partition in Kodi or ES File Explorer. I rebooted, and it worked, but since relatively unstable. So instead I installed SPMC from Google Play, and … it did not anything in the Video menu. So I ended playing videos from a SAMBA share using ES File Explorer and MX Player:

I played 1080p videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, and one extra 1080p H.265/HEVC videos:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container – It’s playing, but not very smooth.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – OK

Some higher bitrate videos had troubles to play because I was over Wi-Fi:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK, no problem even in fast moving scenes
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – Playing OK, but buffering often
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – Playing OK, but buffering often
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Playing OK, but buffering often

Please note that most Android media player won’t be able to play these files smoothly over Wi-Fi + SAMBA, so the results are not really surprising.

High definition audio codec could play (downsampled) in MX Player, but since some of these are high bitrate I had buffering and audio cut issues:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK (5.1), audio cuts and buffering (7.1)
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – Black screen only
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR –  Audio cuts and buffering

I tried to play Sintel-Bluray ISO, but it would load forever in MX Player.

4K video playback is about the same as with other RK328 boxes in MX Player, i.e. not that good:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Frequent audio  cut, and video in slow motion. It’s a 60 Mbps video so it can’t be realistically be played over Wi-Fi.
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Severe decoding issues with heavily distorted image
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK (H/W decode)
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK (H/W decode)
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  Slow motion
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Slow motion (maybe 1 to 3 fps)

This morning I tried again Kodi with SAMBA, and it worked for some reasons, so I tried the 4K videos in Kodi as well:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – First time black screen only, second try: plays but with many skipped frames, and then buffering.
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Buffering a lot becasue bitrate is too high for Wi-Fi, but when video plays it’s not smooth either with many dropped and skipped frames.
  • 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.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Kodi reports it plays at 8 to 10 fps, but it feels even slower than that. All four core at at 100% CPU usage.

I skipped the usual AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB, FLV and MP4 videos testing, but I still did play a 2-hour video (1080p / mkv / h.264) to test stability. The video did not feel very smooth, so I enabled Kodi debug overlay by pressing the ‘o’ key, and I regularly saw dropped and skipped frames, and the frame rate oscillated between 10 to 26 fps for that 24 fps video. Nevertheless, when I play the 2-hour video, I usually go to do something else, coming to check a few times, and after about one hour, I noticed I got back to the Android home screen. I did not connect the stick to my UPS, and I thought I heard a “micro” power failure (1 or 2 seconds), so I tried again, but it did play for one hour or so, and suddenly I saw the black, and shortly after the boot logo. So I rushed to scan the dongle with my infrared thermometer, and I go an amazing maximum temperature of 118 °C!

So proper video playback does not seem possible yet on Rockchip RK3288, and the small form factor even amplifies the issues, as it can’t play a full movie, at least at my room temperature (28 °C).

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

Network Performance (Wi-Fi)

I’m transferring a 278 MB between SAMBA and the internal flash, and vice versa, for three times in ES File Explorer to get an idea of the Wi-Fi performance, and at 2.62 MB/s on average, the performance is decent, but not clearly outstanding. The good thing is that there was very little variation between the tests, so performance is not that great, but it’s reliable.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Sixaxis Compatibility Checker indicated the driver in Z5C can handle Sony PS3 controller, but when I used my controller clone, I got the message “Fake controller detected, attempting workaround”, but it just got stuck there.

Right after, sixaxis test, I tried to enable Bluetooth in the Android settings, but it did not work. A reboot fixed that, and I guess is the Sixaxis app may have caused troubles with Bluetooth. I could then pair my phone with Z5c, and transfer pictures.

I install the APK for my Vidonn X5 fitness tracker in order to test Bluetooth Smart (BLE). The smart band could be detected, and the dongle retrieve data from it successfully.

Storage

Both a micro SD card and USB flash drive formatted with FAT32 could be mounted and accessed.
Using my USB 3.0 hard drive was more problematic, as at times, it would just umount itself, or even not be recognized at all. But when it worked, it could detect all four partitions, but only mount the FAT32 and NTFS partition.

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

Due to stability issues, and I believe people are less likely to connect a USB hard drive to their stick than a full box, I skipped USB / NTFS benchmark, but still used A1 SD Bench to check the Samsung eMMC performance.

Read & Write Speed in MB/s

Read & Write Speed in MB/s

The eMMC flash has very good read speed (34.26 MB/s), but the write speed (6..62 MB/s) is not quite as good. Strangely, it’s still faster than the 6MB/s listed in Samsung eMMC product brief.  The fast read speed explained the quick boot time (25s), but I did not notice slowdowns due to the write speed.

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2 were the three games used for testing. No problem with Candy Crush Sag, as expected. I played the two racing games with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad, which works just fine as usual. Beach Buggy Blitz was ultra-smooth with maxed out graphics settings, but I decided to try to play a few races, and check the temperature with that games. At the second race, the stick rebooted automatically, and I measured up to 105 °C, and I was quite surprised, as it was the first time (I played games, before I played videos) I got a temperature over 100 °C with an Android gadget. I decided to let the stick cool down for about 2 minutes, which I reckon is way too short,  before “playing” Riptide GP2.  As you may gues,s I did not end-up playing very long, as the device rebooted very soon, and I measured a maximum temperature of 110 °C.

Z5C Thinko Benchmarks

I expected the CPU frequency to be lower in a tiny HDMI adapter, compared to the easier to cool down full size TV box, so I ran CPU-Z to check the information, and the maximum CPU frequency is still 1.8 GHz, which at least partially explained the very high temperature I got.Z5C_Thinko_CPU-Z

The CPU is still detected as a Rockchip RK3066 with eight Cortex A12 core clocked between 312 MHz and 1.8 GHz, so it seems CPU-Z developers are not that interested in keeping up to date with Chinese SoCs by Allwinner or Rockchip.The total memory is correctly reported as 2019 MB, and internal storage has 0.95 GB because the app only included the first partition.

Z5C_Thinko_Antutu

Antutu 5.3 score is quite lower than other Rockchip RK3288 devices. Z5C Thinko gets 29,001 points, whereas TV boxes such as Tronsmart Orion R28 Meta get around 37,000 points. If we look into the details of the scores, Z5C takes a hit with UX, RAM, and CPU tests, but the GPU performance is exactly the same. Storage I/O is also weaker probably because of the slower eMMC write speed. So a more aggressive governor must have been implemented, or the 1.8GHz frequency reported by CPU-Z and Antutu is incorrect.

Conclusion

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko is small, looks great, and comes with a powerful Rockchip RK3288 processor. But unfortunately, there are just oo many problem with the firmware right now, include potential unreliable USB hard drive support, poor video playback (mostly common to other RK3288 devices), and most importantly high temperature issues, which makes 3D gaming, continuous video playback, and other tasks that may require a sustained load currently impossible, as the stick will just reboot to “save” itself.

PRO:

  • Fast new processor
  • Gook looking, thin, and small. One of the rare TV sticks based on Rockchip RK3288 processor
  • Fast boot (25 seconds)
  • 4K and H.265/HEVC support (although it needs improvement)
  • Video Output – 1080p support 24, 25 ,30 , 50 and 60 Hz output. 4K @ 60Hz should be supported (not tested).
  • Support for OTA update (server detected, but not tested since no new firmware was available at the time)
  • Bluetooth features seems to all work (File transfer, BLE, and maybe Sixaxis)

CONS:

  • Gets extremely hot (I measured up to 118 °C), leading to reboot, and it might affect the useful life of the device.
  • No power button, or proper power off handling, which can lead to data loss.
  • Many issues with video playback including dropped/skipped frames,  and it failed the 2-hour movie playback, because of issue #1 (temperature).
  • 3D games are unplayable due to temperature issues
  • Potential USB hard drive issue (unreliable)
  • USB OTG adapter does not seem to work, at least with USB mass storage devices.
  • At first boot, Wi-Fi module was not detected. Fixed after reboot, and the problem did not occur again.
  • The internal storage partition is only 0.95 GB, and it can be full after installing a few apps.

So at this stage, Z5C Thinko can probably only be used reliably as a portable mini PC to browse the web, check emails, and interact in social networks. But they’ve got some serious work to do when it comes to video playback, USB support, 3D gaming, and overall bug fixing. The temperature issue may only be fixable by lowering the CPU frequency to 1.2 or 1.4 GHz, and for 3D gaming the GPU may also have to be clocked down, but then you’ll end up with a much less powerful platform than existing RK3288 solutions.

Zero Devices Z5C Thinko can be purchased for $94.99 on Asiapads including shipping. The company also offers a USB + Ethernet Hub for an extra $5.

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MINIX NEO X6 Media Hub Review

November 18th, 2014 8 comments

Last week-end, I took a few pictures of MINIX NEO X6 media hub, and had a look at the company’s firmware and forum support which indeed seems to be good. Today, I’ve completed the full review of MINIX NEO X6, and I will compare it to two of its lower priced competitors: MXQ S85 and EM6Q-MXQ.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

The IR remote control works fine, including continuous up ad down pressing, but I switched to using Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse for convenience. I’ve connected an Ethernet cable, an HDMI cable, a micro SD card, a USB hard drive, and a USB hub with two RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad, a USB flash drive, and a UVC webcam. I’ve connected the power, pressed the power button on the side of the box, but nothing happened at first… You have to press the button one second or more to start the box, then the blue LED turns off, a MINIX logo show ups, a few seconds later a short MINIX animation, and the first screen greets you asking to choose between “Launcher” and “MINIX METRO”, respectively the default Android home screen, or MINIX customized user interface. The boot takes about 1 minutes and 30 seconds. By comparison MXQ S85 takes a little over 40 seconds, and EM6Q-MXQ about 1m 50s.

MINIX Metro Interface (Click for Original)

MINIX Metro Interface (Click for Original)

The status bar is hidden by default, and I simply pulled it up with the mouse pointer to take a screenshot. But before carrying on with the review, I noticed the company released Firmware 002 for MINIX NEO X6, so I decided to check the Update app in Android (on Monday), but the new firmware was not on the update server.  I even asked if they had a schedule to push the OTA update, but I did not receive an answer in time for the review. So instead, I used the standard firmware update method which involves USB Burning Tool for Windows, and pressing the recovery button. I was a pain, I did it in VirtualBox, but after one error, it finally successfully updated the firmware.

Back to the review. For some reasons, my TV resolution was automatically detected to be at 720p60, so i changed the settings to 1080p60 manually. I’ve noticed that switching to 720p still keep the user interface to 1920×1080 resolution, so there’s no performance gain doing so.

The Settingd menu is based on the same Metro-style interface found in most Amlogic boxes, but with MINIX green and grey skin with four sub-sections: Network, Display, Advanced and Other. I’ve highlighted the differences with MXQ-S85 in bold, and crossed the deleted options.

  • Network – Enable and configure Wi-Fi or Ethernet
  • Display:
    • Automatic or manual HDMI resolution: 480p/i @ 60 Hz, 576p/i @ 50 Hz, 720p @ 50/60 Hz, 1080i @ 50/60 Hz, or 1080p @ 24/50/60 Hz
    • CVBS Mode Setting: 480 CVBS or 576 CVBS (if Composite output selected on TV).
    • Hide or Show status bar
    • Display Position
    • Screen Save (Never, 4, 8 or 12 minutes)
  • Advanced:
    • Miracast
    • Remote Control
    • Google TV Remote
    • CEC Control
    • Location for weather (Chinese cities only)
    • Screen Orientation settings
    • Digital Audio Output (Auto, PCM, S/PDIF pass-through, or HDMI pass-through)
    • No Output to USB Audio
  • Other – System Update: Local file or OTA (connects to server OK), Backup, and “More Settings” for standard Android Settings.

CVBS and S/PDIF options have been removed since those two ports are not available in MINIX NEO X6, and they rightly removed the “Location for weather” because the services only works for Chinese cities. “No Output to USB Audio” is enabled by default, and it’s probably there to avoid audio capable air mouse, such as Mele F10 Pro, to takeover HDMI audio output automatically.

I’ve made a video to show MINIX NEO X6 user interface, system settings, as well as H.265 video playback and automatic refresh rate switching which both work in XBMC 13.3.3 MINIX Edition.

About_MINIX_NEO_X6MXQ-S85 comes with an 8GB eMMC flash with a single 5.32GB partition, with a little under 4GB free by the end of my review. The model number is reported as being “NEO-X86″ in “About MediaBox” section, and the system runs Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux kernel 3.10.33. The firmware is not rooted, and I have not rooted it, but since a USB cable is provided for the OTG port, and the firmware upgrade procedure worked, it should be able to root the device.

I had no problem installing apps with Google Play Store including the something problematic Vidonn Smartband app, a paid app, and messenger apps (Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp) which would not install in MXQ S85 TV Box. I’ve also installed Amazon AppStore, in order to test Riptide GP2.

MXQ S85 could not be powered off cleanly, but MINIX NEO X6 has no such problem. The power button on the side of the box is used to power it on (need to press 1 second or more), and the remote control or the soft power button in the status bar are used to pop-up a menu to let your “Sleep”, “Restart”, or “Power Off”. The only downside is that you cannot turn on the media player with the remote control, and you have to get up to press the power button on the device. It must be the coolest device I ever tested (no pun intended), the maximum temperature measured after Antutu 5.2 was 37°C and 45°C respectively on the top and bottom of the box.  After playing Riptide GP2 for nearly 30 minutes, the maximum temperature on top and bottom reached 40°C and 46°C.

MINIX NEO X6 firmware is rock solid, as during my testing I did not experience any noticeable slowdown, crash, or freeze. One game did fail to load once, but at the second attempt it worked just fine. For some reasons, I also had problems to connect the SAMBA shared in XBMC at first, but finally I could connect. I never had the message “app not responding” pops up like in MXQ S85 and EM6Q-MXQ.

Video Playback

Firmware 002 comes with XBMC 13.3 MINIX Edition pre-installed, but I saw they have XBMC 13.3.3 Beta MINIX Edition recently released with automatic refresh rate switching, something I only heard was possible in Linux so far (with ARM hardware), and better support for .ts files. So I installed it to give it a try. The 1080p XBMC user interface is rendered at about 30 fps with this hardware. Normally, I’d play video from a SAMBA share in Ubuntu 14.04, but for some reasons I got the message “Connection Refused”, albeit I got it working just fine with ES File Explorer. So most of the video test were made from a USB hard drive.

I started with videos from samplemedia.linaro.org, plus some H.265/HEVC videos (Elecard), and a low resolution VP9 video:

  • 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) – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK but not that smooth (S/W decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p OK, 1080p plays in slow motion all the time, and audio is cut.
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (360p/720p/1080p) – OK, but it’s not possible to seek in the file.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK

I also successfully tested automatic refresh rate switching with the HEVC / 1080p video @ 24 fps, where my TV output 1080p24 automatically, and reverts to 1080p60 after I interrupt video playback.

I also played some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – audio only
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK, but could be smoother, and XBMC reports skipped and dropped frames regularly.
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK (Played from USB hard drive)

Next are some videos with high definition audio codec:

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / 7.1 – OK, but I got some noticeable skipped/dropped frame in the 7.1 video.
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – OK
  • DTS-MA – OK
  • DTS-HR – Audio is OK, I got some noticeable skipped/dropped frame in the video.

Sintel-Bluray.iso played OK in XBMC, so Blu–Ray ISO files are supported.

As with other Amlogic S805 based Android TV boxes, AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB/IFO, and MP4 videos could all play fine, without A/V sync issues, or noticeable frame dropped. I also watched a complete 1080p video (1h50 / MKV / 3GB) to test stability, and no issue here either. So overall, video playback capabilities of NEO X6 are quite impressive.

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

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

A 278 MB file is transferred between a SAMBA share (Ubuntu 14.04) and the internal flash, and vice versa, to test the network performance, repeating the test three times with ES File Explorer. Wi-Fi transfer speed is very good @ 3.01 MB/s on average, about the same as MXQ-S85, but not not quite as fast as the outstanding Wi-Fi performance of EM6Q-MXQ media player.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

Ethernet worked fine at 100 Mbps connected to my Gigabit Ethernet switch, with performance a little better than other Amlogic S805 players.

MINIX_NEO_X6_SAMBA_Flash_Copy

Throughput in MB/s

I ran iPerf app using “iperf -t 60 -c 192.168.0.104 -d” command line, to get a raw Ethernet performance number, and it confirms NEO X6 is still the best in its category (S805 boxes have green dots):

MINIX_NEO_X6_iPerf

Throughput in Mbps

iperf output:

Client connecting to 192.168.0.105, TCP port 5001
TCP window size:  136 KByte (default)
------------------------------------------------------------
[  6] local 192.168.0.104 port 48372 connected with 192.168.0.105 port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   625 MBytes  87.4 Mbits/sec
[  4]  0.0-60.1 sec   564 MBytes  78.7 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooth file transfer works as expected. MINIX NEO X6 is advertised as “m201″, and I did not experience any issues while transferring pictures from my Android phone to the box.

I skipped Sixaxis Compatibility Checker test, as the device is not rooted, and I did not try to root it.

I used Vidonn X5 fitness band to test Bluetooth Smart (BLE), but the app could NOT locate the smartband.

Storage

USB flash drive and a micro SD card formatted with FAT32 could be accessed by the system. NTFS and FAT32 partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted and accessed, but the EXT-4 and BTRFS partitions were completely ignored as usual.

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

USB hard drive and internal flash performance were tested with A1 SD Bench app. The read speed was 18.87 MB/s, and the write speed 22.37MB/s for NTFS partition in my USB hard drive (mounted in /storage/external_storage/sdb1). Both results are not very good, but equivalent to what I got with MXQ S85, yet much slower than EM6Q-MXQ.

Transfer Rate in MB/s

Transfer Rate in MB/s

MINIX claims to have use an eMMC flash with NEO X6, and the benchmark results indeed shows its the fastest S805 device when its comes to internal storage read and write speeds, achieving respectively 23.23 MB/s (read) and 9.95 MB/s (write), which makes sure the apps load a bit faster. Boot should also be faster, but for some reasons it’s not the case, at least against MXQ S85.

Read / Write Speed in MB/s

Read / Write Speed in MB/s

USB Webcam

I could make an audio call with Skype using the “Echo Service”, and the webcam was recognized and working, but although I could record a video message, it would never show up, and I could not share it with my contact. Google Hangouts also recognizes the USB webcam, but the image freezes a lot, so it’s currently unusable.

Gaming

I played the three usual suspects: Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2. Candy Crush Saga was responsive enough, and I crushed candy with my air mouse. I used Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad for Beach Buggy Blitz and Riptide GP2. Beach Buggy Blitz exited while loading the first time, but after that it worked. The quad core Mali-450 GPU is powerful enough to handle this game at a decent frame rate with the default settings (low graphics settings), even at 1080p. The system struggles a bit more with Riptide GP2, but changing the graphics quality to “Smoother Framerate” improve the user experience. I played several races waiting for the usual freeze in Riptide GP2 on Amlogic devices, but I decided to give after the 7th races (about 30 minutes), as the game was still running good. I’m not sure if Amlogic or MINIX did something to the firmware, or Vector Unit changed something in their game.

3D games are working and, NEO X6 appears to be more stable than other Amlogic devices, but if gaming is important to you, you should still consider a faster devices based on Rockchip RK3288 processor for instance.

MINIX NEO X6 CPU-Z & Antutu Benchmark

I failed to have a look at the board in MINIX NEO X6 unboxing post, but CPU-Z provides some interesting insights, which could explain some of the close results with MXQ S85 in several benchmarks above. The model number is reported as NEO X6 (m201), whereas MXQ-S85 was reported as S85 (m201). At first I thought the board could be virtually the same, except MINIX took out S/PDIF, and replaced a standard NAND flash, by an eMMC flash, but the connectors placement are quite different, so they must really be different, and I’m not sure what m201 means in this case.

MINIX_NEO_X6_CPU-Z

The media hub gets 1716,448 points in Antutu 5.2, which is a bit faster than the scores achieved by EM6Q-MXQ (16,647), and MXQ S85 (16,448), mostly because the CPU is clocked at 1,536 MHz instead of 1,488 MHz, and faster I/Os.

MINIX_NEO_X6_Antutu

Conclusion

There’s no doubt MINIX NEO X6 is a good device. Firmware is very stable, I did not experience slowdowns, video playback is excellent, with rare features like H.265 support in XBMC, and automatic refresh rate switching, Ethernet and Wi-Fi both offer good throughput, 3D games won’t hang like in most Amlogic boxes, and the main downside is probably the rather poor USB / NTFS read and write performance, which becomes an issue in case you have very high bit rate videos (120 Mbps+) stored on a USB hard drive.

PRO:

  • Firmware is stable, and relatively fast (considering the processor involved)
  • Excellent XBMC support including H.265/HEVC support, and automatic refresh rate switching.
  • Good Wi-Fi, and Ethernet performance
  • Video Output – Supports 1080p24/50/60 (but not 25/30 Hz)
  • 3D games play without issues. (Performance is not optimal however due to the GPU/CPU)
  • Good power handling, although the device can’t be turned on with the remote control.
  • OTA firmware update
  • Webcam works with Skype
  • Support forum and community

CONS:

  • USB / NTFS storage performance is disappointing.
  • Bluetooth Low Energy / Smart is not currently supported.
  • OTA firmware upgrade connects to server, but firmware files may not be uploaded to the update server in a timely manner. (TBC)
  • USB webcam did not work reliably in Google Hangouts.
  • The remote control can’t power on the device.
  • Lacks optical S/PDIF output
  • Relatively slow boot time (1m30s) despite eMMC flash

MINIX NEO X6 media hub is clearly a better device compared to the low cost MXQ S85 and EMQ6-MXQ media players, albeit its outperformed in some individuals tests. Overall, there are less issues, XBMC runs better, and if support and regular firmware updates, probably for a year based on experience with previous MINIX devices, are important to you, it could be worth paying double price to buy MINIX NEO X6 instead of MXQ S85. For $100, you could also buy one of the many Rockchip RK3288 media player, and if video playback is not your focus, web browsing and gaming will be much faster, but if your main usage will be to play 1080p videos, including with the latest HEVC/H.265, NEO X6 capabilities are greater than on any of the RK3288 TV boxes I’ve tested so far. Devices based on Amlogic S812 will also be an option, in theory providing both the same excellent video playback (up to 4K), and much faster CPU/GPU performance, but it’s something I’ll test soon.

Tinydeal provided the sample for this review, and if are interested in the device, you could buy  MINIX NEO X6 for $99.99 including shipping on Tinydeal.  It is quite popular. so it can be found on many online resellers including DealExtreme, Amazon, Pandawill, GeekBuying, etc…

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