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Posts Tagged ‘bluetooth’

Broadcom Introduces WICED Sense Bluetooth Low Energy Development Kit

September 1st, 2014 No comments

Broadcom has recently announced a new development board for IoT applications using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) called WICED Sense. The kit consists of a “sense tag” powered by the company’s BCM20737S Bluetooth SIP Module with five micro-electromechanical sensors (MEMS), and Bluetooth 4.1 compatible WICED SMART software stack.
WICED_Sense_Development_KitThe key features of WICED Sense devkit are as follows:

  • Broadcom BCM20737 Bluetooth Smart system in package (SiP) module
  • Five low-power MEMS sensors by ST Micro (part of the module):
    • Gyroscope (L3GD20)
    • Accelerometer (LIS3DSH)
    • eCompass (LSM303D)
    • Pressure sensor (LPS25H)
    • Humidity Temperature sensor (HTS221)
  • Bluetooth Smart connection covers distance of roughly 30 meters.
  • USB – 1x micro USB connector to update applications
  • Encryption, decryption, certificate signing, verification and various algorithms for increased privacy
  • Secure Over-the-air (OTA) download capability to enable firmware updates from central device including smartphone, tablet and computers
  • Misc – iBeacon, NFC, Wireless charging (Rezence A4WP) support.
  • Power – Coin-cell battery

The tag can communicate with mobile devices running iOS and Android OS (App coming to Google Play in October), and supports up to 8 simultaneous master/slave connections. You can get started within 5 minutes, by install the demo app on your iPhone or iPad, and pressing the Wake button on the tag to get sensor data, But If you want to go further, you’ll want to download WICED Smart SDK (Registration required) that integrates with Eclipse IDE, and comes with sample applications. You can get a little more info about the SDK on WICED Smart community.

Possible applications includes text alerts based on sensor data, car keys finder, security device for pets, tennis coach by attaching WICED sense to a tennis racket and using accelerometer and e-compass data, indoor humidity and temperature monitor, and more.

Broadcom WICED Sense is a direct competitor to TI SensorTag, and sells in the same price range at $19.99 via Mouser, Avnet, or other distributors. You can find more information on Broadcom WICED Sense page, including a quick start guide and a product brief, and in case you wonder, WICED stands for Wireless Internet Connectivity for Embedded Devices.

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Review of UyeSee G1H Rockchip RK3288 Android TV Box

August 27th, 2014 4 comments

UyeSee G1H is one of the first Android TV boxes powered by Rockchip RK3288 quad core Cortex A17 SoC. I’ve already listed specs, and shown a few pictures of the device and the board in my “UyeSee G1H Unboxing” post, so today I’ll write a full review, checking out the user interface, testing video playback capabilities, network and storage performance, play a few games, check hardware features are working as expected, and runs some benchmarks on the platform.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

There’s an infrared remote control with the device. I’ve inserted a CR2032 battery, and although it works great in the user interface, it becomes useless with Android apps, so instead I’ve opted to use Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse which brings mouse and keyboard support. Before powering up the device, I’ve connected an HDMI cable, the RF dongle for Mele F10 Deluxe, a USB hard drive, and an Ethernet cable. Connecting the power supply will start the device automatically, and the boot is super fast compared to other devices I’ve tested, as it takes about 18 seconds only.

UyeSee_G1H_Android_Home_Default_640px

UyeSee G1H Android Launcher (Click for Original Size)

There’s a custom launcher as shown above, as well as the stock Android home screen as shown below. The status bar is disabled by default, but I’ve enabled it for easier control with the air mouse, and to take screenshots. It looks pretty, but unfortunately this must have been designed for the Chinese market, and all buttons report “App not installed”, except the Settings button which goes to the Android settings. You can use the arro keys to navigate, and if you go right, you’ll find the all the you’ve installed apps. This menu has some animation that are extremely smooth, probably thanks to the Mali-T764 GPU. However, if you click on the screenshot above you’ll find out the resolution is set to 1280×720. I’d assume most people don’t buy the latest Android mini PC to get a 720p machine, but you can change to 1920×1080 resolution in the settings, and the user interface will also be set to 1080p. I don’t have a 4K TV so 4K options did not show up. The launcher above won’t look very nice at 1080p, because graphics are made for 720p, and a large part of the bottom of the screen will not be used. There’s no such problem when switching to the stock Android home screen.

UyeSee_G1H_Android_Home_640px

Android Home Screen (Click for Original @ 720p)

Going to the Settings, we’ve got all usually Wireless and Networks options for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Ethernet, including VPN, Portable Hotspot and so on. There’s a Home menu to select the launcher, and ScreenshotSetting  menu, both of which I did not notice in most other firmware. The Sound settings like you choose between “Default Output” (PCM / Down-mixing), “Spdif Passthough”, and HDMI Bitstream (HDMI pass-through), but I don’t have an audio receiver yet, so I could not try the pass-though options. The Display settings will allow you to hide or show the status bar, adjust for overscan, select HDMI, YPbPr, and “TV” (Composite) video output, as well as the resolution: “auto”, 1080p 24/25/30/50/60Hz, 720p 50/60, 720×576 or 720×480. If you have a 4K TV, 4K options should show as well. I’ve been informed there’s currently a bug for 4K @ 60Hz, but it will be resolved in the next firmware upgrade. I’ve done most of my testing with HDMI, and I had no problem, but I also tested composite and component (YPbPr) video output.

Composite (Click to Enlarge)

Composite (Click to Enlarge)

Component (Click to Enlarge)

Component (Click to Enlarge)

Composite looks fine, but there’s a green line on my TV that could not be removed even after using the “Screen Scale” menu. YMMV. Component output is more problematic as it is only shown in Grey (Y signal), I could not get the Chrominance signal to show which any cable combination I tried.

About_UyeSee_G1HMy device comes with a 8GB NAND flash, and they’ve partitioned it with a 1.91GB “Internal Storage” partition for apps, and a 3.88 GB “NAND FLASH” partition for data. I really prefer a single partition for everything, but even after installing all apps I needed for testing I still had 1.17GB free in the “Internal Storage” partition. It may become a problem if you install many apps, especially games which can be rather large.

Other settings are pretty standard, and the developer option are enabled by default. The “About device” section reports the model number as “rk3288″, Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux kernel 3.10.0. The firmware is not rooted, and I don’t have male to male USB cable, so I could not root it via the OTG port.

I could install most applications I tried on Google Play Store including Root checker, Antutu, Quadrant, Beach Buggy Blitz, etc…, but a few would just report my device is not compatible such as Real Racing 3 (but many Android STB have the same issue) and Vidonn activity tracker app. I have had some 941 errors from time to time, failing to install an app, but these were possibly network error unrelated to G1H. Paid apps such as Sixaxis Controller installed properly. In order to play Riptide GP2, I also installed Amazon AppStore without issue.

There’s no power button, so you can’t power off the device gracefully, only put it in standby mode with the IR remote control power button, The soft power button in the status did not work for me. Despite having only a 5V/2A power adapter, connected a USB hard drive, I did not seem to have issues with a lack of power, except possibly at the end of one Antutu test at 1080p where the screen went blank. The box can get pretty hot however. After Antutu, the max temperature on the top and bottom of the box were respectively 53 °C and 60 °C, after after playing Riptide GP2 for 30 minutes at 1080p, it went all the way up to 63 °C and 71 °C, which means the processor even gets hotter, possibly well over 80 °C, I’m not sure this can be good if this happens too often.

The firmware is very smooth most of the time, except when it’s writing to the flash, while installing an app for example, where the mouse pointer may not react for short periods of time. Stability is OK, but I had the screen turn off at the end of Antutu benchmark once, requiring a power cycle, and another time the box rebooted itself, while browsing files in ES File Explorer. I like the fact that you can switch between 720p and 1080p user interface, as you want prefer the former for smoother games, and the former for video playback for example.

You can watch the video below to see what the UI looks like at 1280×720 and 1920×1080 resolution, as well as the difference settings options available.

Video Playback

I normally play videos from a SAMBA share over Ethernet using XBMC. However, the box does not come with XBMC, and currently XBMC does not support hardware decoding for HEVC, so instead I’ve chosen to test videos with MXPlayer. I did try to install XBMC using XBMC Updater, and downloaded both stable and nightly apk, but the system reported the apk were not recognized. So I tried to install SPMC via Google Play instead, but atfirst I got a 941 error, and I could only manage install it after most testing was complete at a later stage. Using Es File Explorer, I connected to my SAMBA share, and unfortunately even 480p video were buffering like crazy, so I ended up using a USB hard drive. The Ethernet issue may not be due to G1H, but my Gigabit switch, as I’ll explain in the networking section. Nevertheless, the takeaway is that videos were played from USB hard drive with MXPlayer, unless otherwise stated.

I start with videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, and as well as videos with H.265/HEVC codec from Elecard:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – Video playing at an estimated 2 to 4 fps, with most frames skipped [SPMC test: OK, but every second or so, there will be a subtle change of color / screen jump]
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK, much smoother than any other device I’ve tried, and according to MXPlayer using HW decode.
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – No video, audio only.

I’ve also tested some high bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK, no problem even in fast moving scenes
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK. (Audio needs to be decoded by S/W)
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK  (Audio needs to be decoded by S/W)
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

Most high definition audio codecs (except AC3 and TrueHD) could not play with MXPlayer, but I tried later with SPMC (XBMC fork on Google Play), and all could play:

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

Sintel-Bluray.iso Blu-ray ISO file could play in MX Player but with video only, I could not get audio to work, even switching to software decode.

Rockchip RK3288 is supposed to handle 4K videos, even with HEVC, so let’s try a few in MX Player:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Can play but with some slow downs from time to time. I can get audio by switching to audio S/W decoding.
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – OK, but some white “fog” appears on the black background
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts – Cannot play.

Several AVI, MKV, FLV and MP4 videos in my library could play fine with SPMC. I also played a complete 1080p video (1h50) in the box, and I had no issues either.

At first, I was not too happy with video playback using MX Player only, but when you put SPMC (XBMC) into the mix, it looks much better. The main thing you lose (confirmed) with XBMC is H.265 / HEVC hardware video decoding.

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)

The network test consists in transferring a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash using, and vice versa, repeating the test three times using ES File Explorer. Wi-Fi performance appears to be inconsistent, as I had three much different transfer times: 3m20s, 2m43s, and 4m31s, averaging a rather disappointing 1.31 MB/s. I also tested Miracast via Rockchip’s “Wi-Fi display” app included with the firmware, and after a few tries I managed to mirror my Android phone display.

Wi-Fi_UyeSee_G1H

Wi-Fi Performance in MB/s

Now.. Ethernet.. This gets interesting. At first, when I used the device connected to Ethernet, it felt sluggish in the Play Store, and soon found some serious issues while transferring a file from a SAMBA share using ES File Explorer, as throughput was around 300 to 500 KB/s most of the time, and sometimes it would even stall. This looks very similar to the issue I had to Wetek Play. I’ve recently purchased a D-Link DGS-1005A 5-port Gigabit switch for test, and used it in my last five reviews. That means three products had no problem with the switch, and two had issues. Which item is guilty is difficult to prove. So I decided to insert my older (D-Link) 10/100M hub, between the device and the Gigabit switch and it worked. I tried to connect the device to my Gigabit switch with a different cable, and it also worked, but the connection is only 100M. If I used the original cable (the same I used for all other reviews), it will detect a Gigabit connection, but the Ethernet LEDs will “funnily” blink on the device, and the Link LED will turn on and off. So at the end of the day, I did not manage to get a proper Gigabit connection, so I tested Fast Ethernet, and the result is OK.

Ethernet_UyeSee_G1H

Ethernet Performance in MB/s

Like with Probox2 EX, this test used the ES File Explorer version with improved SAMBA performance, which may have helped a bit for Ethernet, but did nothing for Wi-Fi.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Transferring a picture via Bluetooth worked just fine, after pairing G1H with my Android smartphone (ThL W200).

I skipped Sixaxis test for PS3 Bluetooth Gamepad support, as it required root.

After installing Vidonn app for Vidonn X5 activity tracker, it could connected via Bluetooth 4.0 LE to retrieve the data.

Storage

Both a micro SD card and a USB flash drive formatted to FAT32 could be mounted and accessed successfully.
I’ve also connected my USB 3.0 hard drive with NTFS, EXT-4, FAT32, and BTRFS partitions. and as usual the Linux file systems are not supported, at least not by default.

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

After setting the custom locations set to /mnt/usb_storage/USB_DISK2/USB3_NTFS in A1 SD Bench to benchmark the NTFS partition, I got a read speed of 27.5MB/s and a write speed of 25.98MB/s.

UyeSee_G1H_USB_Drive

USB Hard Drive Performance in MB/s

There’s not that much differences between difference platforms at USB 2.0 speeds.

Last time, the eMMC flash in Probox2 EX could be read at 27.57MB/s, and written at 15.11 MB/s, and the eMMC used in G1H as better read speed at 44.50 MB/s, but much slower write speed at 7.3 MB/s, which may explain some the rare slowdowns I experienced while playing with this mini PC.

USB Webcam

Skype sort of worked with my UVC USB webcam. I tested audio successfully with the Echo service, and I could see the video, but as I tried to leave a video message the app crashed.

Google Hangouts could detect the webcam, but when I did a video call the camera image did not show up.

Gaming

With Mali-T764 GPU, Rockchip RK3288 should be a star when it comes to video games. I’ve tested the three games: Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Blitz, and Riptide GP2. Candy Crush Saga unsurprisingly worked fine as with any device. Beach Buggy Blitz is a little more challenging, and based on my experience Riptide GP2 is even more demanding.

Testing games was actually the first thing I did, at first the resolution was set to 720p. I used Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad to control both games. I went to Beach Buggy Blitz settings, and maxed out the graphics settings which normally make devices based on Amlogic S802 struggle to have a decent framerate. But with UyeSee G1H, the game was just extra smooth. I did the same with Riptide GP2, and yet again very smooth most of the time. I could even win races, or battle with the lead driver at all games. That’s not usual at all, as normally I’m always fighting for third place in other Android TV boxes :). Beside the high framerate, one of the reasons gameplay is better is that I don’t have lag with Tronsmart Gamepad in this device.  Switching to 1080p, Beach Buggy Blitz is still super smooth, except sometimes during the first one of two seconds of the game. Riptide GP2 is still very playable, and I’m still fighting for victory!, but it feels like the framerate may drop in the low 20, or even 15 at times. I’ve played Riptide GP2 for 30 consecutive minutes, and albeit the box gets very hot (70 C), everything is stable and smooth.

UyeSee G1H Benchmark

Since it’s my first Rockchip RK3288 device, I’ve run a few more benchmarks than usual, and also checked the CPU details with CPU-Z app.
Rockchip_RK3288_CPU-Z
CPU-Z has apparently not yet heard about Rockchip RK3288, as it reports a Rockchip RK3066 processor. The CPU architecture is 0xc0d, which stands for ARM Cortex A12, whereas Cortex A17 should be 0xc0e, according to this. So finally Rockchip RK3288 might be a Cortex A12, at least for the first versions. If there are other ways to check let me know.  The CPU clock can scale between 126MHz and 1.8 GHz, the GPU is correctly detected as Mali-T764, and there’s indeed 2GB RAM in my device, but CPU-Z only takes the “internal flash” partition reporting 1.91 GB storage for the 8 GB flash.
UyeSee_G1H_Antutu
Antutu 4.x score is excellent with 40,497, one of the top device on the market. That score has been achieved with a resolution of 1280×720, switching to 1920×1080 brings the score down to a still very good 39273 points. I’ve created a table below showing comparing S802 in Probox2 EX, and RK3288 in G1H  to find out where it shine in the tests:

Amlogic S802 Rockchip RK3288
Multitask 5744 10415
Runtime 2018 4698
RAM Operation 2997 2066
RAM Speed 1596 2797
CPU integer 3781 3162
CPU float-point 2815 5218
2D Graphics 1648 (607×1008) 1641 (1280×672)
3D graphics 8717 (607×1008) 8404 (1280×672)
Storage I/O 1801 1461
Database I/O 630 635

Results are quite surprising. According to Antutu 4.x scores, RK3288 shines in multitask, runtime, and CPU floating point testes, but graphics are about equivalent to S802 (at slightly different resolutions), and CPU integer is faster in the S802 @ 2.0 Ghz compared to RK3288 @ 1.8 Ghz. Probox2 EX has slightly better storage performance compared to UyeSee G1H but this part is mostly independent from the processor.

I also tried to run Quadrant, but all I got was a grey screen as I ran the test. Vellamo benchmark is now at version 3.0, so I can’t really compared it to earlier tests I did, but UyeSee G1H performance is also pretty good here.

Vellamo_UyeSee_G1H_Rockchip_RK3288In the new Multicore (beta) benchmark, this Rockchip RK3288 solution even beats all other players.

Rockchip_RK3288_Vellamo_MulticoreIn the browser score, UyeSee G1H is only outperformed by LG G3 smartphone (Qualcomm Snapdragon 801), and in the metal score, its performance is about equivalent to LG Nexus 5 (Qualcomm Snapdragon 801).

Despite the clear superior performance in games, the graphics benchmarks in Antutu were somewhat disappointing, so I’ve run Ice Storm Extreme test in 3DMark.

3DMarks_RK3288_UyeSee_G1H

3DMark Benchmark Results (Click to Enlarge)

A score of 7278 points is about equivalent to a phone based on Snapdragon 600 with Adreno 320 GPU. Many recent devices based on Qualcomm 800 and greater get score above 10,000 or simply maxes out the test, so again I was expecting the GPU to perform better in benchmarks.

Conclusion

First, I’d like to thank Shenzhen UyeSee Technology for being the first company to send me a product based on Rockchip RK3288. The product is still new, and although there are positives, there’s still some work that need to be done. Compared to existing products, the main benefits of Rockchip RK3288 are HEVC video decoding and a 3D gaming performance unmatched by other Android TV boxes

PRO:

  • Fast new processor
  • Excellent 3D graphics performance for games, which for some reasons does not really show in benchmarks.
  • Both 720p and 1080p user interfaces are supported
  • Video Output – 1080p support 24, 25 ,30 , 50 and 60 Hz output which may be important for some videos. 4K will eventually support 60Hz thanks to HDMI 2.0.
  • HEVC video decoding support
  • OTA firmware updates appear to be supported (but I cannot confirm).
  • Webcam supported in Skype (although it did not work in Google Hangouts)

CONS:

  • Rare stability issues (1 reboot, one black screen over 8 hours of testing)
  • Lacklustre Wi-Fi performance
  • XBMC not pre-installed
  • Issues with some videos in MX Player (MPEG2, several HEVC/H.265 can’t be played, some audio issues)
  • Somewhat slow eMMC flash write speed potentially leading to slowdowns
  • Potential Gigabit Ethernet issues, at least confirmed with my switch (D-Link DSG-1005A).
  • No proper power off (standby only)
  • The device can get pretty hot (70+ C)
  • A few apps are not compatible in Google Play
  • Video output – Component only output the Luminance signal with my TV, composite has a green bar at the bottom
  • “TV” Launcher is only made for 720p resolution

I had quite a few problem with networking with this hardware. First Wi-Fi is stable, but relatively slow, and then the box did not want to play nice with my Gigabit Ethernet switch, but connection and performance were fine with a Fast Ethernet hub. Video playback is decent, but may still need more work, a version of XBMC with support for H.265 would be nice, but I’d assume at first all Rockchip RK3288 TV boxes will suffer from the same flaw, at least initially. If you’d like to play some 3D games this TV box will give you a much better experience than what you can achieve with the fastest Cortex A9 solution (Rockchip RK3188, Amlogic S802), and after testing the box, this is currently the main selling point of this media player.

You may find more information and/or contact the company via G1H product page. UyeSee G1H is not yet listed on their Aliexpress Store, but some hardware with similar specs, but different enclosure, can be bought for $90 including shipping on Aliexpress, so we might expect a similar price for G1H.

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$79 STACK Box Home Automation / IoT Gateway Supports Wi-Fi, Ethernet, BLE, XBee, X10, Z-Wave and More (Crowdfunding)

August 20th, 2014 No comments

Cloud Media (Syabas) is better known for their Linux based “Popcorn Hour” media players, and last year I reviewed their FreeOTT streaming media player powered by a Cavium ARM11 processor. The company is now entering the home automation market with the STACK Box (aka XuanBox) also powered by a Cavium ARM11 processor, and supporting various connectivity options to interface with popular smart “things” such as Belkin Wemo and Philips Hue, as well as a Raspberry Pi Bus (26-pin header) to support add-ons.

Stack_Box

STACK Box specifications:

  • Processor – Cavium ARM11 processor @ 640 MHz (possibly Cavium CELESTIAL CNC1800L. TBC)
  • System Memory – 256MB DDR3
  • Storage – 512 MB flash + SD card slot
  • Connectivity
    • 10/100M Ethernet
    • Wi-Fi 802.11n with WPS
    • Bluetooth LE 4.0 (included)
    • Z-Wave (included)
    • Dust Networks (extra module required)
    • XBee  (extra module required)
    • X10 (extra module required)
    • Insteon (extra module required)
    • RF433/315 (coming soon)
    • EnOcean (coming soon)
    • ZigBee(coming soon)
    • DCLink(coming soon)
    • RFID(coming soon)
    • IR (coming soon)
  • USB – 5x USB 2.0 ports
  • 2x Optocoupler In and Out
  • Expansion – Raspberry Pi Bus (26-pin header), RS-232 port, XBee slot
  • Misc – 4x LEDs
  • Dimensions – 110 x 110 mm

XuanBoxThe STACK Box runs an embedded Linux based on kernel 3.10, and supports smart lighting, energy, audio, video, security, healthcare and wearable devices such as Sony and Sonos WiFi speakers, Belkin Wemo smart devices, Foscam IP Camera, Yale, Kwikset, Schlage locks, Philips Hue and GE/Intermatic/Aeon Labs /Leviton Z-Wave devices. You can check if your device(s) is/are currently supported here. The box is meant to be opened since you can insert a XBee module or a Raspberry Pi add-on board inside.

Disassembled STACK Box (Click to Enlarge)

Disassembled STACK Box (Click to Enlarge)

Everything is controlled via an Android or iOS smartphone app, but plans have been made for Windows 8 and web browser support. The app will allow to register new devices (Setup), and add “IF this THEN that” rules. It will also include an App market with apps such as ownCloud, Spotify, Energy Genius, Security and monitoring, Musical Light,… It also supports social media (Twitter, Weibo..), various network services (DLNA, uPnP, remote access..), and more services including Facebook, Thread, and IFFT are in the pipe.

STACK_Box_Automation

Since there’s an AppStore, you’d expect some developers’ resources, tools. and API in order to design and publish third party apps, and you’ll the XUAN SDK, guidelines, documentation, API, and a developers (& users) forum at http://developer.thexuan.com. Programming can be done with HTML5/JavaScript for mobile app, as well as Python programming language for background tasks.

XUAN Software Architecture (Click to Enlarge)

XUAN Software Architecture (Click to Enlarge)

The company is now looking for funds ($65,000 or more) to complete development and mass produce the STACK Box via a Kickstarter campaign. An early bird pledge of $79 will get your a black STACK Box including Bluetooth LE and Z-Wave connectivity. Once all early bird perks are gone, the box will go for $99 in Kickstarter, and is expect to retail for $149. They also have other pledges for more expensive boxes with different colors, but the same functionality, and bundle with Popcorn Hour A-410 media player for $329. Shipping is free to the US, and $20 to the rest of the world. Delivery of the perks is scheduled for December 2014, but since they have quite lot of work to integrate all promised standards, and for interoperability with smart devices, their road-map currently extends until July 2015 in order to implement all the “coming soon” features mentioned in this post. The complete roadmap is available at the end of XUAN brochure, and you may want to visit thexuan.com for more details.

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Review of Probox2 EX Quad Core Android TV Box and Remote+ Air Mouse

August 19th, 2014 15 comments

Probox2 EX is an Android TV box powered by Amlogic S802-H processor with 2GB RAM and 16GB eMMC, an hardware very similar to MINIX NEO X8-H, and an upgrade to the Tronsmart Vega S89 Elite and Shenzhen Tomato EM8 / Enybox M8 TV boxes I’ve reviewed previously, with more storage (16GB vs 8GB), dual band Wi-Fi, and S802-H instead of S802 for hardware DTS and Dolby audio decoding. I’ve already published an unboxing post for Probox2 EX, so today I’m going to test the firmware, including overall performance and stability, video playback, gaming, and most hardware features, as well as Remote+ air mouse with audio and gaming capabilities, which comes with the device.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I’ve found two AAA battery to insert into Remote+ air mouse, connected an HDMI cable, an Ethernet cable, the Wi-Fi antenna, the RF dongle for Remote+, and the power adapter to Probox2 EX. After pressing the power button on the box, it will boot within 30 seconds or so, with the user interface shown below that is a little different from other Metro-style user interfaces found in most Amlogic S802 Android media players.

Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

On the top row of the screen, we can see Probox2, the weather forecast (which works properly), the date, time, and network status. There are eight icons in the rest of the UI. The top four are folders for apps which are called Movies (4K MoviePlayer, MXPlayer), TV Shows (Netflix, XBMC), Music (Music, Google Play Music), Games (Frozen Bubble), and the four bottom icons are links to XBMC, a File Browser, and Google Play, as well as an Internet folder with the stock Browser and Chrome. In all folder, there’s a “+” icon that lets you add you own apps. On top of icons, you’ll find text with Home, More and All Apps. More will show more folders (Favorite, Photos, Streaming,. Social), as a task killer, and a link to custom settings. The user interface resolution is 1920×1080 (1080p), and that means videos are also played with true 1080p output. You can click on the screenshot above to check the real size.

The “Setting” menu is bascially the same as found in Tronsmart Vega S89 and M8 with Network, Display, Advanced and Other.

Display Setup (Click for Original Size)

Display Setup (Click for Original Size)

You can select between Wi-Fi and Ethernet in the Network section. By default the Display settings will automatically detect the video output, and it properly select 1080p60 in my case.. I’ve disable auto-detection to check the other and there’s only: 720p50/60, 108050/i60, 1080i50/60. No 24Hz mode, and strangely no 4K mode. I’m not sure if it is an issue with the firmware, or it cleverly detected my TV is not an UHD TV. If I connect the AV cable, disconnect the HDMI cable, and switch to AV input on my TV, the box will properly output to AV using 480cvbs or 576cvbs depending on option in Display menu. I can confirm audio is working OK in this mode. Unfortunately I could not find any way to go back to HDMI, even after a factory reset. It was a little late at night, and based on my extensive experience, if something does not work late at night, better go to bed, as invisible Goblins are probably working on your box, and they will go home at dawn. This works for software bugs too :). And magically, I could connect to HDMI again this morning. Other settings include “Hide Status Bar” (ON by default), Display Position, and Screen Saver timeout (Never, 4, 8, or 12 minutes). I’ve enabled the status bar, as I find it’s easier to navigate between apps and home screen.

ABout_Probox2_EXThe Advanced menu will let you start Miracast, and I could connect with my Android 4.2.1 phone after the second attempt. The first attempt found the display, but it could not connect. The mnue also lets you enable the software Remote control (not tested, but you can download RemoteIME.apk on your smartphone or tablet), adjust CEC controls, set the screen orientation, and select digital audio output (PCM, S/PDIF pass-through, HDMI pass-through). The Other button will give some details about the Android version (4.4.2), kernel version (3.10.33) and provides access to OTA System Update, which unfortunately is not enabled, so any firmware upgrade would have to be done with the SD card at best, and via the USB firmware tools at worst. You can access the standard Android settings by clicking on More Settings. Android Settings are based on the phone interface, not the tablet interface.

The Android Settings are needed for specific network features such as VPN and portable hotspot, and to enable Bluetooth. There’s a nice single 16GB partition with 13.24 GB free, so there’s plenty of space for apps, and some data. The firmware was rooted. Looking into the “About MediaBox” section shows the model number is  “”EX”, and just like the custom settings section, it shows Android 4.4.2 is running on top of Kernel 3.10.33.

I could install all applications I tried on Google Play Store including Root checker, Antutu, Quadrant, Candy Crush Saga, etc… Paid apps such as Sixaxis Controller also installed properly. I’ve installed Amazon AppStore to download Riptide GP2 that was one of the “Free App of the Day” some time ago.

Remote+ air mouse does most of the job. Yet using the air mouse to input text with the soft keyboard is not the most convenient, and the remote lacks thr play/pause and trick modes keys that are useful in media players such as XBMC. At some point the remote stopped working, so I though the AAA batteries were depleted, and I temporarily used Mele F10 Pro instead, until I released later that Remote+ started to work again. If you like to use voice search, the built-in microphone is great.  Simply start Google Search, press the audio button on the remote say “OK Google” followed by your query. I’ve also successfully performance a Skype Echo test with the remote. I’ve tested the gaming mode in the Gaming section of this review. You can have a look at Probox2 EX user’s interface, as well as demos of the built-in microphone with Google Search and Skype in the video below.

The power button on top of the device is used to power it on and off. A short press will power the device, and if somehow the system hangs (it never happened to me),  a long press (about 10 seconds) will turn it off. The power button on the remote can only to used to suspend or power off the device, you’ll need to press the power button on the media player to start it from power off state.There’s also a soft power button in the status bar, which can be useful if you want to use another remote or a mouse and keyboard. I’ve checked the temperature of the box after playing a 3D game. My infrared temperature checker detected 50 °C for both the top and bottom of the enclosure. My room temperature was around 28 °C.

The box never hung or frozen during my hours of testing, albeit several times, some apps just closed. But it’s difficult to determine if it is a system issue, or a bug in the app. The overall performance is usually good thanks to the 2GHz processor, and a fast eMMC flash.

Video Playback

The videos are played from XBMC browsing a SAMBA share on a USB 2.0 hard drive connected to a computer running Ubuntu 14.04. I’m using the Ethernet connection of the device. I had no problems with SAMBA in XBMC and ES File Explorer.

I first played videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, and as well as H.265/HEVC codec from Elecard also based on Big Buck Bunny 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 (could be a little more smooth though)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p and 720p OK, 1080p is watchable most of the time but feels slow at time.(VP8 is software decoded)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container
    • XBMC – 360p has some audio cuts, 720p frames skipping and frequent audio cuts, 1080p lot of skipped frames and constant audio cuts
    • MXPlayer – 360p OK, 720p OK most of the time, but not so smooth when panning, 1080p will has the same symptoms as 720p but worse, and it exits after a while. No audio cuts heard in 360p/720p

VP8 and H.265 not codec supported by the Amlogic processor, and are done using software decoding, so if you read H.265 on a S802 box that’s a distortion of the truth, as it won’t work properly. You need to wait for S805 or S812 processor for proper HEVC/H.265 support.  To their credit, W2COMP did not mention H.265 support on Probox2 EX package.

I’ve also tested some high bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps)
    • XBMC – Won’t even start to play
    • MXPlayer – Audio only, but I can switch to software decoded, and it’s playing smoothly most of the time, except in fast moving scene where it feels a little slow.
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK (Played from USB drive connected to box)

High definition audio codecs could play fine even from SAMBA (down-sampled to PCM):

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

These could also work in other players such as MXPlayer thanks to hardware DTS and Dolby support provided by S802-H. The latter may also help for smoother video, as it frees CPU power for other tasks.

Sintel-Bluray.iso Blu-ray ISO file could play just fine in XBMC, and I could also navigate between the eight chapters of the video. But for some reasons, I could not change the subtitles easily in XBMC menus, clicking on the up or down icons would jump to next language, only to come back to the default language of the video, and it’s only after many tries that I managed to switch to English.

Amlogic S802(-H) support 4K video playback downscaled to 1080p, most probably even on 4K/UHD televisions, so I tried a few:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Can play smoothly but there are frequent artifacts on the right of the video.
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – Plays but in slideshow style… (Expected since S802 does not support HEVC codec).
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 – Same as above
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts – Same as above

Other AVI, MKV, FLV and MP4 videos in my library could all play just fine. Somebody comment about video playback stability issue in EM8/M8 box, where videos stopped after 30 minute or so. So I played a complete 1080p mkv video (1h40) in the box, and it played until the until. Up to now Probox2 EX box is probably the best device I’ve tested when it comes to video playback support. It only fails with HEVC and VP8 videos which are not supported by the S802-H’s VPU, and decoded by software leading to mediocre performance with these two video codecs, and the lack of 24Hz video output may be a problem for some.

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)

The network test consist in transferring a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash using, and vice versa, repeating the test three times using ES File Explorer. I had a big smile on my face, when a saw transfer speed up to 3.25MB/s using Wi-Fi. When it comes to Wi-Fi performance, Probox2 EX is clearly ahead, and puts the competition to shame, as the transfer times averaged 1:39 (2.8 MB/s).

Probox2_EX_Wi-FiThe only device that’s faster than Probox2 EX is CS868, but the latter as very poor firmware, which is not the case for Probox2 EX. It easily beats the two other S802 boxes I tested, namely Vega S89 Elite and M8. While testing Wi-Fi, I also tried the Miracast function. The first time, even though my phone could see the display, it would not connect. Trying a few hours later, it worked just fine, and you could mirror my phone screen on the TV.

I’ve also tested Ethernet with the same procedure. and the transfer from SAMBA to flash was done @ 6.3 MB/s (44s), and flash to SAMBA @ 5.79 MB/s (48s). Which is much better than Wetek Play and Vidon.me AV200.

Probox2_EX_EthernetThere’s an important remark however. I always use the latest version of ES File Explorer from Google Play, so software may improve overtime, and the changelog for the latest version (3.1.9 – August 6, 2014) lists “-Improve SMB performance”, so even though I’m sure Probox2 EX performance is good, the results above may have been amplified due to software improvements (except for WeTek Play tested on 14th to 16th August). I haven’t investigated the scale of the improvement yet, but it might something worth looking into it.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooth is built-in the device, and I had no problem pairing it with my Android smartphone (ThL W200), and transfer a picture from my phone to the device.

I’ve tried Sixaxis Compatibility Checker and Sixaxis Controller, and although the drivers seems OK, I could not use my PS3 Bluetooth gamepad clone, as it won’t connect, and Sixaxis will segfault.

For the first time, I’ve also tested Bluetooth 4.0 BLE with Vidonn X5 activity tracker, and it worked flawlessly.

Storage

Both a micro SD card and a USB flash drive formatted to FAT32 could be mounted and accessed successfully.
I’ve also connected my USB 3.0 hard drive with NTFS, EXT-4, FAT32, and BTRFS partitions. Here are the performance results achieved by copying files between the internal flash and the partitions using File ES Explorer.

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

I used A1 SD Bench for storage testing with the custom locations set to /storage/external_storage_sda1 for the NTFS partition, and the read speed is 29.64MB/s whereas the write speed is 30.97MB/s, which seems very good, and close to the performance It can achieve on my PC when connected to a USB 2.0 port. This compares to respectively 25.63MS/s, and 24.81MB/s for WeTek Play.

If you have ever upgrade your PC from a mechanical hard drive to a SSD, or upgrade from a Class 4 to a Class 10 SD card when running Linux on a development board or device, you should now how important I/O performance is important to the overall system performance, but seldom mentioned. So I’ve also decided to started testing internal storage. The eMMC flash in Probox2 EX can be read at 27.57MB/s, and written at 15.11 MB/s according to A1 SD Bench app.

USB Webcam

A no-brand USB webcam worked with Skype. I could see the video, and tested audio successfully with the Echo service. Since also tried Remote+ as a microphone, and it worked. However I did not manage to make it work with Google Hangouts. The camera icon would just show for one second or less, and disappear.

Gaming

I’ve tested three games: Candy Crush Saga, Riptitde GP2, and Beach Buggy Blitz.  Candy Crush Saga is normally not demanding, and I could play using Remote+ air mouse.

I decided to play Riptide GP2 with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad, and at first I had no issues, but as with other S802 boxes the frame rate with default settings feels a bit low, probably because of 1080p resolution, so I lower the quality settings to try again, and shortly after the game because unplayable with sometimes one frame every 4 seconds. The box had run smoothly for over 5 hours before this, and I measured 50 °C on top and bottom of the box, so I decided to take a break, and enter suspend mode. Thirty minutes later, the temperature fell to 35 °C, and I started it, and played Riptide GP2 to try to reproduce the issue. Four races and no problem, but at the fifth race, or about 20-25 minutes later, the game became unplayable again. It’s possible my relatively high room temperature (28 to 30 °C) impacts the cooling of the device. The first time I played Riptide GP2, Mele F10 Pro dongle was connected, and Mars G01 gamepad was detected. But when I tried later with Remote+ RF dongle, Mars G01 was not detected, simply because Remote+ is also registered as a gamepad, so I had two gamepads in my system which confused the game/system.

I played Beach Buggy Blitz with Remote+ to test the gaming mode of the air mouse. There are four modes available via a single “Mode switching” key: remote control, air mouse, gaming mode (vertical), and gaming mode (horizontal). Unfortunately, there’s no indication of the mode you are currently in, and at the beginning it’s quite confusing, especially if you are not sure you are in vertical and horizontal mode. The gaming mode is making use of the gyroscope, and in the game you can to select “Tilt mode”. You can then hold and move the remote like a steering wheel to turn left and right, it works, but in this mode none of the keys can be used for breaking, which can be an issue… So instead I switched to “Gamepad mode” in the game, where I could define the keys, and play the games with the D-Pad and X,Y, B and A buttons. In this mode, you’ll obviously lose the gyroscope feature, but it’s much more easier to control, and at least you can break when needed. I played Beach Buggy Blitz for 30 minutes, and I could not reproduce the issue experienced in Riptide GP2.

Probox2 EX Benchmark

Antutu benchmark scores varies widely between Amlogic S802 devices, even with the hardware same. Some people get 22,000, others 30,000 with the same model, so the relevance is limited. Anyway, I’ve tested Probox2 EX with Antutu and Quadrant for reference.
Probox2_Antutu
With 31,747 points, this Android media player gets the highest score I’ve personally seen in such type of device. Please note that Antutu and Quadrant did not run in full screen, but in portrait mode with 607×1008 resolution (taking about a third of the screen), so this may have impacted the GPU score. The Storage I/O score with 1,801 is much higher than in Vega S89 Elite (851) and M8 (751) probably because Probox2 EX features an eMMC flash, where the other two come with a standard NAND flash.

Probox2 EX Quadrant Benchmark (Click to Enlarge)

Probox2 EX Quadrant Benchmark (Click to Enlarge)

The Quadrant score (8728) is also much greater than the scores for Vega S89 Elite (5323) and M8 (6536), but these had older firmware. Since then I have tested Vega S89 Elite with Antutu and firmware 107k4, and found a score of 29,000 points instead of 22603 points with the firmware I used during my review. So firmware version matters!

Conclusion

During the first 5 hours of test I just found Probox2 EX was amazing: stable, fast, and everything seemed to work. Video playback was also flawless, networking performance outstanding, and the remote/airmouse fun to use. Unfortunately I eventually found its Achilles’ heel when I started playing 3D games, especially Riptide GP2, where the system started to slowdown considerably to manage overheating. The good news here is that the device won’t just overheat and hang or reboot, but will just slow down to cool itself down. In most cases, it’s not a problem, as you may not even notice it, but in games, where you need real-time rendering, it can be.

PRO:

  • Stable firmware and excellent system performance thanks to CPU and fast eMMC
  • Provided Remote+ air mouse that can also be used for voice search, and gaming.
  • Best video playback support I’ve seen so far. It plays everything smoothly except H.265 and VP8 which are done by software.
  • DTS & Dolby hardware decoding.
  • Outstanding Wi-Fi and Ethernet performance (However, it may be partially due to improvement in SAMBA performance in ES Fie Explorer)
  • Most features just work (Bluetooth, Miracast, USB webcam, etc…)
  • Android Kitkat with XBMC and true 1080p user interface

CONS:

  • May overheat under load, and performance scaled down dramatically to manage system temperature. Reproduced with a 3D game (Riptide GP2), but not others.
  • Potential HDMI <-> AV switching issues
  • Video Output: No 24Hz support, no 4K option. [Update: Apparently this firmware hides 4K options when connected to FullHD TV (1080p)]
  • Webcam supported in Skype, but not in Google Hangouts
  • OTA firmware update does not work / not implemented
  • Remote+ lacks play/pause, ffwd, ffrd… buttons for media players.

If I had received this STB in winter, it’s quite possible I may not have noticed the overheating issue during 3D games. Probox2 EX is still one of best Android mini PC I’ve ever used, albeit if you like to play 3D games during extended period of times, I cannot recommend it. But for everything else I think the box is great. The lack of 4K support may not matter that much since in Android everything is downscaled to the user interface resolution (1080p), so even if the box outputs to 4K, it would still be shown @ 1080p.

I can’t compare it to MINIX NEO X8-H directly, since I don’t have the latter, but MINIX does have unofficial and official support forums, which W2COMP/PROBOX2 does not have, so you can’t rely on the power of the community for help, and instead you have to go through customer support. There has been several firmware update for their previous Probox2 products, so hopefully there will be too for Probox2 EX (no firmware file has been released so far).

Probox2 EX and Remote+ can be purchased for $149.99 including shipping. As a comparison, other TV Boxes based on S802-H with similar features include MINIX NEO X8-H selling for $149.99 with more basic NEO M1 air mouse, and Vega S89-H for $120 without air mouse. You may also want to check Probox2 EX product page.

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Review of WeTek Play Android DVB-S2 Satellite Receiver

August 16th, 2014 5 comments

I’ve already posted pictures of WeTek Play and its boards, and now it’s time to do a full review of this Android DVB-S2 receiver / media player. I’ll start by giving my first impressions, going through the system settings, testing my library of video test files, as well as DVB-S2 support via WeTek Theater, and check most of hardware features. I’ll also test network and storage performance, before running Antutu benchmark to make sure the device runs at optimal speed.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

Contrary to the vast majority of devices, WeTek Play does not come with a basically useless infrared remote, but instead an RF air mouse with an IR transmitter in order to provide true power ON/OFF capabilities. The remote is very nice with all the control you’d expect from an Android remote control, and you can turn on/off mouse mode easily via a button at the back. The only downside are the lack of a QWERTY keyboard, so you to input text with the soft keyboard in mouse mode, and it does not come with a built-in battery, but you need to insert two AAA batteries (1.5V). Rechargeable batteries (1.2V) might also work, but I have not try. So I’ve connected an HDMI cable, an Ethernet cable, my satellite dish cable, and the power supply to get started. It takes a little over 40 seconds to boot. The first time you enter a Welcome Wizard to select your language, network connectivity, check for the latest firmware (OTA update), activate your device, login to  Google Play, and optional configure your satellite reception. Once this is all done you can watch SD and HD TV channels on your TV, record programs to a USB mass storage, access EPG, and more. I’ll go through this in details in the video, and the Live TV / DVB-S2 section of this review, but let’s go to the home screen first.

WeTek Play Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

WeTek Play Home Screen (Click to Enlarge)

The home screen is simple, and actually I find it nice for TV, but this is a matter of taste. From top to bottom, and left to right, we’ve got the date, the time, and the weather forecast (Some cities are missing, e.g. Bangkok, Chiang Mai are nowhere to be found) on the top row, then 5 icons for (live) TV, Apps, Web, Local (File manager), and XBMC, and in the last row some user configurable shortcuts. There are also some system shortcuts on the left of the screen with Settings, Power Off, Connected to Internet (Network settings) and Recent Apps, as well as shortcuts to external USB drives, but you’re unlikely to ever use these, since these functions are all accessible via the remote control.

The “Setting” icon or remote key 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, but as mentioned above some large cities, even capitals, as well as 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 (iEPG and iChannels), that are not currently running, as well as Backup your setting in the cloud thanks to partnership with Box.com, but it’s also not activated in this pre-release firmware.

About_WeTek_PlayLet’s go through the Android settings. In the Wireless & Networks section, we can find Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, Data usage, and “More” for VPN and portable hotspot support.Wi-Fi and Ethernet works fine, but the Wi-Fi signal is very low for Wi-Fi, however the most probable reasons for the issue is that I cut the Wi-Fi antenna cable, and did not solder it properly, so I won’t test Wi-Fi performance in this review.

There’s no pass-through configuration in the Sound option, only options for volumes, and notification sounds, hopefully this will be implemented in the final firmware. The Display section lets you adjust the overscan and select the display resolution: 480i / 576i, 720p, 72p50, 1080p, 1080p50, 1080i and 1080i50, so no 24Hz support. The user interface resolution is fixed to 720p. Storage in the device used a single partition for apps and data, which is great news. Since there’s only 4GB flash however, the total space is only 1.89GB, and after installing a few apps, there’s just 863MB available, but it should be enough, if you use the box main as a media center. The “About WeTek” section displays the model number “Play”, Android 4.2.2 running on top of Linux kernel 3.0.50.

I could login to Google Play without issue inside the welcome wizard, and I could search for app, but at first for some reasons, it would not react the to Install button, or show a list of app in the main menu, or after a keyword search, so instead I installed Amazon Appstore without issues to download apps such as Candy Crush Saga, Riptide GP2, Antutu, etc… After a while, I went back to Google Play, and it all magically worked, and I could install the apps I needed for testing, so it may have been a temporary (network) issue.

Amlogic AML8726-MX processor have been around for over two years, and although you lose some performance compared to the latest processors, the firmware is likely to be more stable than recent processor, and that’s exactly the case with WeTek Android firmware, which I found to be pretty solid, except for that initial Google Play issue, and various small issues with their services and DVB which should be enabled/fixed once the product is released. I did not experience any hang ups, or random reboots during the several hours I tested the device.

After several hours use, and just after Antutu benchmarks, and playing a 3D game, the temperature at the top of the box was 41°C, and at the bottom 48°C, with an ambient temperature around 28°C.

I’ve shot a rather long video going through the Welcome wizard, showing the Live TV app (WeTek Theater) capabilities such as PVR and EPG, and showing various parts of the user interface including the settings, and XBMC.

Video Playback

I’ve used XBMC to test video playback as it’s pre-installed and even prominent in the device as it’s the main media player. The videos are played from a SAMBA share on a USB 2.0 hard drive in Ubuntu 14.04, and using the Ethernet connection of the device. SAMBA configuration was a breeze both in XBMC and ES File Explorer.

As usual, I start with videos samples from samplemedia.linaro.org, and even though AML8726-MX does not officially support H.265/HEVC codec, I also tried samples Elecard:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB) – RV8, RV9, and RV10 all play, but not quite as smooth as on my PC…
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p OK, 720p playing 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 frames skipping and audio cuts, 1080p slideshow and frequent audio cuts

I’ve also tested some high bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi (1080p MPEG-4 – 10Mbps) – Won’t even start to play
  • 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

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

  • AC3 – OK
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 / Dolby Digital 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 & 7.1 – Can decode audio but frequent cuts and video not smooth
  • DTS-MA and DTS-HR – Can decode audio but frequent cuts and video not smooth

I’ve also tried these “audio test” videos from a USB hard drive, and they can play fine, so the issue only happens while playing from the LAN.

Sintel-Bluray.iso, a free Blu-ray ISO file, could play just fine in XBMC, and I could also navigate between the eight chapters of the video. I skipped 4K videos since these won’t be supported by this hardware.

I also tested several AVI, MKV, FLV and MP4 videos, and they could all play without any issues. So overall this box is very good at playing videos., It won’t support BP8 and H.265 video files properly because the Amlogic SoC do not support these, and if you plan to play Blu-ray with some lowless high-definition audio, playback may not be super smooth over the network, but should be OK from a USB hard drive.

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 Live TV / Satellite Receiver App

The dual DVB-S2 tuner is one of the key selling point of this Android media player. The app provided to handle Live TV is called WeTek Theater and has been developed in-house. The first time you enter the app, you’ll be asked to setup your antenna. In the final firmware, there will be a list of satellites (per country?), but in this firmware you need to add satellites manually. I selected Thaicom 5 located at 78.5° East to watch Thai TV channles, as shown in the screenshot below.

Dish Setup (Click for Original Size)

Dish Setup (Click for Original Size)

Then I just selected 1 Scan channels with the default options, butit complained I needed to set the TP (Transponders) manually, i.e. configure the channels manually with frequencies ,V/H, etc… So it did not seem like a good idea. Finally, I’ve been told I had to select “Blindscan” mode to automatically scan for channels. It worked, and I got 795 TV channels, and 72 radio stations. Unfortunately, most TV channels are not Free-to-Air, so I could not see them, and I repeated the search with only FTA channels, I ended up to 63 TV channels and 25 radios. I’m not sure whether it’s possible to watch paid channels with this box.

Thailand_DVB-S2

After that I could just click OK to watch TV. For some reasons, I could not locate the most famous TV channels in Thailand such as TV 3, TV 5, NBT… Maybe there were called by other names in the list, I’m not sure. Nevertheless waiting TV works pretty well. Most channels are in standard definition, but at least one of them is in High Definition, so both DVB-S and DVB-S2 work with WeTek Play. Interesting features include EPG (Electronic Program Guide), but unfortunately most of the time I did not get anything, or sometimes the list of program would appear first, and then just disappear, so it may not work just perfectly at this time. If it worked, you would be able to add programs to a “book list” probably used to alert you when you program is ON, or record it. Talking about recording video (PVR), I managed to do just that with the Record button on the remote. You simply need a USB mass storage device (flash drive or USB hard drive), press the button, set the time in minutes, and click OK. I tried for 1 minute, and I could go to ES File Explorer or XBMC to play the recorded video in TVRecordFiles directory in my flash drive. The aspect ratio seemed a little bit distorted however.  There’s also a TimeShifting function, that let you pause and resume live TV, and worked pretty well for the short time I tried it.

To better get an idea of all these features, check the video embedded above in this post.

 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. Although it’s not a pure network throughput test, but IMHO a real use case. There’s a problem with Wi-Fi due to my own mistake when I opened the box, and I’m not confident I’ve fixed the problem because I can see an unusually low signal, so I’ll skip the Wi-Fi test, as I’ve already spent an enormous amount of time on this box.

I’ve only tested Ethernet with the same procedure. From SAMBA to the flash, the transfer was done @ 3.75 MB/s (1m14s), and 4.08MB/s (1m08s) This compares to Vidon.me AV200 achieving 3.43 MB/s (1m21s), and 4.27MB/s (1m05s). However the first time I did the transfer, it start a a few KB/s before completely stalled, and eventually timing out. This is extremely unusual for Ethernet, and I wonder if unstable Ethernet could explain the initial issues I had with Ethernet (TBC).

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Bluetooth is built-in the device, and I had no problem pairing it with my Android smartphone. Unfortunately, I could not managed to transfer a picture from my phone to WeTek Play, nothing would happen on the device. I’ve tried Sixaxis compatibility checker, and it says the box support Playstation Wireless Game controller, but my gamepad seems broken (Start key won’t do anything), so I could not confirm it.

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. Here are the performance results achieved by copying files between the internal flash and the partitions using File ES Explorer.

File System Read Write
NTFS 4.15 MB/s 11.30 MB/s
EXT-4 Not supported
FAT32 3.82 MB/s 12.5 MB/s
BTRFS Not supported

It’s quite clear this test measures the read and write speedd of the NAND flash, so it’s pretty useless to evaluate USB storage performance… So I’ll drop this test in future reviews, and I’ve looked into other apps for testing storage performance. One  storage benchmark app is AndroBench but the benchmarking paths are fixed, so it could not use it. So I finally opted to use A1 SD Bench for storage testing as it supports custom locations..I set the custom path to /storage/external_storage_sda1 for the NTFS, and the red speed is 25.63MS/s, whereas the write speed is 24.81MB/s, both of which are decent transfer speeds over USB 2.0.

USB Webcam

I could use a low cost no brand USB webcam with Skype. I haven’t tested Google hangout.

Gaming

I’ve tested two games: Candy Crush Saga and Riptitde GP2,  I used WeTek air mouse to play candy crush,  and Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad to play Riptide GP2, and I had no issues. However if you are into games you should clearly buy a set-top box with a more power GPU, but this box is perfectly usable for casual gaming. I’ve also mentioned in my Bluetooth test that Sixaxis should work with this box.

WeTek Play Benchmark

I’ve tested so many devices based in Amlogic AML8726-MX, it’s not really necessary to run many benchmarks. So I’ve just run Antutu to make sure there’s nothing unexpected.

Antutu Benchmark (Click to Enlarge)

Antutu Benchmark (Click to Enlarge)

A score of 12,951 points seems pretty good with a dual core Cortex A9 processor @ 1.6 Ghz, so even though it can’t obviously match the performance of the latest processor, the Antutu is just as expected. For some reasons, most benchmark I used, namely Antutu and AndroBench , switched to portrait mode, so it may also be something that needs to be fixed, as other apps are likely to suffers the same fate.

Conclusion

I have to say I’m pretty please with WeTek Play so far, especially since the final firmware has not been released yet. I found it to be very stable, and virtually no point I felt the system to be sluggish, except for some rare occasions where the mouse pointer seemed to stuck for a short period at times. The team has managed to make full use of the chosen hardware, and most videos are support, I only had problem with VP8 and H.265, as both codecs are not supported by the VPU, and two other video files. It’s not to say everything is perfect, as there are still some bugs, but it looks promising.

PRO:

  • Stable firmware and good performance considering the hardware
  • User friendly remote control with IR for power, and air mouse function, and all buttons you would expect in Android
  • Excellent video playback, including Blu-ray ISO (albeit mitigated by mediocre Ethernet performance, if you play bitrate videos from the network)
  • DVB-S2 tuners with decent app with EPG, PVR, and TimeShifting feature
  • Support for multiple firmware image including Android and Linux, as well as support for CMW  and TWRP recoveries – See list here.
  • OTA updates
  • “True” power off
  • Cloud backup (Although not working yet)
  • External serial console port (for developers)

CONS:

  • Potential instability issues with Ethernet.
  • DVB-S2 app currently requires manual entry of satellite data (name and orientation), and EPG does not seem to work reliably.
  • UI set to 720p, which could be an issue for people requiring “true” 1080p output. But if you mainly want to watch / record DVB-S2 HD channels, this won’t be an issue.
  • No 24Hz support. Issue for people sensitive to small, but regular jitter when frequency is not set right.
  • Pass-through does not seem supported yet.
  • Some apps may wrongly switch to portrait mode.
  • I failed to transfer picture via Bluetooth

The only critical issue for my usage is Ethernet, but otherwise both the hardware and firmware are great. I’ll try Linux on the box, probably next week-end.

WeTek Play is not currently available for purchase, but should be soon, in the meantime, you can check more information on wetek.com.

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Atomwear is a Modularized, Open source, Wearable BLE Development Kit (Crowdfunding)

August 11th, 2014 No comments

Giayee is a company mainly manufacturing Android tablets, thin clients, and mini PCs, but their latest product, called Atomwear, is a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) development kit based on Nordic nRF51822 chipset that comes with various modules such as battery charger, accelerometer, gyroscope, OLED display, heart rate monitor, etc… which connect together via 24-pin connector on a standard rigid baseboard or a flexible printed circuit (FPC).

Atomwer_FPC

Various Atomwear Modules Connected to FPC

All modules are connected via the same 24-pin connector with power, I2C, SPI, UART, ADC, and GPIOs signals. The baseboard and FPC both contain 6 such connectors connected in parallel for up to 6 modules, and two baseboard can be connected together via a bridge circuit to accept more modules. The minimum configuration is with a BLE MCU module, and a power module.

The different boards and modules are listed as follows:

  • Atomwear-BASE – Baseboard – Dimensions: 10x70mm
  • Atomwear-MCU – BLE MCU board – Dimensions: 10x21mm. The brain of the system. It consists of Nordic nRF51822 BLE MCU, a button and two LEDs. The button is designed to switch working mode and two LEDs indicate working status. They can be defined by users.
  • Atomwear-BAT – Battery module.  Dimensions: 10x20mm.  This module provides power supply for Atomwear via a 40 mAh battery, and indicated the battery level to the MCU. If you need more capacity severral Atomwear-BAT modules can be used.
  • Atomwear-CHG – USB battery charge control module -  Dimensions – 10x13mm. Charge Atomwear via a Micro USB receptacle. There are two LEDs on this board (Green and Red) to indicate charging status.
  • Atomwear-BAC – 3-axis digital accelerometer and barometric pressure sensor -  Dimensions – 10x10mm. The two sensors are connected on the same I2C bus with different device addresses, and they provide acceleration, barometric pressure, temperature and altitude data.
  • Atomwear-MAG – Versatile 9DoF sensor module -  Dimensions – 10x10mm. This board contains a 3-axis gyro & 3-axis accelerometer (BMI055) and a 3-axis magnetometer (AK8963).
  • Atomwear-OLED -  OLED display module -  Dimensions: 14x14mm.  Low power OLED module with 64×32 resolution.
  • Atomwear-DBG – Debug port module.  Dimensions: 10X12mm. This module connects the SWD port and UART port from the 24-pin socket to 2.54mm pitch header.

Atomwear_Modules
The project will be fully open source, the first version of the firmware and software, top be used with Keil uVison4, is already available on github, and there should also be an Android (no iOS mentioned) demo app in Java to show how to use their API, but it’s not in github or I missed it. The company also promised to send all their hardware design files (schematic, board design) to their backers by email, and they encourage people to come up with their own modules.

Giayee has launched Atomwear Kickstarter campaign to raise $12,000 CAD or more to launch production. Pledges start at $45 CAD for the basic Atomwear kit with the MCU, debug, battery, MAG module, and baseboard. If you want a kit with the PFC and a rubber wristband, that is something you could actually wear, you’ll need to pledge $75 CAD which also includes the basic kit plus the OLED module. Shipping is free to Canada, and $15 CAD to anywhere else, with delivery scheduled for November 2014.

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

July 23rd, 2014 No comments

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

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

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

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

Wednesday – 1st of October

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday – 2nd of October

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday – 3rd of October

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

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

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

Attendees will learn:

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

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

Abstract currently not available.

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

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

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

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

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