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Posts Tagged ‘debian’

IceZero Lattice iCE40 FPGA Board is Designed for Raspberry Pi Zero

June 24th, 2017 No comments

Yesterday, we reported about Olimex’s open source hardware iCE40HX8K-EVB board with a Lattice iCE40 (HX8K) FPGA, and today, another iCE40 FPGA board, also open source hardware, appeared in my news feed with Trenz Electronic’s IceZero board specifically designed to be programmed using a Raspberry Pi Zero board.

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IceZero board specifications:

  • FPGA – Lattice ICE40HX4K with 3520 logic gates, and 80 Kbit memory
  • Storage – SPI Flash for FPGA self-configuration
  • Misc – 3x User LEDs;  User Clock: 100 MHz
  • Expansion – 4x unpopulated PMOD Connectors; 40-pin Raspberry Pi female header
  • Dimensions – 56 x 30.5mm (Raspberry Pi HAT Compatible)

The board is supported by icoTC open source FPGA toolchain for Windows and Linux, which you can use in Raspberry Pi Zero (W), and other RPi board with a 40-pin header running Raspbian, as explained in that simple example in Github. Trenz electronic only shared part of the documentation, but you’ll find everything on a blog post on Black Mesa Labs with the design files licensed with the CERN Open Hardware License v1.2, and more technical details about the board.

Block Diagram with Raspberry Pi

Trenz Electronic sells IceZero board for 34 Euros excluding VAT and shipping, but in case you’d like to make it yourself, you can also order the bare PCB on OSH Park.

ROCK64 is a Rockchip RK3328 Development Board with Up to 4GB RAM, 4K HDR, Gigabit Ethernet, and USB 3.0

June 8th, 2017 62 comments

Rockchip RK3328 Android TV boxes such as A5X Plus or A95X R2 have been on the market for a couple of months, but since the processor is rather inexpensive, yet supports 4K UHD video output, Gigabit Ethernet and USB 3.0 interfaces, Pine64 has decided to create a new development board called ROCK64 with a form factor similar to Raspberry Pi 3 board.

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ROCK64 board specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor with ARM Mali-450MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 1, 2, or 4 GB LPDDR3 @ 1866 MHz
  • Storage – eMMC flash module socket + micro SD card slot + 128 Mbit SPI flash
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with HDR10 and HLG support, 3.5mm AV port (composite video + stereo audio)
  • Video Codec – 4K VP9, H.265 and H.264, 1080p VC-1, MPEG-1/2/4, VP6/8
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 ports, 1x USB 3.0 port
  • Expansion Headers
    • 40-pin Pi-2 Bus with GPIOs, 2x I2C, Analog inputs, UART, SPI, and power signals (5V, 3.3V, and GND)
    • 22-pin Pi-P5+ Bus with GPIOs, I2S, S/PDIF, Ethernet, and power signals (5V, 3.3V, and GND)
  • Misc – IR receiver; power, recovery  & reset buttons; eMMC jumper
  • Power Supply – 5V/3A via 3.5mm/1.35mm power barrel
  • Dimensions –  85 x 56 mm

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The board will support various operating system including Android 7.1, Debian, Yocto Linux, and more. Some of the source code and software development tools are already available in github.

The board will be launched on the first of July, but price has not been announced yet due to the recent DRAM price hike. For reference, RK3328 TV boxes with 1GB RAM now sell for around $35 and the ones with 2GB RAM for around $45. Those prices include shipping and all accessories, and considering Pine64’s usually aggressive pricing, ROCK64 board may be sold for around $25 (1GB RAM), $35 (2GB RAM) and $45 to 50 (4GB RAM) excluding shipping. You’ll find a few more details, including PDF schematics and pinout diagrams, in the product page.

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Update: I’ve just received my board, and updated the pictures above. I also came with a FORESEE eMMC module (see first picture), and a 5V/3A power supply.

U5PVR Deluxe Set-Top Box & NAS Review – Part 2: Android TV, Debian, and Live TV App

June 6th, 2017 8 comments

U5PVR Deluxe is an set-top box with digital TV tuners that runs Android TV 5.1, and support 2.5″ and 3.5″ hard drive. I’ve received a model with a dual DVB-T/T2 tuner, and already posted “U5 PVR Deluxe Android Set-Top Box Review – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing, Teardown, and SATA HDD Assembly” a few weeks ago, where I described the hardware, and I inserted a one terabytes 3.5″ hard drive. I’ve now had time to test the device, but it took much longer than expected due to a partial firmware update issue, which forced me to redo many of the tests. There are also some undocumented features, so if you want to make the most of the device, be prepared to spend time in the forums.

U5PVR Connections, OTA Firmware Update, and Setup Wizard

The box have one USB 3.0 ports, and three USB 2.0 ports, so most people won’t need an extra USB hub, and for the review, I connected a USB 3.0 hard drive to the former, as well as two RF dongles for my air mouse and gamepad, and a USB keyboard to take screenshots.

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I also connected Ethernet and HDMI cables,  as well as my terrestrial TV antenna to the RF coaxial input of the device. You’ll probably want to connect the RF output to your TV if it comes with a DVB-T2 tuner, but I don’t have a cable for that so I skipped.

Finally I connected the 12V power supply, and pressed the power switch on the back panel to start the device up.

My box had a firmware dated 31st of March 2017 without OTA support, so I went to the forums to find the latest firmware dated May 4th. I downloaded the file, and proceeded with the firmware update, and everything seems to work with the Android logo and progress bar, as well as a slightly different UI, so I kept proceeding with the review at this stage. But later, as I had used the remote control to take screenshots, and found out all files were there by empty. So I contacted the company via their Google+ community, and found out my firmware was still stuck at March 31st. Noooo! The company gave me a new firmware file dated May 29th, which I first copied to my SATA hard drive to complete the update, but after going through the procedure, no change, so I repeated the steps by copying the file to one of the partition of my USB hardware, and it went through probably. They also told me that I could install the Linux part via OTA, which I did.

But wait a minute.. Linux? What is it for exactly on this box? Answer:

  1. Plex media Server accessible via BoxIPAddress:32400/web using ID : u5pvr; password : u5pvr
  2. Transmission server accessible via BoxIPAddress:9091 using ID : u5pvr password : u5pvr
  3. FTP Server using u5pvr as username and password
  4. Second TVHeadEnd server accessible via BoxIPAddress:9981 using  ID : u5pvr password : u5pvr
  5. SSH using root username with u5pvr password.
  6. Install various other Linux program like Webserver, Audio streaming server, Rclone for Google drive. Asterisk voice server etc…. Similar to Synology NAS

They call this “Android Over Linux (AoL) ” and it allows to run both Android TV and Debian apps. I’ve quickly tried to login to SSH, and you indeed access to an ARM Debian machine:

That’s all nice and convenient, but for user who don’t know what installing “Linux” does, it somewhat expose them to hackers with a default username and password. U5PVR should not be accessible directly from the Internet, but it’s still not ideal. Asking users to set usernames and password right after installation would be beneficial. People who know can easily change the default password as they wish.

The support guy on G+ (William Tedy) also went on with some other Android features that I was not all aware of, and you may read about them on Google+ as the list is rather long, and due to time constraints I won’t test it all, especially Wio GPS board is looking at me with its big beautiful eyes (antennas) asking why I’m not taking care of it yet….

Nevertheless, I don’t expect people to have the same problems as I had with firmware update since boxes selling now come with OTA firmware enabled. For the very first boot, you’ll be asked to Select a Home app. Going with Home Screen will bring you to the default launcher, while Setup Wizard will guide you through the first time setup.


I’ve selected Setup Wizard and Just once to check how useful it would be. You’re first welcomed and asked to select your language.

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Then you can select you network. If you are using Ethernet with DHCP, you don’t need to change anything, but if you prefer WiFi you can configure it here.

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The next Windows will let you sign-in to your Google account. That’s where I found out the air mouse would not always work here, as while I could type the text, clicking on Next would do nothing, and I had to use the IR remote control, or switch to remote mode on the air mouse instead.

Once the Google Account is completed, the Setup is finished. So it was only minimal, and you may still have to setup the rest of the device in the Settings and Live TV app.

U5PVR Android TV, Settings, and First Impressions

You’ll then be directed to the launcher, and to my surprise it was Android Leanback launcher, and as we’ll see below the box is running Android TV, as opposed to just Android as on most TV boxes on the market.

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I had a pretty bad first impression of Leanback launcher, as it included some “recommended” videos that I did not care at all for, including some with fairly disgusting thumbnails. The screenshot above is for the older firmware, and it seems the company has now disabled recommendations and it just shows “Some recommendations are hidden. To enable, go to Settings”. I’ll show how to enable/disable this a little later. The new firmware also have some extra icons and different pre-installed apps.

There’s a row of icons with some common apps which can be deleted, added, and moved as required, and the last row included two settings app: ATV settings (Amlogic settings app) and Settings (Android settings), as well as Network, QuickClean and Power icons. The former shows “unknown SSID” as I’m using Ethernet.

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The list of pre-installed apps is shown above, and you’ll notice Kodi is not there. We’ll see why later…

The ATV settings app is shown below.

After scrolling the top row to the right.

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If you’ve ever used an Amlogic TV box it should look similar. Options are pretty much the same as on other boxes except there’s a Ethernet/WiFi menu on top of the network menu, as you can use both Ethernet and WiFi at the same time.HDMI CEC is enabled by default, which may not be the best idea, as it may confuse some people, who don’t understand why their TV will turn off when they turn off the box. The HDR10 option just enable and disable HDR support, something I cannot test since I’d need a new 4K UHD TV with high dynamic range support.

The Color Space menu will allow you to switch between RGB444, YCbCr444, YCbCr422, etc… It’s mostly useful in case you have some strange colors, or even a pink screen due to interoperability issues between the TV and the box. I did not need to use this.

The second row has a Home Screen menu, which you can enter to change Leanback launcher behavior via two menu: Recommendation row and app and games row

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I just disabled everything so I don’t need to get annoyed by videos thumbnails in the launcher. You can always enable sources that are useful to you, and disable others.

The Settings icon redirects to Android TV settings with pretty much typical options. SAMBA Service has been added and enabled by default without password, but you can add your own password if needed.

The Home menu allows you to switch between Leanback and Live TV app for the launcher. Beside starting live TV automatically, we’ll see the later is perfectly usable as a launcher since you can access apps from it. Which launcher would prefer depends on your main use case. If you mainly like to watch online videos from YouTube and other services, then Leanback might be good for you, while if you are mainly watching live TV over DVB-T/T2, live TV may be a better choice.

Since I lost all screenshots taken with the remote control due to the firmware issue, I only have storage data at the end of the review. We can still see 10.99 GB space is available to the user out of the 16GB flash, and at the end of the review, I still had 8.04 GB available.

The bottom of the settings also has some extra menus for System Upgrade and Advance options (Color Space, and HDR mode selection: SDR/Dolby/HDR10/Auto).

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The About set-top box section shows the model number is “BADA” and it runs Android 5.1.1 on Linux3.18.24 for Hisilicon Hi3798 CV2x processor. The Build numbers shows the firmware is also running “Internal Linux”.

Google Play Store is different on Android TV, and more suitable to the TV experience thanks to larger icon and fonts.

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The downside of that is that the store will filter apps, and only show apps made for the big screen and compatible with Android TV.

So for example, I could install ES File Explorer, and Kodi, while Antutu would not show in the list. I find it ironic that ES File Explorer is considered TV-friendly, as it’s a total pain to use with the remote control… But nevertheless, I tried to use alternative app stores such as Amazon Underground, but since I could not find half the apps I needed there, I eventually installed most app through APKPure app, which is great to work around all sort of limitations including geolocalization ones, as it just installs the APK. What you gain in convenience, you may lose in terms of security, so only install apps you trust.

The IR remote control works well and I tested range up to 10 meter. I could also use the IR learning function to program some of my TV keys (volume, power…). As with other TV boxes with tuners, using the IR remote control is not really optional, as you’ll need the keys in the live TV app. I’ve also noticed Android TV did not always accept clicks from my MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse, so I had to revert to remote control mode.

Power handling is a bit different from other devices. The remote control only allows you to go in and out of standby, and if you want to go into power off mode, you’ll need to use the mechanical switch at the back, after going into standby. You can only reboot by using the Power button in the launcher.

I measured U5PVR power consumption with a power meter in different configuration:

  • Power off (SATA HDD) – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby (SATA HDD) – 10.1 Watt
  • Idle (SATA HDD) – 10.3 Watts
  • Power off (SATA & USB HDD) – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby (SATA & USB HDD) – 11.0 Watts
  • Idle (SATA & USB HDD) –  11.2 Watts

That standby power consumption is pretty, but there’s a good reason for it: U5 PVR continue to act as a NAS when in Standby mode contrary to product based on Realtek RTD1295 like Zidoo X9S or EWEAT R9 Plus. So you can still access SAMBA, copy files through FTP, and perform BitTorrent download with Transmission BT…

U5PVR enclosure stays cool at all times. I measured just 33°C and 39°C max on the top and bottom of the case with an IR thermometer after playing a 2-hour video with Kodi 17.3, and after about 15 minutes playing Riptide GP2, the temperature went up to just 34°C and 44°C. The frame rate in the game was typical of other devices based on Mali-450MP, i.e. playable but not ultra smooth with max settings, and performance was constant during my test of the game.

So while I had various issues with my first use of U5PVR, those were mostly due to the older firmware when I initially tested the box (I don’t expect firmware update issues anymore in the retail device), and my lack of familiarity with Android TV since it was my first device with the OS. I was pleasantly surprised to find a Debian rootfs in the device making a versatile NAS system, and U5PVR support team was helpful in helping me resolve the issues, and make me learn more about their device.

Audio & Video Testing, YouTube, and DRM Info

As we’ve seen in the section above, Kodi was not pre-installed in the firmware, so I decided to install the latest version (Kodi 17.3) from the Play Store, and ran some test from a SAMBA share – except otherwise indicated – with 4K videos:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – Not perfectly smooth
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – Not smooth at all most of the time
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Slideshow (image updated every 3 seconds. Not support by hardware)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – Not smooth after a while
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK (and for this video in particular, I noticed colors were much more vivid than on other TV boxes I’ve recently tested)
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  Visual defects from time to time
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – ~1 fps and lots of artifacts and  (software decode, not supported by VPU)
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Choppy at times
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Plays, but not 100% perfect

So there’s a good reason Kodi is not pre-installed in the box, as it’s not working very well, and later I also realized H.264 1080p would not play smoothly. The developers told me they are working on hardware video decoding for Kodi 18 Leia, so in a few months Kodi might be more usable.

There was no point in continuing testing Kodi at this stage,so instead I reverted to Media Center app which can play files from storage devices , UPnP, NFS, and “LAN” (i.e. SAMBA). The user interface is not really beautiful, almost retro, but it does the job.

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I repeated the test 4K video tests, and results are way better:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Almost smooth, and audio delay (H.264 @ 4K60fps not supported by VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – Back screen with audio only at first, then massive artifacts.  (Hi10p codec not supported by VPU)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Network: not always smooth; HDD: OK
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – The video plays better than other boxes I’ve used, as it is always smooth., but no audio (Vorbis likely not supported)

Automatic frame rate switching also worked, but it’s not enabled by default, so you’d need to go to Settings->Video Output, and check “Output format adaptation for 2D stream” to enable it. Again I also noticed some videos looked quite better due to more vivid colors than on other TV boxes I tested.

I also tested 720p/1080p videos (Big Buck Bunny) with various codecs taken from Linaro media samples and Elecard:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container – 1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK
  • WebM / VP8 – 1080p – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – 1080p – OK

No problem at all here. I continued the review with videos with various bitrates:

  • ED_HD.avi (MPEG-4/MSMPEG4v2 – 10 Mbps) – Very choppy and slow, audio delay
  • 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

Only Elephant Dream video (ED_HD.avi) failed to play, as the system don’t seem to support Microsoft MSMSPEG4v2 very well.

I also test audio capabilities with HDMI audio pass-through via Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver, as well as stereo ouput (PCM 2.0) for people getting audio through their TV’s stereo speakers. HDMI audio pass-through needs to be enabled via Settings->Sound->HDMI Output set to RAW, as Auto mode did not work for me.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK
TrueHD 5.1 No audio OK
TrueHD 7.1 No audio OK
Dolby Atmos 7.1 No audio Dolby True HD 7.1*
DTS HD Master OK OK
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK
DTS:X (not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636) OK DTS HD Master

* My AV receiver is supposed to work with Dolby Atmos, and I have the latest firmware, but somehow it will only show Dolby True HD 7.1, despite the developers having successfully tested Atmos on (apparently the same) Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver.

Audio results are pretty good, unless you try to play videos with TrueHD audio tracks only using stereo downsampling.

No problems found with Blu-Ray ISOs (Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso), and MPEG2 1080i videos. Hi10p will play with video artifacts, and showing subtitles with a not-so-beautiful font. U5 PVR is supposed to support 3D video, but it’s not something I can test due to a lack of compatible hardware. I was still able to decode 1080p SBS and Over/Under 3D videos with the box. 4K 3D stereoscopic videos are not supported, as on all other devices I’ve tested so far.

I could several videos from my libraries with MKV, AVI, XViD/DViX, MP4, and FLV, but IFO files would not play at all with Media Center displaying the message

Video Problem – Can’t play this video

The Youtube app is the one designed for Android TV.

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I had no problem playing various videos, and for the very first time I’ve got a device that can play 4K videos (2160p) in YouTube.
What you won’t get from other Android TV TV boxes is DRM support, as there is none at all.

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Live TV app & DVB-T/T2 Tuner

The Live TV app to watch live TV over DVB or ATSC looks the same as on U4 Quad Hybrid, the previous model from the company, which I have already reviewed, so I won’t detail the settings in much detils yet again. U5PVR can support DVB-C/T/T2, DVB-S/S2 and ATSC depending on the model you’ve purchased. The model I have for review comes with a dual DVB-T/T2 tuner.

The initial setup will let you select the country, since since Thailand is still not in the list, I selected Vietnam instead just like I did with the previous model, before starting the scan.

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For some unknown reasons, the signal from my roof antenna is shown to be rather weak in this box, and I only got 9 channels instead of the 26 channels I got in Mecool KIII Pro.

I even repeated the scan later on, and only got 6 channels. Hopefully, this is just an issue with my sample, and not a design problem.

You can bring up the menu in Live TV app by pressing the Menu button on the remote control.

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The TV section will give you access to Live (DVB) TV, and IPTV for channels from the Internet. The latter is empty, but you could import your own. EPG will allow you to select between single or multiple channel views of the electronic program guide. Fav App and All App section is what makes the app suitable as the default launcher since you can start the app to watch live TV, but also easily access other apps from it. Finally you have the Setup menu basically the same as on U4 Quad Hybrid to configure live TV and various system settings.

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The File Manager will allow you to browse your storage and networked devices, including videos recorded with the PVR section.

I started playing with the PVR function by pressing the Record key on the remote control to manually start a recording. The interesting part is that you can select between Storage deviuce (SATA or USB drive connected to U5PVR), or Network Drive to record to SAMBA. I tried the later and it works very well. If you buy U5PVR Slim model without hard drive support, it could be a really nice option to record to your own NAS. Note that I had to press Start several times, as the system would often start recording, and stop it a few seconds later. After several tries, I could record normally…

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I’d assume few people will use manually recording hower, as the EPG is a much better to schedule timers to record or start programs. The two screenshots above show Single Service and Multiple Service views of the EPG.

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Once you’ve select a program you can press the Record key in this menu to add a timer to a storage device or SAMBA/NFS, select recurrence type, and so on.

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If you have several Timer set,you cn access the list by going to EPG, then pressing the Menu key to show up a Popup menu with various options, and select Timer List.

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You’ll be able to edit, delete and add timer there.

PVR function worked well for me, as it can record in the background (e.g. you can watch YouTube, browse the web and son), and even watch any other channels during recording thanks to the dual demodulator in the box. However, recording from standby mode did not work for me.

Timeshifting is working as long as a USB drive is connected. If I only connect my SATA HDD, it will show no storage device is connected.

It’s also possible to stream live TV to your computer or smartphone using TVheadEnd with Kodi 17.x (See Stream Live TV to Your Computer or Smartphone with U4 Quad Hybrid Android TV Box, Kodi and TVheadend for details), Plex, or Android TV’s Live Channel.

If you want to watch recordings on other device, you can do so easily by going to the pvr directory using SAMBA, or use UPnP or Plex server running on the box.

If you use the former, you’ll find the video to be nicely sorted with a directory for each channel, and the recorded file name with the name of the program and time.

Storage & Network Performance

I’m using A1 SD bench app to evaluate storage performance, as the eMMC flash used is rather fast with ~100 MB/s and ~60 MB/s read and write speeds respectively.
However, the USB and SATA partition were not detected at all bythe app, maybe because of Android TV has a different way of presenting those. I also had constant problems when connecting a USB 3.0 hard drive to the USB 3.0 port on the front panel, as the partition would not show, or sometimes just a short time, and boot may also fail when the USB 3.0 HDD is connected. I did not have such problems when moving the USB 3.0 HDD to a USB 2.0 port, and NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT, and FAT32 file systems are supported.

I tested SATA performance from Debian instead using iozone3 benchmark in an SSH terminal:

It’s working pretty well with up to 195 MB/s sequential read speed, and up to 155 MB/s sequential write speed, which should allow you to record videos, and use the NAS function at the same time with good performance.

I then testing NAS performance over Gigabit Ethernet by copying files over SAMBA and FTP to the SATA drive I installed in the box.

Gigabit Ethernet SAMBA Transfer on U5PVR

A 13MB/s file copy is not very performance, as running the same SAMBA transfer test on Zidoo X9S – a TV box with similar NAS features but using RTD1295 processor and OpenWrt – yielded a 50 MB/s transfer rate, so there’s some work to do on U5PVR.

Gigabit Ethernet FTP Transfer on U5PVR – Click to Enlarge

FTP is much faster, and basically maxes out Gigabit Ethernet bandwidth @ about 104 MB/s.

If you plan on using the box as a NAS, you should really use Gigabit Ethernet for higher and constant performance. But I’ve also switched to testing 802.11ac WiFi performance, by copying a 278MB file between the box’s flash and a SAMBA server back and forth. At l least that’s the theory… While I could copy a file from SAMBA to the internal flash @ 3.61 MB/s, copying from the flash to SAMBA was much slower (500 KB/s), but would never complete as ES File Explorer would simply crash after a while.

So instead I reverted to using iperf to test WiFi performance

  • 802.11ac WiFi upload:

  • 802.11ac WiFi download:

The results are quite weaker than for example Yundoo Y8’s WiFi performance with over 200 Mbit/s in both direction.

U5PVR / HiSilicon Hi3798C V200 Systen Info & Benchmarks

I had to run CPU-Z before running any benchmarks. Hilison Hi3798C V200 is detected as a quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 400 MHz to 1.60 GHz with a Mali-T720 GPU. The manufacturer and model as shown as NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV since they likely spoofed the popular box to get more apps working with all features including YouTube 4K.

Click to Enlarge

I ran Antutu 6.x, and results as pretty good for this kind of system with 41,337 points, quite higher than both Amlogic S905X (33K) and Amlogic S905 (38K) devices.

Conclusion

I did not have the best of start with U5PVR Deluxe, due to firmware update working partially at the beginning, but the more I used it, the more I liked it. The TV box is one of the rare device with Android TV operating systems, it also runs Debian making running server services a breeze for people familiar with Linux, and Live TV app does it job, despite a low strength signal on my sample at least.

PROS

  • Rare TV box with Android TV OS, albeit only Android 5.1.1 version
  • Debian rootfs running in parallel with Plex Server (with some limitations), FTP, Transmission BT, SSH.. pre-installed. Other packages can be installed with apt
  • Excellent video playback in Media Center with automatic frame rate switching, vivid colors
  • HDMI audio pass-through working for Dolby, DTS, True HD, and DTS HD. Dolby Atmos is also supposed to work.
  • Live TV App with EPG, PVR function to SATA, USB, NFS and SAMBA, Timeshifting, and broadcasting over the network via TVHeadEnd
  • Dual DVB-T/T2 tuner allowing for watching and recording at the same time. Support for SmartCard for model with DVB-S2 tuner.
  • YouTube 4K support
  • Internal bay for 2.5″ and 3.5″ SATA drive; NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT, and FAT32 support
  • IR remote control with IR learning function and useful shortcuts
  • OTA firmware update
  • Good support from the developers via Google+ or the forums

CONS / Bugs

  • Android TV limitations: Play Store can only find a few apps (workaround: apkpure), clicks with air mouse not always working
  • Kodi is currently not well supported
  • Problems with USB 3.0 port. HDD partitions cannot be mounted, and device may not boot at all.
  • Audio – TrueHD / Atmos down-mixing is not working, Vorbis audio not supported with Media Center app
  • Video – IFO/VOB files (DVD rips) cannot be played in Media Center app
  • Live TV app – Manual recording does not always start; recording from standby mode not working (minor); antenna signal weak in my box
  • No DRM support at all
  • Underwhelming WiFi performance
  • Steep learning curve to make use of all features, nothing is explained in user guide, so spending time reading in the forums or G+ to learn is probably a must.

I’d like to thank Shenzhen Vivant for sending a review sample. You can purchase U5PVR on Aliexpress for $229.99 including shipping via DHL for the DVB-T2/DVB-S2 version, not the dual DVB-T2 tuner reviewed here. However, you can purchase the dual DVB-T/T2 tuner, dual ATSC tuner, and DVB-S2+ATSC tuner separately on Aliexpress for $30 to $35.

Boardcon Introduces Rockchip RK3399 PICO3399 CPU Module and EM3399 Baseboard

May 31st, 2017 3 comments

There’s a limited number of boards based on Rockchip RK3399 processor, with the easiest to work with (for non-Chinese readers) probably being Firefly-RK3399. Shenzhen Xunlong is working on their own Orange Pi RK3399 board, 9Tripod released their X3399 SoM and devkit, Boardcon has also launched their own RK3399 SoM (system-on-module) and baseboard solution with respectively PICO3399 CPU module and EM3399 board.

PICO3399 SoM specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3399 hexa core processor with a dual ARM Cortex-A72 core cluster @ up to 2.0 GHz, quad ARM Cortex-A53 cluster, and ARM Mali-T860MP4 GPU
  • System Memory – 4GB LPDDR3
  • Storage – 8GB eMMC flash
  • 314-pin edge connector with 2x USB2.0 Host, 2x USB3.0 or 2x  Type-C, UART, MIPI, GbE, HDMI in&out, Audio, I2C, I2S, PCI-E, SD/MMC/SDIO, GPIO, eDP..
  • Power Supply – 5V
  • Dimensions – 82 x 50mm (8 layers)

The company provides support  for Android6.0.1 and Debian for the module. If the info provided in the website is correct, the Android BSP includes Linux 4.4.36 kernel, U-boot 2014-10, and drivers, while the Debian BSP includes Linux 4.4.41 kernel, U-boot 2016-12-03, and drivers.

You can get started quickly with the CPU module using EM3399 development board with the following specifications:

  • Socket for PICO3399 CPU module
  • External storage – 1x micro SD socket, PCIe connector for SSD
  • Display & Video Output
    • Output – 1x eDP LCD via 40-pin header, 2x MIPI DSI connector, 1x HDMI 1.4/2.0 port
    • Input – HDMI input via TC358749XBG
  • Audio – ALC5651 audio codec; 3.5mm audio jack
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet (RJ45) port, optional 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi & Bluetooth 4.1 (AP6354), SIM card slot, optional 3G/4G mini PCIe card
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host, 1x USB3.0 host, 1x USB Type-C
  • Camera I/F – 2x MIPI CSI with 3D capture support
  • Expansion
    • 1x PCIe x4 slot for graphics card
    • 1x PCIe connector for SSD or 3G module
    • 5 “GPIO” headers for a total of 122 I/Os
  • Debugging – 1x 3-pin UART header
  • Misc – RTC powered by external lithium battery; Recover, Power, Reset buttons;
  • Power Supply – 12V/2A via power barrel
  • Dimensions – 145 x 100 mm

The module is expected to be used in application such as  smart devices, digital signage, all-in-one machines, PoS systems, vehicle control terminals, etc…

The module and board appear to be available now, but price is not public since I understand the company focuses on the B2B market. You’ll find further details on the product page.

Thanks to Theguyuk for the tip.

ACT Power unveils its Project-X A1 production ready development board at Computex 2017

May 30th, 2017 2 comments

These days developer boards are a dime a dozen, but Taiwanese ACT Power has taken a different approach from most companies out there by making their addition production ready. The Project-X A1 is the first in what is expected to be a series of boards that will utilize the same mezzanine board connectors, to make it easy to change hardware platforms over time.

Click to Enlarge

The board on display at Computex is still an early prototype and some things will change before the final product launches. Specification wise we’re looking at:

  • SoC – Allwinner H3 quad core Cortex A7 processor @ 1.2 GHz with Mali-400MP2 GPU @ 600 MHz
  • System Memory – 1 GB DDR3 Storage
  • 8GB eMMC flash, SD card slot
  • Video Output – 1x HDMI 1.4a up to 4K @ 30 Hz
  • Audio Output – HDMI, I2S via pin-header
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet with optional PoE support
  • USB – Two full size USB ports, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Expansion headers – 40-pin “common” header to Project-X boards, 20-pin header for 10/100Mbps Ethernet, serial port and chassis buttons.
  • Debugging – 4-pin serial console header
  • Misc – 2x LEDs for power and status, rear reset button, power and UBoot buttons.
  • Power Supply – 12V via barrel plug or internal 2-pin header, optionally via PoE.
  • Dimensions – 100×72 mm (Pico-ITX)
  • Weight – ~60 grams

Click to Enlarge

Although the hardware itself doesn’t distinguish the A1 board from many of its competitors, the plan is to offer a range of mezzanine modules for the expansion header. The ones pictured are only dummy mockups that were done for Computex, but it gives an idea of what’s being developed. The basic mezzanine board is simply a pin-header converter that allows to use of Raspberry Pi hats, although this would require some software re-jigging of the GPIO’s to make things work. The second board adds Wi-Fi as well as the option to add a 3G/4G USB only mini PCIe card. This version also has an industrial serial port header on it. An “IoT” friendly option and various industrial automation solutions are also planned to be offered.

Click to Enlarge

Unlike most expansion headers, the Project-X header has support for USB 2.0 and 12V power, which means that those looking to develop their own mezzanine boards can add things relays and various USB devices without worrying about about having to use external connectors. The secondary connector allows for the addition of a 10/100Mbps Ethernet port, a third serial port (the 40-pin connector supports two already), as well as connect chassis LEDs and buttons. In the dummy boards this connector is interfacing with the mezzanine boards, but this is unlikely to be the case for many production solutions.

Courtesy of its Pico-ITX form factor, the Project-X A1 should be pretty straightforward to use in commercial products without the need of a highly customized housing. ACT Power is planning to release an Intel based version of Project-X later this year, but didn’t share details on which CPU would be used. The expansion header specification will also be shared closer to launch and ActPower will work with any potential customers to develop custom mezzanine boards. Unlike many development boards, this is not an open source project, but support for Ubuntu and Debian is expected.

NAS Kit v1.2 Gets Support for NanoPi NEO 2, an UAS Capable USB to SATA Bridge, and an RTC Battery

May 12th, 2017 37 comments

Last month, FriendlyELEC launched a NAS Dock kit for NanoPi NEO board, but they’ll already removed it from their store. That’s because they have a new version NAS Dock v1.2 that also supports NanoPi NEO 2 with Gigabit Ethernet, replaces JMicron JM20329 by UAS capable JMicron JMS567 USB 3.0 to SATA bridge, and adds an RTC battery.

The rest of NAS Dock Kit v1.2 specifications remain the same:

  • 1-bay NAS Dock expansion board with
    • JMicron JMS567 USB 3.0 to SATA bridge
    • SATA connector for 2.5″ HDD drive
    • Extra USB host port
    • On/off switch, and dual color status LED
    • Header to connect NanoPi NEO / NEO 2 board
    • 12V DC power input
    • Dimensions – 151 x 89.7 mm
  • NS-120 aluminum enclosure (154 x 100 x 47.5 mm, 414 grams)
  • Heatsink set for NanoPi NEO / NEO 2
  • 4x M3 6mm screws, 8x M2.5 6 mm screws
  • Four rubber pads
  • Front and back covers

Since NEO 2 has a low profile Ethernet jack, the company provides both NEO and NEO 2 back covers in the kit. It’s probably less hassle than providing two kits.

Software has also improved, as while the company still provides an OpenMediaVault image, it’s now based on Linux 4.11 + Debian 8. You’ll find the download links and instructions in the Wiki. FriendlyELEC also added the better iozone benchmark to the quick hdparm test to compare the “SATA” performance to Raspberry Pi 3, NanoPi NEO, and NanoPi NEO 2 boards.

They should really have done a file copy test over Gigabit Ethernet, as NanoPi NEO 2 should be about 2 to 3 times faster while copying a large file. Raspberry Pi 3 shared Ethernet and USB bandwidth may also affect the performance badly in some specific use cases, while NanoPi NEO 2 won’t have this type of problem since Ethernet and USB are two separate interfaces in Allwinner H5 processor.

The other good news is that despite the improvements, FriendlyELEC NAS Dock Kit price has not changed, and it is still sold for $12.99 + shipping. You’ll also need a  $14.99 NanoPi NEO 2, a micro SD card, a 12V/2A power supply to complete the setup. In other news, the company has also introduced a kit with NanoPi NEO 2 board, and a cute metal case with OLED display going for $34 in total (board included).

Helios4 Personal Cloud DIY NAS Supports 3.5″ Hard Drives, RAID, and More (Crowdfunding)

May 11th, 2017 34 comments

A few months ago, we covered GnuBee Personal Cloud 1, a NAS that runs on open source software, and that supports up to six 2.5″ SATA drives. The crowdfunding has been successful – after lowering the funding target -, and backers should hopefully get the NAS right after summer. But at the time, some people complained about the  memory capacity (512MB),  the lack of support for 3.5″ drives, and a few other items. A new project called “Helios4 Personal Cloud” addresses many of those concerns. It comes with 1 to 2GB RAM, enclosure supporting four 3.5″ drives, supports RAID, and is powered by Marvell ARMADA 388 processor that has been specifically designed for this type of application.

Helios4 NAS specifications:

  • SoC – Marvell ARMADA 388 dual core Cortex A9 processor @ up to 1.866 GHz with RAID5/6 acceleration engines, security acceleration engines, etc…
  • System Memory – 1 or 2 GB DDR3L
  • Storage – 4x SATA 3.0 ports, 2x HDD power connectors for 3.5″ drives using the provided DIY enclosure; micro SD slot supporting SDHC/SDXC cards
  • Connectivity – 1x Gigabit Ethernet
  • USB – 2x USB 3.0 ports, 1x micro USB port for serial console only
  • Expansion – 14-pin GPIO header, 4-pin I2C header which can be used for an LCD screen & control buttons.
  • Misc – 2x PWM fan headers + 2x fans provided with DIY enclosure
  • Power Supply – 12V/8A via 4-pin jack

The basic kit comes with an Helios4 board (shown below), 4x SATA data cables, 2x Molex to dual SATA power cables, and a 12V/8A power adapter. The full kit adds a case available in black or blue, two 70mm PWM ball bearing fan, and a fasteners set.

The NAS will support Armbian Debian and Ubuntu images, OpenMediaVault open NAS solution, and SynCloud open source app server. The developers (Kobol Team), based in Singapore, also promise to release software and hardware design files for the project. For now, they have Armbian build scripts, as well as Linux and U-boot source code on Github. The board has been designed in collaboration with SolidRun, which has experience with Marvell via their MACCHIATObin / ClearFog boards and system-on-modules.

The project has just been launched on Kickstarter, where Kobol aims to raise 150,000 SGD ($106,000 US). All prices are in SGD, but I’ll use the USD equivalent going forward. An early bird pledge of $125 US should get you the basic kit with 1GB RAM, while $149 is required for the 2GB version. If you want a full kit with enclosure, you’ll need to pledge $139 (1GB RAM) or $169 (2GB RAM). Worldwide shipping adds $39 or $43 for respectively the basic and full kit, even if you are in Singapore. Delivery is scheduled for September 2017.

SinoVoIP Releases $35 Banana Pi BPI-M2+ Board with Allwinner H2+ Processor

May 4th, 2017 10 comments

Banana Pi BPI M2+ board was first released with Allwinner H3 processor, but the same PCB can also be used with Allwinner H2+ and H5 processors since the processors are pin-to-pin compatible, and SinoVoIP intends to release three version of the board, and just launched BPI M2+ (aka BPI H2+) with Allwinner H2+ processor for $34.50 + shipping, $1.5 cheaper than the H3 version also listed on Aliexpress. If you shop around, and don’t order on the official SinoVoIP store, you may find cheaper price for the boards. As expected, the specifications have not changed apart from the processor:

  • SoC – Allwinner H2+ quad core Cortex A7 @ 1.2 GHz with an ARM Mali-400MP2 GPU up to 600 MHz
  • System Memory – 1GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8GB eMMC flash, micro SD card slot up to 64GB,
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI with CEC support
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi + Bluetooth 4.0 (AP6212)
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Camera – CSI Interface for 8-bit YUV42 CMOS sensor up to 1080p30
  • Expansions – 40-pin Raspberry Pi compatible header
  • Debugging – 3-pin UART header for serial console
  • Misc – Power, recovery, and u-boot buttons; Power and status LEDs, IR receiver
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A via power barrel (micro USB OTG port does not support power input)
  • Dimensions – 65mm × 65mm
  • Weight – 48 grams

The processors are not that different either, with Allwinner H3 supporting 4K video decoding and output up to 30 Hz, while H2+ is limited to 1080p60. The rest of the features look exactly the same. The company’s BPI M2+ page is all about the H3 version but most parts should be identical for the new boards. Supported operating systems include Android 4.4, Ubuntu 16.04 (Mate), Kano, Raspbian, Debian 8 and more according to the Download page, but none of them are likely to be working perfectly, and I’m not 100% sure they are working on the new H2+ board since they were all released last year, except Android 4.4 (Jan 2017). It might just be a case of updating the Device Tree (DTB) file however. [Update: I forgot the images are based on an ancient Linux 3.4 kernel, so not device tree here].

You may also wonder why Orange Pi Zero board with the same H2 processor sells for $7, while that new board goes for about $35… One of the reasons is that Banana Pi boards are  generally more expensive, but the price gap is mostly due to vastly different hardware specifications: 256 to 512MB DDR3, no eMMC flash, no HDMI output, Fast Ethernet, no camera support, smaller board, etc…