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MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware & Kodi 17

March 1st, 2017 24 comments

MINIX NEO U9-H is the successor of MINIX NEO U1 media hub with an upgrade from four to eight cores with Amlogic S912 processor, as well as added support for VP9 and HDR. The company sent me a sample, and I’ve already checked out NEO U9-H hardware in the fist part of the review, so I’ll report by testing results in Android 6.0 and Kodi 17 in the second part. Since the user interface & many of the features have not changed, I’ll refer to MINIX NEO U1 review from time to time.

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First Boot, OTA Firmware, Settings and First Impressions

I connected the MINIX A3 air mouse RF to one of the USB port, a USB 3.0 hard drive to another, and a USB hub to the last one with Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, a USB keyboard to take screenshots for the review, and a USB webcam. There’s also micro USB port, which you could use with the provided USB OTG adapter, but I have not used it. Last I also added USB powered speakers to the USB hub, and connected them to the 3.5mm audio jack. I also connected HDMI and optical audio cable to Onky TX-NR636 AV receiver, and an Ethernet cable to a Gigabit Ethernet swtich. Finally, I added the provided 5V/3A power supply, and pressed the power button on to start it all up. A typical boot takes around 30 seconds, and the first time, you’ll be asked to select between MINIX METRO or Launcher3 “Homes”.

I prefer MINIX METRO (below) as it’s more suited to larger screens, especially when you sit several meters from the TV. It’s the same launcher which I already described in MINIX NEO U1, except possibly for the weather indicator in the time/date window, and the mass storage devices ‘ Label is shown on the top right corner. I’d wish the WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth,and VPN icons on the top left were clickable, but they are not.

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Launcher3 is basically the launcher you’d get with stock Android plus MINIX background image. You’ll also notice the larger mouse pointer which makes it convenient to use several meters away.

Click for Original Size

The box comes with some pre-installed apps like ES File Explorer, Kodi, YouTube, Google Play, AirDroid, MINIX Power Menu & System update apps, YouTube, Skype,  and so on.

MINIX has supported OTA firmware updates in all of their devices, so I tried with System Update app, but I could not test it there was no update to MHC16G20170216 firmware at the time.If you want to get an idea of how long you may expect to get firmware update, you can look at the forum for older products such as MINIX NEO X8-H. Eleven firmware updates have been released with the first “stock” firmware released on November, 2014 and the last (FW011) firmware released in January 2017, so it has been supported for over 2 years so far.

The Settings app is the same as with other Amlogic devices, and similar to MINIX NEO U1, so I’ll focuses on different and/or specific features.

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Once you enter the Display menu, you’ll find some typical features as well as  “Force RGB output” which may solve color / pink screen issues with some older TV, and HDR specific to Amlogic S905X/S912 processor.

If you enter the Audio settings, you’ll get options to select PCM, HDMI or SPDIF audio (pass-through), as usual, but there’s  also the Device Manager menu to select audio input and output devices.

In my setup I had three input device to choose from: on-board Mic input (3.5mm mic jack), USB-Audio – SAGE AiR Mouse (MINIX A3), and USB-Audio – Venus USB 2.0 camera, which will be important for voice commands, and video conferencing.

The output devices selection will be less useful for most people, as you can only select Auto or HDMI, as 3.5mm audio jack and S/PDIF are all outputted at the same time, and, only USB devices such as a USB sound card will show up.

You also have the same HDMI CEC, Playback settings and power key definition (standby or power off) as in MINIX NEO U1. There are three options for HDMI self-adaptation (automatic frame rate switching):

  • OFF – no processing
  • Level 1 – 23.976fps videos are processed under 1080p60Hz mode;
  • Level 2 – Switching TV’s output according to source video fps

If you go to Advanced Settings you’ll reach Android Marshmallow settings, and the main difference compared to competing Amlogic TV box, but already present on MINIX NEO U1 are “MCU settings” where you can enable autostart (no need to press power button), RTC alarm, and upgrade the MCU firmware.If we go into the Storage & USB section, we’ll find out a 10.89GB partition is available to the user, with about 1 GB used.

The system could also mount both NTFS and exFAT partitions, but not EXT-4.

If we go into About MediaBox, we’ll see the model number is indeed NEO-U9-H, and that it runs Android 6.01 on top of Linux 3.14.29 with the Android security patch dated on August 1st, 2016. The firmware is not rooted, but if that’s something you need I’m pretty sure a method will show on the forums in due time, although I’d prefer a switch in Android option to root and unroot the box as needed.

I shortly testing MINIX IR remote control and it worked at least for up to 10 meters. However, I really recommend getting MINIX A3, or if you don’t need voice input, MINIX A2 Lite air mouse, as it makes a big difference when using various Android apps. If you already own a box with MINIX A2 Lite air mouse, don’t worry that it will interface with MINIX A3 and control two devices at the same time, as my A2 Lite would not work with my A3 USB dongle. Voice input works fine as tested with Voice Search app. Press the microphone key on the remote to enable it, and you can now use “OK Google”, as you’d do on your smartphone. Just make sure Audio device input is set to the remote control. If you want to turn off the microphone, simply press the microphone key on the remote control. MINIX NEO A2 worked well up to 10 to 12 meters, and I could even see the mouse cursor at that distance.

I could install all apps I needed through Google Play, and the free version of Riptide GP2 via Amazon Underground. However, when I tried the free version of Riptide GP: Renegade it to “update your Amazon App to Amazon Underground to start experiencing actually free”. I had already isntall it, but clicked on Update Now anyway, and after update I had the exact same error message.

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That’s probably an issue with Amazon itself than with the box.

Power handling appears to be implemented exactly the same way as MINIX NEO U1, so you can go into standby, reboot, or power off the device with the remote control, or the power button. You can also power the device back on using either the IR remote control or MINIX A3 air mouse.

Power consumption is also similar to the previous model, as measured with or without hard drive using a power meter:

  • Power off – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby – 0.4 to 1.1 Watts (most of the time on 0.4)
  • Idle – 3.0 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.1 Watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 1.2 Watts with the HDD LED off. Be patient it may take about one minute to reach this power level with a hard drive connected.
  • Idle + USB HDD – 5.0~5.4 Watts

As expected, MINIX NEO U9-H dissipate power well thanks to its large heatsink. I measured 36°C and 37°C respectively on the top and bottom of the case after Antutu 6.0, and the temperature went up to 44°C and 49°C after playing a 2-hour 1080p H.264 video in Kodi, and 47°C and 54°C after playing and Beach Buggy Racing & Riptide GP2 for around 30 minutes. I quickly went to CPU-Z after exiting the game, and found the CPU temperature was 71°C.

So my first experience with MINIX NEO U9-H was even better than the very good one I had with MINIX NEO U1, since some of the bugs found the first firmware for the previous model, e.g. device stuck in standby mode, video output falling back from 4K @ 60 Hz to 1080p60 from time to time…, could not be reproduced with the new model.

Video & Audio Playback with Kodi 17.1-RC1, DRM Info

MINIX recommends the use of their XBMC MINIX Edition fork of Kodi for MINIX NEO U1, but with their new model, the company told me Kodi 17 worked well in U9-H, so I just use the pre-installed version: Kodi 17.1-RC1.

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I’m tested various video container formats, and video/audio codec playing files from a SAMBA share via (Gigabit Ethernet), unless otherwise noted.

Linaro media samples and some Elecard H.265 samples could also play fine except for VP8 1080p sample:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK
  • WebM / VP8 480p/720p – OK; 1080p: Not perfectly smooth (Note: software decode)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

I also enabled automatic frame rate switching in Kodi and Android settings (HDMI Self-adaption level 3), and it worked very well, which I think is a first amond the 8 or 9 Amlogic S912 I’ve tested so far.

Next up are some videos with various bit rates:

  • ED_HD.avi – Not smooth at all
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – First time: image freezes after a few seconds; second try: OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Not perfectly smooth
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

So the Jellyfish video plays better than in MINIX NEO U1 (Amlogic S905), but some other problems have showed up with other videos.

I’ve then checked out audio capabilties of the TV box with PCM (stereo) output, as well as HDMI and S/PDIF pass-through in Kodi. I also tested PCM (downmix) with MX Player to make sure those DTS and Dolby licenses are indeed valid for any apps. I could configure Kodi to pass-through AC3, E-AC3, DTS, TrueHD, and DTS-HD.

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MINIX NEO U1 did not support DTS-HD when it launched in December 2015 (firmware updates have fixed that), but MINIX NEO U9-H passed most tests just fine.

Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MX Player / Video Player app)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi)
S/PDIF Pass-through
(Kodi)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D+ 7.1) OK (Dolby D+ 7.1)
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 5.1) Audio Formats Not Supported over S/PDIF, and will show as PCM 2.0 or Dolby D 5.1 depending on whether AC3 transcoding is enabled in Kodi
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK Switch to AC3 audio track (beep), as TrueHD is not supported TrueHD 7.1*
DTS HD Master OK OK OK (DTS-HD Master) OK (DTS 5.1)
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK OK (DTS-HD HR) OK (DTS 5.1)
DTS:X OK OK DTS-HD Master* OK (DTS 5.1)

* My AV receiver (Onkyo TX-NR636) does not support Atmos nor DTS:X, so the fallback to respectively TrueHD and DTS HD Master is normal. So overall HDMI and optical S/PDIF pass-through is working well with my test samples, downmixing from Dolby Digital and DTS to stereo audio works, and the only problem is the lack of downmixing of Dolby TrueHD / Atmos audio in video apps that respect Dolby & DTS licenses.

4K video can now be played pretty well in Kodi, almost as well as with MX Player:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – Not smooth at all, and the problem gets worse when automatic frame rate switching is enabled.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – OK, but it played for about 2 seconds, then buffered for a few more seconds before resuming playback normally
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – The video plays in slow motion (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by S912 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) – Plays at around 2 fps (as expected since it uses software decode as S912 does not support 10-bit H.264)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – USB hard drive playback: Not smooth
  • 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) – Plays, but not always perfectly smooth as with all Amlogic S912 TV boxes.

It’s all good, except for one 10-bit H.265 video that won’t play smoothly at all. Other problems are related to limitation of Amlogic S912 processor like the lack of support for 10-bit H.264, and 4K H.264 is limited to 30 fps, and very high bitrate videos (~240 Mbps) cannot be played smoothly.

Sintel and AMAT ISO blu-ray files and 1080i MPEG videos could play just fine. Lower resolution Hi10p (10-bit H.264) could play, but 1080p was not that smooth:

  • Commie] Steins;Gate – NCED [BD 720p AAC] [10bit] [C706859E].mkv – OK for video, audio and subtitles
  • [1080p][16_REF_L5.1][mp3_2.0]Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu BD OP.mkv – OK for audio and susbtitles, but the video was not smooth

While my TV (LG 42UB820T) does not support 3D, but I played some stereoscopic 3D videos to find out if they could be decode:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Stays in UI
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

Some movies fron my library with various container/codec combination such as VOB, IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4 and MKV could all play just fine. However, I noticed some micro audio cuts in some videos with AC3 and HDMI audio pass-through enabled. I could not reproduce the issue with all videos, and using optical S/PDIF instead of HDMI solved the issue. Finally, I could play a complete 2-hour video. You’ll be all sample mentioned above here.

I’ve decided not to report Antutu Video Tester in my reviews, since Antutu appears to have stopped development, and the app has been removed from Google Play.

DRM Info results are however quite interesting.

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MINIX NEO U9-H supports both Widevine K1 and Microsoft Playready DRM, which means you could get full HD and 4K UHD resolution for some premium apps. However, it is not a certified Netflix device, so if you install Netflix app from Google Play, you’d still be limited to standard definition. However, as previously reported, you should be able to install a Netflix apk that allows HD resolution for any Widevine L1 capable device. I don’t have a Netflix account, so I have not tested myself. YouTube is working fine up to 1080p.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I’ve transfered a 278MB file between a network share (SAMBA) and the internal flash for three times using ES File Explorer, and averaged the results in order to evaluate WiFi performance, testing both 802.11ac and [email protected] GHz. Results are sadly underwhelming. [Update: WiFI performance is OK, but WiFi + SAMBA performance suffers. That’s likely an Amlogic Android SDK issue. See comments]

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I’ve highlighted both MINIX NEO U1 and NEO U9-H results in the chart above as they make use of the same Ampak module for WiFi, but I got much different results, despite the same testing conditions.

802.11ac performance was 2.3 MB/s on average, and 802.11n achieved 1.5 MB/s both of which are below average, but consistent with the performance I got with other Amlogic S912 devices.  The chart however makes it worse than it really is, because download speed was 5.6 MB/s for 802.11ac, and 2.1 MB/s for 802.11n, with upload transfer rate being much lower, and causing the average to be rather low. Note that WiFi results may vary a lot depending on your setup.

I repeated the same file transfer, but with a 885MB file, for Gigabit Ethernet, and the average performance (10.05 MB/s) is somewhat OK, but I got the same behavior as with MINIX NEO U1 with the transfer much faster for download (16.4MB/s) , and slower for upload (7.64 MB/s).

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Since in most case the eMMC flash is the bottleneck for file transfers over Gigabit Ethernet, I also ran iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d to test raw dual duplex performance, and it’s not too bad:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

MINIX NEO U9-H advertises itself properply as NEO U9-H, and not some other funny code, and I had no problems pairing it with Vernee Apollo Lite Android smartphone, and could transfer a few photos. I could also connect X1T bluetooth earbuds and used it while watching some YouTube videos. I skipped Sixaxais app testing (for PS3 gamepads) since the firmware is not rooted.

Storage

My USB hard drive has four partitions for NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT and BTRFS, and only the NTFS/exFAT partitions could be mounted. A FAT32 micro SD card could also be mounted

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

USB storage performance was tested with A1 SD bench app, and read performance was very good (for a USB 2.0 port) with both file systems, but as usual exFAT is very slow to write to @ 6.66 MB/s.

The results were very good for the internal storage with 119.86MB/s read speed and 45.99 MB/s write speed. Note that the read speed is cached, meaning it should be faster than if read directly on the storage device itself, but probably not that different considering theoretical read speed is 285 MB/s for the flash, probably lower for the eMMC controller in Amlogic S912.

Internal Storage Read & Write Speed in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Overall I found that applications started fast, and I had no slowdown or “app not responding” due to I/O access to the eMMC flash.

USB Webcam

I connected the UVC webcam to the box shown in the first picture of this review, logged in to Skype, and successfully run the Echo/Service audio call test, and made a video calls. I had problems last year for MINIX NEO U1 on Google Hangouts, but NEO U9-H works perfectly well with Google Hangouts.

Gaming

Amlogic S912 is know a well known platform, as gaming works just as well as on other devices, if not better since cooling is well implemented.  First, I played Candy Crush Saga with NEO A2 air mouse, and switch to Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad to play Beach Buggy Racing using maximum graphics settings. Both games played perfectly smoothly. As with other Amlogic S912, Riptide GP2 is a bit more demanding, playing very smoothly with default settings, the framerate felt lower with maximum graphics settings, probably around 25 fps most of the time, with some drops to ~15 fps from time to time.

I also played both 3D racing games for a total of 30 minutes, and performance was constant throughout, meaning the large heatsink is doing its job in preventing CPU and/or GPU throttling.

MINIX NEO U9-H Benchmarks

CPU-Z correctly reports an octa-core Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.51 GHz with a Mali-T820 GPU. The model number is NEO-U9-H (q200), with 10.89 GB internal storage, 14790 MB RAM, and a framebuffer resolution set to 1920×1080.

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The first time I ran Antutu 6.x, the device achieved about 38,500 points quite lower than 41,000+ points I got in most other Amlogic S912 TV boxes. I ran it a short time after boot, so maybe there was background tasks at the time, I retried later, I got a 40,543 points, more in line with other competing TV boxes.

I also ran Vellamo 3.x benchmark to double check for issues.

MINIX NEO U9-H achieved 1,239 points, 912 points and 2,338 points for respectively multicore, metal and Chrome Browser tests, which compares to 1,130, 1,012 points and 2,758 points (Not Chrome Browser, Stock Browser). Multicore results has a yellow mark because it failed one of the test, just like M12N, but not other Amlogic S912 boxes:

Sysbench issue with Finepar: Invalid CPU mode

Conclusion

MINIX did again a good job with MINIX NEO U9-H thanks to very good hardware, stable & responsive firmware implementation, working smoothly at all times thanks to good thermal design. 4K video playback works well, I think it’s the first time I see automatic frame rate switching work on Amlogic S912 processor,  and audio pass-through is working fine with TrueHD and DTS-HD. The first version of the firmware also has less bugs than the one I reviewed on MINIX NEO U1 media hub, and slightly better performance. NEO U9-H also adds new features such as HDR, 4K VP9 decoding, Dolby & DTS license used for audio downmixing in all apps, and DRM Widevine Level 1 + Microsoft PlayReady. The only real downside compared to NEO U1 is that WiFi performance is not quite as good, despite using the same Ampak wireless module.

PROS

  • Stable and responsive Android 6.0 OS
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 2160p 60Hz; 24/25/30/50/60 Hz refresh rates supported; HDR should be supported too (not tested)
  • Very good Kodi 17 support with 4K H.265 (10-bit), VP9 and H.264 video playback,automatic frame rate switching
  • Dolby 5.1, Dolby+7.1, DTS HD and TrueHD audio pass-through working via HDMI and S/PDIF (for supported formats).
  • Dolby & DTS license means those audio formats work in all apps.
  • Well implemented power handling with off/standby/reboot mode, managed via an upgradable MCU, low off and idle power consumption
  • Widevine L1 and MicroSoft PlayReady DRM suppored
  • USB webcam working with Skype and Google Hangouts
  • OTA firmware upgrade with frequent update expected (based on previous models history)
  • Active support forums

CONS (and bugs)

  • Some videos with AC3 have micro audio cuts when HDMI pass-through is enabled, at least on my AV receiver. The problem goes away via optical S/PDIF
  • TrueHD dowmixing to stereo audio did not work in MX Player and Video Player apps.
  • WiFi performance is below average for both 802.11n and 802.ac, but similar to other Amlogic S912 TV boxes. Your mileage may vary. [Update: See comments’ section. WiFi performances looks, but combining SAMBA + WiFi is problematic. Likely an Amlogic Android 6.0 SDK issue]
  • List of apps shown in chronological order instead of alphabetical
  • A few videos do not play smoothly in Kodi but should: VP8 @ 1080p, one 10-bit HEVC video with no audio, “elephant dream” sample, “HD DVD” sample.
  • Potential buffering issue with some rare videos – Starts fast, plays for 1 or 2 seconds, buffers for 10 seconds then play again normally

If you’re going to spend the money on MINIX NEO U9-H, I really recommend you add NEO A2 Lite or NEO 3 air mouse, with the latter adding microphone input. Both air mice have the same design, feel comfortable in your hand, and work well as remote control, air mouse, and keyboard, as long as it’s for typing short texts like search query, user name / password, etc…

If you already own MINIX NEO U1, there’s probably little reason to upgrade, as performance will feel similar, except if you need 4K VP9, HDR, Widevine L1, or/and Microsoft PlayReady DRM support.

MINIX NEO U9-H media hub + NEO A3 air mouse sell for $159.90 / 149.90 GBP on Amazon US and Amazon UK, and are listed on GeekBuying, GearBest, and other online retailers with sales starting officially on March 3rd outside of Amazon.

Review of MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub & MINIX A3 Air Mouse – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing and Teardown

February 24th, 2017 14 comments

MINIX showcased MINIX NEO U9-H TV box at IFA 2016 last year, but was not ready to launch the product or provide the full details yet. The company has now completed development of their Amlogic S912-H octa-core TV box, and sent a review sample for evaluation on CNX Software together with their latest MINIX A3 air mouse with voice command function. I’ll start by listing the specifications of the TV box, take some pictures, and tear it apart to check out how it’s been designed in the first part of the review, and test the firmware in the second part which I intend to post in a few days.

MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub specifications

One of the main difference over other Amlogic S912, is the -H suffix which means Dolby and DTS licenses have been paid for so all apps will handle those audio formats:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912-H octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC 5.0 flash, and micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60Hz with HDMI CEC, and HDR support
  • Audio I/O – Via HDMI output, optical S/PDIF, 3.5mm headphone jack, 3.5mm microphone jack
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac 2×2 MIMO, Bluetooth 4.1
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Misc – IR receiver, power button, Kensington Lock
  • Dual DRM Support – Play Ready 3.0 + Google Widevine Level 1
  • Power Supply – 5V/3A

The device runs Android 6.0.1 with XBMC MINIX Edition. The box does not officially support Netflix, but this apk likely based on a previously reported Netflix hack, should give you better quality than the Netflix app from Google Play.

MINIX NEO U9-H Unboxing Photos

I’ve received the box and air mouse in familiar looking packages (if you’ve ever bought anything from MINIX).

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The TV box has exactly the same shape as previous model, and ships with a WiFi antenna, a HDMI cable, a USB OTG adapter, a micro USB to USB cable in case you want to connect the box to your computer, a 5V/3A power adapter, a MINIX IR remote control, and a user’s manual in English, German, and Chinese.

Click to Enlarge

The front of the device has a plastic window for the IR receiver, and the power LED, while one of the side includes the power button, three USB 2.0 host ports, a micro SD slot, a micro USB OTG port, and a Kensington lock. The rest of the ports can be found on the rear panel: 3.5mm headphone jack, 3.5mm microphone jack, HDMI 2.0a output, optical S/PDIF, Gigabit Ethernet, and the power jack.

Click to Enlarge

You’ll also find the recovery pin hole on the bottom of the case, more exactly on the left side on the picture below.

MINIX NEO A3 Air Mouse

NEO A3 air mouse specifications include:

  • Connectivity – 2.4GHz transmission with up to 10 meters range
  • Sensors – 6-axis gyroscope and accelerometer
  • Remote side and QWERTY keyboard side
  • Built-in microphone for voice input.
  • Power – 2x AAA batteries
  • Support for Android, Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows

The remote ships with a user’s manual in English, and an RF dongle located in one of the two battery compartments located on the keyboard side.

Click to Enlarge

It’s actually very similar to MINIX NEO A2 Lite I’ve been using in all of my reviews for about a year.

MINIX NEO A2 Lite (Left and Top) vs NEO A3 (Right and Bottom) – Click to Enlarge

The main difference on the remote side is the microphone & settings button in the new model replacing respectively the “enter button”, which I never use since the Android button does the same, and the mute button. The keyboard side is very similar, except for some adding characters on the arrow keys.

The remote fits well in bigger hands, and I’m overall happy with my experience with A2 Lite, but I wish that space, dot, and enter did not have alternate keys, as I often have to press the Fn button to switch between mode. For example typing an IP address is not that convenient, but one the other side I understand space is limited on such keyboard, and you may have to compromise. The air mouse works well with MINIX devices, and can also be used with other devices, except that you can’t turn on TV boxes from other brands with the remote. This would require some IR learning function which has not been implemented.

MINIX NEO U9-H and NEO A3 Unboxing Video

MINIX NEO U9-H Teardown

Opening NEO U9-H is straightforward, as you just need to remove the four rubber pads on the bottom of the enclosure, and loosen four screws.

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The bottom of the board includes two SkHynix H5TQ4G63CFR-RDC DDR3 SDRAM chips (1GB RAM), the recovery switch, and a 3V battery for the real-time clock (RTC).

It’s then very easy to complete take out the board, as you can simply pull it out. MINIX is always serious when it comes to cooling, and again they’ve used a large heatsink in their latest model, which means there should be no CPU or GPU throttling issue. The two wireless antennas are connected to u.FL connector with some glue to keep them in place during transport.

The heatsink has a thermal that fits right on top of Amlogic S912-H SoC, which on the top of the board is connected to two more  SKHynix chip brings the total memory to 2GB, and a 16GB Samsung KLMAG1JENB-B041 eMMC 5.1 flash with 285/40 MB/s read/write sequential performance, and 8K/10K random R/W IOPS, so I/O performance should be very good.

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Network connectivity is achieved via a Realtek RTL8211F transceiver, and a RJ45 jack with built-in transformer, as well as the same Ampak AP6356S wireless module found in MINIX NEO U1, and supporting 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi up to 867 Mbps (2×2 MIMO) and Bluetoth 4.1 LE. Other components include Genesys Logic GL852G USB 2.0 hub controller, ES8323 audio codec, and Nuvoton MINI54ZDE ARM Cortex M0 MCU to handle power controls. wjhich were also used in NEO U1 TV box. MINIX also kept the same debug headers with JDEBUG1 with 3.3V/Tx/Rx and GND, ICE1 possibly for Nuvotron MCU, and JUART1 with Tx/Rx/GND. So the hardware looks just as solid as in NEO U1, and the eMMC flash that has been upgraded to a new and faster model, which should help a bit with boot time, apps loading times, and overall performance.

That’s it for the hardware, we’ll have to see if firmware is working as well as on their MINIX NEO U1 model, and I’ll publish a review sometimes next week after completing testing.

MINIX NEO U9-H will be officially released on Friday March 3, with pricing as follows:

  • MINIX NEO U9-H = US$139.90 / 154.90EURO
  • MINIX NEO A3 = US$34.90 / 39.90EURO
  • MINIX NEO U9-H + NEO A3 = US$159.90 / 174.90EURO

GearBest has already listed the device on their site, but it’s currently out of stock, since it will only launch in one week. However, MINIX also told me they had some limited stocks in their Amazon US, Amazon UK, and other Amazon stores.

[Update: the second part of the review is up @ MINIX NEO U9-H Media Hub Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware & Kodi 17]

Xiaomi Mi Box (US) Android TV TV Box Review

February 12th, 2017 21 comments

Introduction

The Mi Box is the first Xiaomi product I have used. I received it beginning of December and have been using it regularly since then. I have received 3 updates which went through uneventfully. I was very pleased with this box. I ended up getting one for my in-laws and one for my 4 year old sons bedroom. The UI worked as expected. I have an Nvidia Shield Android TV, and the Mi Box complements it very well. Having Plex Server running on the Shield and Plex on the Mi Box is pretty fantastic to easily share content. Not to mention way more cost effective than putting a Shield in every room.

What’s Inside

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The build quality is good. The power supply puts out 5.2v which is not typical.

I do wish it had more USB ports. A single USB is inadequate. I found myself swapping USB out frequently during testing. There is optical audio and it has the round form factor. Luckily the cable I had had the adapter attached to the end, and it worked fine. No Ethernet adapter is present either.

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Teardown Photos

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Android TV UI

For anyone unfamiliar with Android TV UI I took a few screen shots. Across the top in the first screen capture a recently used/suggestion line appears. The top line will update based on your usage games, TV shows, YouTube, news etc.

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Not all apps populate this. HBO GO, Plex, Netflix, do update. Immediately below there is a MI Box Recommends section which is static.

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I was able to disable it under setting > apps to unclutter the main screen. These screenshots were taken when I first plugged in the box. I personally like the UI of Android TV and appreciate that Google ensures all apps to work with remotes and a mouse/touchpad is not necessary.

 

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Casting

Another thing that I was forced to use because DirecTV Now does not have an Android TV app yet, is the casting feature. I had it on the Shield but never really used it. Between casting my screen from my phone to most video apps I found it very easy to use. My son will navigate YouTube Kids on his tablet and cast to the TV. This is a feature you won’t find on most android boxes and I found it very convenient and easy to use.

Voice Search

During my usage and showing my son how to use the voice search I grew to like it a lot. Voice searching that is able to return YouTube, Netflix and other video apps is really convenient. My son is 4 and doesn’t speak very clearly yet but it does a good job of recognizing his voice allowing him to find the video’s he wants. (minecraft, lego, minecraft, lego, minecraft, lego) 🙂

Passthrough and Auto Framerate

I spent many many hours trying to find a good combination in Kodi/SPMC/TVMC/FTMC and couldn’t get it to work consistently. DTS only worked for me. I hope they resolve this with software in the future.

Benchmarks/Testing

This is not really fair but I performed a side by side comparison of 3DMark: Xiaomi Mi Box vs Nvidia Shield. I thought it would be interesting to see. Fear not, the Mi Box does well with light gaming. I had no problems playing games that didn’t require a controller.

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WiFi is fair at about 15Mbps on my busy Unifi 2.4 GHz network. I also have a 5GHz N built into my router and strictly using it for testing. I was able to get about 30 Mbps throughput. I still prefer a wired connection when possible and was able to use a USB to Ethernet adapter on the MI Box. I moved 2 files below one on 2.4ghz and one on 5ghz. I don’t have an AC network to test.

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I ran a few other tests and info apps below.

Widevine Level 1 Supported – Click to Enlarge

36,151 points in Antutu – Click to Enlarge

Amlogic @ 2.02 GHz – Click to Enlarge

MIBOX3 board name: once – Click to Enlarge

While reviewing

So not all apps are available due to the restrictions of Android TV and Google necessitating the apps be remote friendly. But you might run into a situation where you want to side load. If you have a air mouse or some other hid device connected it’s not a big deal. In order for to launch them in the past you loaded sideload launcher from the play store, It allows you to see all apps regardless if they are Android TV optimized. It works and is pretty easy. While reviewing I ran across a pretty neat app. TV App Repo. It makes sideloading even better.  What it does is create a small app that is basically a shortcut to your side loaded non Android TV app. Now all the apps can be launched from main screen without navigating to the sideload launcher sub menu. It worked on the few I tested. On the community addition, there are a few apps that it hosts one of which was Amazon Prime video. But I didn’t have luck getting videos to play other than trailers.

Final Thoughts

I wasn’t going to perform any benchmarking on this box. I don’t think that it is relevant. But I knew it would be crucified. This box was in my opinion built to consume media and I think it does it very well. All the streaming media apps worked great. The only drawback is that HDMI passthrough and auto framerate switching did not work consistently enough in Kodi or Plex. Streaming from HDHomerun works well even over WiFi. Amazon Prime Video is missing from this box. I did try some other methods to watch and only was able to cast from a web browser successfully.

During testing I didn’t use Kodi much and stuck with the main streaming apps that are optimized for Android TV. I hope Koying, the maintainer of SPMC, a fork of Kodi, brings some love to the Mi Box in the near future or even the Kodi team.

If you’re not an audiophile this will make a great box to stream with and hopefully save some money. If you are an Audiophile the Mi Box complements the Nvidia shield on other TV’s where surrounds sound doesn’t matter.

I would like to thank Gearbest for sending a review sample and their patience while I reviewed it. I really like to use the products for a while and get a good feel for them. If you are thinking about getting a Mi Box, it helps CNX by clicking & purchasing through this link.

Rockchip RK3328 Quad Core 64-bit ARM SoC is Designed for 4K HDR Android 7.1 & Linux TV Boxes

January 11th, 2017 11 comments

Beside RV1108 visual platform for applications, Rockchip also unveiled another processor at CES 2017 with RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor for 4K TV Box with H.265, H.264 and VP9 codecs support, HDR, HDMI 2.0, USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet and more.

rk3328-tv-boxRockchip RK3328 STB SoC specifications:

  • Processor – Quad core Cortex A53 @ up to 1.5 GHz
  • GPU – ARM Mali-450MP2
  • Memory I/F – DDR3/DDR3L/DDR4 with “large memory” support (4GB?)
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a with HDCP 2.x/1.4 up to 4K @ 60 Hz with HDR10/HLG support, CVBS output
  • Video Processor
    • 4K UHD H.264, 10-bit H.265 and VP9 video decoder
    • 1080p H.265/H.264 video encoder
  • Audio – Embedded audio DAC
  • Peripherals
    • embedded USB 3.0 interface
    • Dual Ethernet interface: RGMII (reduced gigabit media-independent interface) + Fast Ethernet PHY
    • 8 channel I2S interface supporting PDM/TDM
    • TS and smart card interface, with support for CSA 2.0
  • Security – TrustZone, Secure Video Path, Secure Boot, OTP

The new processor with support Android 7.1 and Linux, as well as OP-TEE secure OS and DRM support for Widewine L1 and Microsoft PlayReady. The TS interface will allow for tuner (DVB, ATSC…) support.

The processor is quite similar to Amlogic S905X. However the GPU is a bit weaker, which is not really that important for video applications, but not so good for games, and RK3328 also offer some extra interfaces with USB 3.0, dual Ethernet including one Gigabit Ethernet MAC, and tuner support.

The company did not provide any information about pricing or availability in their press release, and has yet to add RK3328 product page to their website.

Rikomagic MK22 Review – Part 2: Android Firmware, Video & Audio in Kodi, Benchmarks…

November 7th, 2016 4 comments

Rikomagic MK22 is one of the many Android TV boxes powered by Amlogic S912 octa-core processor with typical hardware specifications such as 2GB RAM, 16GB flash, Gigabit Ethernet and dual band WiFi. I’ve already taken the box apart to check out the hardware in the first part of the review, so I’ll focus on the firmware, but I’ll keep it short focusing on typical problem areas, as I’ve already reviewed a bunch of other Amlogic S912 TV boxes such as Qintaix Q912 or Beelink GT1.

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First Boot, Firmware Update, and First Impressions

After having connected all usual cables and  accessories include a 1TB USB hard drive, and RF dongles for my air mouse and wireless gamepad, I booted the device, and after around 45 seconds (typically), I got to the main launcher.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

Since I received the device about a month ago, I decided to go to the UPDATE&BACKUP app to see if there was any OTA firmware update, and unfortunately, as you can see from the screenshot below online update was not enabled in the device with the error: “Check Failed! Check Your OTA Servier Argent” (sic).

update-backup-fail

So I went to Rikomagic download page, and I could find a new firmware, the latest USB burning tool, and instructions. It did not go very smoothly, but I still managed to flash the firmware, and I explained the issues I came across in details in the post entitled USB Burning Tool Still Sucks in 2016. Still that was a disappointment to have to go through this, as the vast majority of TV boxes now support OTA firmware update through the network or SD cards, a much more user-friendly way to upgrade the firmware. The company explained that my early sample did not support OTA firmware update, but it should now. I tried again UPDATE&BACKUP, and got the same error, until I found another firmware update app called WirelessUpdate.

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Click to Enlarge

It won’t detect a new firmware since I have RKM MK22_161031 firmware released a week ago, but it did seem to properly check the status from the OTA server, telling that was not new update.

I won’t go into much details about the settings, as you can check my other S912 reviews for all options, for example M12N review. HDMI CEC, Playback settings (HDMI Adaptation), and Power key definition were all present in MK22 firmware. I had no troubles with settings Ethernet, WiFi, and the system automatically set my TV to 2160p @ 60 Hz and kept it that way throughout. I did not have the typical HDMI CEC issue turning on my AV receiver against my will. So it appears Rikomagic fixed some of the issues I encountered in early S912 TV boxes.

about-mediabox-rkm-mk22

I could also enter Android Marshmallow settings, and access all usual options. A single unified 11.38GB partition is used for both apps and storage from the 16GB eMMC flash, and the system runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux kernel 3.14.29. The firmware is rooted.

The provide remote control worked fine for up to 8 meters, as further away some keys would be missed. I reverted to MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for most of the review because its mouse mode and QWERTY keyboard make it so much easier in most Android apps.

I could also power on and off (long press) the system with the remote, and make it enter standby (short press), with the following power consumption numbers when all accessories, include a USB hard drive, are connected:

  • Power off – 0 Watt
  • Standby – 5.1 Watts
  • Idle – 6.2 Watts

Temperature wise the box top and bottom temperatures reach 44 and 52 °C max after Antutu 6.x benchmark, and after 15 minutes playing Riptide GP2, they rise to about 47°C and 59°C respectively. I could not notice any performance degradation over time in the game, and performance was the same as on other Amlogic S912 TV boxes.

After my initial frustration with having to upgrade the firmware using Windows based Amlogic USB burning tool, the device actually performance well, just like other entry-level Amlogic S912 TV boxes, with the advantage of having several bugs fixed (HDMI CEC bug gone, HDMI video setting constant, …). Google Play also worked with any problems and could install all apps I normally use for reviews.

4K Video & Audio playback in Kodi 16.1, DRM Info

While some Amlogic S912 TV boxes are pre-loaded with Kodi 17.0 (alpha / beta), Rikomagic MK22 comes with the stable version of Kodi 16.1, possibly with some tweaks, as well as pre-installed add-ons.

mk22-kodi-16-1
Again, I’ll be quick in this review, as Amlogic S912 video playback performance is well known.  So I’ve only tested 4K videos, and checked whether automatic frame rate switching and HDMI audio pass-through are working. All videos were playing through the Gigabit Ethernet connection from a SAMBA share, unless otherwise noted (HDD = played from USB hard drive).

4K videos are playing reasonably well, although 2 had some unusual issues:

  • 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) – First time: Video exited early (after 2 to 3 seconds). Second time: 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 – Started well, but after 30 seconds or so the image froze with the audio still playing in the background.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (hardware does not support this type of video)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK (although video did not seem as sharp as usual)
  • 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
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: Not smooth
  • 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) – Plays but could be smoother.

Automatic frame rate switching is not working just like on other Amlogic S912 devices, even after setting it in both Kodi and Android (HDMI Adaptation).

HDMI audio passthrough works for 5.1 channel audio, and I could not detect any audio cuts during testing contrary to what happens on some other devices:

  • AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 – Audio OK, but video not smooth
  • E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 – OK
  • Dolby Digital+ 7.1 – PCM 2.0, no audio
  • TrueHD 5.1 – PCM 2.0, no audio
  • TrueHD 7.1 – PCM 2.0, no audio
  • Dolby Atmos 7.1 – PCM 2.0, no audio
  • DTS HD Master – DTS 5.1
  • DTS HD High Resolution – DTS 5.1
  • DTS:X (not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636) – DTS 5.1

So if all you really is Dolby and DTS 5.1, MK22 should be good enough, but TrueHD and DTS HD audio formats are not supported, at least in Kodi.

MK22 support Widevine Level 3 according to DRM Info, which may be useful for some premium video streaming app. This DRM level is only good enough for SD resolution on Widewine “protected” apps, as Level 1 would be required for HD and UHD resolution.

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Networking and Storage

In order to evaluate WiFi performance, I copy a 278 MBfile between the internal storage and a SAMBA server using ES File Explorer in both direction. As with many recent boxes, MK22 also experience an asymmetric performance between download and upload, with the latter about twice as slow. On average Rikomagic MK22 achieves 1.6 MB/s throughput using 802.11n, not a very high performance even for 802.11n, but what’s surprising is that all Amlogic S912 TV boxes are very closely tied for 802.1n WiFi performance, so there may be an issue with Amlogic SDK, or some other limitations.

WiFI throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

WiFi throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Internal performance is also important for fast loading times and overall system performance, and the eMMC used in MK22 has very good performance with 63.65 MB/s read speed, and 20.23 MB/s write speed.

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Read and Write Speed in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

That means there should not be visible slowdowns due to I/Os (provided random I/Os are fast too), and indeed during testing I did not experience any slowdowns, and found apps to load rapidly. Somehow boot time could be a bit faster with such performance.

I also tested file systems support and found FAT32, NTFS, and exFAT file systems to be supported by the device.

Rikomagic MK22 System Info and Antutu Benchmark

CPU-Z reports Amlogic S912 clocked at 1.51 GHz, so Kudos to Rikomagic here, as they are the first to report the real CPU frequency of that processor. The board name is q6330, framebuffer resolution is set to 1920 x 1080, and there’s indeed 2GB RAM (1807MB due to hardware buffers), and 11.38 GB storage available to the user.

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RKM-MK22 achieved 40,827 points in Antutu 6.x, a score in line with other Amlogic S912 Android TV boxes I’ve tested so far.

rkm-mk22-antutu-score

Conclusion

I found Rikomagic MK22 to be stable and working mostly as expected, with some bugs corrected compared to earlier S912 TV box models under reviews, but with limitations frequently found in entry-level Amlogic S912 TV boxes with lack of support for automatic frame rate switching and HD audio (TrueHD, DTS HD) pass-through in Kodi, as well as DRM limited to Widewine Level 3. WiFi 802.11n is reliable, but performance is a bit weak, although similar to what you get with other Amlogic S912 devices. Storage speed is very good which ensure fast loading times and a responsive system. A big let down was lack of OTA firmware update, as I had to run USB burning tool to upgrade the firmware, but the company told me that from now on OTA firmware will be provided.

Rikomagic MK22 TV box can be purchased on the company’s Aliexpress store for $93.90 including shipping, or quite higher than equivalent competitors products. The Android box is also listed on GearBest, but still shown as “out of stock”.

Giveaway Week – WeTek Core Android TV Box

November 1st, 2016 267 comments

For day 2 of this giveaway week, I’ll send one lucky winner WeTek Core Android or OpenELEC TV box powered by Amlogic S812 processor, and one of the rare boxes with support Netflix HD, which is partially why I listed it as one of the best Android TV boxes.

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Click to Enlarge

But as discussed in WeTek Core review, there are also other reasons the box stands out with HD audio pass-through and automatic frame rate switching support, support forums, regular firmware updates, and WeTek is one of the few companies providing an official OpenELEC firmware image.

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Click to Enlarge

All accessories shown above are included, except the HDMI cable.

To enter the draw simply leave a comment below. Other rules are as follows:

  • Only one entry per contest. I will filter out entries with the same IP and/or email address.
  • Contests are open for 48 hours starting at 10am (Bangkok time) every day. Comments will be closed after 48 hours.
  • Winners will be selected with random.org, and announced in the comments section of each giveaway.
  • I’ll contact the winner by email, and I’ll expect an answer within 24 hours, or I’ll pick another winner.
  • Shipping
    • $17 for registered airmail small packet for oversea shipping payable via Paypal within 48 hours once the contest (for a given product) is complete.
    • If Paypal is not available in your country, you can still play, and I’ll cover the cost of sending the parcel by Sea and Land (SAL) if you win.
  • I’ll post all 7 prizes at the same time, around the 10th of November
  • I’ll make sure we have 7 different winners, so if you have already won a device during this giveaway week, I’ll draw another person.

Good luck!

WeTek Core was released late 2015, but it’s now out of stock on WeTek store and Amazon shop, as it may have been replaced by more recent Amlogic S905 based WeTek devices such as WeTek Hub. I can still be found via some eBay sellers.

Test Widevine & PlayReady DRM, HDCP 1.x/2.x, 4K VP9 and H.265 in Android with Exoplayer App

October 21st, 2016 2 comments

I first heard about ExoPlayer in an Android TV Overview presentation at Linaro Connect 2014, but I never really looked into it. The source code is available on Github, and I’ve been given ExoPlayer.apk as it can be used to test UHD H265 support, HDCP 1.x, HDCP 2.x compatibility, PlayReady & Widevine DRM using different format and so on.

ExoPlayer Demo - Click to Enlarge

ExoPlayer Demo – Click to Enlarge

So I installed it on Beelink GT1 Android TV box which I’m currently reviewing, and only include basic Widewine Level 3 DRM, and certainly does not support HDCP features.

There are 9 sections in the app to test various videos and DRM schemes:

  • YouTube Dash
  • Widevine Dash Policy Tests (GTS) – Widewine with or without HDCP, with or without secure video path
  • Widevine HDCP Capabilities Tests – NoHDCP, HDCP 1.0, HDCP 1.1, HDCP 2.0, HDCP 2.1, HDCP 2.2, and HDCP no digital output
  • Widevine Dash MP4, H264 – Various resolution (SD, HD, UHD) for clear or secure videos
  • Widevine Dash WebM, VP9
  • Widevine Dash MP4, H.265
  • SmoothStreaming – Super speed or Super speed (PlayReady)
  • HLS – Apple master playlist, Apple TS media playlist, Apple ID3 metadata, etc…
  • Misc – Various video & audio formats and codecs (MKV, FLV, Google Play videos…)

I tested a few the tests without HDCP nor secure data requirement will work just fine. Widevine secure SD (MP4, H.265) would work fine, but as expect Widevine Secure HD and UHD would not work, and only show a black screen with audio since Level 1 DRM is not supported by my device.

Then I switched to Widewine HDCP 2.2, and to my surprise the video could play… I later found out that HDCP does not kick-in immediately, and if I play the video for a longer time, the video will stop after 9 seconds because Beelink did not get the HDCP 2.2 license for their box.

AFAIC, there’s automatic testing, and each test must be started manually. But it’s still a useful if you are interested in copy protection schemes supported by your Android device.

I’ll complete the post with something unrelated with ExiPlayer, but still interesting to check HDCP support if you own an Amlogic device, as there are some commands to check the status of HDCP:

  • Show whether the TV is currently working with HDCP 2.x or HDCP 1.x:

22 = HDCP2, 11 = HDCP1, off = HDCP not enabled right now

  • Check HDCP authentication status:

1=authenticated ok, 0 = failed to authenticate.

  • HDCP keys for device

00 = no HDCP key, 14 = has HDCP1_key, 22 = has HDCP2_key

  • Check TV HDCP version

22 = TV supports HDCP2, 14 = TV supports HDCP1)

  • Disable HDCP protection:

Qintaix Q912 Android Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0, Kodi 17, Benchmarks, etc…

September 18th, 2016 9 comments

Qintaix Q912 is one of the many octa-core Android boxes based on Amlogic S912 processor. I’ve already shown photos of the device and its internal design in the first part of Qintaix Q912 review, so today I’ll report the results of my testing with Android firmware, video & audio capabilities in Kodi 17 Alpha 3 (pre-installed), features supports, benchmarks, and other comment. I will also be interesting to find out how it compares to M12N TV box, also based on Amlogic S912 processor.

qintaix-q912-boot

First Boot, Settings, and First Impressions

I’ve connected all necessary cables including HDMI and Ethernet, added some USB devices including two 2.4 GHZ USB dongles for my air moues and wireless gamepad, a USB keyboard to take screenshots, and a USB 3.0 hard drive to the USB 2.0 ports of the device. Once you apply power, the LED is turn red, and you need to press the power button on the unit ot the remote control to start the TV box. The front panel display will show “Boot”, and within a typical 40 seconds you should be to the launcher, after which the display will show the current time.

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Click to Enlarge

It’s your typical TV launcher with large icon links to common apps or folders of apps (not customizable), and shortcut row will smaller icons that can be added or removed as you wish.

The Settings app is different from M12N. but basically the same as other Amlogic TV boxes.

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Click to Enlarge

The most relevant / notable settings include:

  • Device
    • Network – WiFi, Ethernet, and VPN
    • Display
      • Screen resolution: Auto switch on/off, deep color mode on/off, 1080p24/50/60, 720p50/60, 4k2k 24/25/30/50/60/SMPTE, 576p50, 480p60, 1080i50/60
      • Screen position, Day Dream, HDR (Auto, On, Off)
    • Sound -> Digital Sounds -> Auto detection, PCM, HDMI, SPDIF
  • Preferences
    • Playback settings – HDMI self-adaption on/off (aka automatic frame rate switching)
    • Power key definition – Suspend and resume, shutdown
    • More settings – Access to Android Marshmallow settings

By default, the box will select the high possible resolution on your TV, and for mine to was 4K2K SMPTE (4096×2160 @ 24 Hz), but I switched back to 4K2K-60Hz (3840×2160) for testing. Like with most Amlogic TV box, Qintaix Q912 has problems to remember my settings, and will often revert to 1080p60. One possible reason is that it is connected to an Onkyo A/V receiver before being connected to the TV, and sometimes the receiver is turned on, and other time turned off.  Once the receiver is turned on, I can’t turn it off anymore using either its remote control or the power button on the unit, as the box will always turn it back on. That’s a very annoying issue that’s been happening with all recent (Android 6.0) Amlogic TV boxes. This is some HDMI CEC issue, as if I disable HDMI CEC (RIHD) in the receiver the problem goes away. That however means I can’t control the TV over CEC using the receiver’s remote control anymore…

As mentioned in the list of “Notable settings”, we can access Android 6.0 settings through More settings icon, and configure other aspect of the device such as portable hotpost, printer, developer options, accessibility, printing, Languages and Input, etc…

A single 11.49 GB internal partition is used for apps and data, a capacity that should be plenty enough for most people. Just like M12N, Qintaix Q912 is running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29 as per About Mediabox section. The firmware is rooted. OTA firmware update is currently not supported, but I could install the latest firmware (dated 06 September 2016) via UPDATE&BACKUP app using a USB flash drive. The company also informed me that network firmware updates will be enabled later on.

The included infrared remote control works fine, and I could use it up to 10 meters, where I started getting some misses (maybe 1 out of 10). The IR learning function worked too, as I tested it with the power and volume keys of my TV remote control. I still used MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for the review, since it’s just much more convenient to use that the IR remote control.

The Google Play store worked better than on other box, especially since I could also installed Bluetooth LE apps such as Mi Fit or Smart Movement. I also installed Amazon Underground to play the free version of Riptide GP2 game.

Power handling has been well implemented. The TV box will go into standby after a short press on the power button of the remote control, and into power off mode with a long press. As seen above, you can also configure the short press to go directly into power off mode. You can also turn the TV box back on using the remote control or the power button on the unit

Power consumption figures are also pretty good, since my power meter did not detect any power draw in power off mode, but standby mode appears to be pretty much useless:

  • Power off – 0.0 watt
  • Standby – 3.1 watts
  • Idle – 3.1 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.0 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 5.1 watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – 5.1 watts

As we’ve seen with the teardown, Qintaix Q912 comes with a heatsink on top of Amlogic S912 processor, as well as a metallic  enclosure, but the board is not in contact with the case at all. Still, during use the case feels fairly hot, and actually feeling hotter at the touch that what my IR thermometer is reporting with top and bottom temperatures of  40 and 44 °C max after Antutu 6.2, and about 43°C and 46°C respectively after playing Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes.

I did not find any major issues with Qintaix Q912 firmware, which I found fast and very stable, although I still got a couple of “Unresponsive app”. I also like that they kept the notification bar, albeit removed the status bar, and they still have that annoying HDMI CEC bug preventing me to turn on my A/V receiver. The device also have the exact some IPTV apps, namely FilmOn, Modbro, and Showbox, that I covered in MXQ Plus M12N TV box review.

Video and Audio Playback with Kodi 17, Antutu Video Tester, and DRM info

Contrary to most other TV boxes I’ve reviewed which come with the stable version of Kodi, currently Kodi 16.1, or somethimes a fork, Qintaix Q912 is pre-loaded with Kodi 17.0 Alpha  3 built on July 31st.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

And like many TV box, they’ve also installed piracy add-ons, many of which are not working…

kodi-17-add-onsAnyway, I’m only testing local video playback in Kodi, and I’m done so from a SAMBA share using the Gigabit Ethernet connection.

Most Big Buck Bunny videos from Linaro media samples and Elecard are playing just fine:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – Could be a little smoother (software decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p: OK (ff-vp8 software decode); 1080p: not smooth
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

Automatic refresh rate switching is not working in Kodi 17.0, at least in this device.

Videos with various bitrates were next:

  • ED_HD_10Mbps_1080p_MPEG-4.avi (MPEG-4 / 10 Mbps) – Not smooth at all, barely watchable (msmpeg4v2 software decode)
  • 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) – Won’t play
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

Dolby Digital and DTS support was tested with four use case: PCM 2.0 output (stereo downsampling) or HDMI audio pass-through via Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver, using Kodi and MoviePlayer apps.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 17 Alpha 3)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 17 Alpha 3)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Audio OK (Dolby D 5.1), video not smooth OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 Video plays in fast forward, without time to setup audio
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 TrueHD 5.1
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 TrueHD 7.1
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 Dolby D 5.1 – continuous beep
DTS HD Master OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1

Results are pretty much the same as other Amlogic Android 6.0 TV boxes.

For most videos, 4K video playback is not too bad in Kodi 17.0:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Not always smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – Some frames are “jumping”
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (as expected since hardware is not supposed to support it)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – 0.5 to 1 fps (software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Not smooth at all from either HDD or network
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – OK, except for one massive slowdown for 2 to 3 seconds.
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK most of the time, but I can see some frame drops from time to time

The video above were tested using 4K60Hz (3840×2160), and the video show properly, but I previously also tested 4KSMPTE (4096×2160 @ 24 Hz) and some black bands showed on the left and right edges of the TV. You can watch Kodi 17.0 setup and video playback in Qintaix Q912 below.

Blur-ray videos (Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso) and two MPEG2 1080i videos could play fine. I basically had the same results as on M12N for 10-bit H.264 videos with a 720p sample playing fine, but a 1080p sample not being smooth enough. Kodi 16.1 would enable subtitles by default in those two videos, but Kodi 17.0 Alpha 3 requires the user to manually enable subtitles.

LG 42UB820T Ultra HD television does not support 3D videos, but my Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver does, and could detect 3D content (3D icon on) for MVC videos as shown in Zidoo X1 II review, and for others it’s still interesting to see if the box can decode them:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Won’t play at all
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK
  • 3D-full-MVC.mkv (Full-frame packed MVC 3D MKV) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on AV receiver
  • ISO-full3D-sample.iso (Full-frame packed MVC 3D ISO) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on AV receiver

I also played one complete 1080p H.264 video for 2 hours without issues through the network (SAMBA share), and I completed Kodi 17 testing by check out various video from my library with IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4, XViD/DViX, and MKV 720p and 1080p videos. Most could play just fine, but I noticed some FLV video had no audio, and IFO/VOB files would not play smoothly at all.

MXQ Plus M12 previously achieved 865 points in Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark, and Qintaix Q912 got a slightly lower score with 849 points.qintaix-q912-antutu-video-testerThe three “partially support” videos could not play smoothly enough.

amlogic-s912-tv-box-video-not-smooth DRM info reports Widevine Level 3 is supported.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

I also quickly tested YouTube, and it supports up to 1080p. Video samples can be downloaded via links in the comments section of that video sample post.

Network Performance for WiFi and Ethernet

Qintaix Q912 has a dual band WiFi module (AP6330), and I could connect to both 2.4 and 5.0 GHz access point, but no support for 802.11ac, so I only tested performance of 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz by copying a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal storage several times in either direction. The result is disappointing since the transfers averaged 1.69 MB/s, one of the poorest results among the devices I’ve tested. At least, even if the performance is far from outstanding, WiFi is very stable.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

There’s also some asymmetry between download and upload speeds, with the former reaching about 2 MB/s. You may have noticed two external antennas on Qintaix Q912, but one of them is not connected to anything, and is only there to make the box prettier.

I found Gigabit Ethernet to be working well, and tested full duplex performance with “iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d” command line:

It’s not exactly reaching 1 Gbps, but in a TV box it should not matter than much, especially the device/SoC only support USB 2.0 ports.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I could easily pair Vernee Apollo Lite smartphone to the box, and transfer a few pictures over Bluetooth, however I was not so lucky with my Bluetooth 3.0 headet (Sport-S9) which was not detected at all, and a Bluetooth 4.0 LE fitness tracker that was detected, but the TV box asked me for a pin number, which usually is not the case for this device, and pairing failed. I tried a few times and different pin code, and after pressing Cancel, the device (SH09) was shown to be paired… Sadly Smart Movement app used with the tracker would not find the device at all.

Since the firmware is rooted, I also tried my PS3 wireless gamepad clone with Sixaxis Compatibility Checker, and I could configure and use the game controller.

Storage

I used a 1TB Seagate USB hard drive set-up with 4 partitions, and a FAT32 micro SD card to test file system support.

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

I also use A1SD bench app to test the two partitions on the USB hard drive (NTFS & exFAT), and read speed was OK for both (NTFS: 34.88 MB/s; exFAT: 39.88 MB/s), but write speed is better on NTFS: 16.08 MB/s vs 4.83 MB/s. I had to test exFAT on two different days. The first day I only got R: 4.83 MB/s; W: 0.97 MB/s, after running the benchmark twice on the partition, maybe because another process was busy going through the file system…

I ran A1SD bench again to evaluate internal storage performance, and sequential read and write speeds were decent at 40.36 MB/s and 12.94 MB/s respectively.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Gaming

I’ve detailed gaming on Amlogic S912 using M12N TV box, and last time I could clearly see a different in performance between Amlogic S905 and Amlogic S912, although games like Riptide GP2 were still not clearly as fluid as on Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced. So I expected the same results on Qintaix Q912, but I have to say performance feel just like on Amlogic S905 here: Candy Crush Saga and Beach Buggy Racing are both very smooth, but Riptide GP2 using max resolution settings had a lower framerate closer to Amlogic S905. Still performance was stable throughout my 15 minutes playing the game.

Qintaix Q912 Benchmarks

CPU-Z detects an octa-core Cortex A53 @ up to 2.02 GHz with a Mali-T820 GPU. The info is correct from the Linux kernel point of view, but as we’ve previously seen Amlogic S912 is most likely running at 1.5 GHz maximum here.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The device’s board is q6330, an information that can be useful if you want to try alternative firmware. Resolution is 1920×1080, total RAM 1775 MB as some is used by the GPU and/or GPU, and internal storage has a 11.49 GB capacity as reported above.

I was disappointed by Amlogic S912 benchmarks in M12N TV box, so I was expecting a little more in Qintaix Q912, but on the contrary the score was even lower at 35,966 points in Antutu 6.2.
qintaix-q912-antutu-6

Scores in Vellamo were also lower for Metal (787 vs 1,052)and Browser (2,336 vs 2,758), but better for multicore (1,422 vs 1,130) likely because Qintaix Q912 passed all tests, but M12N failed one.
vellamo-qintaix-q912
3Dmark Ice Storm Extreme confirmed the lower performance in benchmark with 4,713 points against 5,752 points in MXQ Plus M12N.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

That may explain why gaming did not feel thtat good. For reference, Amlogic S905 TV boxes typically achieve about 4,300 points.

Conclusion

Qintaix Q912 TV box works reasonably well overall, but they’ve decided to use Kodi 17.0 Alpha 3 which does not bring much compare to Kodi 16.1, and does not perform as well with all video. Once we dig into benchmarks and play game, we also quickly realize the TV box has about the same performance as Amlogic S905 devices, meaning you pay a premium without any obvious benefits.

PROS

  • Recent Android 6.0 firmware that is both responsive and stable, and includes a slightly different launcher
  • Mostly fine 4K video support for VP9, H.265 and H.264 codecs in Kodi 17
  • HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, and TrueHD 5.1 and 7.1 in Video MoviePlayer
  • Proper power handling, and low power off & idle power consumption
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage
  • IR remote control working up to at least 10 meters
  • Google Play Store support better than some other device (e.g. for Bluetooth LE app)
  • Bluetooth file transfer and Sixaxis controller (PS3 gamepad) working
  • Metal case with front panel display showing time

CONS

  • HDMI audio pass-through and automatic frame rate switching not working properly in Kodi, and DTS-HD even lead to black videos with no audio at all. Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD 7.1 not supported in other apps
  • Kodi 17.0 Alpha 3 used in the firmware does not handle video playback of all videos as well as Kodi 16.1 (stable version): e.g. issues with VOB, no audio in FLV, etc…
  • Performance equivalent to quad core Amlogic S905 TV boxes according to benchmarks and gaming experience
  • HDMI output mode is often falling back to 1080p60, even when manually set to 4K 60Hz. (The system may be confused when I turn on the TV or AV receiver on and off).
  • WiFi: Mediocre yet stable (e.g. no stall) WiFi performance. Only one external antenna used out of the two external antennas.
  • HDMI CEC not disabled by default and no CEC option. HDMI CEC bug keeping my A/V receiver on.
  • Bluetooth: BT 3.0 audio headset not found at all, Bluetooth LE fitness tracker detected, but pairing fails, and app can’t sync.
  • DRM: Only supports Widevine Level 3
  • Dolby & DTS licenses not included (Only a problem for apps other than Kodi, for people not using HDMI or S/PDIF audio pass-through). This would require Amlogic S912-H processor.

I’d like to thank Qintex Tech for sending a review sample, and if you plan to order in quantities, you can do so directly from the company. The TV box can also be found on Aliexpress for $73.50 and up, or Amazon US for $122.