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HiMedia Q30 TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 7.0 Nougat Firmware

July 25th, 2017 1 comment

HiMedia Q30 is an Android Nougat TV box powered by Hisilicon Hi3798MV200 processor, a cost-down version of Hi3798C V200 processor with the same CPU, a lower-end Mali-450MP GPU, about the same media capabilities, and less I/Os. I’ve taken pictures of the device and board if the first part of the review entitled “HiMedia Q30 (Hisilicon Hi3798MV200) Android TV Box Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown“, so today, I’ll report about my experience with the device while running Android 7.0.

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

I’ve connected a USB 3.0 hard drive to the single USB 3.0 port, and filled the two other USB 2.0 ports with a USB keyboard, and a USB hub with two RF dongles for an air mouse and a gamepad. I added Ethernet, HDMI, and power cable to start the device.

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A typical boot takes around 25 seconds to the Android launcher below.

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That’s your typical TV launcher with date and connection status on the top, shortcuts to app in the center, and shortcuts at the bottom.


Above is the list of pre-installed apps such as Kodi, MediaCenter, Facebook, Netflix… I’ve never seen HappyCast before, so I clicked on it, but I still could not understand how to use it. That’s no issue since we have other ways to do “casting”.

The Settings App allows you to change Network, and Playback settings. The Display section does not do anything apart from showing the currently selected video output. You can also upgrade firmware locally or from the network (not tried since no new firmware), and find more info about the device.
Playback settings let you change HDMI and SPDIF output, HBR output, aspect ratio, and whether to switch to 24 Hz when needed.

The box runs Android 7.0 on top of Linux kernel 3.18.24. The firmware is not rooted.

The More button redirects to Android Nougat settings, where we’ll find some interesting options too.

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Note that while there’s a Bluetooth option, it won’t work as there’s no such hardware.

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Storage settings show we have 4.06GB space in the internal storage available to the user, with 821 MB used by pre-installed apps, and the box support EXT4, NTFS and exFAT file systems.

The Display section offers options like HDMI auto adaptation and HDCP 2.2 switch, with the latter possible helping go around some DRM issues. Custom display format is what you’d use to select video output such as 2160p 60 Hz, or 1080p 60 Hz. I found that the system would not remember my settings between reboot, often switching back to 1080i60, or other output modes, even with HDMI auto adaptation disabled.
Video output allows you to enable Output format adaption for 2D stream (how does that differ from HDMI auto adaptation?), and “enforce 3D framepacking ouput”

The SAMBA service is quite interesting as it will let you start a SAMBA server on the device with or without username and  password.

I enabled it and got access to the complete file system on the device immediately. I could navigate to the three mounted partitions on my hard drive by going to media_rw directory. That’s quite a convenient feature.

The Standby menu is used to enable/disable HDMI suspend, and set the suspend time.

Finally Advance options will allow to adjust color space with settings like YCbCr420 8bit or RGB444 10Bit, which can be useful in case you have funny colors or a pink screen, as well as TV HDR mode which can be set to SDR, HDR10, or AUTO.

I had (almost) no trouble installating extra apps via Google Play and Amazon Underground, but the former exited two or three times for no apparent reasons.

The IR remote control worked as expected with good range (tested up to 10 meters), and a working IR learning function. However, I mostly used MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for most of the review since mouse and keyboard function are a must in Android. The user manual lists two mobile apps: HiShare and HiRemote, so I tried both.

HiShare will allow you to cast photos, music, and videos in your smartphone to the TV. Once you select a media type, the app will list all corresponding media files, and once you click to play a file, it will show a list of renderers, I selected TV [email protected](HIMEDIA), and the music started to play in my TV.

HiShare Screenshot – Click to Enlarge

That’s what the TV output looks like when music is playing.

The app in only moderately convenient, because – unless I missed something – you can play/schedule one song at a time, and it won’t automatically play all music from your smartphone, so you have to select music again once the current has stopped. I also tried photos, and in my case it listed close to 10,000 “photos”, starting with hundreds or thousands of sprites from a game (CSR2) I play on my mobile phone, so it was not exactly usable. It would be better the interface was similar to Android’s Gallery app with photos sorted in folders.

Next up was HiRemote, and while I could find and connect to HiMedia Q30 TV box…… the app would also crash after I tapped OK.


There are just two power modes in this box: on and off, and you can switch between the two with the remote control or the button on the unit. Reboot and standby are not available.

Power consumption numbers with and without a USB 3.0 hard drive are shown below:

  • Power off – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle – 3.1 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.1 Watts

The idle power consumption must be the lowest I’ve seen in a while.

The box stayed cool at all times during the review, with top and bottom covers temperature being 39ºC on both sides after successfully playing a 2-hour 1080p video in Kodi, and 36 and 37ºC after playing Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes. 3D graphics performance is similar to the one of Amlogic S905/S905X boxes in that game with max resolution settings, meaning it’s playable but not a perfect 60 fps smooth, and the user experience was constant over time, so no noticeable CPU or GPU throttling either.

My first impressions with the TV box were rather good. The firmware works well, very responsive, and most of the things I tried worked as they should. The only two issues I had in this earlier part of my tests were HDMI video output changing between reboot, and Google Play exited two or three times for no reasons. The HiRemote app did not work on my Android phone (Vernee Apollo Lite) either.

Video & Audio Playback – Kodi, MediaCenter, DRM, and YouTube

Kodi was installed, and when I was in Google Play, I noticed it automatically updated to Kodi 17.3, so the version I tried was mainline Kodi, not a custom version.

I played the videos from  SAMBA share over 100 Mbps Ethernet, unless otherwise stated, starting 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) –  Mostly OK, but a few frames dropped at times
  • 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) – SAMBA: Buffering from time to time; HDD: OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Freeze after a few seconds, audio continues (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) – SAMBA: Buffering from time to time, and eventually lost audio; HDD: 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) – HDD: 1~2 fps (software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK at the beginning, but then not smooth at all
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Highly variable frame rate from ~1fps to almost smooth
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Highly variable frame rate from ~1fps to almost smooth

Not catastrophic but some VP9 videos don’t play well, other videos will buffer over Ethernet (which they don’t in most other platforms even with Fast Ethernet), and some videos don’t play as smoothly as the hardware is capable of. Automatic frame rate switching is not working, and nor is HDMI audio pass-through, as we’ll see below. So I switched to MediaCenter, and played the 4K videos again:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  OK (24 Hz video output)
  • 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 (24 Hz video output)
  • 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 – Freeze after a few seconds, resumes later, and freeze again, resume, and son on. Audio plays at all times (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) – HDD: Black screen first, then video with massive artifacts and/or colored horizontal bands. (Not supported by VPU)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – 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) – OK close to perfect, except some scenes (maybe a source problem?); No audio.

The hardware capabilities of Hi3798MV200’s VPU are fully utilized in MediaCenter, and automatic frame rate switching is working too. The only issue I could find is the lack of support for OPUS audio codec.

Let’s move on to test HD audio codec with (downsampled) PCM 2.0 stereo output with audio from the TV speakers, and HDMI audio pass-through via Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 17.3)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MediaCenter)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 17.3)
HDMI Pass-through
(MediaCenter)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK No audio OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK No audio OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK No audio OK
TrueHD 5.1 OK OK No audio OK
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK No audio OK
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK Beep** No audio TrueHD 7.1 (OK*)
DTS HD Master OK OK No audio OK
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK No audio OK
DTS:X OK OK No audio DTS HD Master (OK*)

* My A/V receiver does not support Atmos not DTS:X, so the box fell back to the best alternative.
** The sample comes with Dolby Atmos 7.1 and AC3 track, with the later producing a continuous beep sound. However, I could only select one audio track in MediaCenter shown as “TRUEHD 7.1Ch 48000Hz”.

Except for a few small issues, MediaCenter on HiMedia Q30 is the best TV box I’ve seen so far when it comes to support various 4K videos, and HDMI audio pass-through. Note that you need to use the included IR remote control with MediaCenter app, as some keys on the air moue would not work properly in this app, and you cannot access to extra settings.

If you care about managing every aspects of the picture like contrast, brightness, …, enabling/disabled video post-processing features, subtitles, and more, the app offers a range of options which I show in the video below. At the time I shot the video I did not know how to hide the status bar, but you simply need to use the mouse  pointer a little above the status and pull it down or up to hide or show it. There’s no icon for doing so like in so many other boxes.

Another pleasant surprise is that the device support Widevine Level 1 DRM, which means you should be able to use premium apps at higher resolution. For example, it should be possible to use Netflix up to 720p on this device. Not tested since I don’t have nor need a Netflix account.

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The pre-installed YouTube app is the TV version.

I can play videos up to 1080p rendering to the framebuffer.
If for some reasons you prefer the mobile Youtube app, I installed it too with the same results.

Networking & Storage Performance

HiMedia Q30 supports Fast Ethernet and 802.11 b/g/n WiFi connectivity. I tested WiFi + SAMBA by copying a 278MB file with ES File Explorer between the server and the internal flash, and vice versa, using ES File Explorer. Results speak for themselves:

  1. Server to flash: 26 minutes 15 seconds, or around 180 Kb/s. That transfer rate was roughly constant during the whole file transfer
  2. Flash to server: 3 minutes 35 seconds, or around 1.29 MB/s
  3. Server to flash: stalled after a while, and eventually failed

I stopped the SAMBA WiFi test there. I won’t draw chart, but if I did, it would be dead last among other TV boxes. I tried to play some videos over WiFi + SAMBA from Kodi, and 720p and 1080p videos downloaded from the Internet could surprisingly play just fine, but as soon as you get to 5 Mbps or greater, buffering occurs all the time.

Let’s see what happens when using iperf instead

WiFi upload:

  • 1st try:

2nd try:

So performance is not quite constant, and even with the second faster try, there were many fluctuations during the transfer, as shown from the Conky screenshot on the right with spikes, instead of seeing a nice rectangular shape.

WiFi download:

  • 1st try: stuck, no results.
  • 2nd try:

  • 3rd try:

Performance looks better here, except of course for the first stalled results. So it looks like WiFi may not be as stable as it could be, as least with my setup and router.

A1SD bench app  was used to test storage performance. The eMMC flash does not have so good write speed (7.31 MB/s), and read speed (78.66MB/s) is invalid due to Cached read. This could lead to really slow performance when background tasks perform I/Os such as during automatic app updates.I’ve just been lucky not to notice it during testing.

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One the other hand USB 3.0 performance is all good, even for exFAT that usually exhibit very poor write performance in Android TV boxes.

Read & Write Speeds in MB/s -Click to Enlarge

From a practical standpoint, you will probably not see much differences between the three file systems, especially Ethernet is limited to 100 Mbps. If you’d like more performance and Gigabit Ethernet, you may consider HiMedia Q5 Pro instead.

Himedia Q30 System info and Benchmarks

CPU-Z reports a quad core ARM Cortex A53 processor clocked at up to 1.60 GHz with a Mali-450MP GPU. The model is called “Q30 (Hi3798MV200”, and the board “bigfish”.

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The device achieved 34,880 points in Antutu 6.2.x, not a surprised as it’s similar to what we’d get from other quad core ARM Cortex A53 processor such as Amlogic S905X or Realtek RTD1295.

Vellamo 3.x results show a similar performance too. So no problems here.

Conclusion

HiMedia Q30 has a lot going for it. A well working Android 7.0 firmware, the best video and audio I’ve seen in any TV boxes when using MediaCenter app including 4K video decoding, automatic frame rate switching, and HDMI audio pass-through for all HD codecs supported by my A/V receiver, Widevine Level 1 DRM, and good support and performance for USB 3.0 storage. As all devices, it’s not perfect though, as I found WiFi to be somewhat slow and/or unrelaible with my router, the lack of Bluetooth may be a problem for some people, and there are few bugs here and there such as HDMI video output selection not always kept during reboots, Google Play randomly exiting, and HiRemote app crashing and unusable in my phone. Kodi lovers may not be statified with the lack of automatic frame rate switching and audio pass-through.

PROS

  • Recent, stable and responsive Android 7.0 Nougat firmware
  • Best 4K H.265/H.264/VP9 playback I’ve seen in any TV boxes with MediaCenter App, including automatic frame rate switching
  • HDMI audio pass-through for TrueHD and DTS HD 7.1 in MediaCenter App
  • Picture is highly customizable in MediaCenter app with various option, including post-processing tuning in MediaCenter App
  • Built-in SAMBA server support
  • Good external storage support with excellent USB 3.0 performance for NTFS and EXT-4, and good for exFAT file system.
  • Widevine Level 1 DRM
  • Solid hardware design with good cooling
  • IR remote control working well with good range (>= 10 meters) and IR learning function (the remote is a must to use MediaCenter app to its fullest)
  • OTA firmware update (not tested, since no new firmware during review)

CONS and bugs

  • WiFi found to have low performance (especially with SAMBA), or unstable
  • While Kodi 17.3 “mainline” is supported and plays some 4K videos fairly well, it’s not working as well as MediaCenter app, and does not support automatic frame rate switching, not HDMI audio pass-through
  • User set HDMI video output, not always remembered at next reboot
  • Google Play may crash (not too often, still usable most of the time)
  • Low end eMMC flash may lead to poor performance in case when I/Os occur in the background, e.g. during app updates.
  • Lack of Bluetooth support
  • HiRemote Android app crashes on my smartphone

I’d like to thank HiMedia for providing a review sample. You can purchase HiMedia Q30 on Aliexpress for $109 including shipping. Distributors may want to contact the company via the product page.

Rockchip RK3328 based MXR PRO TV Box Boasts 4GB RAM, 32GB Flash

July 24th, 2017 3 comments

Most users of TV boxes will do just fine with 2 GB RAM, especially with lower end ARM Cortex A53 systems, but if you have somewhat low processing needs, but high memory requirements, MXR Pro TV box powered by Rockchip RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor, and running Android 7.1 comes with 4GB RAM, and 32GB storage.

MXR PRO 4K TV box specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 1.5 GHz with Mali-450MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 4GB DDR3
  • Storage – 32 GB eMMC flash + SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with HDR10 and HLG support, 3.5mm AV port (composite)
  • Video Codec – 4K VP9, H.265 and H.264. 1080p VC-1, MPEG-1/2/4, VP6/8
  • Audio – Via HDMI, AV port (stereo audio), and 3.5mm coaxial S/PDIF jack
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, single band 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports, 1x USB 3.0 port
  • Misc – IR receiver, blue/red LED for power status
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 12 x 12 x 2.4 cm

Maybe one use case of the extra memory could have been TV BOX + NAS via the USB 3.0 port, but while they decided to spent extra for memory and storage, they kept the cheapest networking options possible with Fast Ethernet, and 2.4GHz WiFi. So that’s not ideal for that use case. That means the only option – that I know of – with RK3328, 4GB RAM, Gigabit Ethernet, and USB 3.0 is still ROCK64 development board.

MXR PRO TV box is sold on DHGate for $67.98 with shipping by DHL. That website also offers wholesale discount, with the price dropping to $49.09 per unit for orders of 100 devices or more. Note that the title on DHgate mentions RK3228 processor, but in the description it’s mostly RK3328, and a listing on Alibaba confirms the specs.

Via AndroidPC.es

PROBOX2 AVA 4K TV Box, NAS, and HDMI IN DVR Sells with an Optional Air Mouse

July 18th, 2017 2 comments

We’ve recently come across several TV boxes based on Realtek RTD1295 SoC which offers not only typical 4K Android TV box features like H.265 & VP9 video playback, and HDR support, but acts like a NAS function thanks to a SATA interface and OpenWrt, and provides an HDMI input port that allows for DVR, PiP, and UDP broadcasting functions. PROBOX2 AVA is another one of those device with the hardware extremely similar to Beelink SEA I model, but with an external antenna, and a different user interface. The box can also ship with an optional Remote+ air mouse, which could allow you to turn on the device without using the IR remote control (TBC), as I have to do with other boxes.

PROBOX2 AVA specifications:

  • SoC – Realtek RTD1295DD quad core ARM Cortex-A53 processor @ 1.4 GHz with ARM Mali-T820MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 2 GB DDR4
  • Storage – 16 GB eMMC flash, SD card slot, and 2.5″ SATA III bay
  • Video I/F
    • HDMI 2.0a output with HDR, CEC, and HDCP 2.2 support up to 4K @ 60 Hz (23.976 and 29.94Hz frame rates are also supported)
    • HDMI 2.0 input with HDCP 2.2 support for PVR, PiP, and UDP broadcasting
  • Audio I/F – HDMI with support for Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD 7.1, optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 port, 1x USB 3.0 port
  • Misc – Power LED, RTC + battery, IR receiver
  • Power Supply –  12V/1.5A
  • Dimensions – 200 x 125 x 21 mm

While many of the ports are placed in the same position as Beelink SEA I, the box is larger due to the external WiFi antenna. By default, the box ships with a power adapter, an IR remote control, a HDMI cable, and a user guide. The optional PROBOX2 Remote+ air mouse can be used as a game controller, an audio input for voice control, and of course an air mouse over a 2.4 GHz connection. The company (W2COMP) has sold TV boxes with Remote+ remote control for several years, and I used it during my review of PROBOX2 EX TV box in 2014.

Probox2 Remote+ with RF Dongle and User guide (Click to Enlarge)

At the time I liked the air mouse, including gaming and voice input modes, but missed the QWERTY keyboard on the back, and play/pause and trick modes keys that are useful in media players like XBMC (now Kodi). At the time, I could not turn on the device with the air mouse, so hopefully it’s something that has been addressed since then.

The device runs Android 6.0 and OpenWrt with support for Samba server, iTunes (DAAP) server, DLNA (UPnP) server, FTP server, AFP function (for Apple TimeMachine) and BitTorrent download functions as in most other RTD1295 devices. The change is the company’s APEX UI / launcher.

Click to Enlarge

PROBOX2 AVA is now up for pre-order on W2COMP for $135.00, or with Remote+ air mouse for $149.99. Amazon and eBay purchase links will be up on July 28th. More details may be found on the product page.

Bqeel MVR9 TV Box Review – Part 1: Specifications, Unboxing and Teardown

July 14th, 2017 7 comments

All Rockchip RK3328 based 4K TV boxes I’ve seen so far come with Fast Ethernet, not Gigabit Ethernet, with the exclusion of Rock64, which is not a TV box, but a development board. But Nagrace sent me Bqeel MVR9 box that comes with Gigabit Ethernet, in order to write a review. I’ll start by having a look at the hardware first, before experimenting with the firmware in several weeks.

Bqeel MVR9 Specifications

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor with ARM Mali-450MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 2 GB DDR4 @ 1066 MHz
  • Storage – 16 GB eMMC flash + micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with HDR10 and HLG support, 3.5mm AV port (composite video)
  • Video Codec – 4K VP9, H.265 and H.264, 1080p VC-1, MPEG-1/2/4, VP6/8
  • Audio Output – Via HDMI, and AV (stereo audio) ports; optical S/PDIF
  • Audio Features – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD via RKMC
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, and Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports (including one OTG port), 1x USB 3.0 port
  • Misc – IR receiver, recovery button
  • Power Supply – 5V/3A
  • Dimensions –  115 x 115 x 23 mm
  • Weight – ~200 grams

The box runs Android 7.1.1, and the company told me YouTube 4K is supported, they added support for DRM (but only Widevine Level 3 for now), and BD ISO  & 3D Blu-ray can be played in RKMC.

Bqeel MVR9 Unboxing

I received the device in a black box reading “Smart Your TV, Color Your life”.

The box comes with a 5V/3A power supply that should be enough even if you connect a USB 3.0 hard drive, a male to male USB cable (for firmware recovery), a HDMI cable, an IR remote control, a TV box user manual, and remote control user manual.

Click to Enlarge

The box is made of plastic with the power button on one side, the AV port, recovery pinhole, micro SD card, a USB OTG port, and USB 3.0 port on the other side.

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The rear panel includes a Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 2.0 ports, a HDMI 2.0a output port, optical S/PDIF output, and the DC jack.

Bqeel MVR9 Teardown

We’d normally open the box by loosening some screws hidden under rubber pads, but there’s nothing there.

Click to Enlarge

So instead, I just had to unclip the bottom cover. There’s not much to see on that side of the board, except the sticker that reads TRN9-V10 2G+16G. So I loosened four screws to completely take out the board of the case.We can see two methods use to keep the box cool. First a black heatsink on top of Rockchip RK3328 processor, and a thick gray plate on top of the box.

Click to Enlarge

The board appears to have been designed by T-Chip, which should be the same company that makes the Firefly boards. The processor is connected to one 16GB Samsung KLMAG1JENB-B041 eMMC 5.1 flash that in theory delivers 285/40 MB/s sequential R/W speeds, and 8K/10k random R/W IOPS, as well as two Samsung K4A8G165WB-BCRC DDR4-2400 SDRAM chips @  (2GB in total). So the company has used some pretty decent storage and memory chip in the design, which should help with performance. They coupled a Realtek RTL8211F transceiver with Mnova MS0860 transformer for Gigabit Ethernet, and use Realtek RTL8723BS module for wireless connectivity (802.11 b/g/n WiFi + Bluetooth 4.0 LE).

Other notable chips include Rockchip RK805-1 PMIC, FE1.1s USB 2.0 hub, and TI DRV632 stereo audio line driver. We’ll notice a 3-pin header on the bottom left of the board which should be an alternative location for the IR receiver, and close to it a footprint to connect a fan. The UART debug interface is clearly marked with RX, TX, and GND, but not the most convenient, as you’d need to solder wire to solder pads.

I’d like to thank Nagrace for sending the review unit. There’s no product page, no price info right now.

H96 Pro Octa Core TV Dongle Runs Android 7.1.1 on Amlogic S912 Processor

July 13th, 2017 11 comments

That one will be confusing as H96 Pro is already a TV box, but somebody must have thought that model number was so good, it had to be re-used in another products. So I present to your H96 Pro TV dongle powered by the same Amlogic S912 processor running Android 7.1.1 Nougat. It’s not the first octa-core HDMI TV stick, as we’ve seen MeegoPad A02 (Allwinner A83T) and NEXBOX 809VI (Rockchip RK3368) in the past, but AFAICR I have not come across Amlogic S912 sticks before.

H96 Pro HDMI TV stick specifications:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912 octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8 GB eMMC flash, micro SD slot up to 32GB
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI 2.0a male connector with HDR support
  • Video Codec – 4K H.265 and VP9 @ 60 fps, 4K H.264 @ 30 fps
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n WiFi (2.4GHz), and Bluetooth 4.1 + EDR
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports
  • Power Supply – 5V via micro USB port
  • Dimensions – TBD
  • Weight –  200g (TBC, probably a bit lighter than that)

As mentioned previously the stick runs Android 7.1.1, and ships with a micro USB cable for power, and a user manual in English. I’m a bit sad they somewhat crippled a 4K TV stick by not using a 802.11ac WiFi module. The product page claims that you can power it from your TV or projector USB port, but that may not always work, as such USB port may not deliver enough power for the stick to work reliably at all times. In the past, I could not even boot using that method with other TV sticks. So plan for an external USB power support to make sure. I would have thought by now that MHL would be a more common features in such TV dongle since many TVs now support MHL. Thermal management may also be an issue in such tight package.

I first found H96 Pro TV dongle GearBest where it is sold for $53.15 including shipping, but Aliexpress has better deals, including one seller offering it for $46.99 shipped.

Xnano X5 4K TV Box with Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI Input, USB 3.0, and SATA Goes for $68 and Up

July 12th, 2017 10 comments

Realtek RTD1295 processor allows for 4K TV boxes with DVR and PiP function through HDMI input, and USB 3.0 and SATA 3.0 storage interfaces. I previously reviewed Zidoo X9S and EWEAT R9 Plus based on the solution, and I especially liked support with NAS function through OpenWrt running side-by-side with Android 6.0. Those are high-end devices that cost well over $100, but we’ve recently seen cheaper models, likely with less refined firmware, no metal case, and possibly lacking OpenWrt that go as low as $78 shipped with LAKE I Home Cloud TV box. We can now get an even cheaper model, albeit with just 1GB RAM and 8GB flash, thanks to Xano X5 sold for $68.32 including shipping on Aliexpress. There’s also a 2GB/16GB version on the same page going for $82.76.

Xnano X5 Smart Box specifications:

  • SoC – Realtek RTD1295 quad core Cortex A53 processor with ARM Mali-T820 MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 1 or 2GB DDR4
  • Storage – 8 or 16GB eMMC flash, SATA 3.0 connector for external drives, micro SD card slot up to 64GB
  • Video I/O – HDMI 2.0a output with HDR support, AV output (composite), and HDMI input
  • Audio I/O – HDMI in and out, AV out (stereo audio), 1x S/PDIF output
  • Video Playback – 10-bit HEVC/H.265 up to 4K @ 60fps, H.264 up to 4K @ 24 fps, VP9 up to 4K @ 30 fps
  • Audio Features – 7.1 channel audio pass-through
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 with one 5dB external antenna
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 port, 1x USB 2.0 port
  • Misc – IR receiver, front panel display, RTC with battery
  • Power Supply – 12V/2A
  • Dimensions – 132 x 85 x 19 mm

Based on the documentation on the Aliexpress page, the box appears to run both Android 6.0 and OpenWrt, and ships with a HDMI cable, an IR remote control, a user’s manual, a high gain WiFi antenna, and a power adapter. HDMI input support DVR, Broadcasting over UDP, and PiP functions.

The company also published a picture of the board, and for people who want to develop U-boot or Linux on the board (mainline for RTD1295 is in progress), the 4-pin header on the right between the USB 3.0 port and micro SD slot could the UART header to access the serial console. We’ve previously seen USB 3.0, SATA, and Gigabit Ethernet performance is excellent on such box, so it could also make an interesting Linux device/board if more people work on it.

Other Aliexpress sellers offer the box for a few dollars higher, GearBest is not quite as competitive here, as it sells the device for $78 including worldwide shipping [Update: GBCNA coupon brings that down to $67.19].  If you do a group buy of at least five, DHGate sells it for  $62.29 per unit including DHL shipping.

Thanks to Danman for the tip.

VIA ALTA DS 4K Digital Signage Player is Powered by Zhaoxin ZX-2000M Quad Core Cortex A17 Processor

June 30th, 2017 12 comments

VIA has just announced their latest ALTA DS 4K digital signage player with a “quad core Cortex A17 processor”, which I first assumed must be Rockchip RK3288 processor since it’s one of the few with that processor core. But the processor is actually from a company I had never heard before: Shanghai Zhaoxin Semiconductor that does both x86 and ARM SoCs for various markets.

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But let’s check out the product fir with VIA ALTA DS 4K Digital Signage specifications:

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  • SoC – Zhaoxin ZX-2000M quad core ARM  Cortex-A17 processor @ up to 1.4GHz with 2D/3G GPU supporting OpenGL ES 3.0, and a video processing unit
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3 @ 1600MHz
  • Storage – 8GB eMMC Flash memory, SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4 with CEC support
  • Video Codecs –  MPEG-2, VC-1, H.264 and H.265 video decoding up to 3840x2160p @30fps; H.264 encoding
  • Connectivity – 1x Gigabit Ethernet port (Realtek RTL8211FS-CG), 1x 10/100M Ethernet port, optional 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 ( EMIO-5531 USB module)
  • Audio – WM8960 Audio Codec; 2x 3.5mm audio jacks: Line-out and Mic-in
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 ports, 1x USB 3.0 port, 1x mini USB 2.0 port for COM (Tx/Rx)
  • Misc – Power on/off button with power indicator LED, CIR receiver, antenna hole for Wi-Fi, Kensington lock, Wake-on-LAN, Watchdog timer
  • Power Supply – 12V DC-in
  • Dimensions – 175mm(W) x 25mm(H) x118mm(D)
  • Weight – 500 grams
  • Temperature Range – Operating: 0°C ~ 40°C; storage: -20°C ~ 70°C
  • Operating Humidity – 0 ~ 90% @ 40°C (non-condensing)
  • Compliance – BSMI, CE, FCC, NCC

The player runs Android 5.1.1, and can be placed vertically with a stand holder, or mounted behind a monitor via an optional VESA mount. Beside digital signage, the device is also expected for automated kiosks, check-out counters, and POS systems, and works with the company’s Android Signage Content Management apps. The dual Ethernet ports are designed to connect an IP camera while getting overlay data from the cloud.

ZX-2000M processor seems to be part of ZX-2000 family with M and D parts. While I could not find the differences between the variants, the silicon vendor listed ZX-2000 specifications as follows:

  • CPU – Quad-core ARM Cortex-A17 CPU @ up to 1.6 GHz with 22000 DMIPS
  • GPU – Zhaoxin independent intellectual property GPU with support for 1080p and 4K UI interface; 60 GFlops Smoothly
  • VPU
    • H.265 [email protected] decoding;  H.264 4Kx2K decoding; full format HD video decoding
    • Lossless compression efficiency of video content is above 70%, saving an average of more than 50% memory bandwidth
  • Tuner Support – Built-in two-way DVBC QAM demodulator, supporting a maximum TS stream output of 4-way
  • Security / DRM – SARFT’s downloadable CA; ARM TrustZone; Secure Boot; DRM copyright protection; built-in OTG; Hardware based authentication mechanism preventing illegal software and flashing
  • Process – TSMC’s 28 nm HPM technology

So the amount of information is rather limited, although the claim of a GPU designed in-house is intriguing.

ALTA DS 4K digital signage player can be ordered with or without a wireless module, as well as optional VESA mount, COM cable, and debug cable, but pricing is not publicly available. You may want to visit the product page for more information and documentation, such as the operating guide, and potentially inquire about the solution.

THL Box 1 Pro TV Box Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown

June 22nd, 2017 3 comments

Today we will be taking a look at the THL Box1 Pro box. We will take this is two parts, first being the unboxing and teardown then software and performance. Let’s start with the unit’s specs.

THL Box 1 Pro TV Box specifications

  • CPU – Amlogic S905X quad core ARM Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.51GHz
  • GPU – Penta-core Mali-450MP GPU @ 750 MHz
  • Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC flash + micro SD card slot (up to 32GB)
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60 fps, AV port
  • Audio – HDMI, AV port (stereo audio)
  • Video Codecs – VP9 4K @60fps, 10-bit H.265 4K @ 60 fps, H.264 4K @ 30 fps and more
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n/ac Dual Band Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0
  • Interfaces – HDMI port, RJ45 port (100Mbps Ethernet), 2x USB Host, micro SD Card Slot, AV Out, DC jack
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports
  • Misc – IR receiver
  • Power Supply – DC 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 10.5 x 10.5 x 2 cm
  • Weight – 198g

The THL Box1 Pro so far seems to have promising specs for the price point. Let’s hope these specs are paired with a well built firmware to provide an optimal performance scenario.

THL Box 1 Pro TV Box Unboxing

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The THL Box1 Pro come in a pretty basic brown box. My first thoughts on the packaging was “recycled material” as the box itself does not feel particularly strong. Let’s see if this continues throughout.

First item you will see upon opening the package is the THL Box1 Pro itself. The device is inside your typical plastic bag so no surprises here.

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Pull out the THL Box1 Pro and underneath you will find all of the included accessories. These are the Power Supply, HDMI cable, remote and user guide. From my experience the HDMI cables included with these boxes have not been great, so we will see if this included cable has the ability to hold up during testing.

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The device itself has the IR sensor and LED in the front, USB & Micro SD on the side and on the back AV, USB, Ethernet, HDMI and the power plug. The box overall has a good form factor and would look nice with any standard home theater setup. The box does have rubber pads on the bottom to prevent movement.

The remote it a good size, not the smaller remotes I have experienced with these boxes. Another nice added touch is that the remote has a coating that has a rubber feel and provides a non-slip grip. Upon first look the remote does not have mouse control which can be an issue if you want to control all functions with the included remote. Personally, I prefer a mouse with these units so this is not an issue for me personally.

THL Box 1 Pro TV Box Teardown

Taking apart the THL Box1 Pro proved to be a very simple task. Minimal screws holding the device together and just a few clips, this device was disassembled within a few minutes.

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On the bottom of the device there are the three holes pictured above that are under the label. Since the label spans pretty much the entire bottom of the device these were removed by simply poking through the label instead of removing the label entirely. There are a few clips around the sides of the unit that will need to be released to remove the bottom cover.

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When removing the bottom plate be aware that the Wi-Fi wire is attached to the bottom cover so there is a possibility of ripping the cable if you are not careful. There is plenty of slack in the wire, just don’t pull extremely hard when releasing the clips.

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Pull the board out and you will have access to the top of the device. The CPU does have some thermal tape on the top of it, so it can touch a heat spreader plate built in the top of the unit. This should prevent any overheating issues with the unit given its size. All the solder points look to be well done and overall build quality is good.

To reassemble simply place the board back in the housing, clip bottom back in place and then re-insert the three screws.

Now that we have this unit back together let’s see how she performs. Check back in for part 2 of our review of the THL Box1 Pro for software overview and performance results. I would like to thank Tinydeal for sending the THL Box1 Pro to review, and if you are interested in the THL Box1 Pro, you could purchase it for about $49 from their website. The device can also be found on various other websites including eBay, ChinaVasion, and GearBest.