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Posts Tagged ‘h.265’

Mecool KM8 P Amlogic S912 TV Box Runs Android 7.1 Nougat, Sells for $39 and Up

March 19th, 2017 21 comments

We’ve already written about Android 7.1 on Amlogic earlier with week with an overview of the system and SDK from a developer, and there were some issues and user interface inconsistencies. However, I’ve just seen GeekBuying is now taking order for Amlogic S912 powered Mecool KM8 P TV box running Android 7.1 for $38.99 and up.

Mecool KM8 P specifications:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912 octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3
  • System Memory – 1 or 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8 or 16GB eMMC flash and micro SD slot up to 32GB
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60Hz with CEC and HDR support, and 3.5mm AV port (composite + stereo audio)
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 ports
  • Misc – IR receiver, status and network LEDs
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 97 x 97 x 10 mm

The box ships with an IR remote control, a power adapter, a HDMI cable, and a user’s manual. It’s running Android 7.1 with Kodi 17.

I’m not convinced it will work as well as Android 6.0 right now, but OTA firmware updates may fix some of the bugs. The 1GB/8GB version is sold for $38.99, but if you prefer the system with 2GB RAM, you’ll have to spend $49.99, and for extra storage (16GB) with 2GB RAM, the price is $54.99. GeekBuying also offers bundles with  various air mice.

Socionext SC2A11 Low Power Server Processor Comes with 24 Cortex-A53 Cores, Scales up to 1536 Cores via PCIe

March 15th, 2017 7 comments

Socionext SC2A11 is an 24-core (tetracosa) ARM Cortex-A53 processor designed for low-power server system suitable for edge computing, web server & indexing, cloud computing, and any applications that do not require high single thread peak performance. The company also designed SC2A20 switch SoC that allows up to 64 SC2A11 processors (1536 cores) to communicate over PCI Express using Socionext DDT (Direct Data Transaction).

SC2A11 SoC specifications:

  • Processor – 24x ARM Cortex-A53 MPCore cores @ up to 1GHz, with 32KB/32KB I/D L1 cache, 256 KB L2 cache, and 4MB L3 cache
  • Memory I/F – DDR4-2133Mbps 64-bit + ECC
  • Flash I/F – HSSPI, eMMC
  • PCIe – PCI Express Gen2, Root/Endpoint select, 4 lanes (2 systems/ for SoC IF)
  • LAN – 2x 1Gbps with IPSec Network Offload Engine (wire-speed)
  • Serial I/F – UART, I2C, GPIO

The company did not provide any info about software, but it’s safe to assume it’s running Linux. There’s some code on the Linux mailing list for other Socionext processor,  but nothing for SC2A11. Another interesting use case is to connect several processor element card (PEC) based on SC2A11 using SC2A20 switch SoC, and a few Socionext MB86M30 ASSP via PCIe to encoding raw videos to 4K HEVC / H.265 videos @ 60 fps.

Media Transcoder Server

Socionext was at Linaro Connect Budapest 2017 demonstrating some of those PECs, and Charbax checked them out at the demo event, where they showcase the boards, and explained a little about them, and their relation with Linaro (as a member).

You won’t find than many details on Socionext SC2A11 product page, but at least you can inquire the company if you need more information.

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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Click for Original Size

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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Beelink SEA I Android TV Box, and HDMI Recorder Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown

February 23rd, 2017 12 comments

Realtek RTD1295 SoC is so far found in devices running Android & OpenWrt, and equipped with an HDMI input port for recording, PiP, and UDP broadcasting. I have already reviewed Zidoo X9S with an external SATA port, and Eweat R9 Plus with a 3.5″ SATA bay, and I’ve now received Beelink SEA I offering another option thanks to 2.5″ SATA bay, and a lower price of $98.99 and up using coupon GBSEA16 with the 2GB/16GB version, or GBSEA32 with the 2GB/32GB version. As usual, I’ll start with some photos and a teardown in the first part of the review, before testing the firmware in more details.

Beelink SEA I Unboxing Photos

I’ve received the box in the retail package below showing some of the features like 4K video playback, picture-in-picture thanks to the HDMI input, and supports for games and apps.

Beelink SEA I comes with either 16GB or 32GB eMMC flash for storage, and I received the 16GB version.

The box ships with a 12V/1.5A (18 Watts) power supply, anHDMI cable, an IR remote control with IR learning function, and a short user’s manual.

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Contrary to its competitors which are all equipped with a metal case, SEA I comes in a plastic case, slightly wider than typical TV boxes to accommodate for the 2.5″ SATA bay.

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The front panel includes an LCD display, an IR window, and power LED, one of the side comes with a USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0 host port, and an SD card slot, while the rear panel features one HDMI 2.0 output, one HDMI 2.0 input, a Gigabit Ethernet port, optical S/PDIF, and the power jack.

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If you want to insert an hard drive, you can do so by turning the box around, pushing out the cover, and inserting a 2.5″ hard drive up to 6TB in the slot.

It’s very easy to do, and does not require any tools.

Beelink SEA I Teardown

In order to open the device, we’ll need to remove the two rubber pads at the bottom of the case, loosen the two screws underneath, and use some ridig plastic tool to pop out the bottom cover.

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There’s no much to see on the back side of the PCB, so we can loosen 6 screws, then pull out the board around the LCD area in order to take it out from the plastic enclosure. We can see cooling is achieved with a thermal pad placed on top of RTD1295DD SoC and stuck on a metal shield, which is then in contact with another thermal pad placed on top of a thick metal plate. We’ll have to see how effective it is during testing…

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The company used a 16GB Samsung KLMAG1JENB-B041 eMMC 5.1 flash for storage with 285/40 MB/s read/write sequential performance, and 8K/10K random R/W IOPS, so they did not cut costs on that part, since the theoretical numbers are pretty good. The board also comes with two Samsung K4A8G165WB-BCRC DDR4 SDRAM  chips (2GB RAM). Networking is implemented with an 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0 LE module based on Realtek RTL8821AU, and H2403N transformer for Gigabit Ethernet connectivity. There’s also a chip marked S342 2227, but I’m unclear what it is for, maybe some sort of PMIC. Beelink SEA I is also one of the rare TV boxes with an RTC battery, and if you’re interested in working on the board, for example for RTD1295 mainline Linux kernel, the serial console is clearly marked on an unpopulated header on the right of “Beelink” silkscreen.

The front panel display is controlled via “AIP1618E0” display controller, but I could not find any references online.

I’d like to thank Beelink for sending the review sample. If you are interested in the device, you could purchase it on GearBest as mentioned in the introduction, while if you plan to purchase in quantities, you may want to contact Beelink directly instead.

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.

Kodi 17 “Krypton” Released, Kodi 18 “Leia” Development Started

February 3rd, 2017 2 comments

Although not officially announced yet, Kodi developers have finally released Kodi 17 “Krypton” which you can download for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, Android, and iOS, as well as Raspberry Pi and some other development boards, and several Linux versions specific to TV box such as Nvidia Shield Android TV, Amazon Fire, or WeTek Hub. The most visible changes of the update are the new Estuary and Estouchy default skins, and people who have bought recent Amlogic based Android TV boxes may have already experienced them as several TV boxes shipped with Kodi 17 Beta versions.

There’s a long list of changes, but some noticeable ones include:

  • Lots of changes and updated to the Live TV and PVR (Personal Video Recorder) include PVR backend clients addons
  • New Settings user interface
  • Media library improvements with multiple sources support, more filtering & rating options, and better scanning & database performance
  • Audio Engine improvements on most platforms using ActiveAE
  • New default web interface called Chorus2

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There are also some Android specific changes, with the most important being that you now need Android 5.0 or greater to run the latest version of Kodi:

  • Moved to Android API 21 and SDK 21 with NDK 10 as minimum, meaning at least Android 5.0 is now required
  • Moved jni into its own separate project / submodule (jni backports from SPMC)
  • Added support for audio pass-through for DTS-HD, DTS-X, Dolby TrueHD, and Dolby ATMOS
  • Added support in CMake to debug binary-addon packaging issues on Android
  • Improved MediaCodec API video decoding implementations support for Android 5.0 (API level 21) and later
  • Improved automatic refresh rate switching support for video playback on Android 5.0 & later (>= API 21), inc. Android TV
  • Improved support for UltraHD decoding / 4K resolution output when HW supports it
  • Improved playback of HEVC, VC-1 / WMV 9, and VP9 hardware video decoding when using Android’s MediaCodec API
  • Removed AMLCodec hardware accelerated video decoding support for Android on Amlogic device

Now that Kodi 17 has been released, no new features will be added, but bug fixing will still occur, and a dot release might be available later on. New features are now developed on Kodi 18 “Leia”.

Via Liliputing

Voyo (V1) VMac Mini Apollo Lake Mini PC Review – Part 2: Windows 10

January 30th, 2017 2 comments

Voyo VMac Mini, also sometimes referred to just Voyo V1, is an actively cooled mini PC powered by Intel Celeron N3450 or Pentium N4200 Apollo Lake processor. I’ve received samples for both, and already taken pictures of the device and motherboard. So in the second part I’ll review the mini PC checking out system info, running some benchmarks on both, and see how it performs as an entry-level desktop PC.

Voyo VMac Mini Setup and System Information

Setup is pretty straightforward, as you just need to connect mouse and keyboard, Ethernet, the mini HDMI to HDMI cable, optionally the included USB WiFi dongle, the power supply, and finally press the power button to get to Windows 10 desktop logged in as “admin” user in about 30 seconds.

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Some Apollo Lake mini PCs support HDMI 2.0 video output, but this requires a DisplayPort to HDMI 2.0 bridge chip, which not included in Voyo VMac Mini’s board, so the system supports 1080p resolution up to 60Hz, and 3840×2160 up to 30Hz.

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4K video output will work, but by default the system will be set to 1080p60. Window will show a “non-optimal resolution” notification on the bottom right whenever you change resolution to 4K.

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The System Info window will show the device is running an activated version of Windows 10 Home 64-bit, and comes with 4.00GB (3.84GB usable) RAM and Intel Pentium CPU N4200 @ 1.10 GHz (or Celeron CPU N3450). However, Voyo may not be 100% in compliance with the hardware requirements for a discounted Microsoft license, as while it comes with 4GB RAM, and a 32GB eMMC flash, Windows is installed on the 128GB SSD instead.

I’ve also included a “Device Manager” screenshot for a bit more info about the peripherals and features.

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One of the first thing you may want to do is to remove some Chinese programs which are running in the background.

The two processes are called ldslite.exe and computerZservice.exe, and many websites report about those two from the ones saying they are safe, to the ones claiming they are adware, to the ones claiming both are very dangerous viruses, and you need to download their free software to remove them. I have not seen any ads, but I could remove both easily simply going to “Add or remove programs”, and removed the only program with a Chinese name which removed both processes.

Voyo VMac Mini Benchmarks

If you are interested in typical system benchmarks I’ve already reported about PCMark 8 , Passmark 8 & 9, and 3DMark results in the posts entitled “Voyo VMac Mini mini PC (Intel Pentium N4200) Benchmarks” and “Voyo VMac Mini mini PC Benchmarks with Intel Celeron N3450 Apollo Lake Processor“, so I’ll just add storage and networking benchmarks in this section.

The C: drive is the 128GB FORESEE SSD drive where Windows is installed, and both sequential and random performance is pretty good, and ever faster than the already pretty fast SSD found on Voyo V3 mini PC.The 32GB eMMC flash (D: drive) is not quite as good, and from a technical point of view, it was the right thing to do to install Windows on the SSD.

Voyo VMac Mini does not include a wireless adapter internally, but a 802.11n WiFi dongle is included. Since you may want to use your own instead, I have not tested WiFi, but only Gigabit Ethernet using iperf 2 for a 60 seconds full duplex transfer.

The results show download speed is OK, but if you need a device that handles heavy traffic in both directions simultaneously this will not work so well:

I repeated the test in one direction only:

Voyo VMac Mini User Experience and Usability Testing

The mini PC has done good so far, I did not experience many problems (I had USB problem at the beginning with some flash drives not recognized, but they seem to have gone). But the most important is to see how it would perform during use as a desktop PC and/or HTPC, so I’ve performed the following tasks:

  • Multi-tasking – Launching and using Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, and Gimp at the same time
  • Web Browsing with Firefox & Microsoft Edge
    • Loading multiple tab in Firefox with CNX Software blog
    • Playing a flash game  (Candy Crush Saga) in Firefox
    • Playing a 4K (VP9) YouTube Videos in Microsoft Edge
  • Gaming with Asphalt 8
  • Kodi 17.0 RC3 @ 4K videos using H.265 or H.264 codecs, 10-bit H.264 @ 1080p, and audio pass-through


The good news is that such machine can now perfectly be used a an entry level computer for multi-tasking such as reading email, browsing the web, and editing documents. Beside the incrementally faster processor over Braswell and Cherry Trail systems, the fast SSD and 4GB of RAM clearly help here. You’ll still see differences with faster machine while scrolling long web pages, and playing games. 4K YouTube videos are playing well in Microsoft Edge, and not too bad in Firefox with only a few frames dropped here and there. Asphalt 8 frame rate does really feel similar to what I experience in Atom x7-Z8700 or Celeron N3150 based mini PCs such as Beelink BT7 and MINIX NGC1. Kodi 17 is almost out, so I used Kodi 17 RC3 during testing, with automatic frame rate switching working well, for example a 4K @ 30 fps video will make the resolution switch from 1080p60 to 4K30 automatically, and H.264 and 10-bit H.265 videos are playing fairly well. VP9 videos however are extremely choppy and unwatchable in Kodi 17. If you have a lot of animes using 10-bit H.264 (Hi10p), th goods news is that the processor is fast enough to play such videos using software decoding. HDMI audio pass-through works for Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, but not for TrueHD instead playing PCM 2.0 or transcoding to Dolby Digital, and DTS HD with the platform only passing DTS 5.1.

Stress Test, Fan Noise and Power Consumption

Some mini PCs do no handle heavy loads very well, with CPU throttling occurring after a few minutes, even for devices with a fan. So I ran AIDA64 Extreme Stability Test to find out, as well as HWiNFO64 in sensor-only mode for a little over 2 hours to find out.

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The results are very good with no CPU throttling, the maximum temperature achieved was 89 °C, 16° C from the maximum Junction temperature (105 °C), and the Pentium N4200 processor was clocked at 1.6 GHz most of the time right between the 1.1 GHz “baseline” frequency and 2.5 GHz maximum burst frequency.

The system is not fanless, but the fan does not allow turn, as it depends on actual temperature, and the higher the temperature the faster the fan spins. GM1352 sound level meter placed at about 2 cm from the top of the case reported 50 dbA under light load, and either 52.5 dBA during AIDA64 stress test,  with burst up to 57.5 dBA during the same test, that would only last maybe 10 seconds. Fan noise is not too bad while browsing the web, although audible, but for any demanding tasks you’ll clearly hear it on the temperature rise enough.

Power consumption was 10.3 Watts without USB hard drive during the stress test, but there’s a design flaw in power off mode as USB ports still draw current, so with a USB 3.0 hard drive connected, power consumption is 2.0 Watts when the device is turned off, and around 1.0 Watts when I only leave the USB keyboard and mouse. Idle power consumption is 6.4 to 7 watts with USB HDD connected.

Conclusion

Voyo VMac Mini works as advertised, and performance is quite good with the Apollo Lake processor processor, fast SSD storage and 4GB RAM. I could perfectly see people using it as an entry level computer to browse the web, work with documents and spreadsheets and so on. People who want to run high load on the device should not worry about CPU throttling as the fan and heatsink take care of cooling the device even under stress. It’s obviously still limited when it comes to games, and it might not be the best price/performance for HTPC use, as while 4K H.264 and 10-bit H.265 videos can play,  4K output is limited to 30 Hz (HDMI 1.4), 4K VP9 is not working well in Kodi, and HDMI audio pass through is limited to Dolby abd DTS 5.1, and does not support Dolby TrueHD not DTS HD formats.

At the beginning I also had some issues with some USB flash drives (NTFS) recognized by the system, but not mounted (no file system detected), but the problem went away, maybe after a Windows 10 update, and I could not reproduce the issue anymore at the end of the review with any of the 3 drives I tested. Please note the mini PC does not include WiFi, nor Bluetooth, but a WiFi dongle is included in the package instead. There was also some crapware installed in Windows 10, but as indicated in the review it’s very easy to remove. I plan to test Linux with Ubuntu 16.04, but so far my attempts have not been successful. The BIOS find the bootable drive with Ubuntu, but when I select it, all I get is a black screen.

I’d like to thank GearBest & GeekBuying for providing the samples for review, with the former providing the Pentium N4200 version which they sell for $234.93 and the latter the Celeron N3450 version selling for $199.99. Both models can also be found on other online shops such as Amazon US and Aliexpress. Note that the version on Aliexpress is significantly cheaper because it only comes with a 64GB SSD. The custom SATA cable to add your own 2.5″ hard drive is only $2 extra if you select a bundle on the Aliexpress link.

Yundoo Y8 Rockchip RK3399 TV Box is Up for Pre-order for $111 and Up

January 24th, 2017 8 comments

We’ve been waiting for Rockchip RK3399 TV boxes for a long time since the processor was first unveiled in January of last year, and the good news is that the first RK3399 TV box has now been launched (sort of), as you can pre-order Yundoo Y8 for $110.73 shipped with shipping planed for early March Yundoo Y8 specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3399 hexa core processor with 2x ARM Cortex A72 cores @ up to 2.0 GHz, 4x ARM Cortex A53 cores
  • System Memory – 2 or 4GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16 or 32 GB eMMC flash + SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz
  • Video Codecs – 4K H.265 & VP9 decoding
  • Audio Output – HDMI, optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi + Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 ports, 1x USB 3.0 port, 1x USB type C port with data and video support
  • Misc – Power button, recovery port
  • Power Supply – 5V
  • Dimensions – 11.60 x 11.60 x 2.35 cm
  • Weight – 290 grams

The device will run Android 6.0, and ship with a power adapter, an IR remote control, a HDMI cable, and a user’s manual in English.

Note that it’s unlikely you’ll experience better video playback with RK3399 TV box, but if you are using it as a mini PC, you should experience much better performance while browsing the web, playing games, and so on.

Beside the 2GB/16GB version going for $110.73, you can pre-order the 4GB/32GB version for $144.17 on the same link [Update: coupon GBYDY8 brings that down to $129.99]. A few more 3D renderings can be found on Yundoo Y8 product page.

Thanks to Gabe for the tip.