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Review of Ebox T8 V Amlogic S912 TV Box with SATA Bay – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing and Teardown

January 19th, 2017 9 comments

Last summer I reviewed Ebox T8-4, an Android TV box based on Amlogic S905 processor sold by entertainmentbox.com and geared towards the UK market. Although it had some of the typical issues with HDMI audio pass-through, I found the box easy to setup, and potentially interesting for UK viewers since popular IPTV apps were pre-installed. It also came with a SATA bay but for some reasons I never managed to have either a 1TV HDD or 128 GB SSD recognized by the system. Nevertheless, the box is now used full time by another person who seems to be quite happy about it, especially since it comes with an air mouse and a gamepad, and good support. The company has now sent me their updated model, Ebox T8 V, with very similar features but instead equipped with Amlogic S912 octa-core processor. Before checking the firmware, I’ll have a look at the hardware in the first part of the review.

Ebox T8-V Specifications

Apart from the SATA bay and VFD display, the specifications are pretty standard for an Amlogic S912 TV box:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912 octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC flash, SD slot up to 32GB, and internal 2.5″ SATA bay
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 and RCA composite ports
  • Audio Output – HDMI, RCA stereo audio ports, and optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac. N.B.: no Bluetooth listed in specs, but they sell a Bluetooth gamepad so it might be supported.
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports (including one OTG port) + 1x micro USB port
  • Misc – IR receiver, power button, VFD display
  • Power Supply – 5V/3A

The box runs Android 6.0 operating system with SPMC.

Ebox T8-V Unboxing

Beside “T8 V SMART TV BOX” package I also got an air mouse (the same as last year), a EU to UK plug adapter, and something packaged with cardboard and tape.

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Let’s open that first… That’s a 1TB WD Blue hard drive, which means I should probably already be setup, and I would not need to use a separate computer to partition and format it a way supported by the box.


The air mouse remote is the same as last year (S77 Pro), and includes a standard IR side with IR learning function, mouse functionality…

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…as well as a QWERTY keyboard side. The battery compartment is located on the right side of the keyboard and takes two AAA batteries.

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The first thing I noticed when opening the main package was a piece of paper (top right below) reading:

Because the T8 V is operating on Android 6.0, you will need to adjust the settings a bit. Let’s go into Settings, then click on Video, go to the bottom and change Settings Level to Expert. Now go to the Acceleration Tab, then over to Allow Hardware Acceleration – Amcodec, and turn it off. You need to do this, because with the introduction of the new Android 6.0, Amcodec is no longer being supported, which can cause issues with the Ebox Media Center.

This could probably be useful to change those Kodi settings for other Amlogic S905X, S905D, and S912 TV boxes too. I’m not sure why it is not disabled by default in the firmware however.

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The rest of the package includes an IR remote taking two AAA batteries which you are unlikely to use at all if you have purchased the air mouse, a 5V/3A power supply, an HDMI cable, a HDMI cable, and of course the device itself.

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The front panel has a power button, as well as plastic cover hiding the IR receiver and VFD display. Two USB ports, the SD card slot, and a recovery button can be found on one of the sides, with the other ports on the rear panels including a USB OTG port (full size), a micro USB port market USB HDD, an optical S/PDIF audio output, 3 RCA connector for video, left and right audio, a HDMI 2.0 port, a Gigabit Ethernet port and the power jack. The gap under the box should allow for some cooling of the hard drive. If you want to connect the hard drive, you’ll need open the cover on the bottom of the case. There’s also a sticker with a MAC address starting with 00:11:6E and looking up to Peplink International Ltd.

Installing the hard drive is very easy and does not require any tool. Two clips hold the back cover to the case, and then you just need to insert the HDD in the bay, and push it to plug it into the SATA connector. Put the cover back, and you’re done.

Ebox T8 V Teardown

The first step to open the device is to loosen the four screws on the bottom of the case. This will allow you to remove the plastic cover on the front panel, and then push and slide the device to take it out of its outer shell.

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The board is called U PLUS V1.1, and features a heatsink covering Amlogic SoC. Foresee NCEMBSF9-16G eMMC flash is used for storage (16 GB), while two NANYA NT5CB256M16DP-EK chips are used for memory on the top of the board.

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Gigabit Ethernet is made possible thanks to Realtek RTL8211F Gigabit transceiver and HS2401 magnetics, and WiFi connectivity relies on an uncommon module, but I could not read the exact model. Since Amlogic S912 does not integrate a SATA controller, the board designer used GL830 USB 2.0 to SATA bridge. TM1628 chip takes care of the VFD display, and GL850G USB 2.0 hub adds a few extra USB interface required by the board.

That’s all for today. If you are interested, the box is for sale directly on Entertainmentbox.com for 104.99 GBP ($129.5) with the standard remote, and up to 217.97 GBP (~$269) with full options including a 1TB HDD, Rii i12 Keyboard, and an Ipega gamepad. The package I received should cost 185.97 GBP (~$229). Prices include VAT.

Mecool BB2 Pro Review – TV Box with DDR4 Memory – Part 2: Android Firmware, Benchmarks, Kodi

January 12th, 2017 8 comments

Most Android TV box comes with DDR3 or DDR3L memory, but Mecool BB2 Pro comes instead with 3GB DDR4 memory that’s supposed to offer 50% increased memory bandwidth. That’s why I was interested in reviewing the box. I’ve already checked out BB2 Pro hardware in the first part of the review, so the second part will focus on the firmware, video playback in Kodi 17, and benchmarks to find out if there’s any improvement over other Amlogic S912 using DDR3 memory. It’s not the first DDR4 box I’ve tested however, as Eweat R9 Plus powered by Realtek RTD1295 processor also included DDR4 memory, but based on my tests, there’s was no noticeable differences with Zidoo X9S based on the same processor, but with DDR3 memory. But this time, we’ll see if it is any different with Amlogic platforms.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

I connect a USB 3.0 hard drive to one of the USB 2.0 port, and a USB hub to the other port with two RF dongle for an air mouse and a gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard. I completed the setup with HDMI and Ethernet cables, and finally the power supply.

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The system will boot automatically when you connect the power, no need to press the power button, and the boot will typically take around 25 seconds. Please note the boot animation logo could with some music, so the boot is not silent, which may be annoying if you want to use the box while others are sleeping, and turned on the TV before the box.

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The launcher will look similar to regularly readers as it’s exactly the same as the one found in K1 Plus, another TV box also made by Videostrong. The notification bar is enabled by default, but not the status bar which can be enabled in the settings. This option should really be present in all boxes.

mecool-bb2-pro-appsThe list of preinstalled apps include the Play Store, Kodi, Netflix and others. You’ll also notice Kodi Updater, an app to update the likely-custom version of Kodi used in the box.

bb2-pro-kodi-updaterMy version was Kodi 17.0-Beta3 and was the latest available at the time.

The settings are also basically the same as in K1 Plus, and other Amlogic S905/S905X/S912 TV boxes. I had no troubles using WiFi and Ethernet, and set my resolution to 4k2k-60Hz supported by LG 42UB820T Ultra HD TV. Some less common settings include RGB mode (maybe to fix some pink screen issues), and Status bar (on/off), and there are settings for HDR and HDMI self-adaptation (auto framerate switching).

The internal storage has a single unified partition with 762MB used. The total capacity is reported to be 16.00GB but that’s obviously a hard-coded value, possibly to avoid customers complaining there’s not 16GB storage in their 16GB TV box box.

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The box could also mount NTFS and exFAT file systems in the USB hard drive. A FAT32 micro SD was also supported.

The “About MediaBox” section report the model number is BB2 Pro running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29. The firmware is rooted. OTA firmware update appears to have been implement through “Update” app, but it would detect no new firmware, so I could not test it.
bb2-pro-about-mediabox Google Play Store worked just fine, except for Bluetooth LE apps such as Mi Fit or Vidonn Smartband. Albeit it should be easy to fix, this is an issue common to almost all Amlogic S912 TV boxes. I also install the free version of Riptide GP2 through Amazon Underground.

I had no troubles using the infrared remote control up to 10 meters, and the IR learning function worked too. However, I used MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for most of the review since it’s more convenient in Android. I’d recommend an air mouse with keyboard and IR learning function (to be able to turn on the device) for the best user experience.

A short press on the power button of the remote control will trigger standby mode, while a long press will pop-up a window to confirm you confirm to power off the define. I could also restart the box from the power button from the remote and the unit.

Power consumption measured in 6 different configurations:

  • Power off – 1.0 watt
  • Standby – 1.3 watt
  • Idle – 3.0 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 1.0 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 1.4 watt
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.2 watts

Idle power consumption is the same as M12N TV box, but power off power consumption is a bit on the high side possibly partially because of the red LED that is quite bright.

This time I only measured the temperature on the top of the case, as the bottom is bright and my IR thermometer reported wrong values for the bottom. The top of the case temperature was 39°C max after Antutu 6.x, and 44°C max after playing Riptide GP2 for about 15 minutes. I also checked the soc-thermal value in CPU-Z after the games and it was 78°C, against around 55 °C in idle mode. Riptide GP2 played fine, but not perfectly smooth, like on other Amlogic S912 TV box, and performance was constant. I did not notice any obvious improvement over S912 TV boxes using DDR3 memory.

Mecool BB2 Pro feels like using other Amlogic S912 TV boxes with a stable firmware, and good performance overall, but again I could not really noticed any performance boost from DDR4 memory.

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

BB2 Pro runs Kodi 17 Beta 3, or at least a custom version of it with TVaddons.org add-ons installed. I played most videos samples from a SAMBA share through Gigabit Ethernet.

4K video playback was OK, but for whatever reason I could not play any VP9 videos:

  • 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) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Won’t play, stays in UI.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (as expected since the VPU does not support 4K H.264 over 30 fps)
  • 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: Slow motion, and many artifacts (Not supported by S912 VPU, software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: Not smooth
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – Won’t play, stays in UI.
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) –Won’t play, stays in UI.

I also tried the 3 VP9 videos above with MoviePlayer with all I got was a black screen. That’s too bad, as I wanted to see if DDR4 memoryu would improve “Curvature of Earth” playback that is not 100% smooth on all other devices I’ve tested. Automatic frame rate switching is not working in Kodi, and MoviePlayer, so you won’t get perfect playback for 24 fps videos, unless you set the frame rate manually.

Audio support is not quite perfect, just like in other Amlogic S912 TV boxes I’ve tested. PCM output (stereo downsampling) works with Kodi, but not MX Player/MoviePlayer apps, and HDMI pass-through using Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver is a disaster in Kodi, and somewhat works with MoviePlayer.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 17 Beta 3)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 17 Beta 3)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Dolby D 5.1 (OK), but video not smooth Dolby D 5.1 – OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK Dolby D 5.1 – OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 – no audio Dolby D+ 7.1 – OK
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 – no audio TrueHD 5.1 – OK
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 – no audio TrueHD 7.1 – OK
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

BB2 Pro got 851 in Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark, a little less than in other Amlogic S912 based TV boxes.

mecool-bb2-pro-antutu-video-testerThe three videos with “partial support” are exactly the same as on other devices.
antutu-video-tester-partially-supportDRM Info app reports Widevine Level 3 DRM is supported by the device.

bb2-pro-drm-info

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Network (WiFi + Ethernet) Performance

In order to test WiFi performance, I copied a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal storage – and vice versa – using ES File Explorer, both using 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and 802.11ac (433 Mbps). The results are not that good, although download speed is quite faster than upload speed.

WiFi Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

WiFi Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge!

Sadly those poor WiFi numbers are quite typical of Amlogic S912 TV boxes. Note that download speed for 802.11ac was 5.05 MB/s on average, so not so bad, but upload speed @ ~1.5 Mb/s brought the average down significantly.

For some strange reasons Gigabit Ethernet suffered from the same issue, as transferring a 885MB file took 50 seconds to download (17.7 MB/s), but  2 minutes 18 seconds to upload back to my local server (6.41 MB/s). I’ve never seen that problem on other devices. My SAMBA server is connected via Gigabit Ethernet and uses a SATA drive (not USB) capable of 100 MB/s writes.

Trying a full-duplex transfer with iperf confirmed the issue:

Asymmetric performance happens more often with iperf since transfers occur in both direction at the same time. Nevertheless there seems to be some minor issues with Ethernet.

Storage performance

We’ve already seen the system could handle NTFS, exFAT and FAT32 file systems for external storage, so I tested the performance of both NTFS and exFAT partition on my hard drive as well as the internal memory using A1 SD bench app.

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Note that both internal memory and exFAT partition had “cache reads”, which means reading operation was at least partially done from RAM. We can discard read results for both, especially since 65.71 MB/s is totally impossible over USB 2.0. What we can see however if that exFAT write speed is quite poor, but again that’s common to almost all TV boxes I’ve review. USB 2.0 NTFS partition read performance is about the best you can get through USB 2.0, and write performance is OK. The eMMC flash write speed is quite good @ 48.57 MB/s, so read speed is likely to be good too, but lower than the 104.58 MB/s reported by the app due the “cached read”.

Gaming

As I looked for benefit from DDR4 memory in this review, I was hoping that maybe games would benefit one way or other. Riptide GP2 with maximum graphics settings seemed to perform just like other Amlogic S912 TV boxes, that is… playable, but not extra smooth like on Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced for example. Performance was constant over the 15 minutes I played the game, so I did not notice any overheating and throttling issues.

Mecool BB2 Pro Benchmarks

So far I have to say I could not notice any user experience benefit from using DDR4 memory, but maybe benchmarks could give a different picture. Let’s check CPU-Z first.

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The device is BB2 PRO (q20x) with 8x Cortex A53 cores @ up to 1.51 GHz and a Mali-T820 GPU as expected. Other settings are as expected, and we can see the real internal storage capacity available to the user: 11.87 GB. That’s perfectly normal once we take into account the space taken with the bootloader and Android operating system.

Then I ran Antutu 6.x and compared the results to M12N TV box benchmark results.

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BB2 Pro got 363 points extra, but we can consider both devices had about the same performance. RAM test should be interesting and BB2 Pro was about 12% faster. So maybe there’s some benefit, but very minor based on those Antutu results.
mecool-bb2-pro-vellamo
Vellam score is about the same story with BB2 Pro getting 1,488, 1,020 and 2,811 points for respectively multicore, metal, and browser tests, against 1,103 (test failed to complete), 1,052 and 2,758 points on M12N. If we discard the multicore that failed to complete on M12N, results are basically the same.

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The last benchmark of this review, 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme, shows a little improvement as BB2 Pro got 6,000 points against 5,732 points for M12N. But it’s hard to tell if it is because of the DDR4 RAM, or some improvements of the GPU drivers. If we look into details of the score, most of the improvement is with the Physics score & test (9263 point / 29.4 fps vs 8163 / 25.9 fps).

Conclusion

I have not been able to find a single use case showing a clear benefit from using DDR4 memory instead of DDR3 memory. Apart from that Mecool BB2 Pro works reasonably well, it feels fast enough and the firmware is stable. However, it also comes with most of the same caveats found in other Amlogic S912 TV box, including mediocre WiFi performance, lack of HDMI audio pass-through support in Kodi (except Dolby Digital 5.1) and DTS HD 7.1 not working in the local player (MoviePlayer), automatic framerate switching not working at all, and for some reasons I could not play any VP9 in the device.

PROS

  • Responsive and stable Android 6.0 firmware
  • Acceptable 4K H.265 and H.264 video playback in Kodi 17and MoviePlayer apps
  • HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, and TrueHD 5.1 and 7.1 in MoviePlayer
  • Good internal storage performance leading to fast boot time (<25 seconds), and overall good system performance
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage
  • IR remote control working up to at least 10 meters and IR learning function
  • OTA firmware update support (could not confirm whether it is working since no new firmware has been released yet)
  • Option to disable/enable status bar in settings

CONS (and bugs)

  • HDMI audio pass-through and automatic frame rate switching not working properly in Kodi, except for Dolby Digital 5.1
  • HDMI DTS-HD MA/HR 7.1 not supported in MoviePlayer (uses DTS 5.1 instead)
  • BB2 Pro firmware won’t play VP9 videos; tested with Kodi and MoviePlayer apps
  • Mediocre WiFi performance, especially for uploads. Ethernet is also somewhat slow for uploads (no problems for downloads).
  • 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)
  • Power off power consumption on the high side (1 watt)
  • Boot logo includes some music (not too high volume, but it can be an issue if you start the box at night, and forgot to mute or lower the volume)
  • Google Play can’t install apps with Bluetooth LE requirement

I’d like to thank VideoStrong for providing a sample for review. Distributors and resellers may contact the company via the product page to purchase in quantities. Mecool BB2 Pro can also be purchased for $66.66 and up on Banggood, GearBest, and eBay, or  about the same as YokaTV KB2 with 3GB DDR3 instead of 3GB DDR4, but 32GB storage instead of just 16 GB, with the rest of the specifications being equal.

Eweat R9 Plus TV Box Review Part 2 – Android, OpenWrt, and HDMI Recording

December 24th, 2016 5 comments

Eweat R9 Plus is a device powered by Realtek RTD1295 SoC combining main functions: Android 6.0 TV box, OpenWrt NAS/router, and HDMI recorder thanks to its HDMI input port. It competes directly with Zidoo X9S which has the same features, except while Zidoo X9S has no internal SATA bay and your 2.5″ hard drive just hang outside the box, Eweat R9 Plus comes with an internal 3.5″ SATA bay that makes it much neater on your furniture… We’ve already seen that in the first part for review “Eweat R9 Plus unboxing and teardown“, and I was impressed by the hardware, but the software is even more important, and that’s what I’m going to check out in the second and final part of this review.

First Boot, First Impressions and Setup.

I’ve first inserted a 1TB 3.5″ SATA drive in the device, and then I connected an extra USB 3.0 hard drive, HDMI and Ethernet cables, two USB dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, and a USB keyboard to take screenshots, as well as U4 Quad Hybrid Android TV box to the HDMI input.

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Connect the power, press the mechanical power switch on the back, and the device will boot, typically in about 40 seconds, to the main launcher. There’s no setup wizard like in Zidoo X9S, so you’d have to change configuration separately.

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The top left corner includes status icons for USB, Ethernet, Bluetooth, and WiFi, and the top right corner shows the current date and time. The first time the time and date were not correctly update, and I did not get any IP address from my router… That’s because I connected the Ethernet cable to the WAN port, but once I connected it to the LAN port, everything worked fine. It’s just WAN and LAN markings are not quite correct…. Let’s go back to the launcher with 7 large icons, the “R9 Plus” icon is linked to Chrome browser (so we have two Chrome links), apps to the list of apps, EWMC links to Kodi 16.1, and 4K to the local file browser/media player. We also have 3 shortcuts on the botton that can be customized to your needs. Sadly, there’s no status nor notifications bars which can be a pain in some use cases. The small blue “rocket” on the of EWMC icon, is actually the mouse cursor (red in reality, but the screenshot app turns that blue).

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The system comes with a bunch of apps including Netflix, HDMIRecorder, and QuickSupport, and I could install my own without any issues using Google Play and Amazon Underground.

eweat-r9-plus-displayThe front panel display on the unit is a little more useful than most, as it will show the current time of the day when not playing videos or music, and instead display the current video time with 4K video player, but not Kodi, while playing media files.

If you are interested to find out more about the settings, I invite you to check the Settings section of Zidoo X9S review, as Eweat R9 Plus has basically the same settings, except only “Auto 1080p24” option is available in the Display section, Deep Color Mode (AUTO, 12-bit, 10-bit, OFF) is gone, and the Playback section is missing together with “Auto 29.97/59.94 Hz”, “Force SD audio”, “Enable low performance mode (less buffer for playback)”.

I could set the resolution (“TV System”) to 3840x2160P @ 60Hz without any issues, but I’ve noticed the video output will sometimes fall back to 720p or 1080p after a power cycle. I could not find any option to adjust overscan either, so I had some black zone on all edges of my TV. Those are issues, but the latter at least should be easy to fix via firmware upgrades.

Once I found that LAN is actually WAN, and WAN is LAN, I had no troubles at all with Ethernet and WiFi, and OpenWrt options are also exactly the same as on Zidoo X9S.

You only get 9.31GB of the 16GB in Android because some part is reserved to OpenWrt, but it still more than the 8.91GB I had on X9S. In theory it should be plenty enough, but after a day or two of use, my internal storage was completely full, despite not installing that many apps.

android-storage-fullEventually I found that since my 1TV hard drive had millions of files, Android’s “Media Storage” activity had created two very large databases. Disabling Media Storage fixed the issue, and after clearing the data from “Media Storage” I had close to 8GB free. Alternatively you can add an empty .nomedia files in the directory you do not want to system to scan, for example the root of the harddrive if you don’t want it to scan anything.

Going into the About device section, we can see “R9Plus” model runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 4.1.17.

about-device-r9plusThe firmware is rooted, and OTA firmware update is done with SystemUpdate app, and I could upgrade from R9PLUS_V1.1_20161130 version to R9PLUS_V1.02_20161217 version which I used in most of the review. I had to disconnect the USB drive, or the update will fail. You can leave the SATA drive inside the box during firmware upgrades.

eweat-r9-plus-firmware-updateThe update went well, and did not mess with my settings, apps, and media files.

The included IR remote worked fine up to 10 meters, but I’d really wish higher end devices such as R9 Plus would ship with an air mouse by default. I had to jungle between the IR remote control and MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse quite often depending on the app I used. Realtek apps such as HDMIRecorder, 4K media player, and File Manger may work better with the infrared remote control.

Eweat R9 Plus firmware is stable and responsive, but there are a few small bugs here and there that should be fixed, like the lack of screen scale option, video output resolution set by the user is not always used after a reboot, there’s no status nor notification bars, etc… I’d also wish such higher-end systems would come with an air mouse with keyboard by default to be able to fully control the TV box with a single remote.

Power Consumption and Temperature

Power control support is basic with only on or off, no standby or reboot, but the power consumption numbers are OK, albeit a little higher than Zidoo X9S, maybe because of the 3.5″ SATA drive instead of 2.5″ SATA drive:

  • Power off (SATA HDD) – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle (SATA HDD) – 9.2 Watts
  • Power off + SATA & USB HDD – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle + SATA & USB HDD –  11.2 to 12 Watts
  • SATA HDD (Copy file to SAMBA share) + Play 4K video from USB HDD + miniDLNA in the background – 18 to 19 Watts

If you has a drive with many files, miniDLNA – enabled in OpenWrt settings as DMS (Digital Media Server) – will take a lot of CPU and I/O resources, so if you don’t need it, make sure to disable it. Idle power consumption numbers are with DMS disabled.

While there’s no standby mode, we’ve seen with Zidoo X9S that standby mode is not that useful as networking and drives are all turned off. It’s just must faster to boot than from power off mode. Most cheap Android TV boxes cannot handle more than one USB hard drive, but Eweat R9 Plus had no troubles with a SATA hard drive and a USB 3.0 drive. It might be possible to add yet another USB 3.0 drive, as the power supply has a 30 Watts capacity.

It’s no surprise that with a large metal case, the device stays relatively cool at all times. The maximum temperatures measured with an IR thermometer on the top and bottom of the device were 35 and 37 °C respectively after Antutu benchmark, and 40 and 50 °C after playing Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes.

Video & Audio Playback with Kodi 16.1 and 4K App, Antutu Video Tester, and DRM Support

R9 Plus comes with Kodi 16.1 (EWMC) and 4K app to browse and play media files with the internal player. So I’ve started by testing 4K videos with both. Bear in mind that while Realtek RTD1295 supports 10-bit HEVC/H.265 up to 60 fps @ 4K, H.264 is limited to 24 Hz, which will be a problem with you shot 4K H.264 30 fps videos with a camera or your smartphone, and 4K VP9 @ 60 fps is supposed to be supported, and with DDR4 memory I had hope some progress may be made here, but unfortunately the limit is really 30 fps, which could be an issue with some (downloaded) YouTube videos. Out of Specs videos are prefixed with OoO.

Kodi 16.1 4K App
OoO – HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) Not smooth Not smooth, although better than Kodi
sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) Not smooth OK
Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) 1st try: 1 second and exit
2nd try: OK
OK
Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) 1st try: 1 second and exit
2nd try: OK
OK
Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) 1st try: 1 second and exit
2nd try: OK
OK
MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) OK OK
phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) OK OK
BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) Not perfectly smooth OK
OoO – big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 Not smooth at all Not smooth
OoO – big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 Not smooth at all, and artifacts Not smooth, audio delays
Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) 1st try: Still image (first frame) + audio
2nd try: OK
OK
Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) OK OK
Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) 1st try:plays a few frame, then freezes, audio still playing
2nd try: OK
OK
OoO – 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) 1fps, audio cuts Can’t play
OoO – Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) Not smooth Slow motion
tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) Unwatchable, and many audio cuts Not smooth audio cuts
The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) Not smooth at all, some audio cuts Not smooth, no audio

For some reasons Kodi 16.1 will fail to start playing some videos the first time, but play them the second time. Just like on Zidoo X9S – but worse – Kodi 16.1 implementation is not as good as the internal player, so for best user experience you’d have to use the 4K player. Automatic refresh rate switching works with 4K app, with 23.975/24Hz, 25 Hz, 29.97 Hz and 59.94 Hz with the latest firmware. It does not work at all with Kodi.

For so the audio tests, I’ve stopped using Kodi, and only used 4K app with PCM 2.0 downmixing and audio pass-through via HDMI.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK Audio OK (DD 5.1), but wrong aspect ratio
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK (DD 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK (Dolby D+ 7.1)
TrueHD 5.1 OK OK (TrueHD 5.1)
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK TrueHD 7.1
DTS HD Master OK OK (DTS-HD MSTR)
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK (DTS-HD HR)
DTS:X (not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636) OK DTS-HD MSTR

So HDMI audio pass-through is working very well, and I did not experience some of the audio cuts I had on Zidoo X9S with Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver. Those may have been fixed since Zidoo X9S review however.

Below are a few screenshots from 4K video app starting with the list of storage devices/partitions…

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… the menu available once you’ve selected a storage device…

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.. and subtitle options while playing a video.

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I’ve also quickly tested Blu-ray ISOs (Sintel and Amat videos) and both could play. Finally, I play a 2-hour 1080p video to make sure the system can play a full movie, which I does.

Antutu Video Tester score (820 points) is a little lower than on Zidoo X9S (888).

eweat-r9-plus-antutu-video-testerBut the videos that failed are exactly the same:

zidoo-x9s-antutu-video-tester-resultsDRM info crashed each time, just like on X9S, so there’s problably no DRM support at all.

HDMIRecorder App

Eweat R9 Plus HDMIRecorder, as its name implies, allows you to record video from an HDMI input source. It can record up to 1080p @ 30 fps using H.264 codec in TS or MP4 container format, with a bitrate up to 10Mbit/s.

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It will also record audio, and you can select the output with the “Path” field. It will create a new “hdmi” directory to store the recorded videos.

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Once recording has started, it will work in the background (see recording info in the top right corner below) and you can browse the web, watch other videos, and so on during recording.

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I could then connect to the device via SAMBA, and play with the recorded video with both Totem player ad VLC in my Ubuntu 16.04 computer.

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That part works fine, and looks similar to Zidoo HDMI In app, however it lacks some goodies like PiP support and UDP broadcasting found in Zidoo X9S. So if so those functions are important to you, Zidoo X9S clearly has an edge of Eweat device here.

OpenWrt and NAS functions

If you want to learn more about settings up OpenWrt on Eweat R9 Plus, I’ll redirect you to OpenWrt and NAS functions section of Zidoo X9S review as all features are identical.

You can control OpenWrt manin function in Android settings…

eweat-r9-plus-openwrt

… and fine tune OpenWrt settings through LuCi web interface.

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I tested SAMBA, FTP, and Bittorrent. Performance on Eweat R9 Plus was very good with FTP transfer at ~105 MB/s, and 40 MB/s for SAMBA file copy to the internal SATA, very similar to Zidoo X9S with respectively about 90 MB/s and 50 MB/s.

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Eweat R9 Plus FTP Transfer – Click to Enlarge

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Eweat R9 Plus SAMBA Transfer

Contrary to my experience with Zidoo X9S, BitTorrent worked just fine and the transfer quickly saturated my 20 Mbps Internet connection.

eweat-r9-plus-bittorrentBear in mind that firmware evolves overtime and it’s quite possible Zidoo has already fixed the issue.

This time I also tested OpenWrt opkg system manager to see if it would work. After connecting to the device through ssh, I tried to update the packages and it failed miserably:

So if you want to install packages, you’d probably have to build them yourself, or copy and install opkg packages built for ARM architecture manually.

WiFi Performance

We’ve already seen Gigabit Ethernet works perfectly above with transfers at 105 MB/s through FTP basically saturing the Gigabit Ethernet bandwidth, so I’ll only focus on WiFi in the network performance section. Eweat R9 Plus has excellent WiFi performance with both 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and 802.11ac (433 Mbps), roughly matching Zidoo X9S equally good performance.

Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

All you need to know is that Eweat R9 Plus is one of the top devices for WiFi  for all devices I’ve tested over the year.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I could pair Vernee Apollo Lite Android smartphone with “Realtek Bluetooth”, however once I started transferring files from my phone to the device, I either got the message “Unfortunately Bluetooth has stopped”, and when lucky, the transfer was initiated with Eweat R9 Plus showing an overlay message reading “”Incoming file from another device, please confirm…”. That’s all good but since there’s no notification bar, and no pop-up window, I had no idea where to confirm the transfer, and it eventually time out. I could not test Bluetooth Low Energy, because all my device are either broken or lost.

Bluetooth is not completely useless however, as I could get Sixaxis to work with my PS3 BT gamepad clone, and I paired X1T Bluetooth earbuds successfully, and listen to a YouTube video.

Storage

Eweat R9 Plus could mount NTFS, EXT-4, and NTFS partitions on a 1 TB USB 3.0 Seagate expansion harddrive with only BTRFS failing to be recognized. A FAT32 micro SD could also be mounted in read/write mode, as well as my SATA drive formatted with NTFS.

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

A1SD bench app shows excellent sequential read and write for the SATA interface, a decent performance for all supported file systems through USB 3.0:

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  • USB 3.0 + NTFS – Read: 37.93 MB/s – Write: 39.28 MB/s
  • USB 3.0 + EXT-4 – Read: 37.67 MB/s – Write: 39.43 MB/s
  • USB 3.0 + exFAT – Read: 37.04 MB/s – Write: 39.28 MB/s
  • SATA + NTFS – Read: 140.78 MB/s – Write: 86.30 MB/s

Eweat R9 Plus looks faster than Zidoo X9S using SATA + NTFS, but bear in mind that the hard drive used was different, so it may explain the difference. However, Zidoo was quite better for USB 3.0 using EXT-4 and NTFS, but quite poor for exFAT, which R9 Plus appears to support well.

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

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

I also measured internal storage performance, but unfortunately A1SD bench reported “Cached Read”, so the read speed is not valid. The write speed of about 55 MB/s is however, and this is quite good. The actual read speed in the chart below should be lower than 140+ MB/s, but usually read speed is faster than write speed, so performance should still be good.

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

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

Gaming

I played Candy Crush Saga with the air mouse, and Beach Buggy Racing (with max quality) using a gamepad, and both games played perfectly well. Then I switched to Riptide GP2, again with maximum resolution settings. It’s started begin playable – but not quite 60fps – just like on Amlogic S905/S912 TV boxes, and Zidoo X9S, but then I noticed the image would freeze from time to time, and after a race was completed,  it may have a 10 seconds black screen before going to the main menu. So I checked the CPU usage in OpenWrt (SSH terminal), and notice miniDLNA with a high CPU usage. So I disabled DMS in Android’s OpenWrt settings, miniDLNA stopped running, and I could play the game for 15 minutes more without issues, nor performance degradation over time.

Eweat R9 Plus Benchmarks

Let’s start with CPU-Z.. R9PLUS (rtk_kylin32) model with a quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 1.4 GHz and a Mali-T820 GPU, so no surprise here.

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The device reached 36,076 points in Antutu 6.2 against 34,976 points for Zidoo X9S Antutu score.
eweat-r10-plus-antutu

There are a few potential explanations for the small difference: 1. R9 Plus firmware is more recent, 2. it’s winter here (~ 22 °C), and 3. R9 Plus has DDR4 ram instead of DDR3 RAM. However the strange thing is that R9 Plus RAM score is 3,046 points, but Zidoo X9S got 3,960 points which does not make any sense.

eweat-r9-plus-vellamo
Vellamo 3.x scores are pretty similar with R9 Plus getting 1,430, 881 and 2,539 points for respectively multicore, metal, and Chrome Browser benchmarks, against 1,457, 831 and 2,638 points for Zidoo X9S. So it looks like DDR4 memory does not help for any benchmarks, including 3Dmark’s Ice Storm Extreme.

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4,359 points for Eweat R9 Plus against 4,574 for X9S.

Conclusion

Eweat R9 Plus is a solid device, and I really like the internal 3.5″ SATA bay, internal and external storage, as well as networking performance is really outstanding too. However I would have wished the firmware to have fewer bugs, and just like for Zidoo X9S, Realtek RTD1295 SoC has some limited 4K capabilities when it comes with H.264 and VP9. Getting the optimal performance may require some tweaks like disabling some server services.

PROS

  • Responsive and stable Android 6.0 firmware
  • 4K app plays 4K H.265 videos very well with automatic frame rate switching, and HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio
  • Excellent Ethernet and WiFi performance
  • Excellent internal and SATA storage performance, and good USB 3.0 performance
  • NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT, and FAT32 file systems are well supported
  • HDMI Input (up to 4K60 input) with video recording up to 1080p30 (4K input is also supported but record at 1080p30 max)
  • OpenWrt NAS functions such as SAMBA, FTP, and BitTorrent running at the same time as Android, as well as router functions thanks to its two Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • Proper power handling with power off, standby, and reboot, and low power consumption in off/standby modes. The provided 36W power supply also allows the connection of multiple hard drives.
  • Dolby & DTS audio licenses are included, so audio will work in any apps
  • OTA Firmware update
  • Good hardware design with internal 3.5″ SATA bay

CONS (and bugs):

  • Realtek RTD1295 VPU limitations:
    • 4K H.264 up to 24 fps which will be an issue for 4K videos recorded with some actions cameras (GoPro/Xiaomi Yi) and smartphones
    • 4K VP9 up to 30 fps, as 60 fps is not well supported. This will be an issue for some 4K videos downloaded from YouTube
  • Kodi 16.1 (EWMC) is not really working that well with many 4K videos not playing smoothly (even those within specs) and automatic frame rate not working. So 4K app is recommended
  • No DRM support (DRM info app will crash)
  • HDMI input works, but does not include features like picture-in-picture and UDP broadcasting found in Zidoo X9S
  • You’ll probably have to use both the include IR remote control AND a air mouse or other input device to fully use the device. A air mouse specifically designed for the box would be a plus.
  • Scale screen option missing in firmware, so I had black edges on my TV the whole time (should be easy to fix with firmware update)
  • No option for status and notifications bars
  • Bluetooth file transfer is unreliable (crash) and there’s no way to confirm file transfer (related to notification bar above)
  • Tweaks may be needed (e.g. disable Media Storage and DMS) for optimal performance if you have a hard drive with many files.
  • The system will not always remember the video output set by the user (e.g. 4K 60 Hz set, but falls back to 1080p or 720p).

Eweat also lacks a community forum like Zidoo, but as long as they keep firmware updates rolling, it may or may not matter to you. Overall, Eweat R9 Plus is also a good device combining 4K TV box, OpenWrt NAS, and HDMI recording functions. Whether that’s right for you depends on your requirements and budget.

The manufacturer sent me the review sample directly. Distributors can inquire the company to purchase in quantities, but if you just need one or a few you can purchase it on Aliexpress for $175.99 plus shipping (about $200) on Aliexpress.

Merry Christmas to all!

Review of Mecool BB2 Pro TV Box with DDR4 Memory – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing and Teardown

December 16th, 2016 26 comments

Mecool BB2 Pro is yet another Amlogic S912 Android 6.0 TV box, but after Eweat R9 Plus, it’s my second TV box with DDR4 memory that should deliver much higher bandwidth compared to DDR3 memory used in most TV boxes. But so far, it’s clear how much performance can be extracted from the system with higher memory bandwidth in actual use,  and that’s exactly what I hope to find out in the second part of the review, but in this post I start by going through the specs, check the box and its accessories, as well as the hardware design.

Mecool BB2 Pro specifications

Apart from the DDR4 memory, BB2 Pro has pretty common specifications:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912 octo-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 3 GB DDR4
  • Storage – 16 GB eMMC flash + micro SD slot up to 32GB
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a with HDR and CEC support up to 4K @ 60 fps, and AV port for composite output
  • Audio Output – HDMI, AV (stereo audio), and optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac + Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 ports
  • Misc – IR receiver, power button, recovery pinhole, LEDs
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A

The device runs Android 6.0 with Kodi pre-installed.

Mecool BB2 Pro Unboxing

Videostrong sent the package to me as Mecool is one of the brands together with YokaTV, and they are also found in some OEM products like Vontar.
mecool-bb2-pro-package
The device ships with an IR remote control with IR learning function requiring two AAA batteries, a HDMI cable, a 5V/2A power supply, and a user’s manual.

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The device itself looks pretty similar since it’s based on the exact same case as YokaTV KB2 we’ve just reviewed, and all ports are the same including the front panel’s IR receiver and LED window and power button, two USB 2.0 ports and a micro SD slot on the side, and the rest on the rear panel: Gigabit Ethernet, optical S/PDIF, AV port, recovery pinhole, HDMI 2.0a output, and the power jack. There’s also an external Wifi antenna.

Mecool BB2 Pro Teardown

D0:76:58 MAC addresses used by Videostrong still do not look up to anything. [Update: The company told me that “The MAC we’re using is not IEEE MAC. It works in localized network, and it is the only id for empowering applications to activate, specially IPTV applications.”] Anyway, I had to remove the four rubber pads in the metallic bottom cover, and loosen the screws underneath in order to open the device.videostrong-bb2-pro-bottom-caseWe’ll find two Samsung K4A8G165WB-BCRC DDR4 SDRAM chip (8Gbit each) so we’ve not been lied too, and the device indeed has DDR4 memory :), as well as the marking (3.3V, Tx, Rx, GND) for the serial console on the bottom of the board.

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We’ll need to use a small plastic tool to pull out the board from the plastic case. A heatsink – plus two thermal pads – covers Amlogic S912 processor and the remaining DDR4 chips, and a LED is connected to the bottom of the case. You’ll also notice an elliptic opening (unused) on the top right of the plastic, that’s probably reserved for a power button in other designs.

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Samsung KLMAG1JENB-B041 eMMC 5.1 flash provides 16 GB of storage with theoretical 285/40 MB/s sequential R/W performance, while Realtek RTL8211F and Pulse H5009NL chips enabled Gigabit Ethernet, and a KM63350711 wireless module – whose naming reminds me of Ampak AP6335 – delivers 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. Finally DIO2133 audio driver completed the most noticeable components on the board.

I’d like to thank VideoStrong for sending the review sample, and interested distributors may inquire the company via the product page. Mecool BB2 Pro can also be purchased for $68 and up on Banggood, GearBest, and eBay, or just about the same as YokaTV KB2 with 3GB DDR3 instead of 3GB DDR4, and 32GB storage instead of just 16 GB, with the rest of the specifications being equal.

[Update: you can now read the second part of the review @ Mecool BB2 Pro Review – TV Box with DDR4 Memory – Part 2: Android Firmware, Benchmarks, Kodi]

Rockchip Introduces RK3228H and RK3228B Processors for IPTV/OTT TV Boxes

December 9th, 2016 12 comments

Rockchip has just tweeted about their RK3xxx processors family, and two new processors appear to have been included in the list with Rockchip RK3228H quad core Cortex A53 processor and RK3228B quad core Cortex A7 processor both supporting 4K video playback and ouput, as well as HDR.

rk3228h-rk3228bRockchip RK3228H has many of the same features as Amlogic S905X with a quad core Cortex A53 processor, an ARM Mali-T450 GPU, 4K H.265/H.264 video support, and HDR10/HLG, but it also adds something extra with a USB 3.0 interface.  RK3328B is lower end with its quad core A7 processor, but still supports H.265/H.264 up to 4K resolution, and include the usual interfaces such as HDMI, CVBS, and a Fast Ethernet PHY.

There may be more details on the press release, but the page won’t load for me right now.

Categories: Rockchip RK32xx Tags: 4k, hevc, rockchip, TV box

Vorke Z1 Amlogic S912 Android TV Box Comes with 3GB DDR4 Memory

November 18th, 2016 7 comments

DDR4 memory is coming to one more TV box. We first discovered it in Yundoo Y7 TV box powered by Amlogic S905X processor, but now Vorke, which started with Vorke V1 Intel Braswell mini PC and then V2 Ultra earlier this year, has now launched Vorke Z1 TV box with an octa-core Amlogic S912 processor combined with 3 GB DDR4 memory with higher bandwidth than your typical DDR3(L) memory.

vorke-z1

Vorke Z1 specifications:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912 octo-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 3GB DDR4
  • Storage – 32GB eMMC flash + micro SD slot up to 32GB
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a with HDR and CEC support up to 4K @ 60 fps, and 3.5mm AV jack for composite output
  • Audio Output – HDMI, AV jack (stereo audio), and optical S/PDIF
  • Video codecs – VP9, 10-bit H.265 up to 4K 60 fps, H.264 AVC up to 4K 30 fps, H.264 MVC up to 1080p60, and many other codecs up to  1080p60
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac + Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 ports, 1x micro USB OTG port
  • Misc – IR receiver, power button
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 130 x 109 x 24 mm
  • Weight – 214 grams

vorke-z1-ddr4-tv-box

The TV box runs Android 6.0.1 with Kodi 17.0 (beta), and ships with an IR remote control, an HDMI cable, an power adapter for your country, and a user’s manual. While DDR4 should provide higher bandwidth (50% faster), it’s unclear how this impacts performance of apps used in TV boxes, and so far I have not seen any benchmarks, or actual apps comparison showing the user benefit of the faster RAM.

GeekBuying is now taking pre-order for Vorke Z1 for $99.99 shipped, with shipping scheduled in about 2 weeks.

ONENUTS Nut 1 TV Box Specifications, Unbagging and Teardown

November 2nd, 2016 1 comment

I first discovered Shenzhen Tomato’s ONENUTS brand through ONENUTS T1 3-in-1 projector, tablet, and mini PC, but the company has now launched a new product with ONENUTS Nut 1 Android TV box powered by Amlogic S912 processor, and the usual 2GB RAM and 16GB storage, but the product stands out a little thanks to its presentation as we’ll see below.

ONENUTS Nut 1 Specifications

The technical specifications are pretty much standard:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912 octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3 @ up to 750MHz
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC flash + micro SD slot up to 32GB
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60Hz with CEC and HDR support, and AV port (composite)
  • Audio Output – HDMI, AV (stereo audio), and optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 ports including one OTG port
  • Misc – IR receiver, status and network LEDs
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 10.8 x 10.8 x 1.9 cm

The “Nut” runs Android 6.0.1 with Kodi 16.1. By the way, if you find the name ONENUTS a bit funny, or grammatically challenging, once you come to know LAPUTA brand (Spanish speakers will understand best), ONENUTS becomes not that bad after all…

ONENUTS Nut 1 Unbagging

There’s no box, so I can’t do an unboxing, but there’s a bag, so let’s do an unbagging 🙂

onenuts-bag

The bag is very similar to your typical Toiletry bag, and opens via a zip.

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Beside the device, we’ll find a 5V/2A power supply, an HDMI cable, an IR remote taking two AAA batteries, and a user’s manual in English.

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The device looks a bit similar, but at unbagging time, I could not find out similar to which device… Nevertheless, the blue TV box comes with status and net LED and an IR receiver window on the front panel, two USB ports and a micro SD slo on one side, and the remaining ports can all be found in the rear panel with the WiFi antenna, optical S/PDIF, AV and HDMI outputs, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and the power jack.

ONENUTS Nut 1 Teardown

I had to take out the four rubber pad on the bottom of the case, and loosen four screws in order to open the device.

onenuts-nut-1-bottom-case

The bottom of the board comes with two NANYA NT5CB256M16DP-EK DDR3-1866 SDRAM chips (1GB), as well as a sticker with aMAC address starting with C44EAC which belongs to Shenzhen Shiningworth… So we are getting closer…

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The board can then easily be taken out of the case, that the board name (M12N_V0.95) and sticker M12N_55_V0.95 makes it 100% clear the device is actually MXQ Plus M12N TV Box.

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The components are also all the same, with two more NANYA RAM chips bringing the total to 2GB, a 16GB Samsung KLMAG2GEND-B031 eMMC 5.0 flash capable of achieving 250MB/s read speed and 50 MB/s write speed in theory, as well as 6000 random R/W IOPS, PPT 1608 PM44-11BP transformer for 10/100M Ethernet, Ampak AP6255 module for WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0 LE connectivity, and DIO1233 audio driver.  The only real difference I can see is that they used a different kind of thick thermal pad, that feels like a gummy bear or jelly at the touch.

I’d expect the firmware to be similar to what I found in M12N box review, but possibly with a different launcher, and several bug fixes since it’s been over two months since I completed the review.

Resellers and distributors interested in this product can purchased directly in quantities from Shenzhen Tomato, while individual can buy the device on Amazon US for $129.99 US, or Amazon UK for 129.99 GBP.

Beelink GT1 TV Box Review – Part 2: Android Marshmallow Firmware

October 24th, 2016 28 comments

I’ve previously reviewed other Amlogic S912 TV boxes such as M12N MXQ Plus or Qintaix Q912, but Beelink GT1 has the advantage of being quite cheaper at $56 and up, but still come with many of the same features as more expensive devices. I’ve already posted pictures, and checked out the hardware design in the first part of Beelink GT1 review, so in the second part I’ll report my experience with Android, including video and audio capabilities, hardware features testing, and some benchmarks.

First Boot, OTA Firmware Update, Settings, and First Impressions

The device comes with two USB ports only, so I connected a USB hard drive to one of the port, and a USB hub to the other with the RF dongles for MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots. I completed the setup by adding HDMI and Ethernet cables, and connected the power supply to start the system.

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Click to Enlarge

A typical boot will take 30 seconds, and brings you to the home launcher.

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You’ll find a section with date & time, and weather for your city, icon to main app (Kodi, Browser, Play Store, File Manager, Settings…), and a section with favorites, which the first time is empty, but you can easily add or remove icons as I did in the screenshot above. You’ll also have access the more favorites on the left and right of the main screen. If you’ve connect a hard drive, you’ll also get the annoying “USB device connected” window(s) at each boot just like in NEXBOX A95X TV box.

Android_6.0_USB_Harddrive

I had received the box early September, but now we are close to the end of October, so one of the first thing I did was to go to the list of apps, and start UPDATE&BACKUP app to check for any Online (OTA) firmware update.

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Good, so I could update 20160819 firmware to 20160902 firmware. It did not work the first time, as my USB hard drive was connected, but I repeated the update without USB mass storage devices connected to the device, nor a micro SD card, and it worked smoothly, and did not mess with my settings, nor the few apps I installed with Google Play at the time.
beelink-gt1-ota-20160930
I went to the app again, and it found another update, so I update to firmware 20160930. I would be extra nice, if this would be handled automatically, but that’s just a minor issue. The changelog is completely useless, as they just copy “1. Optimization system 2. Minor bug fixes” for each firmware update…

I did on more check, and this was the latest version when I started the review. But before testing Kodi a few days later, I checked one more time, and I found yet another version with the exact same changelog, but a new 20161022 version which I installed successfully.

beelink-gt1-ota-20161022

So the good news is that OTA firmware update is working fine, and Beelink is providing them fairly often at this stage. I’d also like it them to offer a detailed changelog the way Zidoo is doing.

The settings part is the same as on Qintaix Q912 Android TV box, except they’ve added HDMI CEC options, and removed “Power key  definition”
amlogic-cec-control
Some of the most useful options 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
    • HDMI CEC – See screenshot above
    • Playback settings – HDMI self-adaptation on/off (aka automatic frame rate switching)
    • More settings – Access to Android Marshmallow settings

My Onkyo AV receiver will detect Beelink GT1 through HDMI CEC, but as usual I can’t use the arrow keys on Onkyo remote to control the device. The Android TV box will also prevent me to turn of the AV receiver, even if HDMI CEC is turned off in the box. The only work around is to disable HDMI CEC (RIHD) in the receiver itself. It’s a bug common in all Amlogic TV boxes running Android 6.0.

about_mediabox_beelink-gt1The good thing with Beelink GT1 is once I configure video output to 4K 60Hz it will stay that way all the time, contrary to many other TV boxes, not only based on Amlogic or also other processors.

We can go to More Settings to access Android Marshmallow settings with all the usual options. The settings also report an internal 16GB partition, but it’s obviously an hard coded value, possibly to avoid some customer complaining about not getting 16 GB storage, but only 11 or 12 GB… The About Mediabox section shows Beelink GT1 runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29 as per About Mediabox section. The firmware is rooted.

The included infrared remote control works OK, but the range is limited to 4 to 5 meters.  I’ve still used an air mouse for most of the review, since that type of device is more suited to Android, and a keyboard is included.

I had no problems with Google Play store, and I could install all apps I needed for review. I also installed the free version of Riptide GP2 racing game through Amazon Underground app.

The power button on the remote control will let you turn off, enter sleep mode or reboot the device, and it works… most of the time. For some reasons, at one point the box would just reboot, when I select the Shutdown option, and I could reproduce the issue 3 times. However, later one, the problem completely disappeared and turning off the device worked 100% of the time. I cannot remember if this was done before or after applying the last firmware update (20161022). You can also turn on the device from your sofa using the remote control.

Power consumption is not too bad, but bear in mind that Beelink decided to keep USB and Ethernet on in standby mode:

  • Power off – 1.0 watt
  • Standby – 2.0 watts
  • Idle – 2.4 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 1.1 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 4.0 watts (USB HDD + Ethernet still on)
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.4 watts

That’s an advantage if you download files in the background for example, but if you want to save power, then power off mode is recommended. Ideally, power off consumption should be a bit lower than 1.0 watt.

Beelink GT1 did not get overly hot during testing. The maximum top and bottom covers’ temperatures after Antutu were respectively 47 and 51 °C, and about 47°C and 59°C after playing Riptide GP2 for 20 minutes.

Based on several comments I had read last month, and earlier this month, about apps crashing, some green screen flickering, and even Kodi forums recommending to avoid Amlogic S912 TV boxes and giving the “Buggiest Android Kodi Box award of the quarter” to “any Amlogic S912 box running Android Marshmallow 6.0”, so I was expecting a lot of troubles with the device. However, my experience was actually pretty good, as the firmware was responsive, I did not experience apps crashing nor random reboot at any times, never saw the green screen issue, and as we’ll see below, Kodi worked reasonably well for a cheap device. So either I was lucky, or the firmware update since then, helped fixed many of the issues. This does not mean it’s perfect, as it still have HDMI CEC issues, small pointer at 4K resolution, and other small bugs.

Video & Audio Playback with Kodi 16.1, Antutu Video Tester 3.0, and DRM Support

Beelink GT1 comes pre-loaded with a version of Kodi, but I’m not sure which, as while in Google Play I saw a few apps needed some upgrade, and I just clicked on upgrade all, and I only saw too late than it would mean an “upgrade” to Kodi 16.1 from Google Play. But finally, I found it may not be a bad idea, as usually I test the pre-installed version of Kodi, but for that review I can see how Kodi 16.1 from Google Play works on an Amlogic S912 TV box.

beelink-gt1-kodi-16-1
Some piracy add-ons are installed in the box by default, and an installation from the Play Store, will not remove them. I first went to the settings to make sure Video->Playback->Adjust display refresh rate is set to Always, as I had already enabled HDMI self-adaption in Android settings.

I played all videos from a SAMBA share over Gigabit Ethernet, unless otherwise stated.

Starting with some 1080p (and 720p) videos from Linaro media samples, and Elecard:

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

Automatic refresh rate switching is not working as on most other Amlogic TV boxes. VP8 is not playing smoothly because it’s relying on software decide. More videos with various bitrates:

  • ED_HD.avi (H.264 / 10 Mbps) – Not smooth
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK, excepting while panning in some scenes due to 60 Hz video output. If I manually switch to 24 Hz, the video is smooth.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Could be smoother
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

Not quite perfect, but pretty much the expected behavior on most Amlogic devices. Dolby and DTS audio testing was then performed using both PCM output (stereo downsampling) through my TV speakers, and HDMI pass-through via Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver. Kodi audio options only allow DTS and AC3 pass-through, and there was nothing about TrueHD, nor DTS HD.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 16.1)
PCM 2.0 Output
(Video Player)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 16.1 )
HDMI Pass-through
(Video Player)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK, but slow video No audio  DD 5.1, but slow video OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 & no audio Slow video, and no audio HDMI icon blinking on AV receiver
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 & no audio OK (TrueHD 5.1)
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 & no audio OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 & no audio DD 5.1 with beep (the app switched to the DD 5.1 track in the video)
DTS HD Master OK No audio DTS 5.1 DTS 5.1
DTS 5.1
DTS:X (not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636) OK No audio DTS 5.1 DTS 5.1

So that’s clearly not as good as more expensive Android TV box, as Amlogic S912 does not include Dolby nor DTS license (required for stereo downsampling for most apps), but it’s still slightly better than most cheap TV boxes, as HDMI pass-through works for DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 in Kodi, and TrueHD also supported in other video apps like Video Player or MoviePlayer. I did not notice any audio cuts with HDMI audio pass-through, as I experienced in many other devices.

Time for some 4K videos:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (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) – ~1 fps, lots of artifacts (not supported by Amlogic S912 VPU)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – SAMBA: bufferring a lot; USB HDD: Slow motion
  • 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 a bit smoother

So overall, 4K video playback is pretty decent on Beelink GT1.

Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso Blu-Ray ISO’s samples, and MPEG2 1080i videos could play just fine. A 720p Hi10p video could play smoothly with subtitle and audio, but 1080p is not smooth, as on other Amlogic S912 TV boxes. Since Hi10p relies on software decode, you need more powerful hardware, and I expect Rockchip RK3399 based TV boxes to easily handle Hi10p 1080p videos, but not 4K ones.

I’ve also tested some 3D stereoscopic videos only to see if the device could decode them since my TV does not support 3D:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Black screen, audio only
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

I also tested a bunch of other videos including MKV, VOB/IFO, AVI, XViD/DViX, MP4, and FLV videos and I had no problem whatsoever.A full 2-hour 1080p H.264 movie could fully play from the SAMBA share without issues

Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark reports 866 points, roughly the same as on other Amlogic S912 I’ve tested so far.

beelink-gt1-antutu-video-tester

beelink-gt1-antutu-video-tester-partial-support
DRM info reports Widevine Level 3 is supported.

beelink-bt1-drm-info

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YouTube app could play videos up to 1080p.

WiFI & Ethernet Performance

I copy and paste a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash using ES File Explorer in order to evaluate WiFi performance. Beelink GT1 achieved a lowly 1.7 MB/s on average with 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, but a more respectable 4.36 MB/s with 802.11ac (434Mbps Link Speed). It should be noted that download and upload speeds are asymmetrical, and downloads reach about 6.0 MB/s using 802.11ac, and ~2.2 MB/s with 802.11n.

Throughtput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Gigabit Ethernet works pretty well, as shown with iperf full duplex results:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I could pair Beelink GT1 TV box () and Vernee Apollo Lite smartphone in order to transfer a few pictures. Smart Movement has no issue connecting and synchronizing data to my Bluetooth LE fitness tracker, and I could listen to audio through SPORTS-S9 Bluetooth headset.

Since the firmware is already rooted, so I tried Sixaxis app with PS3 Bluetooth game controller close as explained in the post entitled “How to Play Games in Android TV Boxes With a PS3 Bluetooth Controller“, and it worked perfectly. So Bluetooth appears to be working very well on that device.

Storage

NTFS and exFAT partitions on a 1 TB USB 3.0 Seagate hard drive could be mounted, but not BTRFS nor EXT-4 ones. a FAT32 micro SD card could also be mounted in read/write mode.

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

A1SD bench app confirmed results found in most Android TV boxes with USB 2.0 ports, with 30+ MB/s for read speed for both NTFS and exFAT file systems, but a much lower sequential write for exFAT (6.8 MB/s) compared to NTFS (22.37 MB/s).

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

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

The eMMC flash performance is clearly above average at 57.60 MB/s read speed, and 30.71 MB/s write speed.

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

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

Gaming

I played Candy Crush Saga with the air mouse, and as Beach Buggy Racing with the wireless gamepad are both games played perfectly, even with graphics set to the highest settings in the latter. Riptide GP2 had acceptable performance even with “highest resolution” setting, not quite as smooth as on devices with a better GPU, such as Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced, but as expect just the same as other Amlogic S912 TV boxes, and the best Amlogic S905 TV boxes. I played the game for 15 to 20 minutes, and performance was constant throughout.

Beelink GT1 Benchmarks

Let’s start with CPU-Z. Beelink has not updated the firmware to reflect Amlogic S912 is actually limited to 1.5 GHz (1.65 GHz in best case), but apart from that we have the same values as on other S912 TV boxes. The manufacturer is Netxeon (Beelink is their brand), and the board is named q201_9377.

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Click to Enlarge

Antutu 6.x results varied quite a bit, with the first run achieving only 37,013 points, and another run around one hour latter getting 41,287 points, or about the same as M12N MXQ Plus TV box. RAM speed tests seems to be especially variable on Amlogic S912 devices.
beelink-gt1-antutu-benchmark
Vellamo returned results slighly better to what I got with Qintaix Q912, namely 792, 1,488, and 2,858 points for respectively Metal, Multicore, and Browser benchmarks, against 787, 1,422, and 2,336 points for the Qintaix device. M12N did not manage to complete the Multicore test.

beelink-gt1-vellamo
Conclusion

Beelink GT1 works relatively well for this price, with a responsive and very stable firmware, most features working just fine, Kodi 16.1 working with DTS and Dolby audio pass-through, very good storage performance, but of course you can’t expect the same level support as more expensive devices, so for example TrueHD and DTS-HD are not working, automatic frame rate switching neither, and there are still some bugs common to other Amlogic Android Marshmallow devices.

PROS

  • Stable and responsive Android 6.0 firmware
  • Good 4K video support for VP9, H.265 and H.264 codecs in Kodi 16.1
  • HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby 5.1 & DTS 5.1 i Kodi 16.1, plus TrueHD 5.1/7.1 in Video Player & MoviePlayer (and other video apps relying on Android APIs)
  • Fast eMMC flash leading to fast boot and app loading times
  • Good Gigabit Ethernet performance, and decent WiFi 802.11ac performance (with my setup)
  • Google Play Store works fine
  • Good Bluetooth support with file transfer, BT audio, Bluetooth LE, and Sixaxis controller (PS3 gamepad) all working
  • OTA firmware update, and frequent firmware releases (about once a month so far)
  • Support forums (with Beelink more or less active)

CONS (and bugs)

  • HDMI audio pass-through not working for TrueHD and DTS HD 7.1 in Kodi 16.1, Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD 7.1 not supported in other apps
  • Automatic frame rate switching not working properly in Kodi and other apps (e.g. Video Player)
  • Overall performance and user experience very similar to Amlogic S905 TV boxes, except for Android 6.0, VP9 and HDR support.
  • 802.11n WiFi performance under average (with my setup)
  • Potential issue with Shutdown not working all the time (it will reboot instead). N.B.: I can not reproduce it easily.
  • HDMI CEC bug keeps my A/V receiver on (when pressing the power button on the receiver), even when HDMI CEC is disabled (unless I disable CEC in the receiver itself)
  • 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 (Dolby+DTS) or S912-B (Dolby only) processor
  • Minor – Mouse pointer quite small when 4K video output is selected
  • Minor – “USB device connected” window(s) always autostart at boot time when USB mass storage device is connected.

Beelink GT1 price makes it attractive compared to other Amlogic S912 devices, but you don’t already gain much compared to cheaper, and some would argue more stable, devices based on Amlogic S905 processor, beside an upgrade to Android 6.0, VP9 video decoding, and HDR support.

I’d like to thank Netxeon/Beelink for sending the review sample. Resellers and distributors can purchase in quantities directly with the company, while individual will be find Beelink GT1 on Amazon US for $66.97, GearBest for $55.99 with GBGT1 coupon, and from several sellers on Aliexpress for $59.99 and up.