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Mecool KIII Pro Hybrid STB Review – Part 2: Android Firmware, TV Center, and DVB-T2 & DVB-S2 App

March 22nd, 2017 37 comments

Last year I reviewed K1 Plus T2 S2, an Android TV box powered by Amlogic S905 quad core processor with DVB-T2 and DVB-S2 tuner support, which worked with some caveats. VideoStrong has now send me an updated model with Amlogic S912 octa-core processor, which I presented in the post entitled Mecool KIII Pro Hybrid Android STB Review – Part 1: Specs, Unboxing and Teardown, where I listed the specifications, and showed photos of the device and the boards (main board + tuner board). I’ve now had time to play with the device, and in many respects the user experience is very similar to the one I got with KI Plus T2 S2 models, but there are also some tweaks, and a few bugs which I’ll report in the second part of the review below.

KIII Pro Hybrid TV Box Setup, Settings, & Power Consumption

The four USB ports are really convenient, as I could connect a USB hard drive, an air mouse, a wireless game pad, and a USB keyboard without the need for a USB hub. I also connected the usual Ethernet and HDMI cable, plus the cable from my Satellite dish to the DVB-S2 F connector, and the cable from my roof antenna to the DVB-T2 coaxial connector.

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Once we connect the power, the device boots automatically, and usually takes under 30 seconds to do so. The launcher is pretty much the same as KI Plus TV box.

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So I won’t go through it in details again, and will only comment on one change. Kodi is gone and been replaced by something called “TV Center”. So I clicked on it, and it showed a famous Chinese proverb “The installation isn’t installed!”. So I went to the list of apps, and click on TV CENTER, which will do the installation of this mysterious app.

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Once it’s done I can click on TV Center, and the user interface looks familiar.

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So that means they made some modifications to Kodi 17, and change the name to comply with the trademark requirements.

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The TV Center installation also automatically added some add-ons as shown in the screenshot below.

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The Setting app is exactly the same as for other recemt Amlogic TV boxes, and there’s nothing specific to DVB, so I’ll mostly skip it (If you want to see check out Qintaix Q912 review), except to show Storage & USB section that reveals 634 MB is used out of 16.00 GB. That’s obviously a fake number, and it should be around 11 to 12 GB, but the company may have chosen to do so to avoid some customer’s complains that there’s not 16GB storage, as they don’t understand the OS take places on the flash.

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It also shows NTFS and exFAT file systems are supported, but not EXT-4, nor BTRFS.

The About section shows the model is indeed KIII pro running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29. The firmware is rooted by default.

OTA update appears to be supported, but at the time of the review, there was no update available.

I tested the provide IR remote by adding two AA batteries, and it works well up to 10 meters. For most other TV boxes, I’d recommend to use an air mouse, bu in the case of KIII Pro, you’ll need to keep using the remote control in order to support DTV app for DVB-S2/DVB-T2 properly, maybe switching to an air mouse or wireless keyboard + touchpad for some other Android apps. One recurring issue in most TV boxes is still present in KIIIPro however: the mouse cursor is rather small when you set your TV to 4K resolution.

I could install all apps I needed through Google Play, and Amazon Underground without issues.

The set-top box has only two power modes: off or on, and there’s no standby mode. I can turn the device on or off using the IR remote control or the power button.

Power consumption is pretty high in power off, as I tested different options with or without the USB hard drive, but I found a lot of variability with testing:

  • Power off – Test 1: 5.1 Watt; Test 2: 2.2  Watts; Test 3: 3.1 Watts
  • Idle – 7.2 Watts, then 4.3 Watts (2nd try)
  • Power off + HDD – Test 1: 5.1 Watt; Test 2: 2.2  Watts; Test 3: 3.1 Watts
  • Idle + HDD – 9.3 Watts then 8.1 Watts (2nd try)

The good news is that USB ports are turned off in power off mode, so at least the extra power consumption does not come from those ports.

Temperature is a little higher than other boxes, but I’ve not encounter massive CPU throttling during my tests. After playing a 2-hour video the maximum top and bottom temperatures as measured with an IR thermometer were respectively 53°C and 57°C, while after playing Riptide GP2 for about 15 to 20 minutes the temperatures were 51°C and 57°C, but I did not notice any lower framerate in the game as the time went on. I quickly started CPU-Z after quitting the game, and the reported temperature in the app was a high 89°C, so in some conditions performance degradation due to high temperature might be possible, I just did not experience it during my tests. FYR, room temperature was around 30 °C during testing.

KIII Pro Android firmware feels very much like any other Amlogic S912/S905X TV boxes, and it was responsive without any critical bugs. The only small annoyances were the somewhat loud music during the boot animation, the small cursor at 4K resolution, and the relatively high power consumption in power off mode.

Video & Audio Tests with TV Center (Kodi), and DRM Info

As we’ve seen in the section above, Kodi is not installed per se, but instead the box comes with an installer for a fork of Kodi 17.0-RC3 called TV Center.

I enabled “Adjust display refresh rate” in Kodi settings,and started by playing 4K video over Ethernet from a Linux SAMBA share:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Not always smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – The video plays in slow motion and audio delays (NB: 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 1 to 2 fps (expected since it relies software decode as S912 VPU 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 as on all other Amlogic TV boxes.
  • 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.

4K video capabilities are pretty much the same as on other Amlogic S912 TV boxes, except for HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 that was worse than usual. Automatic frame rate switching is not working again as is the case on most other S912 boxes, except MINIX NEO U9-H.

Next up I enabled HDMI audio pass-through in Kodi, and since TrueHD is not part of the list, I also enabled Dolby Digital (AC3) transcoding.

Here are the results of my tests with Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver.

Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MX Player / Video Player app)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK, but video not smooth at all OK Audio OK (Dolby D 5.1), Video not smooth
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK Video not smooth, and audio cuts No audio
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio Dolby D 5.1 (transcoding)
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio Dolby D 5.1 (transcoding)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio Dolby D 5.1 (transcoding)
DTS HD Master OK No audio No audio and black screen
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK No audio and black screen
DTS:X OK No audio No audio and black screen

That’s pretty bad if you plan to use HDMI audio pass-through, except for Dolby Digital 5.1 / AC3. The first video has often problem on Amlogic TV boxes in Kodi, but most AC3 video should work fine. A good news is that AC3 is working via MX Player, so if you receive live TV channels with AC3 audio through the DTV app, it should be able to decode AC3 audio properly, something that was not possible in K1 Plus T2 S2.

I also played a 2-hour video to check for stability. The first time, TV CEnter app crashed with the message “Unfortunately TV Center has stopped” after about 5 minutes, and my second attempt was not completely trouble free either, as the video stopped at around the 50 minutes marked, and the system went back to TV Center UI, but I could select the video again, was offered to resume from 49:21, and it could play until the end.

KIII Pro supports Widevine Level 3 DRM. That means no Netflix HD like on most competing Android media players.

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DTV App for DVB-S/S2 and DVB-T/T2

Now to the most important features of KIII Pro hybrid set-top box: DVB-T/T2 and DVB-S/S2 tuner support. The box is using the same DTV app as on K1 Plus T2 S2 with only minor modifications. The first time you launch the app, you should get the following message indicating there aren’t any channels yet, and asking you to scan for channels.

Once you agree, you’ll be ask to select DVB S/S2 or DVB T/T2.

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I’ve gone with the latter first, and I’ll redirect you to the post entitled “How to Configure DVB-S2 and DVB-T2 Tuners in K1 Plus Android DTV Receiver” since the procedure is the same. I got 26 channels for my T2 scan, but somehow I got 30 channels on K1 Plus T2 S2. So I went to check the settings, and this time the Area Setting was already set to Thailand, either automatically, or it was done before sending the device.

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Anyway I could watch both HD and SD channels without any problems, and signal strength are quality are both at 100% or close to it all the time.

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The EPG looks exactly the same, and it still has problems with Thai encoding or font.

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But before testing other features, let’s configure our satellite dish. Press the Menu key on the remote control, select Installation,

and then DVB S/S2.

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You’ll be able to select your satellite from a list, or define your own as I showed in K1 Plus T2 S2 setup guide and review. I did not show Motor Settings last time, so I’ve taken two screenshots one showing DiSEQc 1.2 support…

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… and the other USALS support. I have not tested either since I don’t own a motorized satellite dish.

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Once you are happy with the setting go to Multi Scan menu to see your satellite list, and press the Blue button on the remote control to start scanning.

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I got 25 TV channels and 7 radios after selecting a Blind Scan and FTA (free-to-air) channels only. Last year, I got 55 TV channels and 5 radio with the same “Thaicom2” satellite. Go figure… Signal strength and quality are quite lower in my case at around 55% and 50% respectively. There are some channels without signal, just as with K1 Plus T2 S2.

One nice improvement is that you don’t need to select between DVB-T2 or DVB-S2 when you start DTV app, as all your channels are shown in the list.

I tried EPG scheduling to start playback or record video, and it works exactly like before.

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So  I setup a few “timers, and watched a DVB-T2 channel live, and one minute before a schedule recording on MONEY channel (DVB-S2) the following window overlaid the video:

I did not press any button, and one the count down expire, it switched to MONEY channel automatically (good), and I got the message “recording complete” (bad). I could reproduce this bug several times. I noticed if I schedule a recording on a channel, and stay on that channel it will work fine.

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You can see the list of recording above on my USB hard drive with some started manually (REC key on remote), and several scheduled. All the 0 bytes videos are due to the bug described above. So schedule does not work 100% reliably. However I noticed different current times (shown in top right of EPG) with different channels, for example it was 13:10 on a DVB-T2 channels, and 13:18 on a DVB-S2 channel, so this might explain some of the issues.. Please note that if you schedule program, and turn off the box, it won’t automatically start to record, and some comments in case try to run DTV app in the background and do other things. The DTV app must run in foreground in other to record videos.

I was more lucky with TimeShifting. Pressing the play/pause key on the remote control, will ask you to select a storage device, and you’ll be able to pause and play live TV within a default 5 minutes period, but this is adjustable in the settings. Note that you need external storage, as this won’t work from the flash.

Advanced users will be able to access CCcam, BISS, and PowerVU setting, by pressing the Menu key, selecting Installation and DVB S/S2, and from there enter 111111 on the remote (6 times character 1) to access Smart Data Manager menu.

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I have not done a video again since it’s so similar to the previous model, with just a few minor changes to the user interface, and if you want to check out DTV app into more details, I invite you to watch K1 Plus T2 S2 video review.

Networking (WiFi & Ethernet)

I’ve checked WiFi performance by transferring a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash (and vice versa) using ES File Explorer. I’ve only tried 802.11ac (connected @ 265 Mbps) , and again performance was asymmetric with the download @ 3.70 MB/s and upload @ 1.44 MB/s, and average @ 2.1 MB/s which makes it similar to other recent Amlogic TV boxes.

Throughput in MB/s

However, last time I reviewed MINIX NEO U9-H which had disappointing WiFi results with the same tests, as it was much slower than MINIX NEO U1 despite ahving the same WiFi module and overall system setup. MINIX them showed me their own tests with different routers showing similar performance between NEO U1 and NEO U9-H, so Amlogic may have completely blown up their SAMBA implementation in their Android 6.0 SDK (NEO U1 runs Android 5.0, U9-H runs Android 6.0).

For that reason, I also tested 802.11ac download speed using iperf “download” test:

That’s 216 Mbps (~27 MB/s) with a raw TCP transfer, and while SAMBA is not supposed to be the fastest network protocol, performance should not drop as low as 3.7 MB/s (over 7 times slower) for the SAMBA download unless something is really wrong.

I also tested Gigabit Ethernet with iperf but using a dual duplex test, and performance is fine.

Doing a SAMBA download over Gigabit Ethernet gets a 885 MB file transfer in 59 seconds (15 MB/s) to the internal flash, which is pretty much normal. So it looks like the issues occur when combining WiFi with SAMBA. SAMBA performs fine with Ethernet, and WiFi raw TCP transfer speed is OK.

Storage

KIII Pro supports exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file systems, but not EXT-4 and BTRFS. Benchmarks with A1SD bench shows you should avoid exFAT to record videos with the DTV app, as write speed is rather low (1.35 MB/s), and the write speed (156.09 MB/s) is just incorrect as it is what triggered the “Cached read” in the screenshot below.

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That means your only option is to use NTFS for external storage if you want to support larger video files. Performance is good at 44.43 MB/s for read speed, and  16.74 MB/s write speed.

The eMMC flash (“SD card” in screenshot) performance is not outstanding, but at 41.34 MB/s (read) and 18.29 MB/s (write) is good enough for the system to boot fast, and feel responsive at all times.

KIII Pro Benchmarks

CPU-Z correctly reports an octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.51 GHz with an ARM Mali-T860 GPU. Model KIII Pro is using q20x board, and the pp shows with 2825 MB total RAM, and 11.87 GB internal storage (the real value, but the 16GB shows in Android settings).

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Since I’ve reviewed so many Amlogic S912 TV boxes, and only ran Antutu 6.x benchmark to make sure there was no hidden issue, and the 40,330 points achieved by the TV box is within the normal range.

Conclusion

KIII Pro comes with typical performance and flaws of other Amlogic S912 TV boxes, with Android 6.0 firmware working well, TV Center (Kodi 17 fork) playing 4K videos relatively well, supporting DD 5.1 pass-through, but not the full range of audio codec, and lacking support for automatic frame rate switching. The device is however unique thanks to its dual tuner with DVB-T/T2 and DVB-S/S2 inputs, and the DTV app is about the same as on the previous model (K1 Plus T2 S2), but merges channels from both sources instead of having to choose at launch. Sadly some of the same bugs and shortcomings linger such as font encoding issues, and inablity to run PVR process in the background.

PROS

  • Stable and Responsive Android 6.0 firmware
  • Decent 4K video playback in TV Center (Kodi fork)
  • Support for Dolby Digital 5.1 (AC3) HDMI pass-through and downmixing in all apps
  • DVB-S/S2 & DVB-T/T2 support via DTV app with timershifting, EPG, and PVR support
  • Good 802.11ac WiFi and Ethernet performance
  • OTA firmware update (App is there, but not fully tested as no new firmware available during the review)

CONS (and Bugs)

  • DVB issues and shortcomings:
    • DVB S/S2 signal strength and quality is only around 50 to 55% (on my setup and for others too), which could lead to problems get signals for some channels
    • Thai font encoding issues
    • In some conditions, scheduled recordings will start on time, but stop immediately resulting in an empty video.
    • PVR function does not work in background, so the DTV app must be on the foreground at all time, and the box cannot be turned off when using schedules/timers.
  • HDMI audio pass-through not working (in TV Center) for Dolby Digital+ 7.1, TrueHD and DTS / DTS-HD
  • Automatic frame rate switching is not working in Kodi
  • Potential instability issues with TV Center – The 2-hour video test failed twice: 1st time: crash after 5 minutes; 2nd time the video stopped after about 50 minutes, but I could resume. N.B.: I did not experience other crashes while testing video samples.
  • Mediocre WiFi + SAMBA performance like in other S905X/S912 TV boxes with Android 6.0.
  • Relatively high power consumption (2.2 to 5.1 Watts) in power off mode
  • While I have not noticed obvious CPU or GPU throttling during my tests, temperature does get high (89 °C reported in CPU-Z)
  • Minor issues – Very small mouse pointer @ 4K resolutions, loud music during boot logo

Finally, I also have a user-friendliness remark. If you are just going to use TV Center and DTV app, the provided IR remote control will do, but if you are going to also use other Android apps, I normally recommend to replace the IR remote control with an air mouse. It’s not really possible/practical with KIII Pro, as DTV app has been designed around the IR remote control with keys such as MENU, PVR, REC, EPG… That means you’ll need juggle with both the IR remote control and an air mouse in order to fully enjoy all capabilities of the device. It would be really nice if VideoStrong could come up with an (optional) air mouse with keyboard that also supports DTV app.

Resellers and distributors may inquire Videostrong via their Alibaba page to purchase KIII Pro in quantities. Individuals can purchase KIII Pro Android set-top box on  GearBest ($117.99), Aliexpress ($141 and up), Banggood ($133.99), and other online retailers.

ACEMAX Sells Amlogic S905X TV Boxes with LibreELEC, or Dual Boot LibreELEC + Android 6.0

March 16th, 2017 3 comments

There are plenty of Android TV boxes powered by Amlogic S905X processor on the market, but ACEMAX has apparently decided to leverage the community’s work on LibreELEC, and launched two “ACEMAX LE” models with 1GB RAM/8GB flash or 2GB/16GB that runs LibreELEC sold on Aliexpress for respectively $39.99 and $57.99 shipped. You can also buy the second model with a dual boot Android 6.0 + LibreELEC firmware for $59.99 including shipping, instead of only running LibreELEC.

The company uses both “OpenELEC”, “LibreELEC” and “Pure Linux”, but the video demo embedded at the end of this post shows clearly the box booting LibreELEC 7 with Kodi 16.1.

ACEMAX LE TV box specifications:

  • SoC –  Amlogic S905X quad core ARM Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.5GHz with penta-core Mali-450MP GPU
  • System Memory – Model 1: 1GB RAM; model 2: 2GB RAM
  • Storage
    • Model 1: 8GB eMMC flash + micro SD card slot
    • Model 2: 16GB eMMC flash + micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz, and AV port (composite video)
  • Audio Output – HDMI, optical S/PDIF, AV port (stereo audio)
  • Connectivity
    • Model 1 – 10/100M Ethernet, and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi.
    • Model 2 – 10/100M Ethernet, and dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi.
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 ports
  • Misc – Power LED, IR receiver
  • Power Supply –  5V/2A
  • Dimensions & Weight – N/A

The TV Box ships with a remote control, a HDMI cable, and a power adapter. You can normally install LibreELEC by yourself on most Amlogic S905/S905X TV box, but getting it pre-installed should save you a little bit of time, and the need to work around potential issues.

Via AndroidPC.es and theguyuk.

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

March 1st, 2017 24 comments

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

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First Boot, OTA Firmware, Settings and First Impressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

LibreELEC is Now Running on Ugoos UT3+ (Rockchip RK3288) TV Box

February 23rd, 2017 4 comments

Rockchip RK3288 may have launched over two years ago, but the quad core 32-bit processor is still much more powerful than many 64-bit platforms on the market, and ASUS selected the processor for their upcoming – and not officially launched – Tinker Board. The processor was found in several Android TV boxes, but people also installed Linux on the devices, and ported Kodi 14.2 Linux to RK3288 with hardware video decoding back in 2015. The news here is that Omegamoon has recently started working on LibreELEC 8.0 port for RK3288 with a Linux 4.4 kernel, and tested it on Ugoos UT3+ TV box.

Click to Enlarge

Full HD movie playback is said to be smooth, Ethernet, and sound work, but WiFi still needs to be worked on.

Omegamoon has released an update.img firmware which can be flashed with upgrade_tool in Linux, or AndroidTool in Windows, replaces whatever operating system you have on the eMMC flash, and works only on Ugoos UT3+ at this time.  If you own another Rockchip RK3288 device, it’s a bit more complicated. First, you need a computer running Linux, make sure you get a working kernel with the right device tree file, and download this tarball with system and kernel images, and somehow manage to boot it up on your device as explained here.

If you want to contribute to the development of LibreELEC on Rockchip RK3288 processor, you can retrieve the code from github, and run the script build_rk3288_ugoos-ut3s.sh to build LibreELEC from source, and generate a flashable firmware image. If you happen to own PopMetal development board, build_rk3288_popmetal.sh script might work, but has not been tested.

Separately, Marc Rissewijck, who worked on the initial Kodi port for RK3288, has also published a Kodi debian package (kodi_v0.2.deb) very recently, so if you have a RK3288 hardware platforms running running Ubuntu or Debian, this might be worth a try. I could find a reference in #linux-rockchip IRC logo, explaining the changes:

<mac-l1> hi guys. just made a first kodi .deb package for vpu/mpp including zerocopy/eglimage to test. can somebody check if it works?
<mac-l1> just download http://www.mac-l1.com/kodi/kodi_v0.2.deb and dpkg -i the deb package and then apt-get install -f

If you are like me, and have no clue about MPP, it stands for Media Process Platform, and appears to be a new method to handle video decoding on Rockchip SoCs.

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

Click to Enlarge

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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Click to Enlarge

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.

Ebox T8 V Octa-Core Android TV Box Review – Part 2: Android Firmware, EBMC, and Benchmarks

January 25th, 2017 1 comment

EBox T8 V (version 5) is the new EntertainmentBox.com  TV box specially geared towards the UK market with its choice of apps and online shop based in the United Kingdom. It’s an upgrade to EBox T8-4 I reviewed last year, replacing Amlogic S905 quad core processor by Amlogic S912 octa-core processor, but keeping most of the same features including the SATA bay and EBox user interface. Since we’ve already checked out the hardware, likely based on Zoomtak U Plus, I’ll focus on the firmware in the second part. It will be a shorter reviewed than usual since I have already tested many Amlogic S912 TV boxes, and I’ll refer to T8-4 review when the user interface is identical, and instead focus on what has changed, and the usual suspects like audio pass-through, 4K video playback, DRM support, WiFi performance, etc…

EBox T8 V Setup Wizard, Setup, OTA Firmware Update, and Default Apps

I had already plugged the provided 1TB SATA drive into the device during the unboxing post, but I’ve also connected another USB hard drive, as well as HDMI and Ethernet cables, the RF dongle for S77 Pro air mouse that came with the box, a USB keyboard to take screenshots, and finally the power cord.

Click to Enlarge

The power button on the box should be red, so if you want to start the TV box, press the button on the box, or the power button on the IR remote control, the power button will change to blue color, and the display will show “boot”. If you want to use the air mouse to turn on the device, you’ll need to use the IR learning function to learn the power key from the IR remote control. I’ve tried and it works well. The boot normally takes around 30 to 35 seconds. Note that the boot animation includes some music, which can be annoying if other people sleep, and you forgot to turn the volume down…

The first time, you’ll go through a setup wizard for language, screen scale network, since nothing has changed here, I invite you to check EBox T8-4 Setup Wizard & Configuration section of my previous review for details.

Beginners Launcher – Click for Original Size (1920×1080)

The launcher is also the same, but you now have an option to switch between the “beginners launcher”, which includes Ebox Apps Hub and Ebox app for support, and the more barebone “experienced launcher” shown below.

Experienced Launcher – Click to Enlarge

The Experienced Launcher setting interface is exactly the same as in T8-4, but the company made another Settings app for the Beginners Launcher.

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As fas I could tell however, all settings were the same, but just presented in a different way. The Speed Test is new, but it’s just an Ookla speed test to check your ISP performance. Note my fiber optic connection is 20/10 Mbps to the bandwidth was maxed out in that test.
The Advanced icons redirect to the familiar Amlogic Settings app.

It’s also interesting to quickly check out the system info that shows the model number is q201_9377, which can be useful in case you’ll want to use an alternative firmware. Few people will likely try that, since you pay extra for firmware and support for the box.

Click to Enlarge

The list of app is what makes this box further different from the competition with UK specific apps such as BBC iPlayer, FilnOn Live, and WookieSports, with the latter not present in T8-4.

The company did not include TVCatchUp app this test, but for people who wants to watch UK programs but live outside the country, IPvanish app was added to let you setup VPN. You may want to check Installed App & IPTV streaming section in T8-4 review for details about the UK streaming apps.

Finally, I went to EBox OTA, it could find a new firmware, and the upgrade went smoothly.

Click to Enlarge

Check out OTA firmware section of my previous review for more info about that.

Power consumption is fine with 0.2W is power off mode with the two hard drives connected, and around 8 Watts at idle. The air mouse also worked well, and once you’ve programmed the IR remote control’s power button to the air mouse, you won’t need the IR remote at all. If you exclusively run Kodi (EBMC) then the IR remote control might be a little better since you can access some features like Zoom, aspect radio, and audio directly from the remote, and you won’t need a mouse pointer at any times.

The user experience of the new T8 V was very much like the one of the previous model with the firmware working well, except that I had a “App not Responding” window appear twice, and the mouse cursor is quite small when you set video output to 4K.

Video and Audio Support in EBOX MC (Kodi 16.1) & DRM Info

EBOX Media Center (EBMC) is based on SMPC 16.4, itself a fork a Kodi 16.1 with optimization for Amlogic processors.

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Before playing any videos, I disabled amcodec as instructed in a paper included with EBOX T8 V package.

I also enabled automatic frame rate switching via “Adjust display refresh rate” option….

… as well as audio pass-through, with Dolby and DTS. Note that DTS-HD and TrueHD options are missing, and as we’ll see below not working, so you’d better enable Dolby Digital (AC3) Transcoding too.

I played 4K videos over a SAMBA share using Gigabit Ethernet:

  • 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) – plays, but not perfectly smoothly
  • 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 (OK, not supported by Amlogic S912)
  • 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
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Slow motion
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – OK, but not perfect at all times.
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Plays but could be smoother

4K video playback working about as well as on other Amlogic S912 TV boxes, but automatic frame rate switching does not work, so if the video output is set to 4K @ 60 Hz, and you play a 24 fps video it might not be as smooth as it could be.

HDMI audio-pass through works but is limited to Dolby and DTS 5.1. Tested with Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver.

  • AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 – OK (Dolby D 5.1)
  • E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 – OK (Dolby D 5.1)
  • Dolby Digital+ 7.1 – PCM 2.0, no audio *
  • TrueHD 5.1 – PCM 2.0, no audio *
  • TrueHD 7.1 – PCM 2.0, no audio *
  • Dolby Atmos 7.1 – PCM 2.0 with audio *
  • DTS HD Master – DTS 5.1 only
  • DTS HD HR – DTS 5.1 only
  • DTS:X (not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636) – DTS 5.1 only

* If you set “Dolby Digital (AC3) Transcoding” in the settings, audio will be transcoded, and output Dolby D 5.1 audio.

DRM Info – Click to Enlarge

DRM Info apps shows Widevine Level 3 is supported.

EBox T8-4 Benchmarks – Antutu, Storage and Networking

I’ve run Antutu 6.x to make sure the system did not have any issue with performance, and T8 V achieved above 41,000 points, in line with the scores of other Amlogic S912 TV Boxes.

The 1TB internal hard drive (NTFS) shipped with the device was properly recognized with performance ~30 MB/s you’d expect from USB 2.0, while my external hard drive NTFS and exFAT partition could be mounted, and also delivered as expected with the recurring low write speed (5.88 MB/s) on exFAT partitions typical of the vast majority of Android TV boxes. Note that the 44.50 MB/s read speed for the exFAT partition is likely wrong, and affected by the slow write speed.

Click to Enlarge

Internal storage performance (35.01MB/s & 12.15 MB/s) is OK without being outstanding, and works well enough.

My very first experience with WiFi did not quite go accordingly to plans, as the box hung when I enabled WiFi in the settings. My second attempts was successful with a 433 Mbps connection to my 802.11ac router. Performance was however underwhelming with an average of 2.4 MB/s transfer rate, that’s quite typical of Amlogic S905X and S912 TV boxes.

WiFi Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Conclusion

EBox T8 V offers user experience very similar to EBox T8-4, with slightly faster performance, decent 4K video playback which adds VP9 support, better support for audio pass-through albeit limited to Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1, and a few pre-installed video streaming app for the UK. I did not have any issues with the internal hard drive this time, but WiFi performance is not quite as good as on EBox T8-4.

PROS

  • Stable and responsive firmware
  • Easy to setup & e thanks to setup wizard, and bundled Air mouse.
  • 4K video playback in EBMC (based on SPMC) with H.264, H.265 and VP9 well supported
  • HDMI audio pass-through working for DTS and Dolby Digital (AC3) 5.1
  • Pre-installed IPTV apps for the UK market such as BBC iPlayer and Filmon, as well as a VPN app.
  • 2.5″ internal SATA bay
  • OTA firmware update
  • Good customer support with Live chat, forums, and online documentation

CONS

  • HDMI audio pass-through does not work for Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD
  • Automatic frame rate switching is not working
  • WiFi performance could be better
  • DRM support limited to Widewine Level 3
  • No Dolby and DTS licenses
  • Small mouse pointer when 4K is selected
  • Boot animation includes some music (potential issue at night).

EBox T8-4 + S77 Pro air mouse + 1 TB HDD bundle I reviewed can be purchased for 185.87 GBP including VAT (~$234 US), but you can also purchase the box with the standard IR remote control only for 104.99 GBP including VAT (~$132 US), or select other bundles with gamepad and/or wireless keyboard.

ASUS Tinker Board’s Debian & Kodi Linux Images, Schematics and Documentation

January 24th, 2017 37 comments

We discovered ASUS Tinker Board powered by Rockchip RK3288 processor earlier this year via some slides hidden in a dark corner of the Internet… ASUS has been incredibly quiet about it, but as the board has finally started to sell in Europe on sites like CPC Farnell UK, Proshop (Denmark), or Jimm’s (Finland)  for the equivalent of $57.5 without VAT or $69 including VAT, and more technology sites have started to write about it.

Click to Enlarge

So people have been buying the board, and one even uploaded an unboxing video. One interesting part is the the top comment from the uploader in that video:

Currently, a £55 paperweight as I can’t seem to find a link to the OS image anywhere.

And indeed, ASUS appears to have launched a board without any support website, firmware image and documentation. Maybe that’s why they are quiet about it. But after using some of my voodoo search skills, I finally found firmware images for the board, as well as the schematics, and some other documentations on Asus website. [Update: New official link with the same files as of today (27/01/2017)]

There are currently 10 documents & files for download on the site:

  • Operating System Images – TinkerOS DEBIAN & TinkerOS KODI images
  • Hardware Docs – Tinker Board Schematics (PDF only), 2D & 3D Drawings
  • Software Docs – GPIO API for Python & C,
  • Other documents
    • Qualified Vendors List for devices tested with the board include micro SD cards, USB drives, Bluetooth headsets (A2DP), headphone amplifiers, Bluetooth keyboards & mice, HDMI TVs & monitors, AC adapters, Ethernet dongles, flash disks, and WiFi routers
    • Tinker Board FAQ overview
    • CSI & DSI configuration explaining how to use an external display and/or camera.

Note that there may be a reason why ASUS has not officially published the images yet: they might consider them alpha or beta (TBC).