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Sen5 Amlogic S905D TV Box Review – Part 2: Android Firmware, Kodi 17, and DVB-T2 & S2 App

May 19th, 2017 5 comments

Sen5 is one of the first Android TV boxes powered by Amlogic S905D processor, and comes with two tuners (DVB-C/T/T2 and DVB-T/T2) with two demodulators that should allow for recording on one tuner, while watching the other, or recording two channels at the same time. We’ve already check out the hardware in the first part of the review, and seen a glimpse of the neat user interface, so today I’ll report about my experience with the device.

Sen5 Android Set-Top Box First Boot, Setup Wizard, & First Impressions

The STB comes with two USB ports so I used one for the hard drive, a necessity if you plan to use the PVR function, and connected a USB hub to the other with RF dongles for an air mouse and a gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots. I also connected Ethernet and HDMI cables, as well as my terrestrial antenna to the coaxial “DVB-T2” input, and my satellite dish to the DVB-S2 F-connector.

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Finally I connected the power, after a several seconds after the “Amlogic S905D” and “MBOX” boot logo I go to  a setup wizard asking me to select the language…

The next step is the output resolution, and the system auto-detected 4K2K-60Hz maximum resolution from LG 42UB820T 4K UHD TV.Screen adjust is used for overscan, but if you have a recent TV, you should not really need to use since you can always understand with settings like “just scan”.Step 4 is the selection between Ethernet and WiFi.This is followed by Date & Time configuration.Finally, you’ll be asked to select between “Scan TV channel”, “Login to Google Play Store”, and “Go to Home page”.

I selected the later at this stage, and the beautiful “NesTV” launcher appeared. A typical boot takes around 35 seconds with this box.

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You’ll get date, time, and weather on the top left, 6 main icons in the center for TV (DVB) app, IPTV & VOD (both required a login I did not have), YouTube, Kodi, and the list of app. The bottom include an “Add/Remove” button to organize favorites.

The top right row includes some convenient shortcuts showing (from left to right):

  • Free memory – Clicking on it will cleaned up memory
  • USB status – Redirects to File Browser
  • Network Status (Ethernet or WiFi) – Redirects to Network settings
  • Bluetooth Status – Redirects to Bluetooth settings
  • Download – Shortcut for easy access to Download direction
  • Notifications – Will display notifications on the left of the screen (See screenshot below)
  • Backup & Restore & Update button
  • Ookla – Measures your Internet connection performance
  • Settings – Redirect to Amlogic’s Settings app

The preview zone is black until your scan channel after which it will show a preview of the last selected channel (with audio).

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The pre-installed apps can be found below.

The Setting app is about the same as on other Amlogic Android 6.0 TV boxes, but it’s still worth noting HDMI CEC, HDR and Playback settings (for HDMI self-adaptation) options are there. The only new menu is MediaScan which lets you decided whether to automatically scan USB drives in the background (disabled by default).

Going to Android settings, we can see 5.27 GB is already used out of 8 GB storage, and that is before I installed any app. The flash was almost full by the end of the review.

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

The About section indicates the model is called SH8B7AV_SF001 and runs Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29, the same as most other Amlogic S9xx boxes.. Android security patch is date August 1, 2016. The firmware is not rooted. OTA firmware update appears to be implemented, with the Update app communicating with the firmware update server, but I did not get any updates since March 29th.

The IR remote control works well up to 10 meters, and I also appreciate shortcuts key to app list, Play Store, YouTube, etc.. The remote control is also absolutely necessary to use with the TV app, which relies color button (red/green/yellow.blue) and special keys like EPG. Since an air mouse or wireless keyboard with touchpad is necessary in many Android apps, I ended switching between the remote control, and MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse depending on which app I used. I wishes such Android Set-top boxes would come with an optional air mouse that also support the TV app.

Google Play and Amazon Underground worked just fine, and I could install all apps I needed for the review.

The set-top box supports standby and power off mode. That’s the theory, because in practice, the box will reboot maybe 95% of the time when I try to turn it off (long press on remote control power key). Standby is working fine. The power button on the unit itself does not work at all for me. Maybe it’s just a problem with the sample.

I tested power consumption with or without the USB hard drive:

  • Standby – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle – 4.4 to 5.0 Watss
  • Standby + HDD – 0.3 to 0.4 Watt
  • Idle + HDD – 6.0 to 6.3 Watts

A reliably working power off would be nice though. I gave up on measuring power off, since it was so difficult to enter in this mode. At least power consumption is sufficiently low in standby mode, and there are reasons (scheduling) to prefer standby over power off, as we’ll see below.

Sen5 does get a little hot over time.After playing a 2-hour H.264 1080p movie in Kodi, max. top and bottom temperatures were 51 and 61 °C respectively, and as I went to CPU-Z to check the CPU temperature, soc_thermal was 84 °C. The movie frame rate did not feel “optimal” at the end either. Riptide GP2 game frame rate also suffered over time, and temperature after playing 15 minutes were 48°C (top) , 56°C (bottom) and 79°C (CPU-Z).  The idle temperature reported in CPU-Z is also a not-so-cool 73 °C. Hopefully, the company will find a solution before selling the box retail.

An Amlogic S905D TV box is very much like other Amlogic S905(X) TV boxes with a fairly stable and responsive firmware. But Sen5 box stands out thanks to NesTV launcher which looks really nice, and comes with some useful features and shortcuts. The remote control is also well designed, although I’d like it to have air mouse and keyboard functions. The two main issues I encountered were overheating, and the inability to power off the box reliably.

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

Sen5 comes with Kodi 17 pre-installed.

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After enabling “Adjust display refresh rate” in Kodi settings, and  HDMI self-adaptation, I played 4K videos over Gigabit Ethernet /SAMBA:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Choppy at the end of the video
  • 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 (As expected, as 4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by S905D 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)
  • 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 could be smoother

My experience with 4K video playback was inline with other Amlogic S912/S905X TV boxes, except possibly with HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4.Automatic Another common state of affair is that automatic frame rate switching is not working, and  MINIX NEO U9-H is the only exception to this rule for recent Amlogic TV boxes (that I tested).

I enabled HDMI Passthrough in Android settings…and in Kodi. Some whatever reasons, there are no option to select AC3/ DTS, TrueHD, or DTS HD like in other devices. You can only enable or disable “Allow passthrough”.

Those are the results with Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver. PCM 2.0 is without pass-through using my TV speakers, and I used both Kodi (which handle audio its own way), and MoviePlayer app.

Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK, video not smooth No audio Audio OK (Dolby D 5.1), Video not smooth OK (Dolby D 5.1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 OK (DD+ 7.1)
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 OK (TrueHD 5.1)
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 Beep (AC3 audio track)
DTS HD Master OK No audio PCM 2.0 DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio PCM 2.0 DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK No audio PCM 2.0 DTS 5.1

Kodi is not usable with your AV receiver, except for Dolby Digital 5.1 / AC3, while MoviePlayer requires you to own an AV receiver if you want to have any audio on videos with only Dolby or DTS audio track(s).

I could play a 2-hour movie over SAMBA, but as mentioned previously the frame rate seemed to drop slightly at the end due to over heating.

Sen5 supports Widevine Level 3 DRM, meaning no HD support on some premium apps like Netflix. YouTube worked well, even while recording live TV in the background.

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

Let’s get started with the TV app. The first time you’ll go through the “TV First Installation” wizard.

You can select aspect ratio, zap mode (black screen or freeze), subtitle, LCN, and DVB Type between DVBS-DVBT/T2 or DVBS-DVBC. I did not change any of the settings and kept going with DVBS-DVBT/T2.The next window will let you start scan, and load channels from USB, the Internet, and another STB. I just clicked on Start Scan which brought me to the TV menu.

If you’re going to change any “installation” setting for satellite or DVB-T/T2/C, you’ll be asked for a password “0000”.

Going into Dish Settings, I could select Thaicom 5/6 satellite, as I normally do, but I was a little confused since I had to select between C-band and Ku-band. I eventually figured I had to select C-band, as I would not get any channels with Ku-band selection.

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The first time I did a “standard scan” as shown above, and I got only 13 channels, far below what I would expect especially I select both free-to-air and paid channels. So I restarted a Blind Scan instead again on Thaicom 5/6 (78.5E C-band).

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I ended up with 387 TV channels including premium (marked with $) and free channels.

You can select channels by CAS type using the blue button on the remote control for example to select the Free channels. The paid channels should be accessible via the smart card reader provided you have the right card. But it’s not something I could try.

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Next up I had to configure DVB-T2. It took me a couple of minutes to find out I had to use the drawer key (on the left side of the Blue HOME key) in order to bring the TV menu back up.

I selected auto scan, input the country, before running the scan.

It found 25 channels, but no radio channels.I could watch DVB-T2 channels. but some HD channels have low quality sometimes dropping below 25% and the channels freezing. I have not noticed the same issue with SD channels, and sometimes the same HD channels do not have any problem.

The “I” button on the remote shows some of the info about the current channel including channel number abd name, date and time, current and next program name and time, audio, S2/T2, and CAS information, as well as signal strength and quality.

I’ll go through other options in TV menu before checking out the other features of the app. The Edit Channels section allows you to set favorites, and organize channels as you see fit.

The PVR and Timers section will give you access to the list of already recorded program, and current timers / schedules (see further below for details).

The Add-on menu allows you to add favorites, so you can quickly jump from the TV app to whatever other you may want. Not very useful IMHO, as you could do the same by pressing the Home key and selecting shortcuts in the main launcher.

Finally there are various TV settings. The only problem is that none of the options would work for me, as each option would just go back to the main launcher. You can access the program guide by pressing the EPG button on the remote control. Encoding is handled properly with DVB-T2 channels, and there’s a problem with Thai language with satellite channels, probably because the software does not use the right encoding.

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Burmese language is barely better.

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Anyway, you can still browser channels and the program guide, and add or remove “timers” to record or play videos at any given time.

By default all timers are set to record once, but you can go to the list of timers (drawer button-> PVR and Timers-> Timer), and change the option.

The repeat mode is quite versatile, as you can select daily, weekly, and even select the days to record during the week.

Timers and PVR are working quite well, and I had no troubles recording videos on either DVB-T2 or DVB-S2. Since the box has two demodulators, you can even record on DVB-T2 and watch DVB-S2 channels and vice-versa, as shown in the photo below (ONE HD is a DVB-T2 channel)

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Later on, I also discovered that during recording the list of unavailable channels will be grayed out, and you can still watch channels both on DVB-T2 or DVB-S2, as long as the channel on the busy input is one the same stream.

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Another thing impossible on VideoStrong set-top boxes is background recording, so as I recorded a channel, I pressed the HOME key, went to browse the web, and then watch a YouTube video. I came back to the TV app and discovered the recording was still taking place, and later on I could verify the video was properly recorded, and I did not notice any stuttering or obvious artifacts. So that’s a big plus compare to existing solutions. In theory, you should be able to record live TV on DVB-T2 and DVB-S2 at the same time, but the timer software detects a conflict if you do so.

I did one last test with schedules. I setup a recording at 16:30, and put the device into standby, waiting for the time… To my surprise, Sen5 STB started automatically at 16:30, but for whatever reason the recording only started 10 minutes later, at 16:40. So it looks like the capability is there, but it’s still buggy.  Timeshifting is working using the play/pause key, and you can also record manually using the record button on the remote control.

You can play the recordings in the TV app, but if you prefer to use another player, you’ll find the files in the DVBRecordFiles directory on your hard drive with a subdirectory for each recording.

The TV app will split large files into 2GB files probably because of hard drives still using FAT32, and despite mine using NTFS file system. info.amri is a binary file with some details about the recording, but it also contains some visible strings like the program name and TV channel name.

You can find some SD and HD recordings from DVB-T2 or DVB-S2, as well as info.amri file in MEGA. I had no troubles playing the DVB-T2 recording in my computer, but I had neither Totem, nor VLC could play the DVB-S2 recording, and I had to use

You’ll find a demo with the TV app in the video below.

Networking (WiFi & Ethernet)

WiFi performance was first tested by transferring a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal flash (and vice versa) using ES File Explorer. The box only support 2.4 GHz WiFi, and the transfer rate was 1.5 MB/s on average.

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

The performance is not very good, but similar to other Amlogic TV box due to the poor SAMBA performance. However, during testing I had other problems, with the first transfer failing after about 60%, which I could complete by clicking on Retry, and another transfer failing to start completely.

I also ran iperf for 60 seconds on both direction to get a raw benchmark value:

WiFi upload:

WiFi download:

Gigabit Ethernet is however working pretty well as least with iperf.

Iperf upload:

iperf download:

iperf full duplex:

A SAMBA to flash copy was limited by the write speed of the flash, and occurred at about 9.8 MB/s. Flash to SAMBA performance was worse because of the poor SAMBA implementation in Amlogic Android 6.0 SDK @ 5.9 MB/s.

Storage

FAT32, NTFS, and exFAT file systems are support, but as is often the case not EXT-4 and BTRFS. As usual USB storage benchmarks show that exFAT should be avoided as slow write speed may impact recorded videos. NTFS performance is however OK, and the eMMC flash used in the box does not have the best performance on the market, but I have not noticed any specific slowdowns, it may just take a little longer to install some apps.

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I’ve drawn a red line on exFAT – USB 2.0 and internal memory read results because they were cached read, and the internal memory can clearly NOT be read @ ~629 MB/s.

Bluetooth

I could pair Vernee Apollo Lite Android smartphone to the box and transfer several photos without any problem, but there was not a direct and easy way to click to see the files after the transfer, so I had to go to the FileBrowser app and into the bluetooth directory to check the files. I also watched a YouTube video after easily pairing X1T earbuds, and the box also detected the SimpleBLE demo I had running on a ESP32 board, so Bluetooth LE should also work.

Sen5 and Amlogic S905D Benchmarks

That’s my first Amlogic S905D device, so let’s run CPU-Z first. It’s impossible to distinguish S905D to  S905/S905X as they are all shown to be quad core Cortex A53 processors @ up to 1.51 GHz with a Mali-450 MP GPU.

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Antutu would just crash each time I start it, so I ran Vellamo instead to check the performance.
1,540 for Multicore, 919 for Metal, and 1,887 for Browser are comparable to the results I got on Amlogic S905X boxes (1,491 / 910 / 1,855).

Conclusion

Sen5 device is the first true dual tuner Android set-top box I have reviewed, as I was able to record one channel, and watch another at the same time. It also supports background recording, and wakeup from standby to start recording a video, both of which are impossible in all other Android STBs I have reviewed. NesTV launcher is also eye-pleasing, and includes really convenient shortcuts.  The box is not perfect however, as it still has some serious bugs like DVB-T2 channels freezing from time to time, WiFi failures (at least with SAMBA), and overheating issues. There are also various smaller bugs which hopefully will be fixed once the box is sold to end users.

PROS

  • Dual independent DVB-S/S2 and DVB-C/T/T2 tuner allowing for recording and watching live TV at the same time;
  • EPG, Timeshitfing, and PVR function working reasonably well
  • Exclusive Tuner Features (for an Android TV box) – Support for recording from standby mode (with caveat), and background recording (e.g. you can watch YouTube, browse the web, or play games while recording)
  • Beautiful & user-friendly NesTV launcher (I also found out after the review that there’s a mobile app for it)
  • Good 4K video playback in Kodi 17 works well
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 works in all apps including Kodi, TrueHD and DTS HDMI audio pass-through works with MoviePlayer app (and likely most other apps including the TV app, but not Kodi)
  • Excellent Ethernet performance
  • Bluetooth is working well for file transfer, audio headset, and BLE
  • Support for smartcards (not tested)

CONS

  • DTV app issues and shortcomings
    • DVB-T2 channels may freeze from time to time
    • Encoding problems with data from satellite channel, at least for Burmese and Thai languages
    • It’s not possible to record two videos (one in DVB-S2 / one in DVB-T2) at the same time as the app reports a scheduling conflict
    • When the box is in standby and a program is schedule, the box will wake up, but recording will only start a few minutes later (10 minutes in my case)
  • The box may overheat potentially leading to video become choppy over time, and games less smooth
  • Power off mode does not work reliably (will reboot most of the time), and the unit power did not work for me at all
  • SAMBA + WiFi performance is poor, and connection can be unreliable
  • Kodi issues: automatic frame rate switching does not work, pass-through is limited to AC3/ Dolby Digital 5.1
  • DTS/Dolby audio down-mixing does not work in Android apps like MoviePlayer or Video Player; DTS-HD pass-through does not work (DTS 5.1 only) in such apps.

I’d like to thanks Shenzhen Sen5 for providing a sample for review. AS previously mentioned, the product is not available for retail yet, but interested resellers and distributors may contact the company via their website.

Wandboard QuadPLUS Development Board Gets i.MX 6QuadPlus Processor, 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1

April 16th, 2017 13 comments

The first Wandboard development boards launched in 2012 nearly 5 years ago based on Freescale i.MX6 Solo and Dual processor, with Wandboard Quad launched a few months later. The boards were fairly popular at the time due to their better specifications, and especially Freescale’s much better documentation and software compared to the competition such as Broadcom (Raspberry Pi) and Allwinner (Cubieboard). Since the boards are based on TechNexion EDM system-on-modules they could also be used by companies working on their own products based on the system-on-module. It’s also a good platform if you want to test various version of Android, because the company released Jelly Bean, Kitkat, Lollipop, and Marshmallow images for the boards, and I’m expecting a Lollipop version soon.

However, albeit the company worked on other NXP boards such as PICO-IM6UL Android Things, there had not been any hardware upgrade for Wandboard for nearly 4 years, but last month Wandboard QuadPLUS was released with NXP i.MX 6QuadPlus processor boasting a faster GC2000+ GPU, an upgrade to 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity, the addition of a power management IC, and a fix for HDMI EDID + CEC.

Wandboard QuadPLUS without Heatsink – Click to Enlarge

Wandboard QuadPLUS board specifications:

  • SoC – NXP i.MX 6QuadPlus quad core Cortex A9 processor @ 1.0 GHz + Vivante GC2000+ 3D GPU + Vivante GC355 + Vivante GC320 2D compositor
  • System Memory – 2GB RAM
  • Storage – 2x micro SD card slot + SATA connector
  • Video Output – HDMI with CEC
  • Audio I/O – HDMI, S/PDIF (optical), 3x 3.5mm jacks for Line In, Line Out, and Mic In.
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet (Atheros AR8035) + Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac + Bluetooth 4.1 (Broadcom BCM4339)
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 host port, + 1x mini USB OTG port
  • Debug – 1x RS232 port; UART & JTAG via through holes
  • Expansion Headers
    • 4x 20-pin headers with GPIO, I²C, PWM, SATA, SPI, UART…
    • 4-lane MIPI CSI connector
  • Power Supply – 5V DC via power barrel (5.5/2.1mm) ; NXP MMPF0100 PMIC
  • Dimensions – 95 mm x 95 mm
  • Weight – 100 grams

Beside Android, the board can also run Ubuntu, and Linux built with the Yocto Project. The company also introduced an official camera module for the board with CAM-OV5645 module based on Omnivision OV5645, and supported in Linux 4.1.15 and greater.

Wandboard QuadPLUS is sold for $139, CAM-OV5645 camera module for $25 directly on TechNexion website. The price of older boards have also been reduced by $10. You’ll find more details on Wandboard.org with firmware and source code downloads, a Wiki page, and forums, but most information has not been updated to include QuadPLUS board.

Thanks to Fran for the tip.

AAEON RICO-3288 Pico-ITX Board is Powered by Rockchip RK3288 Processor

March 21st, 2017 4 comments

When Rockchip RK3288 was launched in 2014 we got a few development boards like Firefly-RK3288, PopMetal, and Radxa Rock 2, and later on MiQi board. ASUS Tinker board made the processor popular again in 2017, and now AAEON, an industrial embedded company of ASUS group, has just unveiled RICO-3288 Pico-ITX Board based on the processor, and targeting OEMs instead of hobbyists & makers.

RICO-3288 board specifications with RICO-3288F & RICO-3288V models adding wireless connectivity & battery options, as well as CAN and an extra RS-232 port for for the latter:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3288 quad core Cortex A17 processor @ 1.8GHz with ARM Mali-T760 GPU
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3L RAM
  • Storage – 16GB eMMC flash, micro SD slot up to 64GB
  • Video Output / Display IF
  • Audio – Via HDMI, interfaces for microphone, earphone and speakers (2.5W / 4 Ohm)
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet; V & F models: WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0,Nano-SIM card slot, optional GPS
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports, 1x micro-USB 2.0 OTG port, 1x USB 2.0 header
  • Serial – RS-232/422/485 port, RS-232 header, V model optional features: 2x RS-232 ports, CAN bus
  • Expansion
    • 8-bit DIO connector (4-in , 4-out)
    • Full-size mini-PCIe slot for 3G/4G card (USB signals only)
  • Misc – Watchdog, RTC with battery
  • Power Supply
    • 12V DC via 2-pin header; [email protected] full load power consumption
    • Optional 7.4V battery for V and F models only
  • Dimensions – 100 x 72mm ( Pico-ITX form factor)
  • Weight – 400 grams
  • Temperature Range – Standard: 0°C ~ 60°C;  WiTAS 1: -20°C ~ 70°C
  • Certifications – CE/FCC

RICO-3288 single board computer comes preloaded with Android 6.0, but there’s no mention of Linux support.

Block Diagram – Click to Enlarge

Pricing and availability information is not available yet, except the board is “coming soon”. You may want to visit Aaeon RICO-3288 product page for more details.

Via LinuxGizmos

UP Core is a Low Cost & Compact Intel Maker Board Powered by an Atom x5-Z8350 SoC (Crowdfunding)

March 18th, 2017 19 comments

The UP community has already launched Intel Cherry Trail and Apollo Lake boards in the past with UP Board and UP2 (squared) boards, and they are now about to launch a cheaper and smaller board called UP Core powered by Intel Atom x5-Z8350 processor with to 1 to 4GB memory, up to 64GB eMMC flash, HDMI, USB 3.0, … and I/O expansion connectors.

Click to Enlarge

UP Core specifications:

  • SoC – Intel Atom x5-Z8350 “Cherry Trail” quad core processor @ 1.44 GHz / 1.92 GHz (Burst frequency) with Intel HD 400 graphics @ 200 / 500 MHz
  • System Memory –  1, 2 or 4 GB DDR3L-1600 (soldered on board)
  • Storage – 16, 32, or 64 GB eMMC flash, SPI flash ROM
  • Video Output / Display – HDMI 1.4 port, full eDP (embedded DisplayPort) connector
  • Audio I/O – Via HDMI, and I2S
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n WiFi  @ 2.4 GHz, Bluetooth 4.0 LE (AP614A)
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 host port, 2x USB 2.0 via header
  • Camera I/F – 1x 2-lane MIPI CSI, 1x 4-lane MIPI CSI
  • Expansion
    • 100-pin docking connector with power signals, GPIOs, UART, SPI, I2C, PWM, SDIO, I2S, HDMI SMBUS, PMC signals, 2x USB HSIC, CSI, and PCIe Gen 2
    • 10-pin connector with 2x USB 2.0, 1x UART
  • Misc – Power & reset buttons, RTC battery header, fan connector, BIOS reflash connector
  • Power Supply – 5V/4A via 5.5/2.1mm power barrel
  • Dimensions – 66 x 56.50 mm
  • Temperature Range – Operating: 0 to 60 °C

The board will support Microsoft Windows 10, Windows 10 IoT Core, Linux including Ubilinux, Ubuntu, and the Yocto Project, as well as Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

Block Diagram – Click to Enlarge

If you look at the bottom right connector of the diagram above, we can see an extension HAT for the 100-pin docking port will be offered, as well as an IO board, both of which should be compatible with Raspberry Pi HATs with 40-pin connectors. But so far, I could not find details about the extension HAT, nor the IO board.

The UP core is coming soon to Kickstarter with price starting at 69 Euros with 1GB RAM, 16GB eMMC flash, and WiFi and Bluetooth. Other part of the documentation show a $89 price for the 1GB/16GB board, so maybe it’s the expected retail price out of the crowdfunding campaign. You’ll find a few more information on UP Core page, but we’ll probably have to wait for the Kickstarter campaign to launch to get the full details, especially with regards to add-on boards, and pricing for various options.

Thanks to Freire for the tip.

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

March 1st, 2017 32 comments

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

Click to Enlarge

First Boot, OTA Firmware, Settings and First Impressions

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

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

Click for Original Size

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

Click for Original Size

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 SBCs: Inforce 6640, iWave iW-RainboW-G25S, and DragonBoard 820c

February 20th, 2017 7 comments

We’ve already covered Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 system-on-modules such as Intrinsyc Open-Q 820 and Inforce 6601, which can be used with baseboards that are suitable for development, but so far I had not seen a single board computer (SBC) powered by the processor optimized for mass production and suitable for integration into products. Bu this is about to change, as three Snapdragon 820 SBCs are now (or soon will be) available with Inforce Computing 6640, iWave iW-RainboW-G25S, and DragonBoard 820c.

Inforce 6640 SBC

Inforce Computing 6640 Single Board Computer specifications:

  • SoC – Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad core Kryo processor with 2x cores @ up to 2.2GHz, 2x cores @ up to 1.6GHz, Adreno 530 GPU, Hexagon 680 DSP
  • System Memory – 4GB LPDDR4
  • Storage – Up to 64GB UFS 2.0 flash, microSD slot
  • Video Output / Display Interface – 2x 4-lane MIPI-DSI DPHY 1.2 , 1x HDMI 2.0 interface for touch screen displays
  • Audio – WDC9335 audio codec; 4x line out; 1x stereo headphone out; 3x mic in
  • Camera – 2x 4-lane MIPI-CSI supporting sensors up to 28MP
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet (Atheros 8151), 802.11ac WiFi + Bluetooth 4.2 LE (QCA6174A), GPS/GNSS module (WGR7640)
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 host port, 1x micro USB 2.0 OTG port
  • Expansion – 34-pin “PAC” expansion header with I2C, SPI, UIM, UART, serial console, 12x GPIO
  • Power  Supply — 12VDC @ 3A; PM8996 PMIC, PMI8996 charger
  • Dimensions — 100 x 70mm (Pico-ITX)
  • Temperature Range – 0 to 55°C (commercial range)

The company currently provides Android 6.0.1 and Android 7.0 BSPs, but based on the comments section on a related Linux Gizmos article, Inforce Computing is working on a Linux BSP that should be released by the end of March.

Inforce 6640 board can be purchased for $289 directly on the product page, where you’ll also find some info, and some documentation.

iWave iW-RainboW-G25S

The second board of our list is made by iWave Systems Technologies, based in Bangolore, India, and comes with the following specifications:

  • SoC – Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 quad core Kryo processor with 2x cores @ up to 2.2GHz, 2x cores @ up to 1.6GHz, Adreno 530 GPU @ 624 MHz, Hexagon 680 DSP
  • System Memory – 3GB LPDDR4 expandable to 6GB
  • Storage – 32GB eMMC flash expandable to 128 GB, microSD slot
  • Video Output / Display Interface – micro HDMI connector, 2 lanes MIPI DSI connector via 30P connector
  • Audio – WCD9335 audio codec; audio in/out jack;
  • Connectivity – 802.11 ac WiFi + Bluetooth 4.1, GPS (WGR7640)
  • USB – 1x micro USB 2.0 port, 1x USB 3.0 type C connector (optional)
  • Expansion – 30-pin connector with MIPI DSI,  4 lanes MIPI CSI up to 28MP @ 30 fps, 3x I2C, 2x GPIO
  • Misc – 3x tactile switch, console debug header
  • Power  Supply — 5VDC via micro USB port, 3.7V Li-Ion connector, PM8996 PMIC, PMI8996 charger
  • Dimensions – 56 x 50 mm

The company only mentions Android 6.0 Marshmallow support for the board, and expects it to be used for augmented & virtual reality applications, high end wearables,
video analytics, 4K digital signage, 4K camera, connected home & entertainment, location based services, infrastructure management, indoor navigation, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and other high-end embedded computing applications.

You’ll need to request a quote to get the price for the board, and you can do so, as well as get a few more details, on the product page.

Arrow Dragonboard 820c

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I first found out about DragonBoard 820c, when I covered DragonBoard 600c development board last summer, but at the time there was not enough information to write a separate article. The board has now been listed on Arrow, and appears very similar to 600c board, so we have a few more details including basic preliminary specifications:

  • SoC – Qualcomm Snapdragon 820
  • System Memory – 3 GB LPDDR4
  • Storage – 32 GB UFS Flash + micro SD slot, maybe an mSATA slot?
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0
  • Audio – Via HDMI, 3.5mm audio jack (TBC)
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 port, 1x USB 3.0 port,
  • Camera – Support for up to 3x image sensors up to 28 MP.
  • Expansion
    • 1x 40 pin low speed expansion connector
    • 1x 60 pin high speed expansion connector
    • 1x 16-pin & 40-pin audio expansion connector
    • 1x 24 pin female header (not found on DragonBoard 600c)
  • Misc – Volume, power & reset buttons. 6 LEDS (4x user, 1x Wifi, 1x Bluetooth)
  • Power Supply – +6.5 – 18V DC input
  • Dimensions – 100 x 100 mm compliant with 96Boards CE Extended specifications

The page on Arrow states that:

This board only supports the Android operating system at this time.  There is NO Linux support for this board from Arrow, Qualcomm, or Linaro.org.  Only the Hardware Manual and Android User Manual are available as documentation.

However, a Wiki page on Linaro website explains how to install Debian and Open Embedded on the board, and DragonBoard 820c is supported by the Yocto Project, or at least there’s work done on it.

Contrary to the other boards, DragonBoard 820c does not appear to be available just yet, and price is  not known either.

$140 R-TV BOX K99 Android 6.0 mini PC Comes with Rockchip RK3399 SoC, 4GB RAM, 32GB Storage

February 16th, 2017 8 comments

We will the first hardware platforms shipping with a Rockchip RK3399 hexa-core processor later this month and in March, with Firefly-RK3399 development board, and various TV boxes / mini PCs such as Vorke Z3, Yundoo Y8, and Remix IO+. Another option is “R-TV BOX K99” with 4GB RAM, 32GB storage, Gigabit Ethernet, 802.1ac WiFi… that’s currently up for pre-order on GeekBuying for $139.99, and scheduled to ship in 3 days.

R-TV BOX K99 specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3399 hexa core processor with 2x ARM Cortex A72 cores @ up to 2.0 GHz, 4x ARM Cortex A53 cores, Mali-T860MP4 GPU @ 800 MHz with support for OpenGL ES1.1/2.0/3.0/3.1, OpenVG1.1, OpenCL, DX11, AFBC (frame buffer compression)
  • System Memory – 4GB DDR3
  • Storage – 32 GB eMMC 5.1 flash + micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60 Hz
  • Video Codecs – 4K 10-bit H.265, H.264 & VP9 decoding up to 60 fps
  • Audio Output – HDMI, optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi (867 Mbps) + Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 port, 1x USB 3.0 port, 1x USB type C port with OTG mode, and DisplayPort 1.2 video/audio support
  • Misc – Power button, recovery port
  • Power Supply – 5V/2.5A
  • Dimensions & Weight – N/A

K99 runs Android 6.0 operating system, and ship with a power adapter, an IR remote control, a HDMI cable, and a user’s manual.

Please note that Rockchip RK3399 is not a TV box SoC, and lacks the latests features like HDR, and HD audio (TrueHD / DTS HD) pass-through is not guaranteed to work. However, you’ll still be able to watch most videos, and performance will be much better than previous generations leading to smoother games, and faster web browsing and general user experience. From that point of view, Rockchip RK3388 boxes might be seen as Android mini PCs, rather than TV boxes focusing on the best AV experience. We’ll have to see what the first reviews reveal to find out.

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

January 24th, 2017 8 comments

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Gabe for the tip.