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Posts Tagged ‘mini pc’

Pyra Open Source Debian Handheld Computer & Game Console is Now Available for Pre-order

May 2nd, 2016 18 comments

The development of Pyra open source portable gaming console started in 2014, and after over two years of hard work, the developers are now ready to take pre-order of the Texas Instruments OMAP 5 powered device running Debian Linux.

Pyra-handheldPyra handheld specifications have changed a little bit since the announcement two years ago:

  • SoC – Texas Instruments OMAP 5432 SoC with 2x ARM Cortex-A15 @ 1.7Ghz with NEON SIMD, 2x ARM Cortex-M4, Imagination Technologies PowerVR SGX544-MP2 GPU for 3D graphic, and Vivante GC320 GPU for 2D graphics
  • System Memory – 2GB or 4GB RAM
  • Storage – 32 GB eMMC flash, 2x SDXC card slot, 1x internal micro SDXC card slot
  • Display – 720p 5″ LCD with resistive touchscreen
  • Video Output – micro HDMI
  • Audio I/O – High-quality speakers, analog volume wheel, headset port, built-in Mic
  • Gaming controls – D-Pad, 4x shoulder buttons, 6x face buttons, 2x accurate analog controls with push-button
  • Keyboard – Backlit QWERTY keyboard
  • Connectivity – Dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.1. Optional LTE and GPS module
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host port (one usable as eSATA with adapter), 1x micro USB 3.0 port, 1x micro USB 2.0 for debugging and charging.
  • Sensors – Accelerometer, gyroscope, etc.
  • Misc – Fully configurable RGB-LEDs for notifications, vibration motor
  • Battery – 6,000mAh, same as for Pandora. Battery life is expected to be the same or better as Pandora (10 hours), except for CPU intensive tasks
  • Dimensions – 139 x 87 x 32 mm

So they’ve increased the battery capacity, added internal eMMC flash, reduced the display resolution to 720p, now offer two RAM options with either 2 or 4 GB memory, and a few other changes.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The internal design is comprised of the mainboard, a CPU module, and (not shown above) a display board. That means that if a more powerful CPU module is available later, you may be able to only replace the CPU module, while keeping the rest of the design. You’ll also be able to design your own better CPU module, since the Pyra will be open source hardware. As mentioned in the title and description the device runs the full desktop version of Debian Linux, and thanks to the micro HDMI port you could easily use it as a mini PC by connecting to a larger monitor, as well as a keyboard and mouse. More details about the hardware and software can be found in the Wiki.

Pyra_USB-3.0_USB-2.0

So how much does this unique device sell for? You’ll have four options:

  • Pyra Standard Edition, 2GB RAM: 500 Euros without VAT (=595 Euros incl. VAT)
  • Pyra Standard Edition, 4GB RAM: 529,41 Euros without VAT (=630 Euros incl. VAT)
  • Pyra Mobile Edition, 2GB RAM: 600 Euros without VAT (=714 Euros incl. VAT)
  • Pyra Mobile Edition, 4GB RAM: 626,05 Euros without VAT (=745 Euros incl. VAT)

The Mobile Edition adds mobile Internet (3G/4G), GPS, and some extra sensors namely an altimeter, hygrometer, barometer, and compass. They do mention they are not sure yet the 4GB RAM with be produced, in which case you may have to settle for the 2GB version. You won’t need to pay the full price for pre-order, as they ask for a downpayment of 330 or 400 Euros for the pre-order, but they don’t have estimated delivery time for now.

More details about the Linux game console can be found on Pyra Handheld website.

Thanks to buZz for the tip.

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MXQ Pro Amlogic S905 Android TV Box Sells for $30 (Promo)

April 27th, 2016 9 comments

MXQ Pro TV box based on Amlogic S905 64-bit processor was launched at the end of last year for about $48. The price has come down after a few months, and GearBest is now selling NEXBOX MXQ Pro for as low as $28.99 (price will show when you add it to the cart), and if it goes back to $35, you should be able to use GBNB coupon to get it for $30.50 shipped.

NEXBOX_MXQ_ProNEXBOX MXQ Pro specifications:

  • SoC –  Amlogic S905 quad core ARM Cortex-A53 @ up to 2.0GHz with  penta-core Mali-450MP GPU
  • System Memory – 1GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8GB NAND flash + SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0, AV
  • Video Codec – 10-bit H.265 up to 4K @ 60 fps, H.264 up to 4K @ 30 fps
  • Audio – HDMI, AV, coaxial S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, dual band 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi (No Bluetooth)
  • USB – 4x USB 2.0 host ports
  • Misc – IR receiver
  • Power Supply –  DC 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 11.6 x 11.6 x 2.7 cm

The device runs Android 5.1, and ships with the power adapter, an IR remote control, an HDMI cable, and a user’s manual in English.

I have not reviewed the device myself, and one person did a video review, where we can see the user interface is the same as the one found on Beelink MINI MX, and his overall conclusion is positive.

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MeLE PCG02U Ubuntu TV Stick is Now Available for $70

April 26th, 2016 8 comments

MeLE unveiled Start Cloud PCG02U Ubuntu TV stick powered by Intel Atom Z3735F processor with 1 to 2GB RAM and 32 GB flash a few weeks ago. The TV stick is a variation of PCG02 TV stick running Windows 10, but featuring an Ubuntu orange case, and running Ubuntu 14.04. The company has now launched the 2GB RAM version for $69.99 shipped on their Aliexpress store.

PCG02U_Ubuntu_TV_Stick

MeLE PCG02U specifications:

  • SoC – Intel Atom Z3735F  “Bay Trail” quad core processor @ 1.33 GHz / 1.83 GHz with Intel HD graphics Gen 7 (2W TDP)
  • System Memory – 2 GB DDR3
  • Storage – 32 GB eMMC + micro SD slot up to 128 GB
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 with external antenna
  • USB – 1x USB 2.0 host port, 1x micro USB port (for power only)
  • Misc – Power button, Kensington lock
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A via micro USB port.
  • Dimensions – 115 x 49 x 16.5 mm

The TV stick ships with Ubuntu 14.04.4. Since HDMI audio drivers have now been ported to mainline Linux for Bay Trail and Cherry Trail processors, it should be easier to upgraded than before when such TV sticks would have to be stuck with Linux 3.16. I’m not sure what exact image MeLE is using there, or if they have done anything themselves on the software side, but Linuxium has very recently released a Ubuntu 16.04 image for Bay Trail mini PCs so it should definitively be possible to upgrade to a newer version on PCG02U too.

PCG02U_Ubuntu_mini_PCI’ve never reviewed PCG02 myself, but their earlier MeLE PCG01 TV stick had very good build quality. Provided they’ve kept the name components, the company has also gone very aggressive with PCG02U pricing, as MeLE PCG02 (Windows 10) is now selling for $145 on Aliexpress.

Via AndroidPC.es

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What’s the Best Android TV Box?

April 25th, 2016 17 comments

I often get asked which TV box to buy, or what the best Android TV box is, and the answer is the TV box that fits your needs for the lowest price point possible. Considering there are around 2 millions apps for Android, they are multitudes of use cases, and you can’t provide a single answer for everybody. So I’ll provide a list of things to look for beside the processor, and three TV boxes that I think are worth considering, before providing alternatives for people who want cheaper devices.

Things to Look for

There are still a few things you may want to specifically look for before purchasing an Android TV box:

  • History of regular firmware updates – If a company provides regular firmware updates, your device is likely to get better and better overtime. The cheapest TV boxes normally follow the ship-and-forget model, so you can’t expect any improvements, unless some community members offer custom firmware. OTA (Over-the-air) updates
  • Support forums – That’s obviously a plus, as the company and other members should be able to help you, especially if it is a common problem.
  • 4K Support – If you want to purchase a device that will support 4K videos, you should look for devices with HDMI 2.0 for 3840×2160 or 4096×2160 output up to 60 Hz. Also make sure 10-bit HEVC/H.265 codecs are supported up to 4K @ 60 fps, and optionally VP9 codec.
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – In case you own an amplifier or A/V receiver capable of handling Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS HD Master, DTS HD High Resolution, or DTS:X, you really need to check the reviews on this site or others, as many devices fall short despite claiming support. So far, I’ve never seen Dolby Atmos and DTS:X supported, but normally they should at least fall back to respectively Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master.
  • Automatic frame rate switching – This is the ability of the device to match the monitor refresh rate to the video frame rate to avoid a phenomenon called micro stutter, which makes the videos not as smooth as it could be at regular intervals, and especially noticeable when the video is panning. if this is properly implemented, e.g. 24 fps videos played using 24 Hz on the monitor, then micro-stutter disappears.
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streaming – If you’re paying for video streaming services like Netflix, you’ll have to make sure they are specifically supported, with Widewine Level 1 DRM necessary, but not sufficient condition for playing the videos at HD or UHD (4K) resolution. Most devices can only stream videos in SD resolution due to the lack of proper DRM and a hard-to-get “Netflix license”.
  • Thermal design and storage performance – Many Android TV boxes have similar specifications, but IMHO, two key design choices are especially impacting the performance between apparently similar devices. Some TV boxes will overheat over time, leading to poor performance after a few minutes, while others with proper cooling will perform the same over hours. Fast storage will ensure the device boots quickly, apps load fast, and the device does not get slowed down while apps are installing or updating in the background.

MINIX NEO U1

 

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Criteria:

  • History of regular firmware updates – MINIX is known to update the devices for about a year or so.
  • Support forumsMINIX forums are quite active, and you should be able to get help from there.
  • 4K Support – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60 Hz is supported, with very good support for 4K 10-bit H.265 and H.264 videos. VP9 is not supported.
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio pass-through is working with the most recent firmware & Kodi/SPMC version.
  • Automatic frame rate switching – OK
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streamingNetflix can only play with SD resolution, and only Widewine Level 3 is implemented.
  • Thermal design and storage performance – The device has a large heatsink with excellent cooling leading to constant performance, and the internal storage is one of the fastest I’ve ever seen in an Android TV box

So as long as you don’t really care about Netflix HD, or HD playback in other premium apps, I’d definitely recommend looking into this product. You can read MINIX NEO U1 review for details, and bear in mind that some bugs have been fixed since my review including HD audio pass-through.

Price: $129.90 shipped on Amazon US, GearBest, GeekBuying, etc… If you buy the excellent NEO A2 Lite air mouse with the device, the price is $149.90.

WeTek Core

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Criteria:

  • History of regular firmware updates – WeTek is providing updates to their devices over an extended period, and their are also one of the rare companies to provide OpenELEC and Linux images for their devices.
  • Support forums – You can get support on WeTek forums, which are also fairly active.
  • 4K Support – HDMI 1.4 up to 4K @ 30 Hz is supported, with decent support for 4K  H.265 and H.264 videos, as long as you don’t try to play 4K @ 60 fps videos. VP9 is not supported.
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio pass-through is working with the most recent firmware with Kodi or SMPC 16.x.
  • Automatic frame rate switching – OK
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streamingNetflix HD is supported as they have all the proper licenses.
  • Thermal design and storage performance – The heatsink is not especially large, but I have not noticed any performance degradation over time during my testing. However, the internal storage is not quite as fast as it could be, so you may experience some slowdowns when installing apps in the background, or when the boxes does other I/O intensive activities.

WeTek Core is more suited to people wanting to watch Netflix in HD, or prefer a pure Linux experience (OpenELEC). You can find more details in WeTek Core review, and just like with NEO U1, several bugs have been fixed since I posted the review close to 6 months ago.

Price: $110.32 via WeTek website.

Nvidia Shield Android TV Box

Nvidia_SHIELDI have not reviewed the device myself, but I can read of lots of praise for it on the net.

Criteria:

  • History of regular firmware updates – Nvidia has provided several firmware updates since the device was released, and version 3.1 even upgrade the Android version to 6.0 marshmallow
  • Support forums – An active SHIELD Android TV board is running on Nvidia Geforce forum.
  • 4K Support – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K @ 60 Hz is supported with support for 4K  H.265, VP9 and H.264 video playback.
  • 5.1 or 7.1 HD audio pass-through support – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD audio pass-through has been supported since OTA 2.0 firmware (The latest firmware is now version 3.1)
  • Automatic frame rate switching – OK for Kodi and Plex at least.
  • DRM support for HD and UHD video streamingNetflix HD & 4K are officially supported
  • Thermal design and storage performance – I could not find reports of overheating or throttling for SHIELD Android TV, and while I could not find the storage benchmarks, I’ve seen reviews saying the device performs well in all conditions.

Nvidia TV box will also be a better than any other TV boxes available so far if you are interested in 3D games. The main downside is the higher price, especially if you don’t happen to live in a region or country where it’s been officially released. It’s also running Android TV by default, which limits the number of apps in the play store. It’s however possibly to install a full (unofficial) version of Android.

Price: $199.99 on Amazon US, going up to around $245 with the gamepad when shipped to the US. If you live in some other countries the total price may go up to $300 to $400 once shipping, US forwarding, and taxes are taken into account.

Other Alternatives for less than $100

While the three boxes above have performance above the rest, not everybody wants to spend $100 or more on a TV box, so I’ll propose some alternatives.

  • MXQ S85 – This box is based on Amlogic S805 processor, and while the manufacturer does not provide direct support, Freaktab provides some alternative firmware, it’s one of the most popular device around (based on the traffic I get), and it was my best value for money TV box at the end of 2014.  So if tyou don’t mind about Netflix HD, 4K videos, and want something decent for 1080p H.264 and H.265 videos, it could be a good choice. MXQ S85 now sells for about $38 shipped.
  • Zidoo X1 II – This device supports 4K video playback of 10-bit H.265, and 10-bit H.264 up to 4K output @ 60 Hz. You’ll also get regurlar OTA firmware updates from Zidoo. However, don’t expect Netflix HD (SD should be OK), and some Android apps may feel slow due to the low-end GPU, so it’s better used exclusively as a media player, rather than an Android mini PC. Zidoo XI II is sold for $49 on GeekBuying, Banggood, or Aliexpress.
  • Raspberry Pi 2/3 Board – I’m not myself a big fan of using development boards as media players, since Android TV boxes price are now so low that you’ll end up paying more with a board once you had the extra accessories, potential codec fees, and the enclosure. In the case of Raspberry Pi 2 board, the VPU is also limited to 1080p30 without H.265 support, except with some hacks that may not work for all videos. Raspberry Pi 3 board does support H.264 1080p60 natively. However, some people disagree, with most of their content being 1080p24 / H.264, so Raspberry Pi board fit their requirements, even with 3D MVC support, and thanks to software developed over the years, they believe think it may be one of the best media solution available. This is a Linux based solution, as Android does not run properly on the boards.A complete media player kit based on Raspberry Pi 2 or 3 would cost $70 to $80.

I hope this post will help some people making an educated choice when purchasing a TV box.

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NEXBOX A5 Android 6.0 TV Box Powered by Amlogic S905X Processor Supports HDR & 4K VP9 Videos

April 21st, 2016 23 comments

Amlogic S905X is a low cost version of Amlogic S905 with a lower operating frequency, built-in stereo DAC, integrated Ethernet PHY, 4K VP9 and HDR10 & HLG support, and NEXBOX A5 TV box will be one of the first devices with the processor.

NEXBOX_A5NEXBOX A5 (preliminary) specifications:

  • SoC –  Amlogic S905X quad core ARM Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.5GHz with penta-core Mali-450MP GPU @ 750 MHz
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3 (Option: 1GB)
  • Storage – 16GB flash (8GB option) + micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz, and AV port (composite)
  • Audio Output – HDMI, optical S/PDIF, AV port (stereo audio)
  • Video Codecs – 4K VP9 @ 60 fps, 4K 10-bit H.265 @ 60 fps
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports
  • Misc – Power button and LED.
  • Power Supply –  5V/2A
  • Dimensions & Weight – N/A

It took a lot of emails back and forth to get the specs somewhat right, as there were many conflicts in the specs I had been given and the website, so there may be some errors in some details.

Amlogic_S905X_TV_box
The TV box will run Android 6.0 Marshmallow like all Amlogic S905X and S912 based products, and ship with a power adapter, a remote control, a user’s manual, and a HDMI cable.

I have not been able to get a price for the device, but I’ve been told it would be available on April 30 likely to bulk buyers. The announcement also mentions NEXBOX A1 with Amlogic S912 processor, but there’s no ETA for that one.

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Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced Review

April 18th, 2016 4 comments

We’ve already taken Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced TV box apart in the unboxing and teardown post, and after changing the language to English, seen the performance is excellent thanks Mediatek MT8693 hexa-core processor, so I’ve done further experiments and tests with the device, and will report my findings in this review.

Settings and Power Handling and Consumption

Mibox 3 Enhanced boots reasonably fast I can get to the user interface within 30 seconds. We’ve already the main GITV user interface in previous posts, but I had not gone through the settings yet.

Mi_Box_3_Enhanced_SettingsThere are eight main sections:

  • Display
    • Resolution settings – 3840×2160 @ 60/50/SMPTE24/30/24 Hz, 1080p @ 60/50 Hz, 720p @ 60/50 Hz,
    • Scale and position – For overscan adjustment
  • Sound
    • Button sounds – On/Off
    • Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format – PCM/Raw data (actually used for HDMI audio pass-through)
  • System_update – MIUI TV firmware OTA update
  • Device & Bluetooth – Bluetooh device management with list of discovered or/and paired devices
  • Connectivity – WiFi , PPPoE, Connectivity and speed testing, and “Captive portable check”
  • General settings
    • Parental control – On/off
    • Keyboard – Baidu input or Mi Input (Better go to Android settings using Shafa market to set yhat to English AOSP)
    • Device name
    • Location (only for China)
    • CEC control (On/off)
    • Factory reset
    • Screensaver – Off, 2 to 12 minutes timers, gallery…
    • Go to sleep after – 15, 30, 60, 90, 120 minutes or never
    • Storage (Chinese language about U-disk) – On or off
  • Account & security – Mi account, Unknown sources (apk installation), Android log, and some other settings in Chinese
  • About – Various info about the device such as WiFi and Bluetooth addresses, IP address, Model, legal info and so on.

OTA ipdate is working fine, as I updated mine to MIUI TV 1.4.6 before changing the language, and I could also set video output up to 3840×2160 @ 60 Hz using LG 42UB820T UHD television.

About_MiBOX3_ProWe can also find a bit more information by going to the Android settings through Shafa market, which you need to install to change the language to English. Fir the Home section usually allows you to install another launcher and switch to it by default, but Xiaomi must have changed how this works as even after installing SPMC (launcher version), and Ugoos TV launcher, I could not switch to them, although there were listed in the Home menu.

One good thing is that there’s a single (unified) storage partition for both apps and data with 5.37 GB total space, and at the end of the review I still had 2.03 GB available after install all apps.

The “About phone” section shows MiBOX3_PRO is running Android 5.1 on top of Linux 3.10.61+. The firmware is not rooted, but I managed to root it using 360 root apk. You just need to install the app, and run it, and it will root your device. It’s quite possible it’s also trying to install some junk at the same time, but you can always remove it later.

Google Play Store is not installed either, since the product is destined for mainland China, and they don’t really use it there. I tried various instructions to install it, but all failed, and for some reasons I ended up losing the ability to take screenshots via the USB keyboard, screencap -p command line produces garbage, and other screenshot apps failed to run. I could still install Amazon Underground, and then install some apps from there, as well as sideloading some apks for testing. Not ideal, but it works.

The included Bluetooth remote works well, and has good range as I tested up to 10 meters without issues. However, I  used an air mouse for most of the time, since it’s necessary for many apps.

The remote control can be used to reboot or put the device into standby., but there’s no power off options. Power consumption is a bit on the high side:

  • Standby / sleep – 3.2  Watts
  • Idle – 4.0 to 4.2 Watts
  • Standby/sleep + USB hard drive – 6.2 to 6.4 Watts
  • Idle + USB hard drive – 7.3 to 8.0 Watts

The number are quite high, and I waited a few minutes before noting the measurements to make sure there wasn’t any background tasks affecting the results.

The heatsink and fan do their job well, and the temperature was always around 43 C during testing on top and bottom of the case as measured with an IR thermometer. I could seldom hear the fan, and I only got noisy during reboot, when it starts spinning really fan for a few seconds.

The firmware and system is indeed fast, and reliable, but you have to do a lot of hacking around to make it more user-friendly outside of China.

Kodi 16 (SPMC 16.1.2) on Mi Box 3 Enhanced

Mi Box 3 Enhanced, and previous Mi Box devices, are mostly designed to stream series and movies to Chinese users, and I’ve quickly tried that part. It works for Chinese content, but some movies and all foreign content appears to be blocked due to location restrictions, and some content requires payment.  I watched some free content, and I was surprised about the lack of buffering and good quality (HD). If you have troubles with buffering, you can also easily select SD resolution with lower bandwidth requirements. But again this is basically only for Chinese (Mandarin) speakers.

So in order to test video playback, I installed SPMC 16.2.1 (launcher) apk. I was not expecting much since I did not think Mediatek media processors were officially supported by Kodi, but we’ll see below the results are not fantastic, but not too bad either, maybe because of some earlier work with Amazon Fire TV 2015 Box based on Mediatek MT8173 processor.

I played the videos over a SAMBA share using an 802.11ac WiFi connection, since the box hasn’t got any Ethernet port. In case of issues related to buffering, I repeated the test using an USB hard drive (HDD).

1080p Linaro media samples and Elecard H.265 sample:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container – 1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK (Software decode)
  • WebM / VP8 1080p – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (1080p) – OK

Automatic frame rate switching does not work, even when enabled in Kodi.

Next some video with various bitrates:

  • ED_HD.avi (MPEG-4, 10 Mbps) – OK (software decode)
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – 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) – Net: Slow motion, HDD: OK

Then I tested multi-channel audio format using PCM or Raw output with Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver. The videos have quite a high bitrate, so I had to switch to HDD for several samples to avoid slow motion playback or/and buffering.

Audio Codec used in Video PCM Output HDMI Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK, but video with many green and read horizontal lines Audio OK, but video with many green and read horizontal lines
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio (PCM 2.0)
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio (PCM 2.0)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio (PCM 2.0)
DTS HD Master OK DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK DTS 5.1

So not the ideal device if you own a 7.2 A/V receiver. If you own a 5.1 A/V receiver, you can still transcode TrueHD audio to Dolby D 5.1 with the corresponding options in SPMC.

4K video was a mixed bag:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Not smooth at all after a while
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – Net: Not smooth for the first 20 seconds or so, and after OK. HDD: OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – 4 to 5 fps
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – Net: Some audio cuts, and dropped frames. HDD: OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth and massive audio delay
  • 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) – Network: Audio only works for about 2 seconds. HDD: OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  Not smooth, several artifacts.
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – Not smooth, massive artifacts, and audio cuts.
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: Slow motion maybe 4 to 5 fps.

Sintel-Bluray.iso  played well, but for some reasons, amat.iso played with some “frame jumps” as a the video would jump back 1 second or so from time to time.

My two hi10p anime video samples, namely [Commie] Steins;Gate – NCED [BD 720p AAC] [10bit] [C706859E].mkv and [1080p][16_REF_L5.1][mp3_2.0]Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu BD OP.mkv could play flawlessly with audio, smooth video, and subtitles. The trick is that SPMC defaults to software decoding, and Mediatek MT8693 processor is fast enough to handle these.

I played some 3D videos with the caveat that my TV does not support 3D, but my A/V receiver does show a 3D icon when MVC video are played in 3D:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – Not perfectly smooth
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Artifacts, and not smooth at all (software decode)
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK
  • 3D-full-MVC.mkv (Full-frame packed MVC 3D MKV) – 2D mode only (no 3D icon shown on Onkyo receiver), and not smooth at all.
  • ISO-full3D-sample.iso (Full-frame packed MVC 3D ISO) – 2D mode only (no 3D icon shown on Onkyo receiver)

I played a bunch of other videos including DiVX, Xvid, FLV, MKV, H.264, VOB/IFO, MP4, etc.. and they could all play, except for some FLV videos that would just show a black screen with audio.

Mi Box 3 got has respectable 972 points in Antutu Video Tester 3.0.

Mi_Box_3_Enhanced_Antutu_Video_TesterFinally DRM info shows Wideviwe version 1.0 Level 3 is supported with unprotected HDCP.

Mi_Box_3_Enhanced_DRM_Info

WiFi Performance

Since the device does not have an Ethernet port, it’s better to connect to an AC router for optimal performance. I’ve done so and it the usual test transfer a 278 MB over SAMBA using ES File Explorer several times, and WiFi 802.11ac performance is outstanding with 11.2 MB/s on average, clearly above the competition, at least with my setup.

Mi_Box_3_WiFi

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

Since the system is sold with a Bluetooth remote control, Bluetooth connectivity is obviously working. I could transfer pictures from my smartphone to the box, and could pair to Makibes F68 smartwatch in the settings. However, HPlus Watch, the smartwatch app, failed to find the watch. Mi Box 3 could not find my Bluetooth headset either.

Storage

NTFS and exFAT paritions on my USB hard drive could be mounted successfully, but I did have to wait a few minutes to see the exFAT partition in ES File Explorer. the exFAT partition was also read-only due to permission issues.

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

So I only ran A1 SD bench to check the throughput for NTFS partition (/storage/usbotg/usbotg-sda1), and the results were decent for a USB 2.0 port with 32.28 MB/s and 21.79 MB/s read and write speeds.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

The internal storage is very fast with 90.42 MB/s read speed and 25.75 MB/s write speed.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Gaming

As we’ve seen with Mi Box 3 Enhanced Benchmarks, and contrary to other device I’ve tested, 3D graphics performance is impacted by video output, despite the frame buffer resolution being always set to 1920×1080, probably because of a bug in the firmware. So it’s important to make sure the video output is set to 1920×1080 before playing games in this device, and not 3840×2160 since the resolution is limited to 1920×1080, and 4K video output will impact graphics performance.

So I’ve done all my gamings test at 1920×1080 @ 60 H. I played Candy Crush Saga with an air mouse, and no surprise here, it went all smoothly. Then I switch to Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad to play both Beach Buggy Racing and Riptide GP2 for about 15 minutes each, and the games were much smoother than on any other Android TV boxes I’ve recently reviewed, and at least for Riptide GP2 better looking, probably because of some extra GPU capabilities.

Conclusion

Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced has an amazing performance with regards to WiFi, internal storage, CPU and GPU performance thanks to Mediatek MT8693 Cortex A72 processor, and other selected components. I could feel performance is clearly above the rest of Android TV boxes I tested, and for $80, you truly get an amazing performance per dollar. The main downside however, is that it has been design for the Chinese market, so you have some modding to do to get a more pleasurable experience, some of which I did not manage such as installing the Google Play Store and changing the default Launcher. Video playback with Kodi is not too bad, but not quite matching the performance of MINIX NEO U1 for example, and audio pass-through is limited to 5.1 channels. So it may not be the best as a media player, but it could be very good as an Android mini PC once/if a community firmware is released.

PROS

  • Stable and ultra fast firmware
  • Likely the fastest Android TV box that you can buy for less than $80 thanks to Mediatek MT8693 2x Cortex A72, 4x Cortex A53 processor. See benchmarks for details.
  • Very good internal storage performance leading to fast app loading time, and zero slowdowns
  • Fastest 802.11ac WiFi I’ve ever seen
  • Very 3D graphics performance with high frame rate, and better looking games (with 1080p video output)
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 2160p 60Hz; 24/25/30/50/60 Hz refresh rates supported
  • Kodi is working decently,  5.1 channel pass-through support, and high Antutu Video Tester score (972 points)
  • Widewine Level 3 DRM supported
  • OTA firmware working (but it might not be something you want here).

CONS

  • Chinese user interface only, but you can change the language if needed.
  • No Google Play Store, and installing it on the device is non trivial.
  • Not obvious way to change the Launcher
  • Lack of Ethernet port
  • No power off mode (only standby/sleep), and relatively high sleep/standby power consumption (4 watts to 6 watts)
  • Some issues with Bluetooth to connect to my smartwatch and Bluetooth headset
  • HD audio codec (DTS HD, Dolby TrueHD) are not supported for HDMI pass-through
  • 3D MV videos are not supported

If you want to try to install the Play Store or hack the firmware in other ways, you could also try checking this out on Xiaomi Mi Box forums in English, but you’ll obviously get more support on some Chinese forums.

I’d like to thanks GearBest for giving me the opportunity to review Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced, and if you are interested, you could purchase it from their store for $79.99 including shipping. It’s also available for about $85 on GeekBuying, and Aliexpress.

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Mini PCs and Cloudbooks Powered by Intel Apollo Lake Pentium and Celeron Processors, Successors of Braswell SoCs, are Expected in H2 2016

April 16th, 2016 3 comments

Intel released a presentation entitled “Design Considerations and Reference Designs for Entry, Value and Mainstream PCs” at IDF 2016 Shenzhen, explaining the company vision about low power laptops and mini PCs. At the core of those devices will be “Apollo Lake” Pentium and Celeron Processors with 6 to 10W TDP replacing Braswell processors with better CPU and graphics performance, lower power consumption, and low overall BoM cost.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Beside mini PCs, the processors will also find their way into what Intel calls Cloudbooks, some sort of laptops with 2 to 4GB RAM, 32 to 64GB storage, no hard drive, and displays whose size ranges from 11.6″ to 14″. So it looks like Cloudbooks may be the new Netbooks, with better performance and larger displays.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Cost savings on the mainboard are achieved thanks to the integration of many features (Signal Processor, SD Card bridge chip, Spead Spectrum Clock…), low power consumption leading to smaller batteries, the ability to load the BIOS/UEFI to the eMMC instead of an SPI flash, etc…

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The savings appear to be small, but bear in mind that those are for the bills of materials, so the retail price savings may be two to three times higher.

Intel also unveiled a Cloudbook reference design with the complete BoM which show what we may expect later this year, as OEM/ODM manufacturers are likely to take the easy way at first, by simply copying Intel reference design, possibly by removing some of the features in the processor.Apollo_Lake_Reference_Design_BoM_Part1

Apollo_Lake_Reference_Design_BoM_Part2That means Apollo Lake Cloudbooks with a 11.6″ full HD display, 32 to 64 GB storage, 4GB RAM, 802.11ac WiFi , and USB type C connector should be expected in the second part of 2016.

Apollo_Lake_CPU_Module

Click to Enlarge

Via Liliputing and some Google searches…

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Intel Compute Stick STK2mv64CC Powered by Core m5-6Y57 vPro Processor is Up for Pre-order for $485

April 16th, 2016 4 comments

Intel announced five new Computer Sticks at the beginning of the year, and so far 4 have been launched, and the Intel Core m3 have been benchmarked showing about to double the performance compared to the Cherry Trail versions, but the most powerful model based on Core m5 had yet to be launched. The news is that if you have some spare cash, you can now pre-order Intel Compute Stick STK2mv64CC based on Core m5-6Y57 vPro processor for $485 on Amazon US with shipping scheduled for May 12, 2016.

STK2mv64CC

That’s quite a steep price, so let’s see what you’d get for $500:

  • SoC – Intel Core m5-6Y57 vPro dual core/four thread processor @ 1.1 GHz/2.8GHz with Intel HD Graphics 515 @ 300MHz/900Mhz (4.5 W TDP, configurable to 3.5W and 7W)
  • System Memory – 4 GB DDR3L @ 1833MHz dual channel memory
  • Storage – 64 GB eMMC + micro SDXC v3.0 slot with UHS I-Support up to 128GB
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI 1.4b with multi-channel audio output
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi up to 867 Mbps and Bluetooth 4.2 (via Intel Dual Band Wireless AC 8260)
  • USB – 1x USB 3.0 port, and 2x USB 3.0 ports on power adapter.
  • Misc – Power button, security notch, TPM (STK2MV64CC  and STK2M364CC)
  • Power Supply – 5V/4A via USB type C power port
  • Dimensions – 114 mm x 38 mm x 12 mm

STK2mv64CC is sold with operating system, and ships with the 5V/4A power supply (which also includes 2x USB 3.0 ports), and an HDMI extension cable. Performance appears to be  only a little better compared to Core m3-6Y30 used in STK2M3W64CC (~$400 with Windows 10, ~$330 without), but the Core m5 processor supports Intel Vpro technology which makes it more suitable for the enterprise.

Thanks to Raymond for the tip.

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Categories: Hardware, Intel Core M Tags: intel, mini pc, skylake