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Posts Tagged ‘netflix’

Foxconn Bandott STB is an Amlogic S905D TV Box with Dual HDMI Input, Netflix 4K Support

May 22nd, 2017 1 comment

So far, we’ve seen two dual tuner set-top boxes powered by Amlogic S905D processor with Sen5 Android STB and Mecool KI Pro, but earlier this year, Foxconn launched Bandott set-top box based on the processor, with any tuner, but two HDMI inputs, and Widevine L1 and PlayReady 3.0 support allowing for 4K video playback for premium services like Netflix (see Bandott page), CatchPlay, iqiyi, and myVideo.

BANDOTT BA101 specifications:

  • SoC – Amlogic S905D quad core ARM Cortex-A53 processor @ 1.5 GHz with penta core Mali-450MP GPU
  • System Memory – 2GB RAM
  • Storage – 8GB flash
  • Video Output – 1x HDMI 2.0b (HDCP)
  • Video Input – 2x HDMI 1.4
  • Audio Output – HDMI, and 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet,  dual band Wi-Fi 802.11ac/b/g/n (2×2), Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 1 x USB 2.0
  • DRM – Widevine L1 and PlayReady 3.0

The box runs Android TV 6.0, and was unveiled in January. Foxcon is a large company, and few TV boxes support Netflix 4K, so why was it not all over the news? That’s because the box is sold in Taiwan only through FLNet market place, owned by Foxconn. Some reports indicate the box is free, but you have to pay a deposit and a monthly fee for services. The user interface is said to support English and traditional Chinese, and Bandott BA101 is listed in Netflix website which confirms 4K support, and limitation to Taiwan only. They plan have to have one million subscribed in Taiwan, but there’s no word about launching the device for oversea markets.

Via MiniPC DB

Android Play Store Tidbits – Blocking Unlocked/Uncertified/Rooted Devices, Graphics Drivers as an App

May 20th, 2017 8 comments

There’s been at least two or three notable stories about the Play Store this week. It started with Netflix not installing from the Google Play Store anymore on rooted device, with unclocked bootloader, or uncertified devices, and showing as “incompatible”. AndroidPolice contacted Netflix which answered:

With our latest 5.0 release, we now fully rely on the Widevine DRM provided by Google; therefore, many devices that are not Google-certified or have been altered will no longer work with our latest app and those users will no longer see the Netflix app in the Play Store.

So that means you need to  Google Widevine DRM in your device, which mean many Android TV boxes may stop to work with Netflix. You can check whether you device is certified by opening Google Play and click on settings, Scroll to the bottom and check Device Certification to see if it is Certified or Uncertified (H/T jon for the tip).

I tried this in my Chinese phone, and unsurprisingly it is “Uncertified”. AndroidPolice however successfully tested both Netflix 4.16 and Netflix 5.0.4 on an unlocked Galaxy S tab with Level 3 DRM and both worked. So the only drawback right now is that you can’t install Netflix from the Play Store, but it still works normally. Some boxes do not come with any DRM at all, which you can check with DRM info, and they may not work at all (TBC).

We’ve know learned this will not only affect Netflix, as developers will now be able to block installation of apps that fail “SafetyNet” as explained at Google I/O 2017:

Developers will be able to choose from 3 states shown in the top image:

  • not excluding devices based on SafetyNet
  • excluding those that don’t pass integrity
  • excluding the latter plus those that aren’t certified by Google.

That means any dev could potentially block their apps from showing and being directly installable in the Play Store on devices that are rooted and/or running a custom ROM, as well as on emulators and uncertified devices ….. This is exactly what many of you were afraid would happen after the Play Store app started surfacing a Device certification status.

This would mean it might become more complicated to install apps from the Google Play store on some devices, and we may have to start to side-load apps again, or use other app store. That’s provided they don’t start to stop apps running all together. The latter has been possible for year, as for example many mobile banking apps refuse to run on rooted phones.

I’ll end up with a better news, as starting with Android O it will be possible to update Graphics Drivers from the Play Store, just like you would update an app. Usually, a graphics driver update would require an OTA firmware update, or flash a new firmware image manually, and it’s quite possible this new feature has been made possible thanks to Project Treble.

Categories: Android Tags: Android, app, driver, drm, google, gpu, netflix, oreo

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click to Enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’m tested various video container formats, and video/audio codec playing files from a SAMBA share via (Gigabit Ethernet), unless otherwise noted.

Linaro media samples and some Elecard H.265 samples could also play fine except for VP8 1080p sample:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK
  • WebM / VP8 480p/720p – OK; 1080p: Not perfectly smooth (Note: software decode)
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

I also enabled automatic frame rate switching in Kodi and Android settings (HDMI Self-adaption level 3), and it worked very well, which I think is a first amond the 8 or 9 Amlogic S912 I’ve tested so far.

Next up are some videos with various bit rates:

  • ED_HD.avi – Not smooth at all
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – First time: image freezes after a few seconds; second try: OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Not perfectly smooth
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

So the Jellyfish video plays better than in MINIX NEO U1 (Amlogic S905), but some other problems have showed up with other videos.

I’ve then checked out audio capabilties of the TV box with PCM (stereo) output, as well as HDMI and S/PDIF pass-through in Kodi. I also tested PCM (downmix) with MX Player to make sure those DTS and Dolby licenses are indeed valid for any apps. I could configure Kodi to pass-through AC3, E-AC3, DTS, TrueHD, and DTS-HD.

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MINIX NEO U1 did not support DTS-HD when it launched in December 2015 (firmware updates have fixed that), but MINIX NEO U9-H passed most tests just fine.

Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MX Player / Video Player app)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi)
S/PDIF Pass-through
(Kodi)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D 5.1) OK (Dolby D 5.1)
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK OK (Dolby D+ 7.1) OK (Dolby D+ 7.1)
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 5.1) Audio Formats Not Supported over S/PDIF, and will show as PCM 2.0 or Dolby D 5.1 depending on whether AC3 transcoding is enabled in Kodi
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio OK (TrueHD 7.1)
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK Switch to AC3 audio track (beep), as TrueHD is not supported TrueHD 7.1*
DTS HD Master OK OK OK (DTS-HD Master) OK (DTS 5.1)
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK OK (DTS-HD HR) OK (DTS 5.1)
DTS:X OK OK DTS-HD Master* OK (DTS 5.1)

* My AV receiver (Onkyo TX-NR636) does not support Atmos nor DTS:X, so the fallback to respectively TrueHD and DTS HD Master is normal. So overall HDMI and optical S/PDIF pass-through is working well with my test samples, downmixing from Dolby Digital and DTS to stereo audio works, and the only problem is the lack of downmixing of Dolby TrueHD / Atmos audio in video apps that respect Dolby & DTS licenses.

4K video can now be played pretty well in Kodi, almost as well as with MX Player:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC, 24 fps) – Not smooth at all, and the problem gets worse when automatic frame rate switching is enabled.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – OK, but it played for about 2 seconds, then buffered for a few more seconds before resuming playback normally
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – The video plays in slow motion (4K H.264 @ 60 fps is not supported by S912 VPU)
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) – OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – Plays at around 2 fps (as expected since it uses software decode as S912 does not support 10-bit H.264)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – USB hard drive playback: Not smooth
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Plays, but not always perfectly smooth as with all Amlogic S912 TV boxes.

It’s all good, except for one 10-bit H.265 video that won’t play smoothly at all. Other problems are related to limitation of Amlogic S912 processor like the lack of support for 10-bit H.264, and 4K H.264 is limited to 30 fps, and very high bitrate videos (~240 Mbps) cannot be played smoothly.

Sintel and AMAT ISO blu-ray files and 1080i MPEG videos could play just fine. Lower resolution Hi10p (10-bit H.264) could play, but 1080p was not that smooth:

  • Commie] Steins;Gate – NCED [BD 720p AAC] [10bit] [C706859E].mkv – OK for video, audio and subtitles
  • [1080p][16_REF_L5.1][mp3_2.0]Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu BD OP.mkv – OK for audio and susbtitles, but the video was not smooth

While my TV (LG 42UB820T) does not support 3D, but I played some stereoscopic 3D videos to find out if they could be decode:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Stays in UI
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

Some movies fron my library with various container/codec combination such as VOB, IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4 and MKV could all play just fine. However, I noticed some micro audio cuts in some videos with AC3 and HDMI audio pass-through enabled. I could not reproduce the issue with all videos, and using optical S/PDIF instead of HDMI solved the issue. Finally, I could play a complete 2-hour video. You’ll be all sample mentioned above here.

I’ve decided not to report Antutu Video Tester in my reviews, since Antutu appears to have stopped development, and the app has been removed from Google Play.

DRM Info results are however quite interesting.

Click to Enlarge

MINIX NEO U9-H supports both Widevine K1 and Microsoft Playready DRM, which means you could get full HD and 4K UHD resolution for some premium apps. However, it is not a certified Netflix device, so if you install Netflix app from Google Play, you’d still be limited to standard definition. However, as previously reported, you should be able to install a Netflix apk that allows HD resolution for any Widevine L1 capable device. I don’t have a Netflix account, so I have not tested myself. YouTube is working fine up to 1080p.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I’ve transfered a 278MB file between a network share (SAMBA) and the internal flash for three times using ES File Explorer, and averaged the results in order to evaluate WiFi performance, testing both 802.11ac and [email protected] GHz. Results are sadly underwhelming. [Update: WiFI performance is OK, but WiFi + SAMBA performance suffers. That’s likely an Amlogic Android SDK issue. See comments]

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I’ve highlighted both MINIX NEO U1 and NEO U9-H results in the chart above as they make use of the same Ampak module for WiFi, but I got much different results, despite the same testing conditions.

802.11ac performance was 2.3 MB/s on average, and 802.11n achieved 1.5 MB/s both of which are below average, but consistent with the performance I got with other Amlogic S912 devices.  The chart however makes it worse than it really is, because download speed was 5.6 MB/s for 802.11ac, and 2.1 MB/s for 802.11n, with upload transfer rate being much lower, and causing the average to be rather low. Note that WiFi results may vary a lot depending on your setup.

I repeated the same file transfer, but with a 885MB file, for Gigabit Ethernet, and the average performance (10.05 MB/s) is somewhat OK, but I got the same behavior as with MINIX NEO U1 with the transfer much faster for download (16.4MB/s) , and slower for upload (7.64 MB/s).

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Since in most case the eMMC flash is the bottleneck for file transfers over Gigabit Ethernet, I also ran iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d to test raw dual duplex performance, and it’s not too bad:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

MINIX NEO U9-H advertises itself properply as NEO U9-H, and not some other funny code, and I had no problems pairing it with Vernee Apollo Lite Android smartphone, and could transfer a few photos. I could also connect X1T bluetooth earbuds and used it while watching some YouTube videos. I skipped Sixaxais app testing (for PS3 gamepads) since the firmware is not rooted.

Storage

My USB hard drive has four partitions for NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT and BTRFS, and only the NTFS/exFAT partitions could be mounted. A FAT32 micro SD card could also be mounted

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

USB storage performance was tested with A1 SD bench app, and read performance was very good (for a USB 2.0 port) with both file systems, but as usual exFAT is very slow to write to @ 6.66 MB/s.

The results were very good for the internal storage with 119.86MB/s read speed and 45.99 MB/s write speed. Note that the read speed is cached, meaning it should be faster than if read directly on the storage device itself, but probably not that different considering theoretical read speed is 285 MB/s for the flash, probably lower for the eMMC controller in Amlogic S912.

Internal Storage Read & Write Speed in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

Overall I found that applications started fast, and I had no slowdown or “app not responding” due to I/O access to the eMMC flash.

USB Webcam

I connected the UVC webcam to the box shown in the first picture of this review, logged in to Skype, and successfully run the Echo/Service audio call test, and made a video calls. I had problems last year for MINIX NEO U1 on Google Hangouts, but NEO U9-H works perfectly well with Google Hangouts.

Gaming

Amlogic S912 is know a well known platform, as gaming works just as well as on other devices, if not better since cooling is well implemented.  First, I played Candy Crush Saga with NEO A2 air mouse, and switch to Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad to play Beach Buggy Racing using maximum graphics settings. Both games played perfectly smoothly. As with other Amlogic S912, Riptide GP2 is a bit more demanding, playing very smoothly with default settings, the framerate felt lower with maximum graphics settings, probably around 25 fps most of the time, with some drops to ~15 fps from time to time.

I also played both 3D racing games for a total of 30 minutes, and performance was constant throughout, meaning the large heatsink is doing its job in preventing CPU and/or GPU throttling.

MINIX NEO U9-H Benchmarks

CPU-Z correctly reports an octa-core Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.51 GHz with a Mali-T820 GPU. The model number is NEO-U9-H (q200), with 10.89 GB internal storage, 14790 MB RAM, and a framebuffer resolution set to 1920×1080.

Click to Enlarge

The first time I ran Antutu 6.x, the device achieved about 38,500 points quite lower than 41,000+ points I got in most other Amlogic S912 TV boxes. I ran it a short time after boot, so maybe there was background tasks at the time, I retried later, I got a 40,543 points, more in line with other competing TV boxes.

I also ran Vellamo 3.x benchmark to double check for issues.

MINIX NEO U9-H achieved 1,239 points, 912 points and 2,338 points for respectively multicore, metal and Chrome Browser tests, which compares to 1,130, 1,012 points and 2,758 points (Not Chrome Browser, Stock Browser). Multicore results has a yellow mark because it failed one of the test, just like M12N, but not other Amlogic S912 boxes:

Sysbench issue with Finepar: Invalid CPU mode

Conclusion

MINIX did again a good job with MINIX NEO U9-H thanks to very good hardware, stable & responsive firmware implementation, working smoothly at all times thanks to good thermal design. 4K video playback works well, I think it’s the first time I see automatic frame rate switching work on Amlogic S912 processor,  and audio pass-through is working fine with TrueHD and DTS-HD. The first version of the firmware also has less bugs than the one I reviewed on MINIX NEO U1 media hub, and slightly better performance. NEO U9-H also adds new features such as HDR, 4K VP9 decoding, Dolby & DTS license used for audio downmixing in all apps, and DRM Widevine Level 1 + Microsoft PlayReady. The only real downside compared to NEO U1 is that WiFi performance is not quite as good, despite using the same Ampak wireless module.

PROS

  • Stable and responsive Android 6.0 OS
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 2160p 60Hz; 24/25/30/50/60 Hz refresh rates supported; HDR should be supported too (not tested)
  • Very good Kodi 17 support with 4K H.265 (10-bit), VP9 and H.264 video playback,automatic frame rate switching
  • Dolby 5.1, Dolby+7.1, DTS HD and TrueHD audio pass-through working via HDMI and S/PDIF (for supported formats).
  • Dolby & DTS license means those audio formats work in all apps.
  • Well implemented power handling with off/standby/reboot mode, managed via an upgradable MCU, low off and idle power consumption
  • Widevine L1 and MicroSoft PlayReady DRM suppored
  • USB webcam working with Skype and Google Hangouts
  • OTA firmware upgrade with frequent update expected (based on previous models history)
  • Active support forums

CONS (and bugs)

  • Some videos with AC3 have micro audio cuts when HDMI pass-through is enabled, at least on my AV receiver. The problem goes away via optical S/PDIF
  • TrueHD dowmixing to stereo audio did not work in MX Player and Video Player apps.
  • WiFi performance is below average for both 802.11n and 802.ac, but similar to other Amlogic S912 TV boxes. Your mileage may vary. [Update: See comments’ section. WiFi performances looks, but combining SAMBA + WiFi is problematic. Likely an Amlogic Android 6.0 SDK issue]
  • List of apps shown in chronological order instead of alphabetical
  • A few videos do not play smoothly in Kodi but should: VP8 @ 1080p, one 10-bit HEVC video with no audio, “elephant dream” sample, “HD DVD” sample.
  • Potential buffering issue with some rare videos – Starts fast, plays for 1 or 2 seconds, buffers for 10 seconds then play again normally

If you’re going to spend the money on MINIX NEO U9-H, I really recommend you add NEO A2 Lite or NEO 3 air mouse, with the latter adding microphone input. Both air mice have the same design, feel comfortable in your hand, and work well as remote control, air mouse, and keyboard, as long as it’s for typing short texts like search query, user name / password, etc…

If you already own MINIX NEO U1, there’s probably little reason to upgrade, as performance will feel similar, except if you need 4K VP9, HDR, Widevine L1, or/and Microsoft PlayReady DRM support.

MINIX NEO U9-H media hub + NEO A3 air mouse sell for $159.90 / 149.90 GBP on Amazon US and Amazon UK, and are listed on GeekBuying, GearBest, and other online retailers with sales starting officially on March 3rd outside of Amazon.

Xiaomi Mi Box (US) Android TV TV Box Review

February 12th, 2017 27 comments

Introduction

The Mi Box is the first Xiaomi product I have used. I received it beginning of December and have been using it regularly since then. I have received 3 updates which went through uneventfully. I was very pleased with this box. I ended up getting one for my in-laws and one for my 4 year old sons bedroom. The UI worked as expected. I have an Nvidia Shield Android TV, and the Mi Box complements it very well. Having Plex Server running on the Shield and Plex on the Mi Box is pretty fantastic to easily share content. Not to mention way more cost effective than putting a Shield in every room.

What’s Inside

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The build quality is good. The power supply puts out 5.2v which is not typical.

I do wish it had more USB ports. A single USB is inadequate. I found myself swapping USB out frequently during testing. There is optical audio and it has the round form factor. Luckily the cable I had had the adapter attached to the end, and it worked fine. No Ethernet adapter is present either.

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Teardown Photos

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Android TV UI

For anyone unfamiliar with Android TV UI I took a few screen shots. Across the top in the first screen capture a recently used/suggestion line appears. The top line will update based on your usage games, TV shows, YouTube, news etc.

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Not all apps populate this. HBO GO, Plex, Netflix, do update. Immediately below there is a MI Box Recommends section which is static.

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I was able to disable it under setting > apps to unclutter the main screen. These screenshots were taken when I first plugged in the box. I personally like the UI of Android TV and appreciate that Google ensures all apps to work with remotes and a mouse/touchpad is not necessary.

 

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Casting

Another thing that I was forced to use because DirecTV Now does not have an Android TV app yet, is the casting feature. I had it on the Shield but never really used it. Between casting my screen from my phone to most video apps I found it very easy to use. My son will navigate YouTube Kids on his tablet and cast to the TV. This is a feature you won’t find on most android boxes and I found it very convenient and easy to use.

Voice Search

During my usage and showing my son how to use the voice search I grew to like it a lot. Voice searching that is able to return YouTube, Netflix and other video apps is really convenient. My son is 4 and doesn’t speak very clearly yet but it does a good job of recognizing his voice allowing him to find the video’s he wants. (minecraft, lego, minecraft, lego, minecraft, lego) 🙂

Passthrough and Auto Framerate

I spent many many hours trying to find a good combination in Kodi/SPMC/TVMC/FTMC and couldn’t get it to work consistently. DTS only worked for me. I hope they resolve this with software in the future.

Benchmarks/Testing

This is not really fair but I performed a side by side comparison of 3DMark: Xiaomi Mi Box vs Nvidia Shield. I thought it would be interesting to see. Fear not, the Mi Box does well with light gaming. I had no problems playing games that didn’t require a controller.

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WiFi is fair at about 15Mbps on my busy Unifi 2.4 GHz network. I also have a 5GHz N built into my router and strictly using it for testing. I was able to get about 30 Mbps throughput. I still prefer a wired connection when possible and was able to use a USB to Ethernet adapter on the MI Box. I moved 2 files below one on 2.4ghz and one on 5ghz. I don’t have an AC network to test.

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I ran a few other tests and info apps below.

Widevine Level 1 Supported – Click to Enlarge

36,151 points in Antutu – Click to Enlarge

Amlogic @ 2.02 GHz – Click to Enlarge

MIBOX3 board name: once – Click to Enlarge

While reviewing

So not all apps are available due to the restrictions of Android TV and Google necessitating the apps be remote friendly. But you might run into a situation where you want to side load. If you have a air mouse or some other hid device connected it’s not a big deal. In order for to launch them in the past you loaded sideload launcher from the play store, It allows you to see all apps regardless if they are Android TV optimized. It works and is pretty easy. While reviewing I ran across a pretty neat app. TV App Repo. It makes sideloading even better.  What it does is create a small app that is basically a shortcut to your side loaded non Android TV app. Now all the apps can be launched from main screen without navigating to the sideload launcher sub menu. It worked on the few I tested. On the community addition, there are a few apps that it hosts one of which was Amazon Prime video. But I didn’t have luck getting videos to play other than trailers.

Final Thoughts

I wasn’t going to perform any benchmarking on this box. I don’t think that it is relevant. But I knew it would be crucified. This box was in my opinion built to consume media and I think it does it very well. All the streaming media apps worked great. The only drawback is that HDMI passthrough and auto framerate switching did not work consistently enough in Kodi or Plex. Streaming from HDHomerun works well even over WiFi. Amazon Prime Video is missing from this box. I did try some other methods to watch and only was able to cast from a web browser successfully.

During testing I didn’t use Kodi much and stuck with the main streaming apps that are optimized for Android TV. I hope Koying, the maintainer of SPMC, a fork of Kodi, brings some love to the Mi Box in the near future or even the Kodi team.

If you’re not an audiophile this will make a great box to stream with and hopefully save some money. If you are an Audiophile the Mi Box complements the Nvidia shield on other TV’s where surrounds sound doesn’t matter.

I would like to thank Gearbest for sending a review sample and their patience while I reviewed it. I really like to use the products for a while and get a good feel for them. If you are thinking about getting a Mi Box, it helps CNX by clicking & purchasing through this link.

YokaTV KB2 Review – Amlogic S912 TV Box with 32 GB Flash

December 15th, 2016 16 comments

CNXSoft: This is another review by Karl about Amlogic S912 based YokaTV KB2 TV box.

Introduction

Today we will be looking at Videostrong YokaTV KB2. Below are the specs from Videostrong website.

yokatv-kb2-specifications

This is my first S912 device so I had high expectation. I have been using it for quite some time now with no major issues. I received approximately 6 OTA updates since I started testing and some welcome updates have come.

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Build

When I receive a box first thing I do is take it apart and check out the inside. I was excited when I found out it had 32 gig of storage. It is not too common.

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Then when I opened the box I was really happy to see an antenna that wasn’t soldered on. Makes it easy to add a different one. +1 for KB2. Then I noticed the heat sink. It seemed a little small. I was right, it runs warm.

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Simple Mod

First thing to do: get this baby running cooler. When stressing the box, the temperature got over 80+°C a couple times. It ran between 70 and 75 °C on average before the mod. The case is mostly plastic except the bottom cover. Bingo! A couple squares of 5mm thermal pads between the board and the bottom of the case and thermal issues are gone.

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I started SetCPU and ran the built-in stress test, it tops out around 72 °C, and quickly cools after stopping the test. I put a square approximately where the CPU is and while I had it open, where the memory is although I don’t think it is necessary. After the mod, the box runs about 60 deg Celsius.

Antutu

For this test I use SetCPU to set the Min and Max frequency for the CPU to 1.5 GHz which is the max for this processor. It will give the best score.

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Network Test

I am not sure why my WiFi was slow on the tests below. I don’t have an AC access point yet. The best I have is N, maybe that is the cause. Some friends over on Freaktab are getting some really good speeds on AC with this box. I might have damaged something when I opened the box.

Below are the results but take them with a grain of salt. I do a simple file transfer test of a large movie with optimum conditions for WiFi then one in more real world scenario.  

5ghz 3ft from NAS to internal SD

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2.4ghz 3ft from NAS to internal SD

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Gigabit Ethernet from NAS to internal SD (This is as fast as my NAS can transfer)

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Next is more real world where AP’s have more obstruction.

5ghz 30ft from NAS to internal SD

kb2-5ghz-wifi-nas-to-flash-30feet2.4ghz 30ft from NAS to internal SD

kb2-2-4ghz-wifi-nas-to-flash-30feetSome More Benchmarks and Info

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Apps

I’ve used several apps and only Netflix and Direct Now had some issues:

  • Sling TV
  • Netflix (SD) – Stopped working after updating the app
  • Kodi
  • Chrome – Chrome works really well. I open a bunch of heavy URL’s and it performs excellent. Nothing scientific here. Go to several sites that I visit daily and I felt no lag.
  • Plex
  • Emby
  • HDHomeRun
  • Crackle
  • DirectTV Now – Worked with some hacking
  • Player-MediaCenter App – I will admit it has been a while since I tested out this app. It acts as a DLNA receiver and Airplay receiver. I didn’t have much luck in the past but I tested on my one Apple device the screen mirroring worked.

At some point Netflix stopped working. Keep getting few seconds of video then error 0013 “Sorry, we could not reach the Netflix service….” Not sure if it is Netflix update or box update that caused the issue. I went back and did some more testing to narrow the issue down. If I reverted back to the Netflix that came pre-installed I had no issue.

DirectTV Now is a new service in the US. With some persistence I was able to get it running. Video wasn’t perfect but neither was it on any devices I tested. It was surprising that it plays better on KB2 then Nvidia Shield. It is mostly watchable but stutters some. It is new so hopefully ATT will get this fixed soon. I had to do a couple things to get it working. After Googleing and a lot of experimenting I used 2 apps from play store: Hide My Root and Fake GPS. I also had to make 2 build.prop changes: ro.build.type=userdebug to ro.build.type=user and ro.build.tags=test-keys to ro.build.tags=release-keys. I tried on a couple different boxes after figuring this out and seems to work universally.

Remote Control

The remote is big but there is a built in app that is pretty convenient. There are 4 color coded buttons on the remote that you can customize to launch the apps that you want through an app on the box. There is also a dedicated app button that brings up a listing of all the apps. Everything else is pretty standard. You can also program the remote to turn your TV on and off through a learning feature. But alas I still prefer either an air mouse or touchpad with full keyboard.

yokatv-kb2-remote-control-configuration

Status Bar

Thank the gods…there is an option to turn the navigation buttons at the bottom of the screen off and on in Android settings…It is about a 50/50 split for people that like them and those that don’t. This was the first box that I have tested that gives the user an option.

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Audio Passthrough

All the below tests worked. I set Android to SPDIF. I tested with latest SPMC 16.4.2 and Kodi 16.1. Turned on pass-through DTS and AC3 and all the videos below worked with no clipping. I have a 5.1 system. If I didn’t have the AC3 ticked I would get no audio on some. First box with 100% working that I have tested on stock firmware.

yokatv-kb2-kodi-audio-pass-through-settings audio-file-list-dts-dolby-truehd4K Video

4k testing went well. I was able to play all videos smoothly with one player or another that it was supposed to play. Below are the test results. This box does not play 4k H.264 video @ 60fps per sec, so stutter is expected. Kodi and derivatives play best with amcodec turned off. The box ships with Kodi 17 beta but since it is beta, it is not very stable. I uninstalled it, and tested with Kodi 16.1 from the Play Store instead. I am not sure why 4k 8bit H.265 works better with amcodec turned on. I found the same results on S905x boxes. For the testing, I wanted to find the best overall solution and that is Kodi with amcodec turned off.

Test File Name With Amcodec Without Amcodec MX Player
23.976fps (in MP4) GoPro Epic Russian Wingsuit in 4K good
24fps (in MP4) SPRING 4K (ULTRA HD) good
25fps (in MP4) Burj Khalifa Pinnacle BASE Jump – 4K good
29.970fps, 51Mbps (hdmkv’s iPhone 6S 4K clip) iphone6s_4k good
59.940fps (in MKV) samsung_seven_wonders_of_the_world_china_uhd-DWEU wont play stutter stutter
60fps (in MP4) COSTA RICA IN 4K 60fps (ULTRA HD) w Freefly Movi wont play good
H264, up to 30fps Sony_Alpha_7R_II_video-test-4K good
H264, 50-60fps linkin_park_ultra-hd wont play stutter stutter
H265 8bit, up to 30fps LG_4K_View-the-Feeling good stutter good
H265 10bit, up to 30fps Samsung_UHD_Dubai good
H265 10bit, 50-60fps Samsung_UHD_7Wonders_of_the_World_Italy good
UltraHD HDR 10bit HEVC, 24fps Exodus_UHD_HDR_Exodus_draft good
VP9 The Curvature of Earth 4K 60FPS good not as good best

Alternate Firmware

Super Celeron has put together a nice modification of the latest stock firmware from 11/23. He cleaned up the firmware and made some adjustments to boot to bring idle down to about 1% and got auto frame rate switch working. See full changelog.

So to get 100% working pass-through and auto frame rate switching after installing the firmware above, as well as SPMC version 16.5.2. Codec acceleration is a little muddy at times. 4K files work best with amcodec off, and anything less work best with amcodec on. Below are my settings.

yokatv-kb2-custom-firmware-automatic-frame-rate-switching yokatv-kb2-custom-firmware-audio-pass-through yokatv-kb2-custom-firmware-video-codecsConclusion

I had this box for a while now and used it as my main box and it has performed really well. Consistent updates from Videostrong is much needed in the box world. I hope it continues. Gigabit Ethernet performed really well. Pass-through working 100% is fantastic and will make a lot of people happy. Video support in Kodi is really good. VP9 support is not 100% but MX player gives everyone an option if they have movies in that format.

I would like to thank Videostrong for sending a review sample. YokaTV KB2 can be purchased on Gearbest, Geekbuying, and Aliexpress for about $68.

How to Play Netflix HD on any Android Device with Widevine Level 1 DRM

November 28th, 2016 41 comments

A while ago I wrote an article entitled “Why Doesn’t your Android TV Box Play Full HD or 4K Videos in Netflix?” basically explaining that most TV boxes running Android could only play SD quality, because HD and higher quality requires both Widevine Level 1 DRM, and Netflix certification, and the second part is the most difficult since Netflix need to spend time testing a given product, and may not agree to do so for smaller manufacturers. The end result is that only a small subset of devices can play Netflix HD.

netflix-hd-tabletSamsung Tab S2 is one of the device with Widevine Level 1, but is not certified by Netflix, and by default can only play SD quality. But XDA Forum user chenxiaolong apparently found a workaround and as the photo above shows is now able to reach HD resolutions (e.g. 1920×1080) with Netflix using his tablet. After analyzing packets between the server and his two Samsung tablets, he noticed that he could set “enableWidevineL1” from the JSON response to true, and provided a method showing how to change the app without uploaded a modded apk. But others followed his instructions and released a modified Netflix HD apk.

Although it might or might not breach Netflix TOS, please note that this has nothing to do with piracy at all, nor does it skip DRM, as it still requires both a Netflix HD subscription and a device supporting Widevine Level 1 DRM. Sadly that also means the trick will still not work on most cheap Android TV boxes that are limited to Level 3 security. It’s also quite possible Netflix eventually notices and changes the code to prevent this little hack. You can check Widevine DRM support with DRM Info app.

Thanks to Theguyuk for the tip.

Categories: Android Tags: Android, hack, netflix, tablet, TV box

Giveaway Week – WeTek Core Android TV Box

November 1st, 2016 267 comments

For day 2 of this giveaway week, I’ll send one lucky winner WeTek Core Android or OpenELEC TV box powered by Amlogic S812 processor, and one of the rare boxes with support Netflix HD, which is partially why I listed it as one of the best Android TV boxes.

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But as discussed in WeTek Core review, there are also other reasons the box stands out with HD audio pass-through and automatic frame rate switching support, support forums, regular firmware updates, and WeTek is one of the few companies providing an official OpenELEC firmware image.

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All accessories shown above are included, except the HDMI cable.

To enter the draw simply leave a comment below. Other rules are as follows:

  • Only one entry per contest. I will filter out entries with the same IP and/or email address.
  • Contests are open for 48 hours starting at 10am (Bangkok time) every day. Comments will be closed after 48 hours.
  • Winners will be selected with random.org, and announced in the comments section of each giveaway.
  • I’ll contact the winner by email, and I’ll expect an answer within 24 hours, or I’ll pick another winner.
  • Shipping
    • $17 for registered airmail small packet for oversea shipping payable via Paypal within 48 hours once the contest (for a given product) is complete.
    • If Paypal is not available in your country, you can still play, and I’ll cover the cost of sending the parcel by Sea and Land (SAL) if you win.
  • I’ll post all 7 prizes at the same time, around the 10th of November
  • I’ll make sure we have 7 different winners, so if you have already won a device during this giveaway week, I’ll draw another person.

Good luck!

WeTek Core was released late 2015, but it’s now out of stock on WeTek store and Amazon shop, as it may have been replaced by more recent Amlogic S905 based WeTek devices such as WeTek Hub. I can still be found via some eBay sellers.

Large American Technology Companies Abusive Practices Against Bloggers

September 10th, 2016 53 comments

OK the title might be a little over of the top, but within the last month or so, I’ve been a “victim” of three American companies’ requests, via third parties, namely their customers or technology partners, never directly, to delete or amend the content of this blog. One which I believe is justified albeit not really necessary, and two are just ridiculous, with the latest one prompting me to write this post.

us_companies_against_free_speech

The first issue was about a post entitled “Allwinner A64 based Pine A64 and Banana Pi M64 Boards Can Now Run Windows 10 IoT Core“, where I shared .ffu firmware file links that I found directly via a page on Microsoft Azure github about Banana Pi board. There were accessible without any EULA, or agreement. So The Internet being the Internet, where you can freely share links that don’t break any sort of copyrights or promote hate, I added the links to my post, as well as a video showing the board with Windows IoT.

Two days later, I received an email from a company telling Microsoft had been asked them to ask me to “remove the ffu links from the article as MS are quite sensitive about publishing them” and “could you remove the video?”. I reluctantly did it, since I’ve received DMCA requests from Microsoft in the past for allegedly infringing on their copyrights in that post, but the way Google words them, it’s nearly impossible to find out why exactly. Google will normally comply with Microsoft request, so the page was removed from Google Search results, but funnily enough I can find it in Bing… On the bright side, there’s a lawsuit against DMCA by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in progress… Who knows, this might also help terminate YouTube’s “you’re guilty until proven innocent” policy regarding fair use of copyrighted audio and video…

The second US company asking me to modify my content this month was Intel, against by proxy, through their customer. The post was “Intel Atom C3000 Denverton Processor Targets Low Power Servers“, and a company contacted me to remove two pictures, and references to a specific company, as Intel had seen this was in conflict with an NDA. I got the picture and info from Anandtech, but I was explained that there’s been a misunderstanding with Anandtech when they published the pictures, and I could see they had themselves removed the pictures, so I did it too as I felt it was a fair request. However, I still have a hard time understanding how those two pictures can negatively impact Intel business, and IMHO they’d better focus their efforts on more important things. It also took them around 50 days to report the issue…

Netflix was the third company asking me to remove content or even delete a post by proxy. The interesting part is that I did not have any input from any company involved when I wrote “MINIX NEO U9-H 4K HDR Amlogic S912-H Android TV Box Coming in October“, as I got all my info from HDBlog Italia, except for one confirmation about the use of Amlogic S912-H processor. The post was written five days ago, and today I received an email by a third party asking me to remove the post. Wow, that’s quite a request without explanation… So I asked why and whether I could amend part of the post instead, and I was told that Neflix was quite unhappy about my post because of the text in bold below:

One interesting point is that Widewine Level 1 DRM is supported, so some premium video streaming app will support HD and maybe 4K UHD. It does not mean Netflix HD/4K will be supported however, as this requires an extra agreement with Netflix, but it’s still a step in the right direction.

It’s quite a well known fact that Netflix HD and 4K does not work on all devices, and Netflix even have a list of working devices. It’s quite hard to understand why this comment would become an issue, unless Netflix feels like it makes them look like the deliver a poorly supported service… Anyway, I changed the “inadequate” post by removing the text in bold, and wrote this post instead to make everybody happy 🙂