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HiMedia Q30 TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 7.0 Nougat Firmware

July 25th, 2017 1 comment

HiMedia Q30 is an Android Nougat TV box powered by Hisilicon Hi3798MV200 processor, a cost-down version of Hi3798C V200 processor with the same CPU, a lower-end Mali-450MP GPU, about the same media capabilities, and less I/Os. I’ve taken pictures of the device and board if the first part of the review entitled “HiMedia Q30 (Hisilicon Hi3798MV200) Android TV Box Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown“, so today, I’ll report about my experience with the device while running Android 7.0.

First Boot, Setup, and First Impressions

I’ve connected a USB 3.0 hard drive to the single USB 3.0 port, and filled the two other USB 2.0 ports with a USB keyboard, and a USB hub with two RF dongles for an air mouse and a gamepad. I added Ethernet, HDMI, and power cable to start the device.

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A typical boot takes around 25 seconds to the Android launcher below.

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That’s your typical TV launcher with date and connection status on the top, shortcuts to app in the center, and shortcuts at the bottom.


Above is the list of pre-installed apps such as Kodi, MediaCenter, Facebook, Netflix… I’ve never seen HappyCast before, so I clicked on it, but I still could not understand how to use it. That’s no issue since we have other ways to do “casting”.

The Settings App allows you to change Network, and Playback settings. The Display section does not do anything apart from showing the currently selected video output. You can also upgrade firmware locally or from the network (not tried since no new firmware), and find more info about the device.
Playback settings let you change HDMI and SPDIF output, HBR output, aspect ratio, and whether to switch to 24 Hz when needed.

The box runs Android 7.0 on top of Linux kernel 3.18.24. The firmware is not rooted.

The More button redirects to Android Nougat settings, where we’ll find some interesting options too.

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Note that while there’s a Bluetooth option, it won’t work as there’s no such hardware.

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Storage settings show we have 4.06GB space in the internal storage available to the user, with 821 MB used by pre-installed apps, and the box support EXT4, NTFS and exFAT file systems.

The Display section offers options like HDMI auto adaptation and HDCP 2.2 switch, with the latter possible helping go around some DRM issues. Custom display format is what you’d use to select video output such as 2160p 60 Hz, or 1080p 60 Hz. I found that the system would not remember my settings between reboot, often switching back to 1080i60, or other output modes, even with HDMI auto adaptation disabled.
Video output allows you to enable Output format adaption for 2D stream (how does that differ from HDMI auto adaptation?), and “enforce 3D framepacking ouput”

The SAMBA service is quite interesting as it will let you start a SAMBA server on the device with or without username and  password.

I enabled it and got access to the complete file system on the device immediately. I could navigate to the three mounted partitions on my hard drive by going to media_rw directory. That’s quite a convenient feature.

The Standby menu is used to enable/disable HDMI suspend, and set the suspend time.

Finally Advance options will allow to adjust color space with settings like YCbCr420 8bit or RGB444 10Bit, which can be useful in case you have funny colors or a pink screen, as well as TV HDR mode which can be set to SDR, HDR10, or AUTO.

I had (almost) no trouble installating extra apps via Google Play and Amazon Underground, but the former exited two or three times for no apparent reasons.

The IR remote control worked as expected with good range (tested up to 10 meters), and a working IR learning function. However, I mostly used MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for most of the review since mouse and keyboard function are a must in Android. The user manual lists two mobile apps: HiShare and HiRemote, so I tried both.

HiShare will allow you to cast photos, music, and videos in your smartphone to the TV. Once you select a media type, the app will list all corresponding media files, and once you click to play a file, it will show a list of renderers, I selected TV [email protected](HIMEDIA), and the music started to play in my TV.

HiShare Screenshot – Click to Enlarge

That’s what the TV output looks like when music is playing.

The app in only moderately convenient, because – unless I missed something – you can play/schedule one song at a time, and it won’t automatically play all music from your smartphone, so you have to select music again once the current has stopped. I also tried photos, and in my case it listed close to 10,000 “photos”, starting with hundreds or thousands of sprites from a game (CSR2) I play on my mobile phone, so it was not exactly usable. It would be better the interface was similar to Android’s Gallery app with photos sorted in folders.

Next up was HiRemote, and while I could find and connect to HiMedia Q30 TV box…… the app would also crash after I tapped OK.


There are just two power modes in this box: on and off, and you can switch between the two with the remote control or the button on the unit. Reboot and standby are not available.

Power consumption numbers with and without a USB 3.0 hard drive are shown below:

  • Power off – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle – 3.1 Watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.3 Watt
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.1 Watts

The idle power consumption must be the lowest I’ve seen in a while.

The box stayed cool at all times during the review, with top and bottom covers temperature being 39ºC on both sides after successfully playing a 2-hour 1080p video in Kodi, and 36 and 37ºC after playing Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes. 3D graphics performance is similar to the one of Amlogic S905/S905X boxes in that game with max resolution settings, meaning it’s playable but not a perfect 60 fps smooth, and the user experience was constant over time, so no noticeable CPU or GPU throttling either.

My first impressions with the TV box were rather good. The firmware works well, very responsive, and most of the things I tried worked as they should. The only two issues I had in this earlier part of my tests were HDMI video output changing between reboot, and Google Play exited two or three times for no reasons. The HiRemote app did not work on my Android phone (Vernee Apollo Lite) either.

Video & Audio Playback – Kodi, MediaCenter, DRM, and YouTube

Kodi was installed, and when I was in Google Play, I noticed it automatically updated to Kodi 17.3, so the version I tried was mainline Kodi, not a custom version.

I played the videos from  SAMBA share over 100 Mbps Ethernet, unless otherwise stated, starting with 4K videos:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  Mostly OK, but a few frames dropped at times
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – SAMBA: Buffering from time to time; HDD: OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Freeze after a few seconds, audio continues (H.264 @ 4K60fps not supported by 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) – SAMBA: Buffering from time to time, and eventually lost audio; HDD: OK
  • Astra-11479_V_22000-Canal+ UHD Demo 42.6 Mbps bitrate.ts (10-bit H.265 from DVB-S2 stream) –  OK
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – HDD: 1~2 fps (software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: OK at the beginning, but then not smooth at all
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Highly variable frame rate from ~1fps to almost smooth
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – Highly variable frame rate from ~1fps to almost smooth

Not catastrophic but some VP9 videos don’t play well, other videos will buffer over Ethernet (which they don’t in most other platforms even with Fast Ethernet), and some videos don’t play as smoothly as the hardware is capable of. Automatic frame rate switching is not working, and nor is HDMI audio pass-through, as we’ll see below. So I switched to MediaCenter, and played the 4K videos again:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) –  OK (24 Hz video output)
  • 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 (24 Hz video output)
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Freeze after a few seconds, resumes later, and freeze again, resume, and son on. Audio plays at all times (H.264 @ 4K60fps not supported by 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) – HDD: Black screen first, then video with massive artifacts and/or colored horizontal bands. (Not supported by VPU)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 29.97 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – OK
  • 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) – OK close to perfect, except some scenes (maybe a source problem?); No audio.

The hardware capabilities of Hi3798MV200’s VPU are fully utilized in MediaCenter, and automatic frame rate switching is working too. The only issue I could find is the lack of support for OPUS audio codec.

Let’s move on to test HD audio codec with (downsampled) PCM 2.0 stereo output with audio from the TV speakers, and HDMI audio pass-through via Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 17.3)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MediaCenter)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 17.3)
HDMI Pass-through
(MediaCenter)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK No audio OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK No audio OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK OK No audio OK
TrueHD 5.1 OK OK No audio OK
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK No audio OK
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK Beep** No audio TrueHD 7.1 (OK*)
DTS HD Master OK OK No audio OK
DTS HD High Resolution OK OK No audio OK
DTS:X OK OK No audio DTS HD Master (OK*)

* My A/V receiver does not support Atmos not DTS:X, so the box fell back to the best alternative.
** The sample comes with Dolby Atmos 7.1 and AC3 track, with the later producing a continuous beep sound. However, I could only select one audio track in MediaCenter shown as “TRUEHD 7.1Ch 48000Hz”.

Except for a few small issues, MediaCenter on HiMedia Q30 is the best TV box I’ve seen so far when it comes to support various 4K videos, and HDMI audio pass-through. Note that you need to use the included IR remote control with MediaCenter app, as some keys on the air moue would not work properly in this app, and you cannot access to extra settings.

If you care about managing every aspects of the picture like contrast, brightness, …, enabling/disabled video post-processing features, subtitles, and more, the app offers a range of options which I show in the video below. At the time I shot the video I did not know how to hide the status bar, but you simply need to use the mouse  pointer a little above the status and pull it down or up to hide or show it. There’s no icon for doing so like in so many other boxes.

Another pleasant surprise is that the device support Widevine Level 1 DRM, which means you should be able to use premium apps at higher resolution. For example, it should be possible to use Netflix up to 720p on this device. Not tested since I don’t have nor need a Netflix account.

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The pre-installed YouTube app is the TV version.

I can play videos up to 1080p rendering to the framebuffer.
If for some reasons you prefer the mobile Youtube app, I installed it too with the same results.

Networking & Storage Performance

HiMedia Q30 supports Fast Ethernet and 802.11 b/g/n WiFi connectivity. I tested WiFi + SAMBA by copying a 278MB file with ES File Explorer between the server and the internal flash, and vice versa, using ES File Explorer. Results speak for themselves:

  1. Server to flash: 26 minutes 15 seconds, or around 180 Kb/s. That transfer rate was roughly constant during the whole file transfer
  2. Flash to server: 3 minutes 35 seconds, or around 1.29 MB/s
  3. Server to flash: stalled after a while, and eventually failed

I stopped the SAMBA WiFi test there. I won’t draw chart, but if I did, it would be dead last among other TV boxes. I tried to play some videos over WiFi + SAMBA from Kodi, and 720p and 1080p videos downloaded from the Internet could surprisingly play just fine, but as soon as you get to 5 Mbps or greater, buffering occurs all the time.

Let’s see what happens when using iperf instead

WiFi upload:

  • 1st try:

2nd try:

So performance is not quite constant, and even with the second faster try, there were many fluctuations during the transfer, as shown from the Conky screenshot on the right with spikes, instead of seeing a nice rectangular shape.

WiFi download:

  • 1st try: stuck, no results.
  • 2nd try:

  • 3rd try:

Performance looks better here, except of course for the first stalled results. So it looks like WiFi may not be as stable as it could be, as least with my setup and router.

A1SD bench app  was used to test storage performance. The eMMC flash does not have so good write speed (7.31 MB/s), and read speed (78.66MB/s) is invalid due to Cached read. This could lead to really slow performance when background tasks perform I/Os such as during automatic app updates.I’ve just been lucky not to notice it during testing.

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One the other hand USB 3.0 performance is all good, even for exFAT that usually exhibit very poor write performance in Android TV boxes.

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

From a practical standpoint, you will probably not see much differences between the three file systems, especially Ethernet is limited to 100 Mbps. If you’d like more performance and Gigabit Ethernet, you may consider HiMedia Q5 Pro instead.

Himedia Q30 System info and Benchmarks

CPU-Z reports a quad core ARM Cortex A53 processor clocked at up to 1.60 GHz with a Mali-450MP GPU. The model is called “Q30 (Hi3798MV200”, and the board “bigfish”.

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The device achieved 34,880 points in Antutu 6.2.x, not a surprised as it’s similar to what we’d get from other quad core ARM Cortex A53 processor such as Amlogic S905X or Realtek RTD1295.

Vellamo 3.x results show a similar performance too. So no problems here.

Conclusion

HiMedia Q30 has a lot going for it. A well working Android 7.0 firmware, the best video and audio I’ve seen in any TV boxes when using MediaCenter app including 4K video decoding, automatic frame rate switching, and HDMI audio pass-through for all HD codecs supported by my A/V receiver, Widevine Level 1 DRM, and good support and performance for USB 3.0 storage. As all devices, it’s not perfect though, as I found WiFi to be somewhat slow and/or unrelaible with my router, the lack of Bluetooth may be a problem for some people, and there are few bugs here and there such as HDMI video output selection not always kept during reboots, Google Play randomly exiting, and HiRemote app crashing and unusable in my phone. Kodi lovers may not be statified with the lack of automatic frame rate switching and audio pass-through.

PROS

  • Recent, stable and responsive Android 7.0 Nougat firmware
  • Best 4K H.265/H.264/VP9 playback I’ve seen in any TV boxes with MediaCenter App, including automatic frame rate switching
  • HDMI audio pass-through for TrueHD and DTS HD 7.1 in MediaCenter App
  • Picture is highly customizable in MediaCenter app with various option, including post-processing tuning in MediaCenter App
  • Built-in SAMBA server support
  • Good external storage support with excellent USB 3.0 performance for NTFS and EXT-4, and good for exFAT file system.
  • Widevine Level 1 DRM
  • Solid hardware design with good cooling
  • IR remote control working well with good range (>= 10 meters) and IR learning function (the remote is a must to use MediaCenter app to its fullest)
  • OTA firmware update (not tested, since no new firmware during review)

CONS and bugs

  • WiFi found to have low performance (especially with SAMBA), or unstable
  • While Kodi 17.3 “mainline” is supported and plays some 4K videos fairly well, it’s not working as well as MediaCenter app, and does not support automatic frame rate switching, not HDMI audio pass-through
  • User set HDMI video output, not always remembered at next reboot
  • Google Play may crash (not too often, still usable most of the time)
  • Low end eMMC flash may lead to poor performance in case when I/Os occur in the background, e.g. during app updates.
  • Lack of Bluetooth support
  • HiRemote Android app crashes on my smartphone

I’d like to thank HiMedia for providing a review sample. You can purchase HiMedia Q30 on Aliexpress for $109 including shipping. Distributors may want to contact the company via the product page.

Rockchip RK3328 based MXR PRO TV Box Boasts 4GB RAM, 32GB Flash

July 24th, 2017 3 comments

Most users of TV boxes will do just fine with 2 GB RAM, especially with lower end ARM Cortex A53 systems, but if you have somewhat low processing needs, but high memory requirements, MXR Pro TV box powered by Rockchip RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor, and running Android 7.1 comes with 4GB RAM, and 32GB storage.

MXR PRO 4K TV box specifications:

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor @ 1.5 GHz with Mali-450MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 4GB DDR3
  • Storage – 32 GB eMMC flash + SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with HDR10 and HLG support, 3.5mm AV port (composite)
  • Video Codec – 4K VP9, H.265 and H.264. 1080p VC-1, MPEG-1/2/4, VP6/8
  • Audio – Via HDMI, AV port (stereo audio), and 3.5mm coaxial S/PDIF jack
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, single band 802.11 b/g/n WiFi
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports, 1x USB 3.0 port
  • Misc – IR receiver, blue/red LED for power status
  • Power Supply – 5V/2A
  • Dimensions – 12 x 12 x 2.4 cm

Maybe one use case of the extra memory could have been TV BOX + NAS via the USB 3.0 port, but while they decided to spent extra for memory and storage, they kept the cheapest networking options possible with Fast Ethernet, and 2.4GHz WiFi. So that’s not ideal for that use case. That means the only option – that I know of – with RK3328, 4GB RAM, Gigabit Ethernet, and USB 3.0 is still ROCK64 development board.

MXR PRO TV box is sold on DHGate for $67.98 with shipping by DHL. That website also offers wholesale discount, with the price dropping to $49.09 per unit for orders of 100 devices or more. Note that the title on DHgate mentions RK3228 processor, but in the description it’s mostly RK3328, and a listing on Alibaba confirms the specs.

Via AndroidPC.es

Phoenix OS 2.1 Android 7.1 based Desktop OS Released for 32-bit and 64-bit x86 Platforms

July 21st, 2017 9 comments

With Jide’s announcement that they’d stop working on Remix OS for the consumer market, focusing on the enterprise market instead, people who like to use Android as a desktop OS lost an option. Luckily, others have not given up on the concept yet, and Phoenix OS 2.1 based on Android 7.1 with desktop improvements has just been released for computers based on Intel/AMD 32-bit and 64-bit x86 processors.

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Phoemix OS user interface is a mix between Windows desktop with a desktop, a taskbar, and a start menu, and Android with notifications, and Back/Home/Recent buttons. The OS also supports Android apps, multi-window, window resizing, better multi-tasking, and so on.

Changelog for Phoenix OS 2.1:

  • Keyboard mapping updates to version 2.5 with smart casting for Strike of Kings.
  • The bug that window size won’t be saved after restart has been fixed.
  • Enhance the hardware compatibility, including: sound card, network adapter, etc.
  • “Start Phoenix system” shortcut supports legacy boot now.
  • Optimize the Phoenix OS downloader.

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If you want to go ahead you can download a 32-bit or 64-bit installer or ISO file. Phoenix OS is installed on a separate partition and should not interfere with your current operating system according to the x86 FAQ. Some people have commented in the announcement post linked in the introduction, and some people appear to have issues with games, installation on specific hardware, and Wifi reconnect after resume, so it may not be perfectly stable or mostly bug free yet.

Via Liliputing

Le Potato Development Board Review – Part 1: Hardware and Accessories

July 17th, 2017 15 comments

Libre Computer launched AML-S905X-CC “Le Potato” board on Kickstarter last month, and since then there have been some updates such as worldwide shipping, so the board will now ship to most countries, not only in Europe or the US, and various designs of the case have been proposed. You can check the updates on Kickstarter for details.

Libre Computer Le Potato Kit Unboxing

The company also sent me a Le Potato board, but not only, as I received a complete kit…

… similar to the $99 “2GB eMMC kit” reward on KS with a board with 2GB RAM, a 64GB eMMC flash module, a HDMI cable, and a 5V/2.5A power supply with on/off switch, but a different case, cooling fan, and corresponding rubber pad and screws.

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The case exposes all external ports, and has holes on top for the fan.

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The other side includes the micro SD slot, plenty of ventilations holes, and some opening for jumper wires connected to the debug port, or some other headers.
The side of the 40-pin “Raspberry Pi” GPIO headers also has the same opening, so you could keep the case close even if you connect external hardware.

The bottom of the plate has two openings to allow for wall mounting, and four circles for the rubber pads.

The case came loose, but for good reasons, since you have to setup your board the way you want to before tightening the case. So I took about the board to have a look. I’ve already listed the specifications in the announcement post so I won’t go through hit again.

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The main change here is that the board is fitted with a small heatsink on top of Amlogic S905X processor. Note that board-only rewards in Kickstarter may not include that heatsink.

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The bottom side of the board has the remaining DDR3 memory (for the 2GB RAM board), the micro SD card slot, and if you have ordered an eMMC kit, a 64GB eMMC flash module, which you can take away.

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I visually compared it to ROCK64 flash module, and Hardkernel eMMC to micro SD card adapter, and the design is different with the two rows of pins closer on Libre Computer module.
The next step is to assemble the heatsink with four of the shorter screws, and add the rubber pads. A single longer screw will be used to keep the case tightened.

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But before that I connected the fan to 5V and GND on the 40-pin header, as well as my own USB to TTL debug board to the 3-pin serial header.

I assembled the case, and tightened it with the single screw, and it fits well. The jumper wires from my USB debug board can easily pass through the openings, and I can still move the wires around, so it’s not tight here.

Since I have an eMMC flash module likely pre-installed with an operating systems, I connected the power, HDMI and Ethernet cables. The fan works, and while it’s not that noisy, it still makes a little more noise than what I’ve used to on actively cooled mini PCs or TV boxes. Personally, it does not disturbs me, but some people may be annoyed by the noise. The easily solution is not to connect the fan, as many use cases won’t require it.

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Within around 30 seconds, the board booted to a familiar TV box launched in Android 7.1.

I’m waiting for the latest Android or Linux images before completing the second part of the review. I’ll likely test the Linux images if they are ready, rather than the Android one, since I’ve tested several Android TV boxes based on Amlogic S905X previously.

If you are interested in the board, there are still 6 days before the campaign ends, with pricing started at $25 with the 1GB RAM version of the board. I understand that even if the crowdfunding campaign fails, the board will go ahead, but possibly at a slightly higher price, as they’ve committed half a million dollars to the project according to the latest update in Kickstarter.

ROCK64 Board Review – Part 1: eMMC Flash Module, Android 7.1 Firmware, Benchmarks, and Kodi

July 16th, 2017 17 comments

ROCK64 is the second ARM Linux development board by Pine64 that is based on Rockchip RK3328 processor, instead of Allwinner 64 for Pine A64 board, and while both processors comes with four Cortex A53 cores, the Rockchip processor offers a faster GPU, 4K @ 60 Hz video support, as well as USB 3.0 support. I’ve got a sample with an eMMC flash module, and I’m going to test it first with Android 7.1, since those were the only firmware images currently available on the Wiki, but Linux will be available before the board ships publicly at the end of July.

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Rock64 Linux Ports Status

There are now at least three Linux ports in progress:

  1. ayufan’s Debian Jessie and Ubuntu Xenial images which are now in pre-release, but should officially be released next week.
  2. Arch Linux ARM with no pre-built Rock64 images yet
  3. Fedora 25 minimal Image
  4. The Yocto Project support is also being worked on with the first release planed for August

I’ve got some comments on IRC, that ayufan images supports GPIO(s), Mali hardware graphics acceleration – but performance needs to be tuned -, as well as hardware video decoding but 4K videos are not playing that well right now. I’ll make sure to try one of ayufan image, before the boards ship on July 31st.

eMMC Flash Module Compatibility with ODROID Boards

ROCK64 board can boot from micro SD card or an eMMC flash module, with the latter likely to provide better performance than most SD cards, and you won’t have to worry about fakes. The eMMC flash module is not a new idea, as Hardkernel has offered those with their ODROID boards for year. And I read that Pine64 eMMC flash module would be compatible with ODROID boards, which would be good news if you already own any of Hardkernel ones. I tested compatibility the easy way, as I connected Pine64’s eMMC flash to Hardkernel eMMC to micro SD adapter…

and plugged it in to a card reader in my computer, and I could access “system” and “Volumn” partitions on the eMMC flash module part of the pre-installed Android image.So ODROID users can rejoice, as you may not need to buy extra eMMC flash modules to play around with ROCK64 board.

Installing Android 7.1 on ROCK64 Board

ROCK64 board firmware update to the eMMC flash module works just like firmware update on Rockchip TV boxes, i.e using Android_Tool program in Windows, or upgrade_tool (now renamed rkdeveloptool) in Linux. You’ll also need a USB male to male connected between your computer and the board. If you plan to run Android from a micro SD card instead, you can use the same image, but flashing it via SD_Firmware_Tool from Windows.  Eventually Pine64 installer program, based on Etcher, will probably be updated to support ROCK64 board, and handle both download and flashing to the micro SD card.

Currently there are two Android images provided via the Wiki:

  • Stock Android 7.1 [20170712] Engineering version released by the company
  • Community Build Android TV 7.1 [ver 0.1.8] by ayufan

I’ll use “Stock Android 7.1” for this review, since I’m not a big fan of Android TV, and both download are slow, with the Pine64 server easily winning the download race against github. 🙂

Since I’m a Ubuntu user, I went with the Linux method. Let’s install the update_tool, and uncompress the firmware image first. After download run:

After connecting a jumper – or something else to short both pins – as shown in the picture above with a red circle, I connected the power supply, and a USB cable between the top USB 2.0 port and my computer in order to enter MaskROM mode, and finally removed the jumper before running:

This should take a couple of minutes with the following output:

Firmware update is done.

Android 7.1 “Engineering Version”  Launcher, Settings and Benchmarks

So we can connect the board with everything we need.

The first time. I’m asked to choose between “ROCK64 Launcher” and “ROCK64 Launcher”, and you’ve got to love the choice offer here.
I just selected the first one (com.cloudmedia.rock64launcher) and it did not work quite as expected…

I tried to open the app again, but it did not work, so I just restarted the board, and could finally access the launcher [Update: The second launcher works better apparently]. Note that the framebuffer resolution is only 1280×720 instead of the more common 1920×1080 on this type of hardware.

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One small problem though… While the USB keyboard would work, my air mouse’s RF dongle connected to the top USB dongle would not be recognized. I had to move it to the lower part to make it work. Nothing would work on that upper USB port, so I guess it’s stuck in device mode, and could not find an option in Android to change that. So I connect a USB Hub with the USB keyboard and RF dongle, and it would not work either. After unplugging and replugging the hub, I was finally able to use at the same time.

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The settings will show on the right side of the screen, I just composed the screenshot above to show both resolution options up to 4096x2160p60(YCrCr420), and maybe 4096x2160p60(YCrCb444), which may have seen filtered out since LG 42UB820T television used for review is not supporting that mode.


The storage section shows 3.08GB used out of 14.45GB from the 16GB eMMC flash module, and the system could mount both NTFS and EXT4 partitions from the USB 3.0 hard drive, but not exFAT nor BTRFS.That image is based on Android 7.1.2 plus Linux 3.10.104, and a fairly recent April 5,2017 security patch.


Above is the list of pre-installed app in that image. I went to Google Play Store to install a few apps, and many were grayed out and impossible to install. I still managed to install Antutu and DRM Info. I ran the former, keeping in mind that without heatsink, the score may not be that good. 34,811 points in Antutu 6.x without heatsink is not bad, especially considering the room temperature was close to 30 ºC. I actually got a lower score with Rockchip RK3328 TV boxes like A95X R2 with only 33,117 points, also using the same 1280×720 resolution. DRM Info returns no support for Widevine DRM at all, not really surprising.

In order to install more apps, I decided to download APKPure apk via the installed Lightning web browser, and somehow the board became rather unresponsive, as is there was lot of I/Os in the background. After killing the browser twice when getting the “app not responding” window, I finally manage to download and install APKPure.

Damn, it will launch in portrait, a frequent bug on TV boxes running Android…. 4 or 5 years ago. So I decided that maybe I should give ayufan Android image a try after all, since the “Engineering Version” image has soon many bugs right now. As I finished testing I was also informed that “the stock build listed as engineering, we still tuning on 4K playback”, and that “eventually this tuning will roll into ayufan TV build around end of this month when ROCK64 production board roll out”. So eventually people will be directed to use Android TV 7.1 OS, and you should still keep in mind that there’s still 2 weeks before the board ships so many bugs will be ironed out.

Android TV 7.1 “ayufan” Firmware

As I tested the “Engineering” image, Android TV 7.1 firmware could complete to download (it tool around 6 hours), and I uncompress it, and flashed it using the same method as above:

I had no troubles to access to the launcher this time, and both USB 2.0 ports are working.

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The resolution is still 1920×1080, so that’s also an improvement.

Android TV firmware does not play nice with my air mouse however, as in many sections, mouse clicks are not supported, and the Home key has no effect. Doing searches in Google Play is a nightmare, as it will randomly switch to “voice mode” when I type with a keyboard or air mouse.

I could not find Chrome, nor Firefox in Google Play, so instead I installed some other “TV Browser”, and the download would not start, so instead I download APKPure in my computer, and installed it from ES File Explorer. The same portrait orientation occurred again, so I gave up, and side-loaded CPU-Z, A1SD Bench, and iperf from ES File Explorer.


CPU-Z shows a quad core Cortex A53 processor clocked at up to 1.51 GHz with a Mali-450MP GPU…

… and that I got the 1GB RAM version of the board (there are also 2GB and 4GB version), and the “screen resolution” is 1920×1080 as we’ve seen above.

This image is also based on Android 7.1.2 with Linux 3.10.104 kernel.

I used A1SD bench for storage benchmarks in Android which reports sequential speeds only.

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The “Cache read” is the internal memory so the 90.80 MB/s read speed is invalid. The 35.39MB/s write speed should be correct, and is not too bad with a flash. We’ll find more about the eMMC flash module once I run iozone3 benchmark in Linux. USB storage is working OK, with the EXT-4 partition (Red SD card) achieving 94.13 and 90.93 MB/s W/W speeds, and the NTFS partition (Yellow SD card) getting 92.82 MB/s and 62.66 MB/s not that from what I get on my computer with that mechanical hard drive. Other people have tested performance up to 300 MB/s on SSD drive connected to the USB 3.0 port of ROCK64 board. The important part is that performance maxes out Gigabit Ethernet bandwidth, which with EXT-4 file system it nearly does.

Speaking about Ethernet, I tested Gigabit performance by using iperf for 60 seconds for a full duplex transfer:

Not too bad, but it looks like it can not (currently) transfer close to max speed in both direction at the same time. If you are using it as TV box, it will not matter a bit however.

I also tested a few 4K videos from the USB 3.0 drive in Kodi 17.3 installed from Google Play since I was told it should work OK…:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (H.264, 30 fps) – Audio OK, but video is a slidehow despite hardware video decoding with amc-h264 codec
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv (H.264, 24 fps, 4096×1744) – Shows previous video still with many green lines. I had very difficult controls from the air mouse, so I powered cycled the board.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps; 59.97 Hz) – Audio OK, but video is a slideshow despite using hardware decoding with amc-h265
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (4K, H.265, 60 fps) – Audio OK, but video is a slideshow with the picture refresh every ~6 seconds
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – Several audio cuts, and slideshow
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (10-bit H.264; 120 Mbps) – Video will freeze after a few seconds
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps, Vorbis audio) – Maybe 1 fps with amc-VP9 (HW)

All videos above are using hardware video decoding according to Kodi overlay info. I tried Big Buck Bunny 1080p60 sample, but the video was not watchable either. It would play, but not smoothly. CPU temperature should not be the problem, as I measured around 65 °C with a IR thermometer. I skipped HDMI audio pass-through, since I was told it would not work, and I can’t play videos properly in Kodi with the current firmware. Better video playback and HDMI audio pass-through are all being worked on right now.

So Android support does not look too good right now, and while I’m hopeful the most critical issues will be fixed by the time, people get the board next months, there are so many problems that, it’s likely many other bugs will still have to be fixed, so you may have to be patient if you have ordered  a board in order to run Android.

ROCK64 can be pre-ordered for $24.95 with 1GB RAM, $34.95 with 2GB RAM, and $44.95 with 4GB RAM on Pine64 website. You may want to add a power supply, and optionally the eMMC flash module to your order. Remember that you’ll also need a USB male to male if you want to flash the firmware to the eMMC flash. It’s not needed if you run Android from a micro SD card. You can find some tips to order a proper micro SD card in the article entitled  “Micro SD Cards for Development Boards – Classes, Tools, Benchmarks, Reliability, and Tips & Tricks“.

Bqeel MVR9 TV Box Review – Part 1: Specifications, Unboxing and Teardown

July 14th, 2017 7 comments

All Rockchip RK3328 based 4K TV boxes I’ve seen so far come with Fast Ethernet, not Gigabit Ethernet, with the exclusion of Rock64, which is not a TV box, but a development board. But Nagrace sent me Bqeel MVR9 box that comes with Gigabit Ethernet, in order to write a review. I’ll start by having a look at the hardware first, before experimenting with the firmware in several weeks.

Bqeel MVR9 Specifications

  • SoC – Rockchip RK3328 quad core Cortex A53 processor with ARM Mali-450MP2 GPU
  • System Memory – 2 GB DDR4 @ 1066 MHz
  • Storage – 16 GB eMMC flash + micro SD card slot
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with HDR10 and HLG support, 3.5mm AV port (composite video)
  • Video Codec – 4K VP9, H.265 and H.264, 1080p VC-1, MPEG-1/2/4, VP6/8
  • Audio Output – Via HDMI, and AV (stereo audio) ports; optical S/PDIF
  • Audio Features – Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD via RKMC
  • Connectivity – Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, and Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 ports (including one OTG port), 1x USB 3.0 port
  • Misc – IR receiver, recovery button
  • Power Supply – 5V/3A
  • Dimensions –  115 x 115 x 23 mm
  • Weight – ~200 grams

The box runs Android 7.1.1, and the company told me YouTube 4K is supported, they added support for DRM (but only Widevine Level 3 for now), and BD ISO  & 3D Blu-ray can be played in RKMC.

Bqeel MVR9 Unboxing

I received the device in a black box reading “Smart Your TV, Color Your life”.

The box comes with a 5V/3A power supply that should be enough even if you connect a USB 3.0 hard drive, a male to male USB cable (for firmware recovery), a HDMI cable, an IR remote control, a TV box user manual, and remote control user manual.

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The box is made of plastic with the power button on one side, the AV port, recovery pinhole, micro SD card, a USB OTG port, and USB 3.0 port on the other side.

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The rear panel includes a Gigabit Ethernet port, two USB 2.0 ports, a HDMI 2.0a output port, optical S/PDIF output, and the DC jack.

Bqeel MVR9 Teardown

We’d normally open the box by loosening some screws hidden under rubber pads, but there’s nothing there.

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So instead, I just had to unclip the bottom cover. There’s not much to see on that side of the board, except the sticker that reads TRN9-V10 2G+16G. So I loosened four screws to completely take out the board of the case.We can see two methods use to keep the box cool. First a black heatsink on top of Rockchip RK3328 processor, and a thick gray plate on top of the box.

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The board appears to have been designed by T-Chip, which should be the same company that makes the Firefly boards. The processor is connected to one 16GB Samsung KLMAG1JENB-B041 eMMC 5.1 flash that in theory delivers 285/40 MB/s sequential R/W speeds, and 8K/10k random R/W IOPS, as well as two Samsung K4A8G165WB-BCRC DDR4-2400 SDRAM chips @  (2GB in total). So the company has used some pretty decent storage and memory chip in the design, which should help with performance. They coupled a Realtek RTL8211F transceiver with Mnova MS0860 transformer for Gigabit Ethernet, and use Realtek RTL8723BS module for wireless connectivity (802.11 b/g/n WiFi + Bluetooth 4.0 LE).

Other notable chips include Rockchip RK805-1 PMIC, FE1.1s USB 2.0 hub, and TI DRV632 stereo audio line driver. We’ll notice a 3-pin header on the bottom left of the board which should be an alternative location for the IR receiver, and close to it a footprint to connect a fan. The UART debug interface is clearly marked with RX, TX, and GND, but not the most convenient, as you’d need to solder wire to solder pads.

I’d like to thank Nagrace for sending the review unit. There’s no product page, no price info right now.

H96 Pro Octa Core TV Dongle Runs Android 7.1.1 on Amlogic S912 Processor

July 13th, 2017 11 comments

That one will be confusing as H96 Pro is already a TV box, but somebody must have thought that model number was so good, it had to be re-used in another products. So I present to your H96 Pro TV dongle powered by the same Amlogic S912 processor running Android 7.1.1 Nougat. It’s not the first octa-core HDMI TV stick, as we’ve seen MeegoPad A02 (Allwinner A83T) and NEXBOX 809VI (Rockchip RK3368) in the past, but AFAICR I have not come across Amlogic S912 sticks before.

H96 Pro HDMI TV stick specifications:

  • SoC – Amlogic S912 octa-core ARM Cortex A53 processor @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP3 GPU
  • System Memory – 2GB DDR3
  • Storage – 8 GB eMMC flash, micro SD slot up to 32GB
  • Video & Audio Output – HDMI 2.0a male connector with HDR support
  • Video Codec – 4K H.265 and VP9 @ 60 fps, 4K H.264 @ 30 fps
  • Connectivity – 802.11 b/g/n WiFi (2.4GHz), and Bluetooth 4.1 + EDR
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports
  • Power Supply – 5V via micro USB port
  • Dimensions – TBD
  • Weight –  200g (TBC, probably a bit lighter than that)

As mentioned previously the stick runs Android 7.1.1, and ships with a micro USB cable for power, and a user manual in English. I’m a bit sad they somewhat crippled a 4K TV stick by not using a 802.11ac WiFi module. The product page claims that you can power it from your TV or projector USB port, but that may not always work, as such USB port may not deliver enough power for the stick to work reliably at all times. In the past, I could not even boot using that method with other TV sticks. So plan for an external USB power support to make sure. I would have thought by now that MHL would be a more common features in such TV dongle since many TVs now support MHL. Thermal management may also be an issue in such tight package.

I first found H96 Pro TV dongle GearBest where it is sold for $53.15 including shipping, but Aliexpress has better deals, including one seller offering it for $46.99 shipped.

The First Amlogic S912 Development Board is Coming Soon with Khadas VIM2

July 2nd, 2017 44 comments

We have a decent choice of Amlogic S905 development boards like ODROID-C2 or NanoPi K2, but I was recently asked whether I knew of any Amlogic S912 development boards. I’m sure Amlogic has one for internal development, but those are hard to get, and probably expensive, and while you could probably get an S912 TV box board those lack I/Os, and software support may truly be a challenge. So I’m pleased to announce that Shenzhen Wesion will soon provide an update to their Khadas VIM Pro board with Khadas VIM2 powered by Amlogic S912 octa-core processor.

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The company will actually offer three variants of Khadas VIM2 boards (Basic/Pro/Max) specifications with highlights in bold showing differences with Khadas VIM Pro board:

  • SoC –  Amlogic S912 octa core ARM Cortex-A53 @ up to 1.5 GHz with ARM Mali-820MP GPU
  • System Memory
    • Basic – 2 GB DDR4
    • Pro/Max – 3 GB DDR4
  • Storage
    • micro SD card and 2MB SPI flash
    • eMMC Flash – Basic: 16GB; Pro: 32GB; Max: 64GB
  • Video & Audio  Output – HDMI 2.0a up to 4K @ 60 Hz with CEC support
  • Connectivity
    • Basic – Gigabit Ethernet with WoL support, 802.11 b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.1 via Ampak AP6356S module
    • Pro/Max – Gigabit Ethernet with WoL support, 802.11 b/g/n/ac with RSDB and Bluetooth 4.2 via Ampak AP6359SA module
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 host ports supporting 900mA and 500mA loads, 1x USB 2.0 type C port supporting power and data only
  • Expansion header
    • 40-pin 2.54mm pitch header with USB, UART, I2C, ADC, PWM, I2S, SPDIF, and ISO7816
    • 10-pin FPC connector with I2C and IOs
    • 8 “pin” pogo pads array with USB, I2C, DVB bus, and I/Os
  • Misc – Blue LED, white LED, dual channel IR, power/function/reset buttons, header for RTC battery, fan header
  • Power Supply –  5V to 9V via USB type C, 4-pin VIN 1.25mm pitch header, or pogo pads for VIN (5V recommended for better efficiency); programmable current limit switch up to 4A (Set to 3A by default)
  • Dimensions – 82.0 x 57.5 x 11.5 mm (4x M2 mounting holes)

We can see that it’s not just a processor update with many new features added to the new boards. If like me, you’ve never heard about RSDB, it stands for Real Simultaneous Dual Band, and allows to use both 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz at the same time, while for most dual band modules only one frequency can be used at a given time. That’s a clear advantage if you’re going to use the board as an access point.

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The company will provide Android 7.1 Nougat and Ubuntu 16.04 or greater operating systems and SDKs for the board, and work on UEFI support is in progress. The board will be launched last that month, and for now, the only VIM2 specific documentation provided is Amlogic S912 datasheet, but you can be sure there will be a lot more on Khadas Docs page at launch, although I expect many of the instructions available for Khadas VIM (Pro) will still work on VIM2 board.

You’ll find more details on the announcement forum post, such as Linux OpenGL ES not working natively, i.e. without libhybris and Android libraries, and the board has been designed with micro servers in mind with features like WoL and SPI flash for network boot, as well as UEFI support.

Thanks to Geokon for the tip.