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VR SKY CX-V3 Android VR Headset Review – Part 2: GUI, 360° and VR Videos, and Issues

September 25th, 2016 5 comments

VR SKY CX-V3 is an Android virtual reality headset powered by Allwinner H8vr processor and featuring a 1080p display. I had read VR requires 2K or 4K displays to be useful, but since that’s my very first VR headset, if we don’t count the a Google Cardboard clone as one, I did not mind testing one with a 1920×1080 display, and it ended up being an interesting learning experience.

I’ve already shown the hardware with the various buttons, touch interfaces and lenses in the headset, as well as accessories like the charger and headphone in the first part of the review, so today, I’ll go through the interfaces, what works, and mention the issues I had with the device.

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If you’ve never used a virtual reality headset before, you’ll definitely want to read the user manual, which for once is written in proper English, both for entertainment value, and learn how to actually use it. They must have been inspired from other VR headset manuals, as the health and safety warnings have a North American touch to them.

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You are even suggested to consult your doctor if you are pregnant, elderly, or suffer from a list of various diseases. Other pages mentions convulsions occurring for one in 4000 persons, and all sort of potential for injuries. It almost makes you regret your purchase, and give second thoughts about actually using the device.

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Childern under 13 years old should not use the headset without adult supervision, and avoid prolonged use. I totally agree with the latter though, but it’s not really comfortable to use for extended period of times due to head and eye strains. There are about ten pages about potential hazards and health issues.

The manual also explicitly warns that:

When you are wearing glasses, do not wear VR Sky. Doing so may lead to facial injuries. If you need vision correction lenses, it is recommended, it is recommended that you wear contact lenses using VR Sky.

My myopia is too strong to use the headset without correction, and since I’m not going to wear contact lenses, I called the warning “BS”, and tried using it with my glasses.

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I had no particular issues doing so, but obviously it’s tight, and how well it fits will depend on your glasses’ dimensions. The headset does not push the glasses down, so there’s no added pressure on the nose, as long as you set the head straps properly.

After having charge the headset with the provided charger, or any 5V phone charger, it’s time to press the power button to get started. The boot should complete in less than one minute, and you will be in Nibiru 360 degree user interface.

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Since we have a 1920×1080 display, you’ll have one 960×1080 image in each eye, which explains the look of the screenshot above. You are located in a room with sofa, tables and lights on the back, and large windows with night view on the city, and you can move head left and right and up and down will allow you to navigate in the menu with five icons: Apps, Theater, Pano, Photos, and Tools. Theater app will put you in an actual theater and stream from a list of 2D or 3D videos, and Pano app (shown below) will do something similar but for 360 & VR videos, and requires you to download videos before playing. All preinstalled apps worked well, but content is not really exciting, as those are only demo videos.

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Before going a bit more through the user interface and apps, let’s get familiar with the user inputs on the headset.

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On the left side of the headset, we have the switch button (power on/off & standby), and the Nibiru button used to enable/disable the mouse pointer, brightness adjustment, switch to VR mode (aka 3D mode), and close the app.

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Nibiru Button Options

On the right side, we’ll find the touchpad, similar to a D-Pad with OK button in the center, and used browsing menu left <-> right, and up <-> down, the back button, as well as the volume buttons.

Nibiru main user interface always have a selection dot, so you don’t need to enable “head mouse” mouse, but in many apps you’ll need to enable the mouse pointer and control it with head movement.

In order to do anything useful with the headset, you’ll need to configure WiFi first. To do so, enter Tools->Settings menu, and select WiFi.

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It should list available access point, and you can input the password using the software keyboard using both head movement, and the center of the touchpad to validate each character.

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Software Keyboard used with YouTube – Click to Enlarge

I had no problem connecting to WiFI. The first time it’s quite fun to type text that way, but it’s quite slow, and very soon it will become frustrating. So I connected a USB keyboard instead, and look though the opening around the nose, or lifting the headset, in order to type. That’s where using a smartphone + VR headset kit proves more convenient than all-in-one solutions, as first setup and app installation is much easier that way. In theory voice search would help, but Google Search app could not hear me at all through the provided headset which appears to include a microphone.

I went to the list of app, start Google Play Store, logged in with my credentials, and went to my PC on play.google.com to installs to “Allwinner Eagle” device, which is how SKY VR CX-V3 is recognized.

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It worked quite well as I could install Cardboard, a few other virtual reality apps, Asus File Manager to copy files to/from my computer, Kodi 16.1, CPU-Z, and Antutu, but no Antutu 3D.

CX-V3 kit is also supposed to supported OTA firmware update, and when I click on “Check online”, it’s telling it has add a file to the download queue, but after one day, I still did no get a new firmware. Maybe I missed something here.

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So I used the default firmware for review: Nibiru 2.00.001 apparently released on June 14, 2016. The model number is VR0061.

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Let’s play with Google Cardboard app now, which had no problem detecting my VR kitas Nibiru OSVR0061.

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But then I would see two nearly identical mirror images in each eye with a bar in the middle. That’s where you need to press the Nibiru button and enable VR mode in order to enter 3D mode. The only problem is that if I keep my two eyes opened the results will show an overlapped image, and that’s when I discovered a big problem with that headset: fixed IPD (Inter-pupil distance) allegedly set to 64mm, which means it can’t be calibrated. I asked somebody else to try, and they said it worked just fine for them. We measured the distance between the center of each pupil to be 65mm for me, and 60 mm for the other person. So when you purchase a virtual reality headset make sure it supports “adjustable IPD”, or it may not work properly with virtual reality applications. This won’t be a problem to navigate the menus, watch 360 degree videos, or even 2D videos. Some 3D/VR video play just fine, while others will exhibit the same issue.

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I tried again with another Virtual Reality app from the Google Play store, namely, VR Roller Coaster, and I had the same issue.

So I can’t use VR applications due the space between my eyes being too bad, but I surely can play 360° Videos in YouTube. Except I could not do that either. The cardboard icon normally shown in  360° Videos in  my smartphone (as shown below) could not be seen in the YouTube app running in the virtual reality headset.

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No Cardboard Icon for Nibiru

That means I would see all pixels of the video in a rectangle, so pretty much useless.

I could also install Kodi, and play 2D videos without issues, except they all look like SD resolution to due the display. I tried some 3D videos stereoscopic videos (under/over and side-by-side) and 3D MVC videos, but It did not work even after enabling 3D support in the app. I think this type of device is not suitable for this type of videos. I’m here to learn, if you know do let me know what kind of 3D video I could use…

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Finally, in the name of science, I side-loaded two apps for people old enough to drive without being accompanied, and while the apps could run, and I could navigate through the list of videos, both would crash when starting streaming…

I’ll complete this review by showing some of the information returned by CPU-Z app.

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Allwinner octa-core processor up to 1.8 GHz with PowerVR SGX544MP GPU…sky-vr-cx-v3-cpu-z-device

The model is called Eagle (eagle_fvd_p1) as reported in Google Play store, the brand is Nibiru, the resolution 1920×1080, and there’s 1761MB RAM in total, and 12.04GB storage available to the user.sky-vr-cx-v3-cpu-z-systemThe package clearly states CX-V3 is running Android 5.1, but CPU-Z disagrees as it is instead reporting Android 4.4.2 running on top of Linux 3.4.39 kernel. The device is rooted. I have not been able to find the developer settings, and could not enable adb.

While in Nibiru interface you have 960×1080 pixel in each eye, non-VR apps like CPU-Z will be shown using 864×486 per eye.

I’d like to thank GearBest for sending a Android VR headset for review, and in case you are interested in the device, they sell it for 117.74$ with coupon LHSKY. VR SKY CX-V3 Android VR Headset can also be bought on DealExtreme, eBay, Aliexpress, and GeekBuying for various prices.

Review of Xtream-Codes IPTV Panel Professional Edition – Part 1: Introduction, Initial Setup, Adding Streams…

September 22nd, 2016 6 comments

Today I’ll start the review of one of the streaming software available on the market, with version 2.2.0 EVO of IPTV Panel Professional Edition developed by Xtream-codes.

The Software is mainly used for the so-called IPTV broadcasting, but also with great potential for all kind of other content delivery applications such as audio and business streaming, cloud video transcoding, and all other kind of global streams.

What is IPTV?

Wikipedia definition:

Internet Protocol television (IPTV) is a system through which television services are delivered using the Internet protocol suite over a packet-switched network such as a LAN or the Internet, instead of being delivered through traditional terrestrial, satellite signal, and cable television formats. Unlike downloaded media, IPTV offers the ability to stream the media in smaller batches, directly from the source. As a result, a client media player can begin playing the data (such as a movie) before the entire file has been transmitted. This is known as streaming media.

IPTV services may be classified into three main groups:

  • Live television, with or without interactivity related to the current TV show;
  • Time-shifted television: catch-up TV (replays a TV show that was broadcast hours or days ago), start-over TV (replays the current TV show from its beginning);
  • Video on demand (VOD): browse a catalogue of videos, not related to TV programming.

IPTV is distinguished from Internet television by its ongoing standardisation process (e.g., European Telecommunications Standards Institute) and preferential deployment scenarios in subscriber-based telecommunications networks with high-speed access channels into end-user premises via set-top boxes or other customer-premises equipment.

This review will contain results mainly for the “end-user” or business owner, who already owns or bought legitimate streams, as Xtream-codes IPTV software does not provide any video streams, and “only” helps distributing your content.

If starting from scratch, producing your self-made streams, it’s already professionally explained in the video below using Xtream-codes IPTV panel on AMD MOI Pro IPTV streaming server.

I would love to do this by myself, but I would be in need of the necessary hardware. TBS can provides future producers of streams with all the required and necessary hardware.

Installation Process

After you registered at https://xtream-codes.com and placed your order, you get access (after payment) to your unique default root username, default root password, and your CMS Address.

You can now login with both credentials, and start adding your server addresses. Your Server IP and SSH Password is required, and the whole process is pretty straightforward.

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If necessary, you can add a second Load balancer Server by the same method. If you need more Load balancers (LB’s) in the future, you will have to pay an extra Fee. Xtream-Codes call this “plugins”, but I guess it’s a simple SSH Protocol.

They activate on their server side, like: 2/4/6 LB’s…. Again, the first LB is free of charge.

The Graphical User Interface (GUI): Xtream-Codes Panel

xtream-codes-iptv-guiIf you are confronted the very first time with it, it might be confusing at first with all the available options, but be assured, that after 1 or 2 days you’ll be getting used to it. Many features and possibilities are waiting for you, and it also a few have’s and have not’s. Let’s start with the “have’s!

One of the great features in version 2.2.0 Evo is the Transcoding process. Here a general overview of the 2 Versions: Profesional and Minimal Editions.

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Xtream-Codes also offers a Minimal Edition of this software for a cheaper monthly price (19 Euros per month vs 59 Euros per month)

xtream-codes-iptv-panel-minimal-editionAs you might expect, the professional edition adds several features including:

  • Load Balancing by adding servers (1 is free, all others must be bought)
  • Manage all servers in a very simple and powerful interface
  • MAG Devices Support
  • New powerful transcode System supporting almost every function
  • Every stream is playable (more protocols support)
  • Faster zapping time (instant)
  • Powerful Logging & Search System
  • Stream Statistics
  • Http Live Streaming (HLS) Output
  • iOS/Android Client Area Portal
  • More lightweight

The Menus & Options  of the Panel

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The Transcoding or Video-Conversion process

This is one one of the “Highlights” of Xtream-Codes IPTV Panel. I’ve tested over a hundred different kinds of formats, from Blu-ray-MKV, different AVI’s, FLV, MP4, WMV, MOV and OGG. Each time the transcoding process was successful.

I also tested quite a few homemade AVI’s without transcoding, all watchable later on. But for professional hosting, large sized movies should be encoded before transferred to your server, in my opinion. The reason is mainly the later ability for your future customers to watch the movie streams, without any kind of freezings or bufferings. Due to Internet limitations, and nowadays also server bandwidth problems, the movies should be transcoded in 720p maximum and the file size should be around +/- 1GB each. The bitrate should be somewhere around 2 – 3000k maximum. This would later almost guarantee the freeze free availability of the stream, if the user owns a decent Internet connection. Not everybody have an 200 Mbit/s and up broadband connection.

Sure, there are higher bitrates possible and many customers already crying for lossless FHD’s streams. In my eyes often a wishful thinking. Too many components playing a huge role in the Internet world, and last but not least there’s always the question of bandwidth.

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“What’s the difference between encoding and transcoding?” was one of the first questions I had when I started working with video’s and IPTV streaming. I had always used them interchangeably and after a quick Internet search I was surprised that I did not find a clear answer.

While encoding and transcoding both represent ways of converting files between formats, there is a distinct difference:

  • Encoding, by definition, takes analog source content and converts it to a digital format. For example – converting a video on a VHS tape to an mpeg file or a video DVD.
  • Transcoding takes an existing digital format and converts it to a different digital format, like taking a sample video and converting it to an adaptive bitrate format such as HTTP-Live-Streaming.

Despite the clear differences by definition, I’ve noticed that only technical experts tend to use the term with distinction. People getting started with video are often left behind and confused between the terms like I was. I hope that with this short note, we were able to shed some light on this myth….

Here you can see the different kinds of VIDEO and AUDIO transcoding codecs available:

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The Preset option allows you to select between ultra fast and very slow transcoding options, which should also affect the video quality.

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The Video Profile option (in my opinion too many Apple’s…)

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Setting the average video bitrate

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Other Transcoding Options

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Main server and load balancer monitoring

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3rd Load balancer

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Load Balancer Settings

Load balancing Chart? What this feature is doing exactly? As stated before, IPTV Panel Pro has load-balancing mode that will redirect your users automatically to other servers in a case of huge load. The load-balancing chart is being used to control the SOURCE flow or how the stream source will be transferred to your servers.

You can draw any flow you want depending on your needs.

iptv-load-balancerBoth servers will take the stream from the source in the configuration above.

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In this case, the server “Load balancer 1” will read the stream from the source and at the same time he will transfer the same stream to the second server.

Implementing LEGITIMATE Streams in your Panel and Managing Streams

Attention: Many customers make here a major mistake, with the result of missing audio and other misbehaviors in the stream later. What Video & Audio Codec should I use if I transcode later?

Xtream Codes has added many video & audio codecs but not all of these codecs are supported for IPTV use. To be on the safe side, you should always use the H.264 as video codec and AAC as audio codec for IPTV use.

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As we can see, importing a live stream, a movie or a radio broadcast stream was never that easy. We start by adding a live stream.

Two options here: One single stream, or multiple streams! If you import multiple streams, you need the file/stream list containing all of your streams.

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We have several options later, how the streams can act. For better understanding, it’s theoretically possible that you “restream” your legitimate bought streams later. In other words…in some cases, you may want to sell these streams to other resellers.

Through this setting you can block your streams to be “restreamed” later on, if you really try to sell some of your streams in time by choosing a category or bouquet later for your customer. Streams marked here as “yes” will not work for your customer.xtream-codes-restream-block

xtream-codes-stream-control Very useful are the “Quicktools” in the Manage-Streams Section:

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Adding a New Movie

You can also add a movie you uploaded to your server previously, or even from a remote source.

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If you add a movie from your own server, it works over the integrated file browser, while if you want to stream from a remote location, simply type in the location.

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You can set read “Input Source in Native Frames”, and  if you are transcoding, set it to YES.xtream-codes-imdb-database

You like to have a picon for your Movie? Here you can add a IMDB ID.

But here we go…Movies! It is common in this business, that once a while a server is having issues, and most times the load balancer also gives up. If this happens, and no matter the backup of your data bank, you are in troubles. You may have tons of movies in backup, and must re-assign them all again to a server manually.

This feature is definitely missing in the editing movies section. There are only 3 parts: Add New Movie, Import Multiple Movies and Manage Movies.

The scenario: You transfer in an emergency case over ssh protocol sftp-wise all your movies to an other server. You set up a new OS or reinstall one, and you get a new root password. After making a new server with Xtream Codes Panel, so far, so good. But you have to assign them later, all of them! A mass-edit regarding assigning movies to the main server or one of the load balancers would do it! Saving a dramatic amount of time for a customer. I repeat myself here, I mentioned that above already, regarding “add a new stream”. No reason for me to think of right now, that it should not be possible to assign this stream to a bouquet, and not only in to a category.

Adding a New Radio

It’s the same procedure as adding a video stream. You can import a single or multiple Streams from a file.

Creating new Client/Customer Lines xtream-code-user-details-2

Creating a new customer line is a piece of cake; just fill up the necessary fields. Like user, a unique password if you wish so, you even can use the created line in a stalker portal, but watch out then, please read:

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If a customer has a MagBox for example, the better option is to bind the box over the MAC address. It is even possible to bind a before created simple m3u Playlist to a newly created MAC address. Simply go to “Add New Mag Device” and associate the existing line to it.

xtream-codes-iptv-panel-mag-stbPortals for Mag-Devices are like “http://yoursite.com:port/c/”

Features, Options, Security

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Restreamers Finder

Another useful feature is the so-called Restreamers Finder. In these days there are many restream software’s for ordinary users on the market, like Hola addons for Android Systems and many more.

Block User Agent

Not absolutely clear about this feature. What is a “User Agent”? A User Agent is normally a short string that web browsers and other applications send to identify themselves to web servers. Unfortunately, most browsers falsify part of their User-Agent header in an attempt to be compatible with more web servers. Useful, but I find that the manual assigning of each single user agent is a hell of a work. There are preconfigured block lists already in the Internet and it would be from great help, if Xtream Codes would allow loading a whole list.

Block IP/CIDR

IP blocking is clear, but what is a CIDR? Classless inter-domain routing (CIDR) is a set of Internet protocol (IP) standards that is used to create unique identifiers for networks and individual devices.

The IP addresses allow particular information packets to be sent to specific computers. Shortly after the introduction of CIDR, technicians found it difficult to track and label IP addresses, so a notation system was developed to make the process more efficient and standardized. That system is known as CIDR notation.

Resume? Absolutely useful!

There is still some work to do specially in the editing sector, one of the most important parts of streaming software:

  • Searching for Bad Movies (a dog’s work if hundreds/thousands of movies)
  • Adding a new stream and assign it direct into a bouquet, would be more then useful.
  • Mass edit Movies features (ex:Assign Movies to a server in bulk)

Part 2 (…coming soon)

  1. Finishing the part of the most important features
  2. Comparison the “Have’s” and “Have Not’s”
  3. Results after a new installation (Simulated Crash of the Main Server)
  4. The Pro’s
  5. The Contra’s
  6. The Competitors of Xtreme-Codes Panel
  7. Be aware of some kind of hoster (Strange experiences with 2 “Big Ones”! Troubleshootings)
  8. The Conclusion and resume

Ending the first part, I want to say thanks to Xtream-Codes for giving me the tools and the necessary “LB Plugins” (Naaaa, not a plugin, Xtream-Codes! Call it a Addon better!) to start.

4K Video Playback and HDMI Audio Passthrough in Realtek RTD1295 based Zidoo X9S TV Box

September 21st, 2016 14 comments

Zidoo X9S is a high-end 4K TV box and HDMI recorder based on Realtek RTD1295 processor. I’ve already checked its hardware, and run some benchmarks, so after a successful OTA firmware update, I decided to test 4K videos and HDMI audio pass-through capabilities of the device with ZDMC, Zidoo’s fork of Kodi 16.1, and “Media Center” internal player.

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Zidoo Media Center – Click for Original Size

Before starting playing 4K videos and testing HDMI audio pass-through, you’ll want to make sure to configure video output to a 4K UHD resolution and framerate such as 3840×2160 @ 60 Hz, as well as change HDMI output audio in Sound & notification settings.

realtek-audio-settingsThe options are a little different from the other boxes as beside RAW and 2-channel LPCM, Zidoo X9S also supports multi-channel LPCM. In order to test HDMI audio pass-through, it must be set to RAW.

You may also want to check Playback options to switch to 24 Hz or 29.97/59.94Hz for videos shot at that frame rate.

zidoo-playback-optionsI’ll start testing with ZDMC. Automatic frame rate switching is already enabled, but you’ll have to go to System->Audio output to enable passthrough.

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As you can see from the screenshot above Dolby Digital (AC3), DTS, TrueHD, and DTS-HD are all available, and I enabled them all since the codec are supported by Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver, which I’ll use for this review.

4K videos results in ZDMC:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (4K H.264 @ 30 fps, MPEG4-AAC audio)  – Not smooth [Update: Realtek RTD1295 is limited to 4K H.264 @ 24 fps]
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265 @ 30 fps – No audio) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 (H.264 @ 30 fps – MPEG1/2 and AC3 audio) – Not smooth [Update: Realtek RTD1295 is limited to 4K H.264 @ 24 fps]
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (H.265 Rec.2020 compliant – AAC audio) – Not smooth
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (H.265 @ 60 fps – AC3) – Not smooth
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC @ 24 fps – no audio) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps) – Not smooth*
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (4K 10-bit H.264 video) – Many artifacts, and slow decoding due to software decode, but fully expected since RTD1295 does not support 10-bit h.264
  • Tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps) – Not smooth, audio delays and artifacts*

That’s pretty depressing, as many videos above are playing just fine on most 4K TV boxes. A positive aspect is that automatic frame rate switching is working well. [*Update: While RTD1295 block diagram indicates 4K VP9 support up to 60 fps, I’ve been informed that currently only 30 fps is supported]

So I switched to HDMI audio pass-through testing:

  • AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 – OK
  • E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 – OK
  • Dolby Digital+ 7.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 5.1 – OK
  • TrueHD 7.1 – OK
  • Dolby Atmos 7.1 – TrueHD 7.1ch. Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver is supposedly Atmos capable (Since September 2014), and I have the latest firmware, but I’ve never been able to play Atmos content.
  • DTS HD Master – OK
  • DTS HD High Resolution – OK
  • DTS:X – DTS-HD MA 7.1. That’s one is fine since my Onkyo receiver does not support DTS:X

That one is very good with the only question marks being Atmos and DTS:X support.

But maybe the internal player “Media Center” is better at playing videos, and some people even explained how to create a Kodi to Media Center wrapper to play videos. 4K video playback results with “Media Center” app:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 (4K H.264 @ 30 fps, MPEG4-AAC audio)  – Not smooth
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265 @ 30 fps – No audio) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 (H.264 @ 30 fps – MPEG1/2 and AC3 audio) – Watchable but not perfect (some frame drops)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (H.265 Rec.2020 compliant – AAC audio) – Not smooth and no audio
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (H.265 @ 60 fps – AC3) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC @ 24 fps – no audio) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm – Watchable but not perfect (not 100% smooth)
  • Tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video @ 60 fps) – Not smooth

That’s some improvement but still not perfect, and I was expecting better 4K video support. Hopefully most of the issue will be fixed before I complete the full review.

You can watch 4K videos in ZDMC and Media Center, as well as HDMI audio passthrough testing in ZDMC in the video below.

Qintaix Q912 Android Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0, Kodi 17, Benchmarks, etc…

September 18th, 2016 6 comments

Qintaix Q912 is one of the many octa-core Android boxes based on Amlogic S912 processor. I’ve already shown photos of the device and its internal design in the first part of Qintaix Q912 review, so today I’ll report the results of my testing with Android firmware, video & audio capabilities in Kodi 17 Alpha 3 (pre-installed), features supports, benchmarks, and other comment. I will also be interesting to find out how it compares to M12N TV box, also based on Amlogic S912 processor.

qintaix-q912-boot

First Boot, Settings, and First Impressions

I’ve connected all necessary cables including HDMI and Ethernet, added some USB devices including two 2.4 GHZ USB dongles for my air moues and wireless gamepad, a USB keyboard to take screenshots, and a USB 3.0 hard drive to the USB 2.0 ports of the device. Once you apply power, the LED is turn red, and you need to press the power button on the unit ot the remote control to start the TV box. The front panel display will show “Boot”, and within a typical 40 seconds you should be to the launcher, after which the display will show the current time.

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It’s your typical TV launcher with large icon links to common apps or folders of apps (not customizable), and shortcut row will smaller icons that can be added or removed as you wish.

The Settings app is different from M12N. but basically the same as other Amlogic TV boxes.

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Click to Enlarge

The most relevant / notable settings include:

  • Device
    • Network – WiFi, Ethernet, and VPN
    • Display
      • Screen resolution: Auto switch on/off, deep color mode on/off, 1080p24/50/60, 720p50/60, 4k2k 24/25/30/50/60/SMPTE, 576p50, 480p60, 1080i50/60
      • Screen position, Day Dream, HDR (Auto, On, Off)
    • Sound -> Digital Sounds -> Auto detection, PCM, HDMI, SPDIF
  • Preferences
    • Playback settings – HDMI self-adaption on/off (aka automatic frame rate switching)
    • Power key definition – Suspend and resume, shutdown
    • More settings – Access to Android Marshmallow settings

By default, the box will select the high possible resolution on your TV, and for mine to was 4K2K SMPTE (4096×2160 @ 24 Hz), but I switched back to 4K2K-60Hz (3840×2160) for testing. Like with most Amlogic TV box, Qintaix Q912 has problems to remember my settings, and will often revert to 1080p60. One possible reason is that it is connected to an Onkyo A/V receiver before being connected to the TV, and sometimes the receiver is turned on, and other time turned off.  Once the receiver is turned on, I can’t turn it off anymore using either its remote control or the power button on the unit, as the box will always turn it back on. That’s a very annoying issue that’s been happening with all recent (Android 6.0) Amlogic TV boxes. This is some HDMI CEC issue, as if I disable HDMI CEC (RIHD) in the receiver the problem goes away. That however means I can’t control the TV over CEC using the receiver’s remote control anymore…

As mentioned in the list of “Notable settings”, we can access Android 6.0 settings through More settings icon, and configure other aspect of the device such as portable hotpost, printer, developer options, accessibility, printing, Languages and Input, etc…

A single 11.49 GB internal partition is used for apps and data, a capacity that should be plenty enough for most people. Just like M12N, Qintaix Q912 is running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29 as per About Mediabox section. The firmware is rooted. OTA firmware update is currently not supported, but I could install the latest firmware (dated 06 September 2016) via UPDATE&BACKUP app using a USB flash drive. The company also informed me that network firmware updates will be enabled later on.

The included infrared remote control works fine, and I could use it up to 10 meters, where I started getting some misses (maybe 1 out of 10). The IR learning function worked too, as I tested it with the power and volume keys of my TV remote control. I still used MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for the review, since it’s just much more convenient to use that the IR remote control.

The Google Play store worked better than on other box, especially since I could also installed Bluetooth LE apps such as Mi Fit or Smart Movement. I also installed Amazon Underground to play the free version of Riptide GP2 game.

Power handling has been well implemented. The TV box will go into standby after a short press on the power button of the remote control, and into power off mode with a long press. As seen above, you can also configure the short press to go directly into power off mode. You can also turn the TV box back on using the remote control or the power button on the unit

Power consumption figures are also pretty good, since my power meter did not detect any power draw in power off mode, but standby mode appears to be pretty much useless:

  • Power off – 0.0 watt
  • Standby – 3.1 watts
  • Idle – 3.1 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.0 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 5.1 watts
  • Idle + USB HDD – 5.1 watts

As we’ve seen with the teardown, Qintaix Q912 comes with a heatsink on top of Amlogic S912 processor, as well as a metallic  enclosure, but the board is not in contact with the case at all. Still, during use the case feels fairly hot, and actually feeling hotter at the touch that what my IR thermometer is reporting with top and bottom temperatures of  40 and 44 °C max after Antutu 6.2, and about 43°C and 46°C respectively after playing Riptide GP2 for 15 minutes.

I did not find any major issues with Qintaix Q912 firmware, which I found fast and very stable, although I still got a couple of “Unresponsive app”. I also like that they kept the notification bar, albeit removed the status bar, and they still have that annoying HDMI CEC bug preventing me to turn on my A/V receiver. The device also have the exact some IPTV apps, namely FilmOn, Modbro, and Showbox, that I covered in MXQ Plus M12 TV box review.

Video and Audio Playback with Kodi 17, Antutu Video Tester, and DRM info

Contrary to most other TV boxes I’ve reviewed which come with the stable version of Kodi, currently Kodi 16.1, or somethimes a fork, Qintaix Q912 is pre-loaded with Kodi 17.0 Alpha  3 built on July 31st.

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Click for Original Size

And like many TV box, they’ve also installed piracy add-ons, many of which are not working…

kodi-17-add-onsAnyway, I’m only testing local video playback in Kodi, and I’m done so from a SAMBA share using the Gigabit Ethernet connection.

Most Big Buck Bunny videos from Linaro media samples and Elecard are playing just fine:

  • 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 – Could be a little smoother (software decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p: OK (ff-vp8 software decode); 1080p: not smooth
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

Automatic refresh rate switching is not working in Kodi 17.0, at least in this device.

Videos with various bitrates were next:

  • ED_HD_10Mbps_1080p_MPEG-4.avi (MPEG-4 / 10 Mbps) – Not smooth at all, barely watchable (msmpeg4v2 software decode)
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Won’t play
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK

Dolby Digital and DTS support was tested with four use case: PCM 2.0 output (stereo downsampling) or HDMI audio pass-through via Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver, using Kodi and MoviePlayer apps.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 17 Alpha 3)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 17 Alpha 3)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Audio OK (Dolby D 5.1), video not smooth OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 Video plays in fast forward, without time to setup audio
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 TrueHD 5.1
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 TrueHD 7.1
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 Dolby D 5.1 – continuous beep
DTS HD Master OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK No audio Black screen, no audio DTS 5.1

Results are pretty much the same as other Amlogic Android 6.0 TV boxes.

For most videos, 4K video playback is not too bad in Kodi 17.0:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Not always smooth
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – OK
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – OK
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video; 36 Mbps) – OK.
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – Some frames are “jumping”
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Not smooth, and audio delay (as expected since hardware is not supposed to support it)
  • 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) – 0.5 to 1 fps (software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – Not smooth at all from either HDD or network
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – OK, except for one massive slowdown for 2 to 3 seconds.
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK most of the time, but I can see some frame drops from time to time

The video above were tested using 4K60Hz (3840×2160), and the video show properly, but I previously also tested 4KSMPTE (4096×2160 @ 24 Hz) and some black bands showed on the left and right edges of the TV. You can watch Kodi 17.0 setup and video playback in Qintaix Q912 below.

Blur-ray videos (Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso) and two MPEG2 1080i videos could play fine. I basically had the same results as on M12N for 10-bit H.264 videos with a 720p sample playing fine, but a 1080p sample not being smooth enough. Kodi 16.1 would enable subtitles by default in those two videos, but Kodi 17.0 Alpha 3 requires the user to manually enable subtitles.

LG 42UB820T Ultra HD television does not support 3D videos, but my Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver does, and could detect 3D content (3D icon on) for MVC videos as shown in Zidoo X1 II review, and for others it’s still interesting to see if the box can decode them:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Won’t play at all
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK
  • 3D-full-MVC.mkv (Full-frame packed MVC 3D MKV) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on AV receiver
  • ISO-full3D-sample.iso (Full-frame packed MVC 3D ISO) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on AV receiver

I also played one complete 1080p H.264 video for 2 hours without issues through the network (SAMBA share), and I completed Kodi 17 testing by check out various video from my library with IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4, XViD/DViX, and MKV 720p and 1080p videos. Most could play just fine, but I noticed some FLV video had no audio, and IFO/VOB files would not play smoothly at all.

MXQ Plus M12 previously achieved 865 points in Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark, and Qintaix Q912 got a slightly lower score with 849 points.qintaix-q912-antutu-video-testerThe three “partially support” videos could not play smoothly enough.

amlogic-s912-tv-box-video-not-smooth DRM info reports Widevine Level 3 is supported.

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I also quickly tested YouTube, and it supports up to 1080p. Video samples can be downloaded via links in the comments section of that video sample post.

Network Performance for WiFi and Ethernet

Qintaix Q912 has a dual band WiFi module (AP6330), and I could connect to both 2.4 and 5.0 GHz access point, but no support for 802.11ac, so I only tested performance of 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz by copying a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal storage several times in either direction. The result is disappointing since the transfers averaged 1.69 MB/s, one of the poorest results among the devices I’ve tested. At least, even if the performance is far from outstanding, WiFi is very stable.

Throughput in MB/s

Throughput in MB/s

There’s also some asymmetry between download and upload speeds, with the former reaching about 2 MB/s. You may have noticed two external antennas on Qintaix Q912, but one of them is not connected to anything, and is only there to make the box prettier.

I found Gigabit Ethernet to be working well, and tested full duplex performance with “iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d” command line:

It’s not exactly reaching 1 Gbps, but in a TV box it should not matter than much, especially the device/SoC only support USB 2.0 ports.

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

I could easily pair Vernee Apollo Lite smartphone to the box, and transfer a few pictures over Bluetooth, however I was not so lucky with my Bluetooth 3.0 headet (Sport-S9) which was not detected at all, and a Bluetooth 4.0 LE fitness tracker that was detected, but the TV box asked me for a pin number, which usually is not the case for this device, and pairing failed. I tried a few times and different pin code, and after pressing Cancel, the device (SH09) was shown to be paired… Sadly Smart Movement app used with the tracker would not find the device at all.

Since the firmware is rooted, I also tried my PS3 wireless gamepad clone with Sixaxis Compatibility Checker, and I could configure and use the game controller.

Storage

I used a 1TB Seagate USB hard drive set-up with 4 partitions, and a FAT32 micro SD card to test file system support.

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

I also use A1SD bench app to test the two partitions on the USB hard drive (NTFS & exFAT), and read speed was OK for both (NTFS: 34.88 MB/s; exFAT: 39.88 MB/s), but write speed is better on NTFS: 16.08 MB/s vs 4.83 MB/s. I had to test exFAT on two different days. The first day I only got R: 4.83 MB/s; W: 0.97 MB/s, after running the benchmark twice on the partition, maybe because another process was busy going through the file system…

I ran A1SD bench again to evaluate internal storage performance, and sequential read and write speeds were decent at 40.36 MB/s and 12.94 MB/s respectively.

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Gaming

I’ve detailed gaming on Amlogic S912 using M12N TV box, and last time I could clearly see a different in performance between Amlogic S905 and Amlogic S912, although games like Riptide GP2 were still not clearly as fluid as on Xiaomi Mi Box 3 Enhanced. So I expected the same results on Qintaix Q912, but I have to say performance feel just like on Amlogic S905 here: Candy Crush Saga and Beach Buggy Racing are both very smooth, but Riptide GP2 using max resolution settings had a lower framerate closer to Amlogic S905. Still performance was stable throughout my 15 minutes playing the game.

Qintaix Q912 Benchmarks

CPU-Z detects an octa-core Cortex A53 @ up to 2.02 GHz with a Mali-T820 GPU. The info is correct from the Linux kernel point of view, but as we’ve previously seen Amlogic S912 is most likely running at 1.5 GHz maximum here.

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The device’s board is q6330, an information that can be useful if you want to try alternative firmware. Resolution is 1920×1080, total RAM 1775 MB as some is used by the GPU and/or GPU, and internal storage has a 11.49 GB capacity as reported above.

I was disappointed by Amlogic S912 benchmarks in M12N TV box, so I was expecting a little more in Qintaix Q912, but on the contrary the score was even lower at 35,966 points in Antutu 6.2.
qintaix-q912-antutu-6

Scores in Vellamo were also lower for Metal (787 vs 1,052)and Browser (2,336 vs 2,758), but better for multicore (1,422 vs 1,130) likely because Qintaix Q912 passed all tests, but M12N failed one.
vellamo-qintaix-q912
3Dmark Ice Storm Extreme confirmed the lower performance in benchmark with 4,713 points against 5,752 points in MXQ Plus M12N.

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That may explain why gaming did not feel thtat good. For reference, Amlogic S905 TV boxes typically achieve about 4,300 points.

Conclusion

Qintaix Q912 TV box works reasonably well overall, but they’ve decided to use Kodi 17.0 Alpha 3 which does not bring much compare to Kodi 16.1, and does not perform as well with all video. Once we dig into benchmarks and play game, we also quickly realize the TV box has about the same performance as Amlogic S905 devices, meaning you pay a premium without any obvious benefits.

PROS

  • Recent Android 6.0 firmware that is both responsive and stable, and includes a slightly different launcher
  • Mostly fine 4K video support for VP9, H.265 and H.264 codecs in Kodi 17
  • HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, and TrueHD 5.1 and 7.1 in Video MoviePlayer
  • Proper power handling, and low power off & idle power consumption
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage
  • IR remote control working up to at least 10 meters
  • Google Play Store support better than some other device (e.g. for Bluetooth LE app)
  • Bluetooth file transfer and Sixaxis controller (PS3 gamepad) working
  • Metal case with front panel display showing time

CONS

  • HDMI audio pass-through and automatic frame rate switching not working properly in Kodi, and DTS-HD even lead to black videos with no audio at all. Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD 7.1 not supported in other apps
  • Kodi 17.0 Alpha 3 used in the firmware does not handle video playback of all videos as well as Kodi 16.1 (stable version): e.g. issues with VOB, no audio in FLV, etc…
  • Performance equivalent to quad core Amlogic S905 TV boxes according to benchmarks and gaming experience
  • HDMI output mode is often falling back to 1080p60, even when manually set to 4K 60Hz. (The system may be confused when I turn on the TV or AV receiver on and off).
  • WiFi: Mediocre yet stable (e.g. no stall) WiFi performance. Only one external antenna used out of the two external antennas.
  • HDMI CEC not disabled by default and no CEC option. HDMI CEC bug keeping my A/V receiver on.
  • Bluetooth: BT 3.0 audio headset not found at all, Bluetooth LE fitness tracker detected, but pairing fails, and app can’t sync.
  • DRM: Only supports Widevine Level 3
  • Dolby & DTS licenses not included (Only a problem for apps other than Kodi, for people not using HDMI or S/PDIF audio pass-through). This would require Amlogic S912-H processor.

I’d like to thank Qintex Tech for sending a review sample, and if you plan to order in quantities, you can do so directly from the company. The TV box can also be found on Aliexpress for $73.50 and up, or Amazon US for $122.

Kodi 17 Setup and Audio/Video Support in Amlogic S912 TV Boxes (as of September 2016)

September 16th, 2016 4 comments

Most people installing Kodi are going to select Kodi 16.1 as of today, since it is the latest stable release. But I’m currently reviewing Qintaix Q912 TV box based on Amlogic S912 octa-core processor, whose Android 6.0 firmware includes Kodi 17 Alpha 3, so since that’s the first time I run Kodi 17 “Krypton”. I’ve decided to report my experience about the interface, and the current status about audio and video support by testing some 4K videos, and audio files. I used the latest available firmware for the test.

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Kodi 17 can be found on the main launcher, and for the first launch, we’ll see the default skin has been replaced from Confluence to the new Estuary skin.

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It’s a little confusing a first. We can access the setup menu by going to the icon on the bottom left, just on the right on the power button, and then select System Information to confirm Kodi 17 Alpha 3 is installed on the device.

kodi-17-system-info

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Once of the first thing I normally setup in Kodi Android is automatic frame rate switching option, It can be found in Settings->Player Settings->Videos, after setting options to Advanced. I can then set Adjust display refresh rate to On start / stop as I did in Kodi 16.1.

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I also setup HDMI audio pass-through by going to Settings->System settings->Audio, Enable passthrough and the other relevant options including Dolby Digital (AC3), DTS, and DTS-HD. There’s no TrueHD option in Kodi 17, at least in the version loaded in Qintaix Q912.

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I also added a SAMBA share to play my test videos. The procedure has slightly changed due to the new skin. Go to Videos, then select the Files icon on the top right, and you’ll be able to click on Add videos and browse Windows network (SMB) shares to add your own.

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Now that everything is setup, it’s time to test some 4K videos:

  • 4K Hawaii Sunset _ GoPro Hero 4 Black [email protected] (No Audio) – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265 @ 30 fps – No audio) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 (H.264 @ 30 fps – MPEG1/2 and AC3 audio) – OK (when audio pass-through disabled)
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (H.265 Rec.2020 compliant – AAC audio) – OK
  • Fifa_WorldCup2014_Uruguay-Colombia_4K-x265.mp4 (H.265 @ 60 fps – AC3) – OK
  • Samsung_UHD_Dubai_10-bit_HEVC_51.4Mbps.ts (10-bit HEVC / MPEG-4 AAC) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm – Watchable, but not perfectly smooth. Same result as on other S905X / S912 TV boxes
  • Tara-no9-webm (4K / VP9 @ 59.940 fps) – OK

So it’s not too bad as all videos above play smoothly with hardware decoding, except automatic frame rate switching is not working, and there are two black bars on the sides of the video. I tried to change the View mode to Zoom, but then there’s some “frame jumping” – for the lack of a better word – going on, as you’ll see in the video below.

The next step was to try HDMI audio pass-through, and my DD 5.1 sample worked fine, however big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 above had frequent audio cuts, and it also slowed down the video. TrueHD is not supported at all, and audio will be downmixed to PCM 2.0, while videos with DTS-HD and DTS-X audio would just show a black screen (3 out of 3 of them), and no audio.

The good news is that hardware decoding of 8-bit and 10-bit H.265 and VP9 is working quite well even in the alpha version of Kodi 17, but there are still bugs to fix, as expected, and audio pass-through is not usable.

Broadlink MP1 Quad Socket WiFi Power Strip Review and Teardown

September 14th, 2016 17 comments

Broadlink MP1 is an inexpensive ($20) power strip with four international sockets that can be controlled over WiFi. Since I was interested in finding out how the power strip was designed internally, I asked GearBest whether they could send a sample for evaluation, which they did, and I got it today. So I’ll first check the device, and hardware design, before trying it with the Android app.

Broadlink MP1 Unboxing

I don’t have much to say about the package, it’s just a bland white box with Broadlink logo.

broadlink-package

The bottom of the package is useful however, as it contains a sort of user guide in Chinese together with the specifications. I could not find any mentions of CE/FCC/CCC (for WiFi) or UL/TUV (safety) certifications on the package.

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There’s no more information inside the box, except what looks like a warranty card in Chinese.

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The power strip itself has four multi-standard sockets, a power button, and a 1.5 meter lead with a Australian 3-prong plug. Spacing between each socket is a good 5 cm as advertised.

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The bottom on the power strip includes some information including the model number (MP1-1K4S), maximum current and voltage (10A/250V), and a QR core linking to a QQ page redirecting to WeChat app in Google Play Store, so I did not try further…. The device is made by Hangzhou GuBei Electronics Technology.

Broadlink MP1 Teardown

We can open the device by removing the four rubber pad, and loosening 4 screws, as well as an extra screw placed right on the QR code.

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I’m not the best person to evaluate the design of this type of product, but I can see three wires including the ground are connected, the parts carrying the mains appear to be large enough, but I don’t see any type of fuses, which might be suitable in that sort of thing. You may want to check out the comment section, as hopefully more knowledgeable people may give their input. The long board is the really board, and the square board is the brain of the design with the WiFi module.

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Four JQF-3FF 12V relays supporting 10A @ 277VAC / 12A @ 125VAC are used to control the sockets. A cable with 4 GPIOs (R1 to R4), GND, and 12V signals is connected between the relay board and WiFi board.

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The board (PCCII-U1-2) includes a Broadlink WiFi module, the power button, two LEDs, and an unpopulated “GSRV” header to connect an  ISP programmer. The small chip on the bottom of the pic is XLSemi XL1509 DC-DC converter.

I can’t find specific information about W1SBS03L WiFi module, except through its CMIIT ID, a product ID assigned by the China Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to identify wireless products in the Chinese market. The aforelinked website indicates the module operated in 2400-2483.5MHz frequency range, emits less than 20dBm (EIRP), occupies less than 40MHz bandwidth, and its emissions are inferior than -30 dBm. What I could not find it which chip that module is using.

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The bottom of the board has two more small ICs: STMicro STM8S003F3P6 8-bit MCU, and MP157 regulator.

Broadlink MP1 Power Strip Review

I’ve also tried the power strip. The first step is to scan the QR core on the package, to install the same e-Control app used on Broadlink SP2, or other Broadlink WiFi devices for home automation.

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After the welcome screen, you’ll be asked to register or sign-in, but simply select Skip on the top right. If you want to control the plug over Internet, instead of just your local network, you may have to register however. You’d then have to tap on the three blue bars icon to bring the left menu, and select Add device.

At this stage I also connect the power strip, and the power button LEDs will start blinking regularly meaning the strip is ready for configuration.

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You’ll be presented with a first window asking you to enter your WiFi password, but when I tried to do this it failed each time. Instead tap on the top right Setup button and switch to AP mode. Click OK in the the second screen shown above, select your access point, enter your password, and you should be able to find the power strip pre-named with a name in Chinese (4-socket power strip).

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You’ll be able to turn on or off individual sockets, set timers to turn on or off specific a socket, control all sockets with a single button, or go to settings to change the power strip name, lock the device so that only your device can control the socket, or update the firmware. If you don’t have your smartphone with you, it’s also possible to turn on or off all sockets by pressing the power button on the unit.

I’ve scanned the power strip for both UDP and TCP port with nmap, which reports all TCP ports are closed, and all UDP ports are open|unfiltered.

I’d like to thank GearBest for sending Broadlink MP1 for review, and if you’re interested you could consider buying the device from them for $22.39 shipped. Banggood used to have a promo selling it for just under $20, but the price is now $22.79. You’ll also find Broadlink WiFi power strip on Aliexpress, but the prices are normally around $25 or greater.

Vernee Apollo Lite Helio X20 Smartphone Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware

September 11th, 2016 6 comments

I’ve already taken pictures and shown Antutu benchmark in the first part of Vernee Apollo Lite review, an Android 6.0 smartphone powered by Mediatek Helio X20 deca-core processor. Now that I’ve had time to play with the phone for over 10 days, I’ve ready to report my experience and write the second part of the review about performance, features, and issues I encountered with the phone.

vernee-apollo-lite-mediatek-helio-x20-smartphone

General Impressions

First, the build quality feel pretty good, the phone is light and slim. I’ve only called once or twice, and voice quality was good, but I mostly use my phone over WiFi to browse the web, check emails, watch YouTube, and access social networks. More rarely, I also use GPS while running and during trip, and play some games. To be honest, the first few days did not work as expected, as many apps would either be much slower than last year Iocean M6752 smartphone or failed to start entirely with the message “Unfortunately app has stopped”. Fortunely, I eventually found that Android 6.0 Adoptable Storage was the source of those two issues, as when I installed a 32GB Class 10 micro SD card I used as storage device, and most app would install on the micro SD card, which has very good sequential speeds, but terrible random I/Os performance. The latter explain apps were not always responsive, and some apps simply don’t like to be installed on an SD card – at least on Apollo Lite Android firmware – like Firefox or MAPS.me, while others lose the ability to access Widget such as Adsense. Once I found out about the issue, I moved most apps back to internal storage, and everything felt much faster, and I could run Firefox, MAPS.ME, and access Adsense Widget.

However, I have to say it’s hard to really notice a big difference in terms of performance between my older Mediatek MT6752 octa-core Cortex A53 based Iocean M6752 phone, and Mediatek Helio X20 deca-core Cortex A72/A53 based Vernee Apollo Lite phone for most tasks, except for some 3D games, and handling large PDF files.

One big improvement over Iocean phone is the battery, since it’s much bigger on Vernee Apollo Lite, and usually last well over 24 hours with 3 to 4 hours of active browsing and/or YouTube watching per day. Charging is much faster too, and while Iocean would take over 3 hours to charge, I can charge Apollo Lite in just one hour from about 10% to 100% thanks it is fast Pump 3.0 charger. Overnight battery discharge rate is however a little high with WiFi and 3G (calls) enabled, as the charge goes down between 20 to 25%, meaning if my phone was fully charge before going to bed, I’d only get 75 to 80% charge in the morning.

Once I found a workaround for the issues related to adoptable storage, I was very happy with the phone, although a better rear camera, and slightly more accurate GPS would have been a bonus.

Benchmarks: Antutu, Vellamo, and 3DMarks

I’ve reproduced Antutu 6.2.1 benchmark results for people who have not read the first part of the review.

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A comparison with other models reveals Apollo Lite is right between 360 N4 smartphone (also based on Helio X20 processor) and iPhone 6 performance.

antutu-6-2-1-vernee-apollo-lite

Vellamo benchmark shows Vernee Apollo Lite performance is roughly equivalent or even a little better than Samsung Galaxy S6 with Exynos 7420 Octa processor, or LG G Flex 2 with Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor.

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So far, I’ve always tested graphics performance using 3Dmark Ice Storm Extreme in my mobile and TV box reviews, but the ARM Mali-T880 GPU found in Mediatek Helio X20 SoC is a bit too fast for the task, and the score maxed out, despite frame rate not always topping at 60 fps.

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So instead I ran Ice Storm Unlimited, where Apollo Lite score 15,637 points, which almost places it in the top 200 Android & iOS devices for this benchmark.

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The GPU also supports 3Dmark Sling Shot, the reference benchmark for OpenGL ES 3.1, and the smartphone got 995 points. Since there are less OpenGL ES 3.1 capable devices, or simply because this benchmark is less popular, Apollo Lite would be ranked in 68th position among phones powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor.

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Storage and Wi-Fi Performance

A1 SD Benchmark app was use to test the performance of the internal storage (32GB eMMC flash), and my micro SD card, and Vernee seems to have gone with a cheaper eMMC flash only capable of 36.25MB/s read speed, and 12.05 MB/s write speed. The Class 10 SD card I used has much higher performance with 92.76MB/s and 55.92 MB/s write speed. However, you must remember those are sequential speed tests, and for app IOPS also matter a lot, and based on my experience app installed in internal memory run much faster than the one installed in the SD card, so that’s something to keep in mind.

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You can see from the chart below with mobile devices (smartphones / tablets) with a green dot, that Vernee Apollo Lite does not exactly have the fastest storage.

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

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

I transfered a 278 MB file over SAMBA using ES File Explorer three times to test 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz and 802.11ac performance, and I placed the smartphone in the exact same location where I usually review TV boxes and development boards in order to have results that can be comparable.

Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

The results are quite surprised because Vernee Apollo Lite has both one of the worst WiFi performance with 802.11n @ 2.4GHz averaging 1.4 MB/s, and one of the best 802.1ac performance averaging 6.5 MB/s in my environment. Download and upload speeds are similar with 802.11n, but there’s an asymmetry with 802.11ac, as downloads average 9.5 MB/s, and uploads only 5 MB/s.

Rear and Front Facing Cameras

Rear Camera

I’ve taken photos with different focus points, and light conditions using “high quality” settings with renders 5376×3024 resolution JPEG images with quality set to 95. You can find 26 photo samples in the linked Google Photo album.

Click to Access Photo Album

Click on the Image to Access the Photo Album

The way the camera focus works is a little weird, as it only relies on focus before you press the button, and once you press the button, it assumes focus is already done, and shots immediately. In my case, this led to many pictures looking a little blurry or washed out due to a lack of good focus.

I also shot two videos using the default settings (medium). The first one during day time.

Video details: 3gp container, H.264 video codec @ 17087 kbps, MPEG-4 AAC stereo @ 48,000 Hz / 12 kbps, 1920×1080 resolution, 30 fps.

The second one during night time.


Video details: 3gp container, H.264 video codec @ 8250 kbps, MPEG-4 AAC stereo @ 48,000 Hz / 12 kbps, 1920×1080 resolution, 14 fps.

So overall, the rear camera is clearly not the strong point of this smartphone.

Front Camera

I’ve also take a few pictures with the front camera, which can be found in a Google Photo album. The images native resolution is 2560×1920.

vernee-apollo-lite-front-camera

Click on the Image to Access the Photo Album

I also made a 1h30 video call with Skype using the front camera, and the quality was perfectly satisfying.

Video Playback

I manually installed Antutu Video Tester 3.0 app in the phone in order to evaluate video playback, and Apollo Lite got 849 points, which remains acceptable, but still not reaching the best devices that achieve a little over 1,000 points.

vernee-apollo-lite-antutu-video-tester-3-0

The partially supported videos were so, because of failed audio playback of AC-3, DTS, and Flac audio.

vernee-apollo-lite-audio-failure Seven videos completely failed to play, but it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason since for example, MKV files could be played, as well as videos with AVC codec, but a particular MKV + AVC video failed to play at all.

vernee-apollo-lite-video-failure

Battery Life

Vernee Apollo Lite battery is the most significantly improved over my previous phone. The large 3,180 mAh battery allows for well over 24 hours of use, with my typical use case being 3 to 4 hours a day browsing the web, watching YouTube videos, and checking emails. My previous phone, Iocean M6752, would barely last from morning to evening, but not quite reaching bed time.

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Another big improvement is that charging from basically 0% to 100% just takes one hour, while Iocean M6752 would take 3h30 to charge to 100% (one hour to 90%) while new, and 18 months, it’s even slower to reached an acceptable charge level.

In order to give a more formal evaluation of battery life, I ran LAB501 Battery Life app‘s web browsing, video playback (720p), and gaming tests. I started from a full charge until the battery  level reached about 15%, with Wi-Fi & cellular (3G, no data) enabled, and brightness set to 50%.

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Vernee Apollo Lite results

  • Browsing (100% to 15%) – 467 minutes (7h47).
  • Video (100% to 15%) – 396 minutes (6h36), or about 3 to 4 typical movies.
  • Gaming (100% to 15%) – 261 minutes (4h21)
vernee_apollo_lite-battery

Battery life in minutes

Vernee Apollo Lite’s 3,180 mAh battery, compares to the 2,300 mAh battery in Iocean M6752 smartphone, and 3,550 mAh battery in Infocus CS1 A83 7″ tablet.

The only real downside about battery life is that “Phone Idle” may consume a little too much, as the battery level drops between 20 and 25% overnight. Some members of Vernee complained about this since “OTA-2” firmware update, so a subsequent firmware update may improve this.

Miscellaneous

Bluetooth

I could pair the phone with other Android devices, and transfer photos and files between them. Bluetooth LE works fine too, as I could retrieve fitness data from my Bluetooth 4.0 smart fitness band using Smart Movement app. I also used a Bluetooth 3.0 audio headset successfully.

GPS

GPS fix is super fast, as test with GPS Test, and maps app such as Google Maps or MAPS.ME. Accuracy is not perfect however when using Nike+ Run Club, the new version of Nike+ Running. The screenshot above shows the map and running path as shown from the app when WiFi and GPS “High accuracy” are enabled, and when only GPS device is used with WiFi disabled.The latter was tested since I’ve previously found out that disabling WiFi could greatly improve GPS accuracy.

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I follow a road around a stadium, so it should be a nice regular ellipse like shape, and it’s not perfect both in “High accuracy” mode with GPS , WiFi, and Cellular network, and in “Device only” mode with WiFi disabled. It’s basically the same. The undulations are about 5 to 15 meters which may be within GPS accuracy (TBC).

One problem I have with Nike+ Run Club is that the screen will turn off after 30 seconds (or whatever settings are set in Android), while the old app Nike+ Running had no such issues. I’ve worked around the issue by setting Settings->Display->Sleep to 30 minutes in Android settings before I go for a run.

Gaming

Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Bleach, and Riptide GP2 all played very smoothly as expected with an ARM Mali-T880 GPU. So I tried a more demanding 3D racing games with CSR Racing 2, and again it felt the game was rendered at 60 fps, or close to this framerate.

Others

Multitouch app reports the touchscreen supports 5 touch points. The smartphone looks like it has stereo speakers since it has two sets of holes on the bottom side. However, I can mute the phone, by covering one of the hole… I’d say audio quality through the speaker is only average, and I recommend using headphones whenever possible, or external speakers. I also find myself often muting the phone inadvertently by placing my thumb right on the speaker location. It would have been much better to place the speaker on the back of the phone instead.

Video Review

If you’d rather see the smartphone in action, I’ve shot a video showing some of the settings, benchmark results, the camera function, GPS fix speed, gaming with Riptide GP2 and CSR Racing 2, handling a large PDF, and show there are no stereo speakers, but only one speaker.

Conclusion

Vernee Apollo Lite has good firmware, fast and stable (after I moved apps to internal storage), with performance similar to Samsung Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6 according to benchmarks, 802.11ac performance is one of the best I’ve seen, and the battery life is much better (~ 24 hours) and charging times much shorter than my previous Mediatek phone.. However it’s not quite perfect, as the camera does not always deliver pretty pictures, which has probably more to do with the firmware than the hardware itself, the company has gone cheap with the eMMC flash, 2.4 GHz 802.11n performance is poor, despite being stable,

PROS

  • Fast Mediatek Helio X20 (M6797) deca-core processor
  • Plenty of memory (4GB RAM)
  • Good 1920×1080 display
  • Excellent Wi-Fi 802.11ac performance
  • Outstanding gaming performance
  • Long battery life, and short charing time (~1 hour)
  • Fast GPS fix, and relatively accurate
  • OTA firmware update support
  • Support forums

CONS

  • Photos taken with the rear camera are not always very clear, with what looks like an auto-focus issue.
  • 4K video recording is supported by Helio X20, but not implemented in the current firmware.
  • Adoptable storage option with micro SD card may cause problems with apps crashing or losing features like widget support.
  • Poor WiFi performance while using 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz (with my router)
  • eMMC flash with average performance leading to longer boot time (~35 to 40 seconds) and app loading times (CSR Racing 2 feels especially slow to load races)
  • The back of the phone gets rather warm when running benchmarks or playing games.
  • Mono speaker only, and quality is just average. It’s also poorly placed on the bottom side of the phone where it is easy to cover it up.
  • GPL source code not released yet

Tomtop kindly sent Apollo Lite smartphone for review, and if you are interested in the phone, you could consider purchasing it from them for $209.99 including shipping with ApolloLite068 coupon. There are also several other sellers offering the phone including GearBest, GeekBuying, eBay, and Aliexpress for $227.99 and up.

Beelink GT1 4K TV Box Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown

September 9th, 2016 15 comments

Beelink GT1 is among the cheapest Amlogic S912 TV boxes available today, selling for around $56, but despite the inexpensive price tag, its specifications are not too bad with Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac WiFi, 2GB RAM, 16GB flash, and 4K H.265 & VP9 video capabilities. The company sent me a sample for review, and as usual, I’ll start by posting photos, and having a look at the hardware design, before reviewing the firmware in more details in a the second part of the review.

Beelink GT1 Unboxing

My package appears to have had a rough trip, but apart from the edges of the black retail package nothing was damaged.

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The main specifications are shown on the bottom of the package together with CE and FCC certifications, and the type of power adapter inside the package.

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GT1 ships with a simple IR remote control, a shortish HDMI cable (~1 meter), a small 5V/2A power adapter, and a user’s manual in English just showing how to connect the TV box to your TV. It feels one of the way they’ve kept the price low is by selecting inexpensive accessories.

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The box is rather small too, which looks cute, and reduce the cost of shipping.

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We’ll find a USB 2.0 port and a micro SD slot on one side, and the rest of the connector on the rear panel with the power jack, one more USB port, HDMI 2.0 output, Gigabit Ethernet, and optical S/PDIF.

Beelink GT1 Teardown

There aren’t any screws on the bottom of the case, so you’ll need to gently work your way around to pop-up the bottom plastic cover.

beelink-gt1-case-bottom-640pxOnce it’s done, you’ll find a heavy metal plate attached to the bottom cover, and some paste connecting it to a shield covering the processor and RAM chips. Since the paste feels dry, my box teardown may have a negative impact on thermal performance… so we’ll have to see.

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The shield can easily be taken out. It comes with a pink thermal pad to cover Amlogic S912 SoC. Two Samsung K4B4G1646E-BCMA DDR3 SDRAM chips (1GB RAM) are paired with a 16GB FORESEE NCEMBSF9-16G eMMC flash. Wired connectivity is achieved via Realtek RTL8211F Gigabit Ethernet transceiver and H2403N transformer, while 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0 are done with Aigale AW-CM273SM. It’s the first time I see this module, but it appears to be a compatible replacement of Ampak AP6335 according to one Chinese website.

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We’ll also find the serial console on the bottom left of the picture, close to the FORESEE flash. The board is actually called GT_V20, not GT1. Loosening three screws will allow us to completely remove the board from the case, and check out the bottom of the board.

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There’s also a shield with a thermal pad covering two more memory modules bringing the total memory to 2GB.

Beelink provided the GT1 for review, and if you plan to purchase in quantities you may contact the company to do so. Beelink GT1 can also be purchased on Amazon US for $66.97, GearBest for $55.99 with GBGT1 coupon, and from several sellers on Aliexpress for $59.99 and up.