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Getting Started with ReSpeaker WiFi IoT Board’s Audio Capabilities, Voice Recognition and Synthesis

August 27th, 2016 2 comments

ReSpeaker is a development board combining an Atmel AVR MCU, a MediaTek MT7688 WiFi module running OpenWrt, a built-in microphone, an audio jack, and I/O headers to allow for voice control and output for IoT applications. That means you could make your own Amazon Echo like device with the board and add-ons, use it as a voice controlled home automation gateway and more. The board was launched on Kickstarter a few days ago, and already raised $100,000 from about 100 backers, but I’ve received an early sample, so I’ll provide some more information about the firmware, and shows how to use with some Python scripts leveraging Microsoft Bing Speech API.

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You’ll need a micro USB to USB cable to connect your to computer (Linux, Windows, Mac OS…), and a speaker to connect to the board. Linux (OpenWrt) boots in a few seconds, and once it’s done all RGB LED will continuously blink.

I’m using a computer running Ubuntu 16.04, and ReSpeaker is detected by the system as an Arduino Leonardo board:

That’s optional, but if you want you can access the serial console, with programs like Minicom, screen, putty or hyperterminal and set the connection to 57600 8N1 to access the command. Here’s the full boot log:

If you think something is odd here… That’s because the serial connection will miss some characters. This happens with two computers and different USB cables. Hopefully this is either a specific issue with my sample, or if it is an issue it will be fixed by the time boards ship to Kickstarter backers [Update: The company explained me that it’s because the Atmel 32u4 and Mediatek MT7688 share the same USB port]. So instead of using the serial console, I’ll use SSH instead which means I have to connect to ReSpeaker WiFi access point first, and configure it.

LinkIt_Smart_Access_PointReSpeaker will show as LinkIt_Smart_7688_XXXXX, because the WiFi module is exactly the same as LinkIt Smart 7688 IoT board, and unsurprisingly the configuration interface is exactly the same.ReSpeaker_WiFi_PasswordFirst set the root password, and login with that password.

ReSpeaker_Station_Mode_OpenWrt_LUCIThen go to Network tab, select station mode, and connect to your access point by entering your password. Click Configure, and you’re done. As you can see on the right above, you can also use OpenWrt’s LUCI interface to configure networking.

Now find ReSpeaker IP address via your Router DHCP client list, arp-scan, or other method:

You can now connect to the board via SSH:

and use the password you set in the web interface.

Now let’s check some CPU information:

We’ve got Mediatek NT7688 MIPS24K processor as advertised, so let’s check a few more details:

The board runs Linux 3.18.23, has 7.6MB available storage, and 128MB RAM in total.

I’m not going to test the audio features with command tools, and python script, and also include a video demo at the end of this review.Since I don’t have ReSpeaker Microphone array add-on, I have to be fairly close to the microphone for it to work well, maybe one meter at most, or the volume would be really low.

I’ll start by checking audio recording and playback with any API or internet access requirements.
We can record audio with 16000 sample rate, 16 bit width, 1 channel using the following command

and play it back with aplay:

It worked OK for me, although the volume seemed quite low.

Now we can do something a little more interested as Seeed Studio develop a few Text-to-speech and Speech-to-text Python scripts. You can retrieve the scripts from ReSpeaker github account, and install one dependencies to setup the board:

The script are using Microsoft Speech API, but in theory you could use any other speech API. Since Seeed Studio has already done all the hard work, I simply applied for a Microsoft peech API key in order to be able to use the demo.

Microsoft_API_KeyThat’s free for testing / evaluation, but if you intend to use it in commercial products, or for your own case, if you use more 5,000 transactions per month, you’d need to purchase a subscription.

You’ll find three Python scripts in the directory namely: bing_voice.py, bing_stt_with_vad.py,  tts.py. Look for BING_KEY inside each script, and paste your own key.

Time to have some fun, starting with the speech to text script:

It’s pretty slow to start (about 15 seconds), and then there are a few error message, before you can see the “* recording” message, and you can talk, with Bing returning the results: “Bing:你好”. Chinese? Yep, as currently the default is Chinese, but if it is not your strongest language, you can edit bing_stt_with_vad.py, and change the language replacing zh-CN by en-US, or other language strings:

An English works too (sort of):

In the first sentence, I said “Hello World! Welcome to CNX Software today”, but it came out as “hello world next software”, maybe because of my accent, but I doubt it…

Then I wanted to try Thai language, but I got an API failure simply because the number of supported languages by Microsoft Speeach API is limited as shown in the table below.

language-Country language-Country language-Country language-Country
ar-EG* en-IN fr-FR pt-BR
ca-ES en-NZ it-IT pt-PT
da-DK en-US ja-JP ru-RU
de-DE es-ES ko-KR sv-SE
en-AU es-MX nb-NO zh-CN
en-CA fi-FI nl-NL zh-HK
en-GB fr-CA pl-PL zh-TW

If your language is not listed here, then you could Google Speech API instead, and it’s likely Seeed Studio or the community will have written compatible scripts by the time ReSpeaker boards ship to backers.

So you now know how to convert your voice to text, and you can use that text to send a web search, or toggle GPIOs, but you may also want to get an audio answer to your action, and tts.py script is there for your, and very easy to use:

It did not really feel realistic, but at least I could understand the female voice in the speakers. Looks in the script I did not see any language settings, so I assume the API will automatically detect the language, and inputted a string in French instead, and all I heard was gibberish. Finally I found that you can change the voice language in bing_voice.py script with contains most of the code:

I replaced the US female voice, but a French male voice, added a “famous French saying”:

At least it was understandable, but Microsoft has still some work to do the audio output was more like “Salut mon gars. commencer a va?”. The reason could also be that the correct writing is “Comment ça va”, but the terminal (set to UTF-8), did not let me input “ç”.

You can watch all those demo in the video below to get a better feel about the audio quality, delays, and capabilities of Microsoft Bing Speech API.

KowanTV Click Linux IPTV Box Review

August 25th, 2016 7 comments

CNXSoft: Ray reviews Amlogic S812 powered Linux based KowanTV Click TV box with allegedly access to over a thousand free IPTV channels. While the hardware is pretty standard, you pay a (hefty) premium to access their IPTV servers, and it reminds me of Jynxbox Live which I reviewed a few years ago.

I received one these rare Linux stream boxes. It’s called TVone Entertainment hub, advertised as: KowanTV Click To Play Entertainment Hub European American TV Channels Live Broadcast Video on demand IPTV BOX 1000+ Free Channels, and provided by GeekBuying for this review.

KowanTVKowanTV Click Specifications

System
Operating System Embedded Media OS( linux )
CPU Amlogic S812( ARM cortex-A9 )
GPU Mali-450 Octo-core
RAM 2GB RAM
ROM 8GB Flash Memory
Communication
Wifi Connectivity IEEE 802.11 b/g/n  2.4GHz/5GHz
Ethernet 10/100M
Bluetooth Yes
Media
Video Supported Video (up to 4K) – MPEG1/2/4,  H.264,  H.265,AVC, VC-1 , RM/RMVB , Xvid , DviX3/4/5/6, RealVideo 8/9/10
Audio Supported MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, OGG, AC3, DDP, TRUEHD, DTS, DTS HD, FLAC, APE
Picture Supported JPEG, GIF, TIFF, BMP, PNG
Resolution 4K*2K
Range RF Remote Receiver  15M
Dolby Digital Decoder Up to 7.1
Internet Requirements Supports most standard dsl connections ADSL, ADSL 2 and ADSL 2+ , cable Internet and Wifi (including 3 g and 4 g speeds )
Interfaces
HDMI Port HDMI 1.4
Other Interfaces HDMI, Optical Audio, Ethernet, USB 2.0*2,DC IN
Dimensions & Weight
Dimensions 135*125*27mm/5.31*4.92*1.06in; Product 12.8*10.6*2.2cm/5*4.2*0.9inches
Weight 550g/19.40oz; Product 264g/9.45oz
Package Contents
1 x KowanTV Entertainment Hub
1 x Kowan RF Remote
1 x HDMI cable
1 x Power adapter (A right AC Adapter will be sent as your shipping country)
1 x Micro USB Remote Charger Cable
1 x Set-up Guide

Unboxing and first impressions

After opening the package, we see the top of the box and the fancy looking RF remote, covered in soft foam, a USB 2.0 to Micro USB (1 meter), and a HDMI cable v.1.4 (1.5 meter) together with a quick setup manual and the power supply.

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On first sight, all looks from high quality in a straight forward design. But stay tuned, this box will show some surprises.

One of the big “advertisements” of this box is, that it would come with a preload (or after OTA updates) of over 1000 Channels. The company also provided a comparison table showing differences with “standard Android TV boxes”. Kowan TV1 is the box being reviewed here, as Kowan TV2 also include dual DVB-T2/C & DVB-S2 tuner.

KowanTV_vs_Android_TV_Box

Surprisingly the number of TV stations after my first connection was just 95 channels.

I got suspicious and tried to figure out, what’s really behind the Kowan TV1! The firmware is simply a kind of modified Linux/Kodi Modification, similar to Arnubox Mach 10 Pure Linux! A mixture of renewable OTA TV links and a integrated Kodi styled Addon GUI.

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It reminded me directly of my bad experiences with Arnubox Mach 10, with similar specifications, also using Amlogic e S812 ARM Cortex-A9 processor with an octa-core Mali-450MP GPU.

I tested the quality of the “live links” and it was a new experience. Never ever before I saw streams such bad video streams, almost all in a range between 500 and 800k, meaning they are not watchable on big screens at all. Most streams are delivered by FilmON add-on.

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I connected 3 different brands of Wireless mouses without success, and even Mele F10 Deluxe did not work. Then I tried a standard USB keyboard, no success either. This box only seems to work with the original remote, a handicap what could be fatal one time.

The box is also advertised with Bluetooth capability, but I could not find any such setting in the settings menu or anywhere else, so I guessed it might be some sort of permanent Bluetooth connection, and tried different devices with “searches”…result: none at all. So one way to work around the issue could be to use a USB Bluetooth dongle instead, which I did, but again unsuccessfully…

After connecting my Samsung soundbar HW-K950, Kowan TV1 box showed us its first bright side, as it delivered a real Dolby experience. After a web search, I found out that a box with the same promises and advertisements was advertised in 2011. So it looks like a remake of a hard-to-sell device…

Video Test Results

Resolution Video Format Local Playback Network (Wi-Fi/LAN) Playback
720p (1280*720) AVC ([email protected]) Playing correctly Playing correctly
1080p (1920*1080) AVC ([email protected]) Playing correctly Playing correctly
 2160p (3840*2160) HEVC (H.265) – 10Bit Playing correctly Playing correctly with pre-Buffering
4K (4096*2304) AVC ([email protected]) Playing correctly Playing correctly with pre-Buffering
4K TS HEVC files HEVC (H.265) Does not play / play with artifacts and stutter Does not play / play with artifacts and stutter

Conclusion

KOWAN TV1 Linux seems like a promising system. It shows great performance, but I also experienced issues with connecting built-in Kodi addons to servers (both through Ethernet and WiFi), signing-in into YouTube, some add-ons did not work, and the remote control was useful but quite flawed.

The biggest disappointment was, that this box delivers the advertised “over 1000” channels only by using pirate Kodi addons only. As I mentioned previously, I also manged to get 95 live channels, and half of them would not even open because of endless pre-buffering, so it was more then disappointing.

On the bright side, this “Kodi machine” has good picture quality, and managed to play almost anything thrown at it (within Amlogic S812 chipset limitations – no TS files). Local network performance proved to be quite good, though with long pre-buffering for heavy 4K content. There are also some services reminiscent of the old NMT (network media tanks), which allows things, like torrent download and playback, and other interesting options.

PROS

  • Live Streams with EPG
  • Very nice Remote with keyboard function including backlight and rechargeable battery via a micro USB port. Range tested up to 12/15 meters
  • Relatively easy to handle GUI
  • No Temperature issues

CONS

  • The price… definitely.
  • Works only with original remote control
  • Nothing more than a modified Linux running Kodi in the background.
  • 95 “live Streams” are delivered through Kodi’s IPTV simple client, which once a while needs an update over the so-called update when starting the box! There would be a premium package to book later on, but this is normally free (FilmOn licensed live stream Inc.).
  • If you want to watch movies, you have to launch Kodi add-ons, with long pre-bufferings and all kind of bad effects delivered by these freebies.
  • The whole experience is within the confines of Kodi, there’s no getting out.
  • The Channel update experience was less than encouraging, as the device was unable to connect to the update server quite a few times. Much like most of other “pure Linux” based TV boxes, a manual update through a USB/SD Card is not possible since the  firmware is not public

Entertainment systems running on Linux never really made their way to the end consumers in the past through their handicap to be married to Kodi only somehow. More successful Linux boxes, such as the Mag boxes, use different middleware  offering end users a simple way to connect to a IPTV portal. I wish Kowan TV1 would have gone this way in compiling a real hybrid able to run a nicely done GUI with Kodi together with portal compatibility. This would have made it a real unique box with potential, and not ending up being an overpriced Kodi Entertainment System, although the name Kodi does not appear at all in the the modified GUI.

The specifications are about the same as any of the other Amlogic S812 based boxes out there, and the main difference remains the operating system. The manufacturer markets the box as better than its Android counterparts, but I found it to be a mixed bag.

The default skin that was custom made for the box, requires some getting used to, if you are used to the standard confluence Kodi skin. But it works quite well, If you come from Android, or even Windows boxes, this Linux box will require some adjustments. It might be the right fit for you, but you will need to know that it’s Kodi only, and there is nothing else, no matter the modified GUI, which is on the other hand, an improvement to standard Kodi systems, for an inexperienced or older user.

Did I like it? Not really. I was disappointed with some of the issues I found as my expectations were higher for a dedicated box.

Would I recommend it? I would, but only for people with limited technical understandings and who just need a capable kind of Entertainment/Kodi box, and are willing to live with its limitations, and extremely higher than average price.

GeekBuying kindly provided the sample for review, and if you still want to purchase it, you can do on on their website for $199 (No typo). Free shipping and a free Tenda F3 N300 wireless router somewhat soften the high price tag. It can also be found on Aliexpress and eBay for the same price.

M12N Amlogic S912 Octa-core TV Box Review – Part 2: Android 6.0 Firmware

August 24th, 2016 29 comments

Shenzhen Shiningworth MXQ Plus M12N is one of the first TV box powered by Amlogic S912 octa-core processor also bringing a faster GPU, VP9 and HDR support compared to the earlier Amlogic S905 processor. I’ve already shown the device, its accesories, and its internal degisn in the first part of MXQ Plus M12N review, so today I’ll spend time reporting my finding testing features and performance with Android 6.0 firmware.

MXQ_Plus_M12N_TV-Box_HDD_Onkyo_AV_Receiver

Setup Wizard and First Impressions

Since there are only two USB ports, I connected my USB hard drive to one, and used a USB hub to connect input devices including two RF dongles for an air mouse, and a gamepad, as well as a USB keyboard to take screenshots. I also added Ethernet and  HDMI cable, and finally connected the power supply to boot it up.

M12N_Setup_Wizard_LetterboxBut as you can see from the picture the very first boot was not quite as expected, as all I can see what a mini version of the user interface in the top left corner of my TV (please ignore the vertical line(s) in my pictures, as it is a problem with my LG 4K TV). I contacted the Shenzhen Shiningworth about this issue, and they told me to try to reboot the device… To my surprise, the issue was gone, and I’ve never been able to reproduce it.

MXQ-Plus-M12N-Setup_Wizard

The very first screen will be a welcome from the setup wizard. Select/Click on Next to select the language.M12N_Wizard_Language_Settings

You’ll only have four choices at this stage: English, simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, or Japanese. M12N_Wizard_Overscan_Settings

The Next window is for overscan compensation in case you have black zones on the edges of your TV.M12N_Wizard_Network_SettingsThe final settings in the wizard is for Network. If you have connected an Ethernet cable just click Next, but if you want to use WiFi instead set Wireless from close to open, select your access point, and enter its password. Both 2.4 and 5.0 GHz (802.11ac) networks are supported.

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Once everything done you get to the main launcher with icons for Google Play, Kodi, YouTube, Netflix, “Local” apps, All apps, a Game app (KO GameBox), and a links to Settings. There’s also a customizable bar at the bottom for favorite apps. Boot is normally achieved in less than 30 seconds.

M12N_Android_AppsThe pre-installed app are mostly pretty common, except some IPTV apps – BangTV, Mobdro, and Show Box – which I’m not familiar, and check out later in the review.

MXQ-PLus_M12N_SettingsThere are 6 main menus in the settings:

  • Networks – Wireless, Ethernet, Broadband (PPPoE), and wireless hotspot
  • Device – BlueTooth, Keyboard, HDMI CEC control, Sound settings (PCM, SPDIF passthrough, or HDMI passthrough)
  • General – Device Name (default: MXQ Plus), Date & Time, Language, and More settings (Android 6.0 settings)
  • Security – Security redirecting to Android 6.0 Security Settings, Add Account
  • Display – Adjustment, Resolution, Wallpaper, Screensaver
  • MXQ About – Device Name, System Info, Developer mode, ROM update, and Restore factory status

About_MXQ_PlusI haven’t had any problems with neither WiFi or Ethernet connectivity, and I could setup HDMI output up to [email protected] Hz, however the system would almost always revert to 1080p60 after a reboot. The mow usual annoyance that I can’t turn off my AV receiver while it’s connected to the device still occur, even if I disable HDMI CEC. I could not find any HDR options in the settings.

While we have the most useful option in Settings app,  you can still access Android 6.0 settings via General->More settings, and set other parameter like accessibility, printing, developer options, Languages and Input (with many languages), and so on.

Like most new devices to the market, the TV box has a unified partition for apps and data with 11.87 GB storage, and at the end of the review I had only used 2.99 GB with all installed apps and some files copied to the download directory. So there will be enough space for the requirements of most people.

Going to About MediaBox section shows MXQ Plus running Android 6.0.1 on top of Linux 3.14.29. The firmware is not rooted. The company told me that OTA firmware is supported, but it won’t work through UPDATE&BACKUP app, which reports OTA failure connecting to server, and instead you’d have to go to Settings->MXQ About->ROM update. I have not been able to confirm whether it works since the company has not release a new firmware since I’ve received the device. [Update: The company has now pushed a new firmware on their OTA server, and I’m tested it. See section below]

While I used MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse for most of the review, I’ve also quickly tested the infrared remote control, and it works with a range up to 10 meters.  Google Play store worked well, except for BLE (Bluetooth LE) app such as Mi Fit or Vidonn Smartband, which I had to side-loaded. I had no problem installing the free version of Riptide GP2 through Amazon Underground.

Power handling is OK with a short press on the power button of the remote control making the device go into standby, and a long press, popping up a window to power it off cleanly. I could also use the remote control to power it back on.

I measured power consumption in 6 different configurations:

  • Power off – 0.4 watt
  • Standby – 0.4 watt
  • Idle – 3.0 to 3.4 watts
  • Power off + USB HDD – 0.4 watt
  • Standby + USB HDD – 1.0 watt (HDD LED was turned off)
  • Idle + USB HDD – 4.2 watts

All good numbers, and behaviors. Unless you consider the 30+ watts consumed by my A/V receiver which I can’t power off while connected to MXQ Plus M12N…

Thermal design as seen in the teardown post with two thick thermal pad connecting the processor to the metal case, was not very convincing, but during use the case does not get very hot. After Antutu 6.x, top and bottom temperatures were both 41°C max, and after playing Riptide GP2 for about 15 minutes, the temperatures only went up to 43°C and 45°C respectively. The game frame rate was also constant during the whole duration of the game.

Considering Amlogic S912 is a brand new processor, and putting aside the very first boot letterbox issue. my first impressions were quite good with MXQ Plus M12N with the stable and responsive firmware most of the time. Other small annoyances and bugs included the lack of status and notification bars, the device preventing me from turning off my A/V receiver, and in two or three occurrences having the system ask whether I wanted to close or wait for an unresponsive app.

A Quick Look at IPTV apps

As previously mentioned 3 IPTV apps are installed.

BangTV plays Chinese TV stations in Mandarin, but also some in foreign languages (Russian, French, Arabic…) in SD resolution.

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Mobdro app categorizes live video feeds by Channels, News, Shows, Movies, Sports, and Music, and more.

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Once you enter a category, you will be presented by a list of channels with logo and descriptions.

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I could play Sky Sports F1 from the list in SD resolution, and it worked well, except the quality was rather low. Watching sports on TV is often a paying endeavors, so I assume this may not be legal everywhere…

Finally Show Box app starts in the News section, which you can navigate to access various entertainment news about movies and TV shows.

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But you can also select Movies and TV shows in the left sidebar, which brings you to a list of movies.

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I selected one, and it looks like it’s pointing to stream or download the movie through bittorrent.

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I’ve checked Tarzan for two minutes and it could stream fine at 720p (with somewhat low quality)… Again it may not be fully legal in all locales…

OTA Firmware Update

Note: this section had been added after the review since the company only pushed the new firmware one day later.

So soon after starting the device, I got a pop-up window prompting for an Update together with a short changelog.

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I clicked “Yes” and then… nothing. I asked the company if this was normal, and was informed that download occurs in the background, and a down arrow is shown during the process.

Amlogic_S912_Firmware_Update_Icon

So I minded my own business doing other things for a few minutes, and finally I got another pop-up asking me to applying the update.MXQ_Plus_M12N_Firmware_Download_CompleteI clicked “Yes”, the system rebooted, applied the update, and then complete the installation for a reboot. Around 5 minutes later everything was completed, and I still had my files and apps. So no problem and it went smoothly.

Video and Audio Playback with Kodi, Antutu Video Tester, and DRM information

I’ll switch to local video playback. The first time you start Kodi, you’ll be asked whether you want to install Add-ons. I selected “Not install” myself, since I don’t need it for review.

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Kodi 16.1 is installed, probably a custom version built on July 4, 2016.

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I’ll play all videos from a SAMBA share over an 100Mbps Ethernet connectivity, unless otherwise stated (HDD = played from USB hard drive).

I’ve started with some Linaro media samples, and Elecard H.265 videos:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny) – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container –  480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV) – 1080p – 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – OK (software decode)
  • WebM / VP8 – 480p/720p – OK (ff-vp8 software decode), 1080p – some frames are skipped
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container  – OK

I enabled automatic refresh rate in Kodi, but this did not work well.

Videos with various bitrates were next:

  • ED_HD.avi (H.264 / 10 Mbps) – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – Not 100% smooth (software decode)
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – OK
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – Audio only, stays in UI
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – HDD: OK

The worry here is that the system can’t play some videos with software decode that could be played without issues in Amlogic S905X devices like MINI M8S II, so it could be the CPU is throttling under load.

I also tested PCM output (stereo downsampling) via Kodi and MX Player/MoviePlayer app using my TV’s speakers, and HDMI pass-through in both using Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver for advanced audio codecs.

Audio Codec in Video PCM 2.0 Output
(Kodi 16.1)
PCM 2.0 Output
(MoviePlayer or Video Player)
HDMI Pass-through
(Kodi 16.1)
HDMI Pass-through
(MoviePlayer or Video Player)
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK but video not smooth No audio Dolby D 5.1 detected, but audio starts with noises, video not smooth OK
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK No audio Dolby D 5.1, but with 3 audio cuts OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK No audio no audio Video plays in slow motion without audio
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio no audio TrueHD 5.1
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio no audio TrueHD 7.1
Dolby Atmos 7.1 OK No audio PCM 2.0 Dolby D 5.1continuous beep
DTS HD Master OK No audio DTS 5.1 with 2 audio cuts DTS 5.1
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio DTS 5.1 with 1 audio cut DTS 5.1
DTS:X OK No audio DTS 5.1 DTS 5.1

No audio with PCM output using apps other than Kodi is expected since the processor is Amlogic S912, and not Amlogic S912-H with the proper Dolby and DTS licenses. HDMI pass-through is still in a sorry state, especially in Kodi. It’s still usable in other apps, as long as you are satisfied with 5.1 audio.

4K video playback is pretty good however, at least for supported HW codecs:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) –  OK
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – OK
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) – OK
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – 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 – OK
  • 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) – HDD: Slow motion, and many artifacts (Not supported by S912 VPU, software decode)
  • Ducks Take Off [2160p a 243 Mbps].mkv (4K H.264 @ 30 fps; 243 Mbps; no audio) – HDD: Not perfectly smooth for either NTFS or exFAT partitions
  • tara-no9-vp9.webm (4K VP9 YouTube video) – OK
  • The.Curvature.of.Earth.4K.60FPS-YT-UceRgEyfSsc.VP9.3840×2160.OPUS.160K.webm (4K VP9 @ 60 fps + opus audio) – OK watchable but not 100% perfectly smooth.

I had already written about 4K video playback on Amlogic S912 SoC, and if you haven’;t seen it already you can watch some of the videos above playing in M12N in the embedded video below.

Sintek-4k.iso & amat.iso (non encrypted) Blu-Ray ISOs, and two MPEG2 1080i videos could all play without an issues. I was expecting Amlogic S912 to handle 1080p 10-bit H.264 video software decoding thanks to its 8 cores @ 2.0 GHz, but while a 720p Hi10p would play perfectly with audio, video and subtitles, the 1080p Hi10p video was not perfectly smooth, and even suffered from artifacts and audio cuts from time to time. The culprit could be M12N specific thermal design, so the issue will have to be confirmed or disproved with some other S912 models.

My TV does not support 3D videos, but I normally still checked if the TV box can decode the videos, and Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V receiver is capable of detecting 3D content (shows 3D icon) for MVC videos as shown in  Zidoo X1 II review, so I check whether the 3D icon is lit up:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Audio only, stays in UI.
  • 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 Onkyo receiver
  • ISO-full3D-sample.iso (Full-frame packed MVC 3D ISO) – 2D only, 3D icon not shown on Onkyo receiver

I completed Kodi videos testing by playing various VOB/IFO, MKV, AVI, MP4, XViD/DViX, and MKV 720p and 1080p videos from my library and all could play fine. I also played one complete video for 2 hours without issues.

I’ve also run Antutu Video Tester 3.0 benchmark, and MXQ Plus got 895 points, which is quite similar to the 909 points achived on MINI M8S II. The best devices normally get over 1,000 points.

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DRM info shows only Widewine Level 3 is supported. No surprise here.

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YouTube works fine, but is limited to 1080p max.

Video samples used in Kodi for this review can be downloaded via links in the comments section of my video sample post.

Network Performance

I copied a 278MB file between a SAMBA share and the internal storage test WiFi performance, both using 802.11n @ 2.4 GHz, and 802.11ac @ 433 Mbps.

M12N_802.11ac_WiFiResults are below average, and during the 802.11n test, I even got a stalled and failed transfer. Performance is also asymmetric with “downloads” (SAMBA-> flash) faster than uploads (flash to SAMBA). 802.11n achieved 1.6 MB/s on average, while the file was transfered @ 1.9 MB/s over 802.11ac on average.

Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

For Fast Ethernet, I instead ran iperf -t 60 -c server_ip -d to test full duplex transfer, a worse case scenario, and performance is good:

Miscellaneous Tests

Bluetooth

After pairing my Android smartphone with “MXQ Plus” I could transfer a couple of photos over Bluetooth. I side-loaded Mi Fit, and it recognized and sync data with Xiaomi Mi Band 2 fitness band, however the app was displayed in portrait mode.

Xiaomi_Mi-Fit_Portrait

I skipped Sixaxis app test with my PS3 Bluetooth game controller clone since the firmware is not rooted, and for some reasons the TV box completely failed to detect my Bluetooth headset.

Storage

My Seagate USB hard drive with 4 partitions got NTFS and exFAT partions recognized and mounted  and a FAT32 micro SD could also be moutned in read/write mode.

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

Once I tried to copy a file from NTFS to exFAT in ES File Explorer but it failed due to permissions issues. I had not such issues with File Manager app. A1SD bench app shows fast sequential read speed in both partitions with 30MB/s (NTFS) and 33.86MB/s (exFAT), but write speeds are on the low side at respectively 6.42MB/s (NTFS) and 23.83MB/s (exFAT). I checked the NTFS partition with ntfsfix in my PC, and repeated the benchmark but the write speed was still very low.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

I repeated the test for M12N Samsung eMMC flash, and the results were excellent with 99.00 MB/s read speed and 69.40 MB/s write speed, which really makes me wonder why the box are the “unresponsive” app issue.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s

Gaming

I’ve already written a specific post about Gaming on Amlogic S912 TV box, and performance is clearly better than on Amlogic S905 TV boxes. The included retro gaming app “KO Gamebox” is also interesting. You can see the performance in several games in the video below.

MXQ Plus M12N Benchmarks

I’ll refer to you to the post entitled M12N Amlogic S912 TV Box Benchmarks for details, but let’s say results are disappointing, and I was expecting a larger performance jump compared to Amlogic S905 platforms.

Antutu_6_Amlogic-S912_M12N

Conclusion

MXQ Plus M12N works reasonably well with a stable and responsive firmware, good 4K video playback in Kodi, and decent gaming performance, however it feels like the device does not fully leverage Amlogic S912 processor performance based on benchmark results and video software decoding performance, and it still has some bugs like lack of HDMI audio pass-through in Kodi, and no automatic frame rate switching, problem with remembering HDMI resolution, slow WiFi, and so on.

PROS

  • Recent, stable, responsive (most of the time) Android 6.0 firmware
  • Good 4K videos playvack for VP9, H.265 and H.264 in Kodi
  • HDMI audio pass-through for Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1, and TrueHD 5.1 and 7.1 in Video Player/MoviePlayer
  • One of the fastest internal storage I’ve seen in any TV boxes leading to reasonably fast boot (< 30 seconds)
  • Good 3D gaming performance
  • Proper power handling, and low power off, standby, and idle power consumption
  • OTA firmware update support
  • exFAT, NTFS, and FAT32 file system support for external storage
  • IR remote control working up to at least 10 meters
  • Bluetooth file transfer and BLE are working

CONS

  • HDMI audio pass-through and automatic frame rate switching not working properly in Kodi. Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD 7.1 not supported in other apps
  • Disappointing performance compared to Amlogic S905 TV boxes (only ~ +10/15% boost in many benchmarks), and some videos (10-bit h.264) are not playing as well as in Amlogic S905X devices using software decode. Possibly a thermal design issue
  • User set HDMI output mode is not always remember, often falling back to 1080p60 after a reboot, even if I set it to 4K 60Hz previously.
  • “App not responding” issue appearing from time to time (not too often, but still noticeable)
  • Poor WiFi performance
  • Likely HDMI CEC issue as the device will not let me turn off my A/V receiver even after disabling HDMI CEC or automatic HDMI output
  • Bluetooth audio may not be working
  • Lack of status and notifications bars
  • 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)

The manufacturer, Shenzhen Shiningworth, provide the sample for review, and wholesalers and distributors can contact the company to purchase in quantities. They also sell the MXQ Plus M12N to individuals on Aliexpress for $69.90. Alternatively you can buy their customers’ design, with a slightly different firmware, such as Acemax M12N for $65 on GearBest, or $69.99 on Aliexpress, as well as ENYBOX X2 sold on GeekBuying for $79.99.

Coowell V4 Android mini PC with Camera Review – Part 1: Unboxing and Teardown

August 24th, 2016 1 comment

Coowell V4 is one of the rare Android mini PCs with a built-in camera. It is powered by Rockchip RK3368 octa-core processor combined with 2GB RAM and 16GB flash. GearBest asked me whether I wanted to review it, and since I was curious about the camera, I took the offer up. Today, in the first part of the review I’ll start by checking out the device and its accessories, and tear it down to find more about the hardware design, before specifically testing the camera in the second part of the review in a similar way to what I did for HD23 review.

Coowell V4 Unboxing

The device comes in a black retail package with SMART MEDIA HUB text. The only icon that may cause troubles at custom might be the Android logo and text lacking TM.

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There’s also sticker on the side indicate Model: V4. SO there may be several “Smart Media Hub” models from the company.

The box ships with a 5V/2A power supply, HDMI and AV cables, an IR remote control with IR learning function (5 keys) taking two non-included AAA batteries, and a generic user’s manual in English that does not show or explain anything about the camera.

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The device itself is fairly small, and fits easily in the hand. We’ve got the retractable camera on the top as well as the power button.

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The front panel only has the IR receiver window, one side features a USB 2.0 port and micro SD slot, while most ports can be found in the rear panel: WiFi antenna, one more USB 2.0 host, optical S/PDIF, HDMI 2.0 output, one micro USB OTG port, and the power jack.

Coowell V4 Teardown

In order to open the device, we’ll need to turn it upside down, and we”ll notice both the model name “Smart Media Hub V4” and the recovery switch on the bottom right. But what we are interested in here are the four rubber pads on the corners. We have to take them out, and loosen four screws.

Smart_Media_Hub_V4

Then use sharp and rigid plastic tool to pop the top cover up.
Coowell_V4_TeardownThe camera is connected to the main via a MIPI CSI ribbon cable. I’ve lifted the black part of the connector to take the cable out, and have a closer look at the main board first.
XT-Z4-V13_BoardRockchip RK3368 processor is covered by an heatsink, and connected to a 16GB SKhynix H26M52003EQR eMMC flash and two SKhynix H5TC4G63AFR DDR3L memory (1GB). Networking connectivity is achieved with AP6335 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0 module, as well as Realtek RTL8211E GbE transceiver and NS892407 Gigabit Ethernet transformer module. Other ICs include Rockchip RK1000-S audio codec and TV out chip, and Genesys GL852G USB 2.0 hub controller. We’ll find the IR receiver, power button, and a built-in microhone in the bottom of the picture. The board is named XT-Z4-V13.

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Some clips hold the board in place, but it’s easy to completely take it out of its enclosure. We’ll find two more DDR3L chips on the back of the board bringing the total to 2GB RAM. A sticker also mentions Z4S-V13, and that it is the 16G/2G version.

But let’s go back to the camera on the top cover. We’ll need to loosen four more screws, and push 4 pairs of clips to take out the camera.

TV_Box_Camera_Teardown

It’s then easy to open it by inserting a tool on the side of the module, which contains a GC2145 2MP image sensor if the markings on the cable are to be trusted.

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Mini_PC_Camera_module

I’d like to thank GearBest for sending a sample for review, and if you are interested you could considering purchasing Coowell V4 from their online store for $69.99 including shipping. Alternatively the TV box can also be found on Aliexpress for $68 and up.

Mini Review of MECOOL BM8 TV Box with Android 6.0 and Kodi 17.0

August 22nd, 2016 37 comments

CNXSoft: An other review by Ray for an Amlogic S905X powered TV box provided by Videostrong.

MECOOL BM8 specifications

The specifications are pretty standard, except for the large flash:

  • SoC – Amlogic S905X quad core Cortex A53 @ 2.0GHz with a penta-core Mali-450MP GPU
  • Memory – 2GB DDR3 RAM
  • Storage – 32GB eMMC flash + card reader for SD/SDHC/MMC cards
  • Video Output – HDMI 2.0 up to 4K*2K “super HD video” with HDR support and AV outputs
  • Audio Output – HDMI, AV, and optical S/PDIF
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, dual band WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, and Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 2x USB 2.0 port
  • Supports HEVC (H.265) decoding

The TV box runs Android 6.0.

Unboxing

The box comes with 3 different Power Adapters, a HDMI cable, power supply and a completely oversized (20cm/5cm) remote control with  “learning modes ability”. No manual was inside the box.

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The Videostrong MECOOL BM8 is a 4-core Android TV box, very small and astonishingly smart. Both its length and width are only 95mm and the height is just at a amazing 19mm. You can hold it in your palm.

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Review / Impressions

Videostrong MECOOL BM8 is one of the new Android 6.0 TV Box models in 2016. Android 6.0 is to improve user experience compared with other versions of TV Boxes. People can install or uninstall software, games and application programs more convenient and easily. Android 6 is supposed to handle the old memory handling of older Android versions better and more effective.

Mecool_BM8_Android_Launcher

Videostrong MECOOL BM8 comes with Android 6.0.1 OS, an impressive 2GB RAM, and a massive 32GB storage. It provides users with a better experience to enjoy 4K Ultra HD video. Crispy Pictures and a fantastic sound quality are delivered by this very well designed box.

The device booted in just 13.8 seconds the first time, and the second time even faster. This box reboots in a shocking 11.4 seconds! Boot times are with a 500GB USB HDD and a MeLe F10 Deluxe remote. Those are the best results I ever saw so far with an Android box!

I tested Bluetooth with my iPhone 5S, and it worked flawlessly. MeLe F10 Deluxe air mouse also just worked with out issues. I could install all apps I wanted with the Google Play store.

Kodi is working in a glance, gone the times, where we have to wait endless time, before Kodi switched off, now in 1 to 2 seconds done. The Box comes with a Krypton 17.0 (compiled 28. July 2016.)

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By my opinion not a good choice, Krypton Kodi is still in “pre-release” and if you want to install a “build” later on, you may have to uninstall and go for the latest Jarvis Release 16.1. Not many builds made for Krypton right now.

In the apps Section we find a Kodi ADD-ons updater. What this App really does, stays unknown, no update to find, because of the newest version already installed.

Truly one of the better boxes. I never have had any kind of “bad feeling”, by using and testing this box. Big Points collect this box in the field of IPTV and streaming. Glas clear picture, crispy sound. I connected my Samsung Dolby Soundbar, and the result was great. So it should be and has to be!

I am not a big fan of fancy lab testing, these results are often not to read or to handle for the ordinary customers. A TV Box should give no headache, so easy is that, and I must say, this box gives the buyer no headache or trouble at all. I highly recommend this box for the average use.

Benchmarks

Vellamo 3.2:  Browser 2026; Metal 1057; Multicore 1520

Mecool_BM8_Vellamo

Antutu 6.2.1: Overall 34429;  3D 3026; UX 13714; CPU 12396; RAM 5293

Mecool_BM8_Antutu

Conclusion

IPTV Fan? This Box is for you! Kodi Fan? This Box is for you!

  • Pros:
    • Speedy LAN, great Wi-Fi, perfect Bluetooth 4.0
    • Highly stable, smooth and fast firmware
    • Superfast booting
    • Nicely designed, small and compact
    • Very good value for the money
    • No temperature issues
  • Cons
    • Again the Remote, to huge, to unhandy

Wholesalers can purchase MECOOL BM8 from Videostrong on Alibaba. I could not find the device on any Chinese online stores at this time [Update: Geekbuying offers MECOOL BM8 for $68.99], but GearBest sells a similar looking – but with lower specs (1GB/8GB) – MECOOL HM8 TV box for $29.75 including shipping.

Using M12N Android Amlogic S912 TV Box as a Game Console (Video)

August 21st, 2016 10 comments

When Amlogic announced S912 processor, they mentioned it would target not only 4K OTT and IP set-top boxes, but also gaming consoles thanks to a faster and better Mali-T820MP3 GPU compared to the Mali-450MP GPU found in their previous S905 and S805 processor, and we’ve already seen that S912 is indeed faster in 3D benchmarks.

So I decided to play several games to show the performance, the pre-loaded retro gaming app, and for people who have never used a TV box to play games show what it looks like, and how to play using M12N TV box, in conjunction with MINIX NEO A2 Lite air mouse and Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad.

M12N_Amlogic_S912_GamingI played four games downloaded from the Play Store or Amazon Underground:

  • Candy Crush Saga with air mouse
  • Beach Buggy Racing and Riptide GP2 with the gamepad
  • Dead Trigger with the air mouse in menus, and the gamepad during the game (requires key mapping)

All four games played just fine in the box, and Riptide GP2 framerate was noticeably higher than on Amlogic S905 TV boxes when “highest resolution” setting is selected. If you don’t want to purchase an air mouse or/and game pad, it should also be possible to use your smartphone with the remote app, but it’s not something I’ve tested.

MXQ Plus M12N TV box also includes KO GameBox app [Update: I’ve been informed the app may contain adware and malware] simply shown as “Game” in the main menu.

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The app has some Chinese logos, and the interface and games are all available with English language. All games appear to be retro games, and include classic like Super Mario Bros. None of the games are installed in the box, but the app will allow you to download them from various mirrors. I tried Fate/Unlimited Codes street fighting PSP game, and it worked well with Tronsmart gamepad. The app also exposes a QR code to download KO TVGame Assistant app in order to use your Android phone as a gamepad.

KO Gamebox Assistant App

KO TVGame Assistant App

You can see all games mentioned above tested in MQX Plus M12N TV box in the video below.

If you want to purchase the setup I used, you can get Shenzhen Shiningworth M12N on Aliexpress for $69.99, Tronsmart Mars G01 RF gamepad for $25.99, and/or MINIX NEO A2 Lite  air mouse for the same price. Of course, you’d have pretty much the same experience with any of the other Amlogic S912 TV boxes, and the gamepad or/and air mouse of your choice.

4K VP9, H.265 and H.264 Video Playback in Amlogic S912 M12N TV Box

August 15th, 2016 3 comments

I’ve received my first Amlogic S912 TV box with MXQ Plus M12N TV box this week-end, and I’ve decided to start testing by showing the media capabilities of the platform that is supposed to support 4K VP9 up to 60Hz, 4K 10-bit H.265 up to 60Hz and 4K H.264 up to 30 Hz.

Amlogic_S912_TV_Box_4K_VP9

I connected the device to Onkyo TX-NR636 A/V recevier itself connected to  LG 42UB820T 4K UHD TV, set video output to 2160p @ 60Hz, and played several 4K video samples from a USB hard drive using the pre-installed version of Kodi 16.1:

  • 4K Hawaii Sunset _ GoPro Hero 4 Black [email protected] (Downloaded from YouTube) – 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
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 (H.264 @ 60 fps – MPEG1/2 and AC3 audio) – Video a bit choppy, large audio delay. Expected as not supported by Amlogic S912 VPU
  • 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
  • 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 – OK, although not perfect (some frames seem to be missing, TBC)
  • 暗流涌动-4K.mp4 (4K 10-bit H.264 video) – Lots of artifacts. Software decode since the VPU does not support 10-bit h.264

The results are pretty good as the two main “failures” were expected since Amlogic S912 video processing unit (aka hardware video decoder) does not support 10-bit H.264 nor 4K H.264 @ 60 Hz. The Curvature of Earth video was watchable, but I think I’ve seen it play more smoothly on other hardware platforms. I initially started to play over SAMBA, but the Fast Ethernet network performance is not always good enough to play the videos from a SAMBA share, so I reverted to using a USB hard drive.

I’ve also included two extra 720p and 1080p 10-bit H.264 (hi10p) video to check whether the 8 cores would be fast enough for software decoding:

  • [Commie] Steins;Gate – NCED [BD 720p AAC] [10bit] [C706859E].mkv – OK with video, audio, and subtitles
  • [1080p][16_REF_L5.1][mp3_2.0]Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu BD OP.mkv – Subtitles OK, audio may cut from time to time, and video is playing but a bit choppy, and with artifacts at times.

So the processor is not quite fast enough to play 1080p 10-bit H.264 videos despite all eight cores being used at the time of playback.

You can watch all videos above being played in M12N TV box, and download them from comments @ Where to get Video & Audio samples.

I also tested HDMI audio pass-through, but only Dolby and DTS options are available in that version of Kodi, with DTS-HD and TrueHD options missing, and Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1 sometimes playing with audio cut. So that’s yet another TV box shipped without proper audio support. Automatic frame rate switching is not supported either.

Please also note that my sample was sent directly from Shenzhen Shiningworth, the manufacturer of the device, and I’ve been told the launcher will be different on their customers hardware such as ENYBOX X2 or Acemax M12N, with the latter currently being sold on GearBest for $69.99. [Update: Shenzhen Shiningworth M12N is now sold on Aliexpress for $69.99]

GOLE1 mini PC Tablet Review – Part 2: Android 5.1 and Windows 10

August 14th, 2016 6 comments

GOLE1, also called GOLE1 F1, is an interesting device because it’s quite difficult, it’s like the offspring of a mini PC and a tablet with a smallish  phone-like 5″ capacitive touch screen. It also dual boot Windows 10 and Android 5.1. I’ve already discussed about the hardware, and taken picture of the device, accessories, and motherboard, in the first part of the review, so today I’ll report my experiences with Windows 10 and Android 5.1, as well as the potential use cases. Since I’ve already reviewed Intel Atom x5-Z8300 mini PCs, as well as a dual boot Windows and Android Intel mini PC, I’ll focus on what makes GOLE1 different in this review.

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GOLE1 Dual Boot and Use Cases

I normally check my emails on my smartphone while having breakfast in the morning, but one day the charging micro USB cable was not connected properly to my phone, so I decided to try using GOLE1 has a portable device, as I had connected it a few days on my desk without actually booting it.

After pressing the power button a few couple, the device will boot and show GOLE logo with a Setup icon to access Aptio Setup Utility (UEFI / BIOS), and a couple of second later, you’ll be presented with a choice of using Android or Window, which default to the previously selected opertating system if you don’t press any keys after a 10 seconds timeout.

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You’ll notice my pictures are in portrait mode, simply because if GOLE is placed on its back on a flat surface it will boot in portrait mode by default. If you decided to enter Aptio Setup Utility, there’s no way to rotate the display here, and there’s no HDMI output either. If you want to use the more convenient landscape mode, you’d have to boot the device by holding it in the right position….

The very first I played with it, Windows was selected by default, so I decided to go ahead to use it to check my email, however I first found the display hard to read (I have breakfast outdoors), so I had to set brightness to 100%, and it was a little better, but not quite perfect, so I’d say the screen is poor for outdoor use due to the reflections.

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The second and even more frustrating issue that’s using Windows 10 on 5″ display amounts to torture as everything is so small, at least with the default DPI settings, as text is very hard to read, and everything is so small it’s difficult to tap with any accuracy… So after playing with it for 5 minutes, I decided to reboot, and switch to Android 5.1 instead.

GOLE1_Android_Tablet_Mode

That was much more usable. The display has a 1280×720 resolution so don’t expect an amazing experience, and viewing is rather poor even at maximum brightness, but at least I could use it to check my emails with gmail, and read some news. I used it for about 30 minutes, and I have to say it’s a little heavy, so it might not be ideal over longer period of time. If I had my phone sufficiently charged with me, I would never consider using GOLE1 as a portable device.

But maybe it’s better as a mini PC with dual displays support thanks to its extra HDMI port. So I connect a whole bunch of USB devices including two RF dongles for air mouse and gamepad, a USB 3.0 harddrive to the USB 3.0 port, and a USB hub for USB keyboard and mouse, plus the usual cable for TV (HDMI), display, and power. I first placed the mini PC flat on the table, and it will show in portrait mode in both the 5″ display and TV (Please ignore the vertical lines on the television, as it is the TV’s problem).

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That’s just a small issue, as you can move the device around to switch to landscape mode.

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The next problem is that it will automatically enter sleep mode after a few seconds of inactivity. That’s annoying, but there a simple fix, as you can disable sleep mode in the display menu. You can also change video output up to 3840×2160 @ 30 Hz or 4096×2160 @ 24 Hz if your TV supports it.

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This won’t change the user interface / frame buffer resolution however, which is set to 1280×720, and with the DPI settings used (fixed in firmware), text looks quite big on the TV. There’s also no option to force landscape mode, so you’d probably have to install Set Orientation app using Googke Play to make sure the screen is in landscape mode. The unusual position of the status bar on the right while in landscape mode, and the fact that both the 5″ display and TV display would be turned on during might be an annoyance while playing videos for example. So GOLE1 can be used as an Android TV box, but I don’t find it to be doing a good job at it. Extended display, i.e. different content on either screen, is not possible in Android.

So let’s boot Windows 10 instead in the same configuration, and by default the system is using mirroring mode.

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Windows 10 works fine, but by default the resolution set to 1280×720 on the TV too in that mode, so it’s not ideal. You can change it to whatever output you want however, and I did manage to change it to 1920×1080 @ 60 Hz. The text becomes completely unreadable on the small display, but it’s pretty good on the large disaply. You may want to force the orientation to landscape in Windows options so the 5″ screen don’t rotate to portrait mode.

I also tested Extended Desktop in Windows with the TV screen used as the primary display, and set to the resolution I want, e.g. 1920×1080 @ 60 Hz (up to 4K @ 30 Hz), while the 5″ display remains at 1280×720 resolution.

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This works, but just like in portable mode, the text on the 5″ display is hardly readable, and when you launch an app from the TV screen, it may launch in the small display, so you may have to drag it to the big screen to use it. I think this setup is most useful in very specific applications, where the 5″ display would be used with a remote app, and the big display showing whatever the user want, something like a digital signage system with the user being able to select options from the built-in touchscreen, and info shown on the large monitor. For most people, the best option might be to select Single Display mode to turn off the 5″ display completely.

I have not tried Ubuntu, but Brad Linder of Liliputing did, and actually successfully loaded both Ubuntu 16.04 and Remix OS operating systems from a USB stick. Built-in WiFi and Audio did not work, as expected since you need to work a little harder to enable Audio and Wifi, so he used a USB audio card and an external USB Wifi dongle… Mirroring did not work, but Extended Desktop was usable.

GOLE1 Android 5.1 Info and Benchmarks

Now that we’ve gone through the different configurations / use cases made possible with GOLE1, I’ll report some more information about the operating systems themselves, starting with Android. Note that while I’m mostly used the device in landscape mode, I took the screenshots in portrait mode, because it is more convenient for the review, as text would often be split over multiple screens in landscape mode.

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Click to Enlarge

The device runs Android 5.1 on top of Linux 3.14.37. I had no trouble using Google Play, and browsing, but as mentioned previously the screen resolution and density use makes it really big on the large screen. Using it as an Android tablet was better, although the screen is small, and device heavy. I have not evaluate the battery life, because I got an early sample with a smaller battery.

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Click to Enlarge

CPU-Z shows an Intel Atom x5-Z8300 quad core CPU up to 1.84 GHz with Intel HD graphics is used by the device called “AOSP on Intel Platform (cht_cr_mrd_w)”. Screen resolution is 720×1280 with 294 dpi, with 3847MB total RAM, and 4.82 GB internal storage.

GOLE1 got a decent 49,457 points in Antutu 6.0 (in landscape mode), but remember that the 1280×720 resolution will have posively affected the 3D graphics results compared to platforms running at a more common 1920×1080 resolution.

GOLE1_Antutu_6.0

The 64GB flash was expected to be faster than most 8/16GB flash used in TV boxes, and the results obtained with A1SD bench are indeed pretty good with 58.82 MB/s sequential read speed, and 46.03 MB/s write speed.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Read and Write Speed in MB/s

Normally, I’d also measure USB hard drive performance here, but none of my USB HDD partitions would show in Android.

I could use the Fast Ethernet connection without issues in Android, but WiFi performance varies much more between device, so that’s what I measured it connected to my 2.4GHz router. The device could also find my 5 GHz access point (802.11n only, no 802.11ac). WiFi throughput is tested by transferring a 278MB file over SAMBA back and forth using ES File Explorer. Download speed was acceptable at around 2.2 MB/s, but I got some stalling issue during one upload, and generally was slower, around 1.5 MB/s when no connection loss. The average was still a rather weak 1.8 MB/s.

WiFi Throughput in MB/s - Click to Enlarge

WiFi Throughput in MB/s – Click to Enlarge

GOLE1 Windows Info and Benchmarks

Windows 10 desktop in GOLE1 is completely standard, apart that the resolution is 1280×720 on your monitor or TV by default.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

One of the reason of adding an often useless 5″ display to a mini PC is to get it into the “tablet with small screen” category with Microsoft, so that you can install Windows 10 with a free license… So that’s no surprise Windows 10 Home 64-bit is activated in the device, although I though it was not valid for 4GB. If Microsoft was not such an obscure company people could check themselves whether the license is right, but AFAIK the license conditions are not published publicly.

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Click to Enlarge

The system info windows also shows the model is GOLE1 (F1) powered by Intel Atom x5-Z8300 processor @ 1.44 GHz with 4GB RAM.

My USB hard drive connected to the USB 3.0 is still not detected in Windows 10, and I can only see the 49.6 GB partition. There’s 33.8 GB free, but I took the screenshot at the end of the review.
GOLE1_C_DriveWhile storage performance was very good for an Android TV box, Windows based mini PCs often achieve well over 100MB/s (up to 400 MB/s) sequential read and write speeds, and relatively fast random I/Os, which is not really the case here.

GOLE1_CrystalDiskMarkHWiNFO64 reported information is pretty standard.

GOLE1-HWiNFO64At first, I decided to skip Windows 10 benchmarks, because Intel Atom x5 processors performance is well known, so I only ran AIDA64 Extreme System Stability Test for 10 minutes, while monitoring thermal throttling stage, CPU cores frequency and temperature with HWiNFO64.

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Click to Enlarge

The CPU temperature was rather high for all 4 cores at over 80 C, but HWiNFO did not report any throttling. However, when checking the maximum CPU frequencies, it’s obvious something is very wrong, because it never went over 1,200 MHz, while Intel Atom x5-Z8300 processor base frequency is 1.44 GHz, and turbo frequency is 1.84 GHz.

So I changed my mind about benchmark, and after letting the system cool down for a while, I installed and ran PCMark 8 HOME ACCELERATED 3.0 benchmark.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

GOLE1 got 1,254 points, which compares to 1,354 points on Atom x5-Z8300 based Tronsmart Ara X5, so about 7% slower which could be caused by the slower eMMC flash or some throttling, although the processor did not overheat, and frequency got up to 1.84 GHz during the benchmark.

I left GOLE1 connected to the mains all day during Windows 10 testing, and strangely, I could see the system reporting the battery was “Not Charging”.

GOLE1_Charging_IssueHowever, I also checked later, and the battery level went up to 40% still not charging, and latter down to 33%. So it looks like the system will not always charge to battery while Windows 10 is running, and you have to turn the mini PC off to charge it.

Conclusion

In theory, GOLE1 is an awesome little device which can be your Windows or Android tablet, Android TV box, or Windows 10 mini PC, as you see fit. But in practice, Windows 10 is really hard to use on a 5″ screen, Android works better, but the screen is high reflective making it poorly suited to outdoor use,  when you connect the device to your TV with Android, the resolution is limited to 720p, and you have to hack your way out to make it usable. In Windows 10, it’s a little better when using a TV in either Single Display, Mirroring, or Extended Display mode. The 5″ screen is still unreadable in most modes, so Single Display might be the best option. GOLE1 can do many things, but none of them very well. It might be useful in some specific applications, where you may want a touch screen display with a control app, to let the user access info or play videos on the large screen, or simply use it as a control panel for some machines without external display.

PROS

  • Innovative design combining tablet and mini PC
  • Dual boot of Windows 10 Home (activated) and Android 5.1
  • Affordable price

CONS

  • Windows 10 is close to unusable on a 5″ screen with the default resolution 1280×720 and DPI settings.
  • 5″ screen has poor visibility outdoors even with maximum brightness
  • GOLE1 is a rather heavy as a portable device
  • Poor WiFi performance, and unreliable at times
  • My USB 3.0 hard drive was no recognized in either Android or Windows (power supply issue?)
  • The system appears to default to Portrait mode when placed on a flat surface
  • Battery does not appear to be charging continuously in Windows 10
  • Minor – Android set to sleep very fast (a few seconds) by default, which is a real annoyance when connected to TV (Settings changes fix this)
  • GOLE1 is throttling under heavy load after a couple of minutes.

“Jack of all trades, master of none” is probably appropriate for GOLE1 F1. I’d still like to thank GOLE for giving me the opportunity to review GOLE1. You can purchase the device for $99 with 2GB RAM/32GB flash, and $154.99 with 4GB/64GB (as reviewed here) on GearBest (GBGF4 or TENOFF coupons may lower the price further). You’ll also find both models sold as “GOLE F1” on Banggood.