Posts Tagged ‘review’

SoundMate WM201 Wi-Fi Music Streamer (EZMusic) Review

February 20th, 2015 4 comments

Last year I reviewed SoundMate M2 Wi-Fi audio streamer, and Uyesee has sent me a sample of their new SoundMate WM201 powered by Actions Semi AM8253, and based on EZCast app for audio calld EZMusic (EZCast Music).

SoundMate WM201 Unboxing Pictures

That’s the package for the device.

The device comes with two audio cables, a micro USB to USB cable for power, and “SoundMate WiFi Music Streamer” user manual.

WM201 and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

WM201 and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Let’s have a closer look at the tiny box.

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

Two LEDs are located on the front for power and connection, a micro SD slot can be found on the side, and the rear panel has most of the connection: micro USB port for power, reset pinhole, optical SPDIF, 3.5mm stereo jack, and USB 2.0 host for mass storage.

SoundMate WM210 Teardown

Take out of four sticky rubber pad on the bottom of the case, and untighten four screws to remove the bottom cover.

Bottom of WM201 Board

Bottom of WM201 Board

Not much to see here, except the MAC address that starts with 54E4BD and belongs to FN-Link Technology, which must be the company provided the Wi-Fi module for WM201.

Top of WM201 PCBA (Click to Enlarge)

Top of WM201 PCBA (Click to Enlarge)

Actions Semi AM8253 processorv@ 600 MHz is in the center of the board, and connects to Axeme H2A35121656BB6C 64MB DDR2 RAM, and Samsung K9F1G08U0E NAND flash (128MB).  The Wi-Fi module is based on Realtek RTL8188ETV chip.

SoundMate WM201 Review

I’ve connected WM201 to Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver with any SPDIF optcial audio cable. It does not make much sense to do so because TX-NR636 already support Wi-Fi conenctivity and DLNA, and can already do much of the added featues provided by WM201, but if you have an older amplifier / AV receiver without connectivity, WM201 can be a neat way to smarten your older AV receiver.


SoundMate WM201 Connected to an Onkyo AV Receiver, and EZCast App in Android.

Once of the thing you’ll want to do is to install EZcast app for Android, iOS or Windows/Mac. I’ve only installed EZCast android app on my Android smartphone for this review. The first time the app will look with an EZCast dongle, and detect a SoundMate-XXXXXX device to which you can connect to. The first time the connection can take a while, like over one minute. You can then access the Home screen with Music, Web, Cloud Storage, Comment, Update, AirDisk, and Radio options, as well as DLNA, AirSetup (for micro SD card / USB flash drive connected to WM201), and 3G/4G connectivity.

Home Page and Settings (Click to Enlarge)

Home Page and Settings (Click to Enlarge)

AirSetup will let you choose the audio output (Stereo, SPDIF 5.1, …), set the equalizer, configure the connection, check for firmware upgrade and so on.

Music, Video and Cloud Storage (Click to Enlarge)

Music, Video and Cloud Storage (Click to Enlarge)

The “Music” app will let you browse audio files on your smartphone and stream them to your speaker or AV receiver. It works OK, but there’s no volume option here. In theory, the Web option can let you stream audio from YouTube and other online service, but I could not make this work at all. Cloud Storage will detect some cloud apps installed on your device (in my case Dropbox), and allow you to stream audio files from the cloud.

EZCast / EZMusic Radio (Click to Enlarge)

EZCast / EZMusic Radio (Click to Enlarge)

The “Radio” app will list various online radio station from over the world. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to radio, and the last time I did that was in France, but I could not find any famous radio on the list, except maybe “Oui FM”.

DLNA, Firmware Update and AirDisk (Click to Enlarge)

DLNA, Firmware Update and AirDisk (Click to Enlarge)

“AirDisk” function should allow you to play music from a micro SD card or USB flash drive formatted to FAT32 connected to the device, but in my case it did not recognize my USB drive at all. It’s a LiveCD (with Ubuntu), so maybe that’s why. DLNA will simply redirect to launch one of your installed DLNA apps such as BubbleUPnP, and in my case it could also play m4a audio files, something that’s not supported by Onkyo TX-NR636 internal software. I did get a firmware update (13395), and the procedure worked fine. You’ll hear a female voice telling you to wait during the update, followed but some audio signal.

Within the room, WM201 works fairly well, but I did have one or two short audio cuts during the dozen music files I played. If you go a bit further than 6-7 meters with a wall then the system becomes unreliable, but it’s quite common with this kind of solution. Once you lose the connection, you may have to reboot the device to make it work again.

SoundMate WM201 can be bought for  $37.99 on Aliexpress for $37.99 including shipping. You may also want to check the product page on UyeSee website if you intend to purchase in larger quantities.

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HD18T Android DVB-T2 Receiver Mini Review

February 16th, 2015 6 comments

I’ve had HD18T Android TV box with a DVB-T2 tuner for several months, but I’ve only installed a roof antenna recently, so I’ve decided to give it another try since my indoor antenna did not pick-up any signal with that box. The set-top box is also known as EM6-T2 or HD18T2, and features Amlogic AML8726-MX dual Cortex A9 processor which has been used in numerous boxes in the past, so I will only focus on my experience with the DVB app in this mini review.

Android Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

Android Home Screen (Click for Original Size)

If you want to use DVB-T2 go straight to the right and click on DVB app. Where you’ll then be greeted with a pop-up windowsasking if if you want to scan channels.

hd18t_dvb_settings_scanYou can do autoscan, manual scan (for one frequency), select the area (France/Taiwan/UK/Italy/Australia only), and enable/disable LCN (Logical Channel Numbering). At first I selected “Australia”, and the system did not find any channels, but after switching back to “UK”, the device found most, if not all, digital TV channels available in Thailand, including HD channels, meaning DVB-T2 is clearly working just fine. However, several people in Singapore complained that DVB-T2 does not work at all, and only DVB-T channels could be viewed. So your mileage may vary.

hd18t_dvb_settingsIn the program section you can delete or rename channels in the Program Edit menu, check the EPG and schedule recording, configure the PVR function (recording path and timeshitfing duration), access the PVR manager (password: 0000) to view or delete recordings, and TimeShifting to be able to pause live TV.

Using the box to watch TV works relatively well, although some of the channels marked with “$$” in the info overlay produced background noise (with the proper image), meaning I could only really watch about 25 channels, while it’s working just fine on a cheap Linux based DVB-T2 set-top box such as Samart Strong Black. I’ve also noticed some stability issues, as I may lose either picture or audio from time to time, requiring a reboot.

PVR function can be started with the “Rec” button on the remote, and you just need to input the duration. You can watch another channel at the same DVB-T2 frequency while recording. When I tried a single DVB-T2 stream could handle 6 TV channels. If you go over the boundaries, the system will ask if you want to cancel recording.

Once recording is complete, you can go to PVR manager to view the videos, but I did not manage to play any recording from there, so instead I went back to the main menu, and clicked on Movie app to access TVRecordFiles folder on my hard drive, and watch the recordings. Unfortunately all videos were recorded without audio, and I got some artifacts from time to time.

Time-shifting is working OK, but I could not find a way to manually hide the “record” button and the controls overlaid on top of the video, which can be annoying, although they’ll hide after a while (maybe one minute or so).

Other available settings are shown in the screenshot below. Picture size can be set to auto, 4:3 or 16:9, while the selectable languages for subtitle and audio are only English and Chinese. I don’t understand what “Blackout Policy” means.


The system menu has some options to enable subtitles, reset data, set password, and set the TTX region (a few more languages are available here).hd18t_dvb_settings_systemThe firmware version installed was built on May 14, 2014, with building number JDQ39.20140514. I could not find any other firmware updates.

You may want to watch the review video below for more details about DVB app.

The sample was sent to me by Shenzhen Tomato, and if you want to purchase this type of box in quantities you may contact them. I don’t recommend buying such device based on my experience, but at least it’s relatively cheap as it can be found on DealExtreme for $73.99, or Aliexpress for just under $70.

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Review of Zidoo X9 Android Media Player and Video Recorder

February 11th, 2015 10 comments

Zidoo X9 is quite a unique product on the market, as it’s the only low cost Android platform that I know of that features an HDMI input port with recording capabilities. The hardware is actually based on Kaiboer F5, with some modifications, but the latter focuses on the Chinese market, while Zidoo X9 targets oversea markets with an English firmware by default. I took pictures of Zidoo X9 and its board about a month ago, but a busy schedule and some initial issues with Google Play Store delayed the review. Finally, I’ve completed testing of the device, and ready to share my findings about performance, stability, and features in this review.

OTA Firmware Update

I’ve had to go through two firmware updates before carrying on with the review, and this part is working great, and they even include a detailed changelog with each release, which they also publish on their blog. Normally a window will pop-up once the firmware is available, but you can also go to App Manager->OTA Update to perform an online update, a local update, and/or check the update log.

Zidoo_X9_OTA_Firmware_UpgradeOnce the download is complete, it will reboot to complete the update.

Zidoo_X9_Firmware_UpdateFirmware 1.0.26 was used for this review.

First Boot, Settings and First Impressions

The package include a IR remote control which works fine with their user interface, and you’ll need the “Menu” key in the HDMI IN app, so even though I used Mele F10 Deluxe air mouse in many case, I still had to revert to used Zidoo X9 remote from time to time. I’ve connected my USB hard drive to the USB 3.0 port of the device, a USB keyboard, a USB hub with two RF dongles, a USB flash drive, and a webcam, HDMI and Ethernet cables, as well as a DVB-T2 set-top box to the HDMI input port. Boot time takes about 35 seconds. The LCD display ion the front panel shows “Boot”m “Hello”, and finally the current time.

Click for Original Size

Click for Original Size

The user interface is quite different from other Android media players, and I find it quite eye-pleasing, but I also noticed I need more key presses than usual to navigate the menus. There are mostly folders (Browser, Media Center, Video, Music, Game, Other Apps) with relevant apps, as well as direct shortcuts to Google Play, the App Manager (list of apps), and HDMI IN app that handle HDMI input and video recording function.


The Settings menu has fix sub-sections:

  • System – Standard Android Settings
  • Weather – To display the weather for your city on the top left of the home screen.
  • Parental Control
  • Clean Up – Task Killer, Cache Cleaner, APK File, and APP Manager (to uninstall apps)
  • Base Settings – Screen Saver Delay, Themes (Background image), Key Sound, and Use Featured Data (Probably for weather on home screen)
  • About – Provides info about the system


So most configuration options are done in the Android settings.

Wireless & Networks section includes Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, Data use, and More… sub menus, the latter only listing Portable hotspot options. Sound options only provide S/PDIF option between PCM or RAW (for pass-through), but this also is also used to for HDMI audio pass-through. The Display sections let you adjust the screen scale, and select the resolutions: 4K2KP_30, 4K2KP_25, 1080P_60, 1080P_50, 720P_60, 720P_50, 576P_60 and 480P_60. I could set 4K @ 30Hz on an LG 42UB820T UHD television without issues.

Two partitions are aAbout_Box_Zidoo_X9vailable in the 8GB eMMC flash: “Internal Storage” with 1.97 GB total space for apps, and “SD CARD” with 3.49GB space for data. The “About Box” section confirms the model number is “ZIDOO_X9″, and that the system runs Android 4.4.2 on top of Linux 3.1.10, so not such a recent kernel. The firmware is rooted

Google Play Store caused me some troubles…  Although I could login, each time I would enter the app the message “Check your connection and try again” would be displayed despite having no internet connection issue with the web browser for example. So I was unable to use the Play Store, even after clearing the cache, removing and re-adding my account, and even after factory reset… I was advise to wait for the new firmware (1.0.26), but even after an update the problem subsisted. But Zidoo had written a blog post about the issue saying to try between Wi-Fi and Ethernet. So I switched to Wi-Fi, but no luck, Finally I did a factory reset, configured Wi-Fi, and finally I could access the Play Store. Once the connection is up, it works just fine. Only a few applications could not be installed such as CNBC and Real Racing 3, but these can seldom be installed on Android mini PCs, maybe because of my location?  I also installed Amazon AppStore to get Riptide GP2 game.

You can check the user interface, Kodi, and HDMI IN application in the video below.

There’s no standby mode with this device, it’s only power on and off, and you can do with with the remote control. I measured the temperature after Antutu 5.6 benchmark and 15 minutes of play in Riptide GP2, and the max. measured temperatures on top and bottom of the enclosure were respectively 37°C/43°C, and 37°C/50°C. But it did not seem quite right, and since I used a IR thermometer and the enclosure of Zidoo X9 is bright, the reading might be incorrect, so after adding some black stick tape, and a few hours of use, I check the top temperature again, and instead of 37°C, I got 45°C, which seems more like it. So the system gets a little hot, but it’s not out of control.

The system works well most of the time, but I’ve experienced several crashes for their internal apps, as well as Kodi. You can also one hang up in the video above, so system stability does need some improvement.

Video Playback

The box comes with Kodi 14.0-RC3 Zidoo edition (built on  December 2014). The system info reports 1920×1080@60Hz screen resolution rendered at about 30 fps.  I had some problems to connect to my SAMBA shares at first, but somehow it eventually worked.  Videos have normally been tested via Ethernet using Kodi, unless otherwise stated.

Some results with video samples, plus some H.265/HEVC videos (Elecard), and a low resolution VP9 video:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p/1080p60 – OK, but the 1080p60 video only renders at 30 fps according to Kodi
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK, but framerate oscillates between 22 and 25 fps (video is 25 fps)
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – Won’t play
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container (360p/720p/1080p) – 360p OK, Audio only for the other two videos.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK

I also played some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_1080p_surround.avi (1080p H.264 – 12 Mbps) – OK.
  • h264_1080p_hp_4.1_40mbps_birds.mkv (40 Mbps) – Could be smoother
  • hddvd_demo_17.5Mbps_1080p_VC1.mkv (17.5Mbps) – OK
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – Not really smooth. (18 to 24 fps for a 23.976 video). Played from NTFS partition on USDB hard drive.

High definition audio codecs have been tested downmixed to PCM using XBMC and MXPlayer, and audio pass-through has been tested with Onkyo TX-NR636 using HDMI pass-through to BD/DVD input, and S/PDIF pass-through using TV/CD input on the receiver. Pass-through is enabled in Android Settings (Sound->S/PDIF->RAW) for both HDMI and optical S/PDIF, as well as the proper settings in Kodi, as done here.

Video PCM Output
PCM Output
MX Player
HDMI Pass-through
SPDIF Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio OK, but I could see tearing on the bottom of the video OK Dolby Digital  detected, but frequent audio cuts Dolby Digital  detected, but frequent audio cuts
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK Dolby Digital detected, but frequent audio cuts Dolby Digital detected, but frequent audio cuts
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 Makes Kodi crash Video Stuck at 00:00, eventually leading to “MX Player is not responding” Makes Kodi crash Makes Kodi crash
TrueHD 5.1 Video plays in slow motion OK No audio (PCM shown on receiver) Audio formats not supported via S/PDIF
TrueHD 7.1 OK OK No audio (PCM shown on receiver)
DTS HD Master OK “This audio format (DTS) is not supported” No audio (PCM shown on receiver)
DTS HD High Resolution OK “This audio format (DTS) is not supported” No audio (PCM shown on receiver)

Using “Explorer” app, AC3 and E-AC3 pass-through works, and TrueHD and DTS-HD can also be heard but down-mixed to Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1. I’ve been informed that stock Android does not support HD pass-through (TrueHD and DTS-HD), so it would require customization from the manufacturers. If you need this feature, you should go with Linux or Windows HTPC, bearing in mind that the hardware also needs to support it.

I’ve successfully tested Blu-Ray ISO with Sintel-Bluray.iso. 1080i MPEG2 videos (GridHD.mpg & Pastel1080i25HD.mpg) could also play

Previously I reported that Zidoo X9 was the only platform that could support both photo and video playback at true 4K resolution among 5 others ARM devices running Android, and this is still true, but unfortunately it can’t play any of my 4K videos samples smoothly in Kodi:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – Not smooth. ~15 fps instead of 29.976 fps
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – No smooth. 15 to 20 fps instead of 24 fps
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Does not even start (stays in Kodi UI)
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – Does not even start (stays in Kodi UI)
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  Does not even start (stays in Kodi UI)
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Does not even start (stays in Kodi UI)
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Extremely slow. Kodi reports 9 to 10 fps, but it feels closer to 3 fps.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Does not even start (stays in Kodi UI)
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – Not smooth
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Audio only, shows last frame of previous video.

Playing 4K videos in Kodi is not really an option, so I tried in the sample in “Explorer” app that comes with the firmware:

  • 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) – Plays OK, but could be smoother.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – “media server died”
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Shows one image and plays crappy audio
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_30fps.mp4 – OK
  • big_buck_bunny_4k_H264_60fps.mp4 – Audio only + message “video media error unsupport format”

Although you can’t really play 4K videos in Kodi, Explorer app does a decent job.

I also tested some 3D video, despite my 4K TV not supporting 3D, to check 3D video decoding:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – Plays at 20 fps instead of 60 fps
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Audio only
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

No device so far has been able to support 2160p 3D video, probably as it would need to support 3840×4320 video decoding.

One the other hand, Kodi managed to play all my AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB, and MP4 videos without A/V sync issues, and at a decent framerate.  One annoying bug is that sometimes when you start a video, all you get is a black screen, you have to go back and try agin, and the video will play.

I perform stability testing on my USB hard drive (since SAMBA did not work at the time) with a 1080p movie (1h50 / MKV / 3GB). Kodi played the most at the right framerate, and only reported 20 dropped frames, instead of the often-reported 14,000 skipped frames on some other Android media players.

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

Antutu Video Tester Results (Click to Enlarge)

Antutu Video Tester Results (Click to Enlarge)

Zidoo X9 gets 698 points on Antutu Video Tester, a very good score (Maximum so far is 704). Audio failed to play only once, and quality is good based on that benchmark.

HDMI Input / PVR Function

HDMI input is the main selling point of the device, and it can be used with HDMI IN app only, which brings the following user interface.

HDMI IN App Screenshot (Click for Original Size)

HDMI IN App Screenshot (Click for Original Size)

You can see the recording path to the internal flash or external USB storage. If a USB hard drive or flash drive is connected it will create HdmiRecorder directory in the first partition by default, so this is what I used. You can send select the resolution (VGA, 720p or 1080p), the video container (MP4 or TS), and optionally the start time (called Bespoke here), and the length of the recording. You can click on Start Record to record immediately, or Add record to schedule a recording. For some reasons, I was unable to schedule multiple recordings, but the one I set started right on time. You can access the List of recorded video with the List tab on the left of the menu.

The user interface will quickly disappear (within 5 seconds) if there’s no user activity, but you can press the Menu button on the remote control to bring it back. Once you start recording, a red record button will be overlaid on the top right of the TV. You can stop recording anytime, by pressing the “Stop Record” button in the menu.

I’ve tested different use cases, and you can download the samples below to check yourself too:

Please bear in mind the videos won’t play in Totem or VideoLAN. I could play them in my PC with Kodi 14 and KMPlayer.  The first three videos look pretty good to me, although some lines appear when panning in the first video (“Hello Kitty” Funerals), but it could be the original video. When I play the PC video in full screen, it almost feels the same as the original, so I’m rather impressed by the the quality. The text may not be quite as sharp as the original, but still pretty good to me. However, when scrolling in Firefox we can clearly notice it’s a video, as the text becomes blurry.

I started to experience some issues with OpenELEC. By default it seems the resolution was set to 1280×1024, and Zidoo X9 did not like that, reporting an error, so I switched to 1920×1080, and everything worked again. Another bad news is that audio pass-through does not work. If I play n AC3 video using this flow: OpenELEC on my PC->HDMI port of Zidoo->Onkyo TX-NR636 AV Receiver->TV, the receiver will probably detect Dolby Dolby 5.1, and I can hear the audio just fine, but the recorder won’t handle AC3, and just record AAC (for all videos), so audio is just silent here. Another problem is the quality of the video itself, and it’s quite choppy at time, and I can see obvious horizontal lines in some scenes too. The original video is 60 fps, my PC plays it at 51 to 52 fps, and output 1080p50, while the recorded video is 29.976 fps.

I did try TrueHD audio pass-through but this made OpenELEC lose video output, but it’s the same when I connect my PC to a Sharp TV, so OpenELEC must not like try to pass TrueHD to an HDMI input that does not support it…

Some people have asked about HDCP, but I don’t have devices, and checking in AMD Catalyst Control Center did not report anything about HDCP when I connected my PC to Zidoo X9. I’ve been told that you should be able to record PS3 output by entering the game first, then inserting the HDMI cable to the HDMI Input of the recorder. maybe something similar is feasible with a Cable STB, and some other devices.

Network Performance (Wi-Fi and Ethernet)

I transfer a 278 MB file between a SAMBA share (Ubuntu 14.04) and the internal flash of the device in order to test network performance. This is done with ES File Explorer three times, and I average the results. My testbed has now changed since I got a 4K TV and AV receiver, and the device under test is now a little closer to the Wi-Fi router, around 5 meter + wall, instead of around 6 meters + wall. I’ve made the assumption that it should not much change the results, but maybe this is something to look into. With that warning out of the way, Zidoo X9 is the best  802.11n platform tested so far with an average transfer rate of 4.43 MB/s over Wi-Fi.

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Throughput in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

One the other hand, Ethernet could be better.


Throughput in MB/s

The below average Ethernet performance can also be confirmed with iPerf using “iperf -t 60 -c -d” command line:

Zidoo_X9_Ethernet_iperfiperf output:

TCP window size: 85.3 KByte (default)
[  4] local port 5001 connected with port 59341
Client connecting to, TCP port 5001
TCP window size:  136 KByte (default)
[  6] local port 48609 connected with port 5001
[ ID] Interval       Transfer     Bandwidth
[  4]  0.0-60.0 sec   567 MBytes  79.2 Mbits/sec
[  6]  0.0-60.0 sec   290 MBytes  40.5 Mbits/sec

Miscellaneous Tests


File transfer worked without issue using ThL W200 smartphone.

Sony PS3 game controllers can’t be used because Sixaxis Compability Checker “could not load Bluetooth library”.

I could connect Vidonn X5 activity tracker over Bluetooth Low Energy to retrieve my fitness data.


Both a micro SD card and a USB flash drive formatted with FAT32 could be mounted and access. NTFS, EXT-4 and exFAT partitions on my USB 3.0 hard drive could be mounted and accessed, and only BTRFS failed.

File System Read Write
BTRFS Not mounted Not mounted

I ran A1 SD Bench to measure I/O performance of both internal and USB storage. My hard drive is connected to the USB 3.0 port for the device, and it did show for the read/write of the three partitions:

  • NTFS – Read: 44.33 MB/s; Write: 48.95 MB/s
  • EXT-4 – Read: 52.41 MB/s; Write: 62.00 MB/s
  • exFAT – Read: 52.51 MB/s; Write: 43.31 MB/s

So for this device, EXT-4 appears to be the best choice, at least for sequential read/write.

Read and Write Speed in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Read and Write Speed in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

We’ve got one of the best Android media player on the market when it comes to USB mass storage performance, but unfortunately just like BFS 4KH it can’t really be leverage as both devices are limited by their Fast Ethernet port.

The 8GB eMMC flash in the device achieves 29.95 MB/s (read) and 15.30 MB/s (write), a good performance overall, with nice balance between read and write speeds.

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

Read and Write Speeds in MB/s (Click to Enlarge)

USB Webcam

I installed Skype and Google Hangout. I managed to make the “Echo Service” call in Skype, but most of the time video calls failed, and I could only see the actual webcam image once, while most of the time a black screen was shown. The webcam icon showed in Google Hangout, and I could click to start a call, but I got no image at all. So neither Skype nor Hangouts worked at all for me, except for voice calls on Skype.


Three usual games: Candy Crush Saga, Beach Buggy Racing, and Riptide GP2.  I played Candy Crush Sage with MeLe F10 air mouse, and the game was as smooth as on other recent devices. However, I did notice some delays with Tronsmart Mars G01 wireless gamepad in Beach Buggy Racing, and the game was not that smooth even with graphics options set to “highest framerate”.  No delays in Riptide GP2, but again, although it’s playable, it’s certainly not as enjoyable as on more powerful  platforms. On the plus side, none of the games froze at anytime, even after over 20 minutes of play.

Zidoo Z9 (Mstar MSO9810) Benchmarks

I had never used a product based on Mstar MSO9810 so I went through all benchmarks I normally run for my reviews. But before that, I checked out CPU-Z information.

Mstar 9810 CPU-Z (Click to Enlarge)

Mstar 9810 CPU-Z (Click to Enlarge)

An Mstar Semiconductor quad core ARM Cortex A9 r4p1 processor @ 1.45 GHz is detected, together with a Mali-450MP GPU. The model number is Zidoo_Z9 (full_lemon) with the board simply called “lemon”, and the hardware “napoli”. Not quite sure what the difference is between “board” and “hardware”. 1579 MB RAM is available in total, the rest most probably being reserved for the GPU and VPU, with 1.97GB internal storage (CPU-Z only report the first partition).

X9 got 15,851 points in Antutu 5.6.

Antutu 5.6 Score (Click to Enlarge)

Antutu 5.6 Score (Click to Enlarge)

Quite surprising for a quad core Cortex A9 processor (in a bad way), because that’s lower than score I got (16,500+)  with Amlogic S805 Cortex A5 platforms such as MXQ S85. It’s always possible one is cheating more than the other, and looking at the detailed scores, integer and floating point performance is better with Mstar as it should be, but RAM speed is rather poor (853 vs 1590), while graphics performance is slightly better, and I/O too. So memory bandwidth seems to be the issue here.

Vellamo 3.1 score for Metal Benchmark (534), Browser benchmark (1151), and Multicore benchmark (718) are mixed against Amlogic S805 with respectively 551, 1319, and 816 (but some test were skipped). So it more or less confirms Mstar 9810 performance is quite close to Amlogic S802.


Mali-450MP GPU found in Mstar 9810 might be clocked at a higher speed (and/or use a different amount of cores MP2 vs MP4), as it gets a little over 3,000 points vs 2,325 points in EM6Q-MXQ.

3DMark ICE Storm Extreme (Click to Enlarge)

3DMark ICE Storm Extreme (Click to Enlarge)


Zidoo X9 is a unique product on the market thanks to its HDMI input, and video recording function, which works pretty well with some caveats. Wi-Fi is excellent, and storage performance (eMMC and USB 3.0) is also very good. The firmware works well most of the time, but a few internal apps tend to crash a bit too often to my liking, and Kodi really needs some work. The good news is that the development team seems dedicated to regular firmware updates, and is looking into users’ issues.


  • HDMI Input with PVR function works relatively well.
  • Both 4K videos and pictures are actually displayed at 4K resolution.
  • H.264 / HEVC 4K video playback with “Explorer” app
  • Audio pass-through in “Explorer” app works for AC3 and E-AC3, TrueHD and DTS-HD are down-mixed to Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1 however.
  • High Antutu Video Tester score (698).
  • Excellent Wi-Fi performance
  • Good performance for eMMC, and USB 3.0 hard drive
  • NTFS, EXT-4, exFAT and FAT32 file systems are fully supported.
  • Good looking user interface
  • Clean power off  and on from remote control
  • Regular OTA update with detailed changelog
  • Blog and support forums


  • Some Zidoo apps  (e.g. Settings) may crash, or even hung the system. I have not really found issues with the firmware itself, while running apps from Google Play however.
  • Kodi 14.0 has some issues
    • None of my ten 4K video samples would play at an acceptable frame rate
    • H.265 / HEVC not well supported in XBMC
    • Sometimes a video won’t start (Black screen), and re-trying will usually work
    • It may crash with some videos
    • Audio pass-through is not working is a satisfying manner even with AC3 / E-AC3 (frequent audio cuts)
  • Performance underwhelming for a Cortex A9 processor based on Benchmarks, which ends up being equivalent to Amlogic S805 due to slow memory bandwidth.
  • Skype and Google Hangouts did not work for me
  • Sony PS3 controller can’t be used (required Bluetooth library missing)
  • HDMI IN app – I could not schedule multiple recordings, some “lines” may be apparent in the recordings, can’t record AC3 audio pass-through.
  • Lack of 1080p24 / 4K24 video output option

I’d like to thanks GearBest for sending the sample for review, and if you are interested in the device, you could purchase from their shop for $119.99 including shipping with ZDX9CN coupon.  Other shipping options include Amazon US ($165)GeekBuying ($115.99 with BFCIGPHO coupon) or Ebay ($149.99).

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Onkyo TX-NR636 AV Receiver Setup and Audio Pass-through with OpenELEC / Kodi

February 5th, 2015 13 comments

Following up on my LG 42U820T 4K TV review,  I’ll know checkout the second item purchased for my reviews thanks to the help of my readers, with Onkyo TX-NR636 7.2 channel AV receiver combined with Pioneer S-11 speaker set. As this is my first AV receiver, I still have a lot to learn, I can’t really comment on audio quality (except it sounds much better than my TV speakers, and is more powerful), so I won’t do a full review, but I’ll show some details about the receiver, explain how to it setup with speakers, show how to setup OpenELEC / Kodi for HDMI audio pass-through, and test it with various Dolby and DTS video files.

Onkyo TX-NR636 Specifications

But before all that, I’ll list some of the specifications of this cool AV receiver.

  • Amplified Rated Output Power:
    • 95 watts minimum continuous power per channel, 8 ohm loads,
    • 2 channels driven from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, with a maximum total harmonic distortion of 0.08% (FTC)
    • 115 watts minimum continuous power per channel, 6 ohm loads, 2 channels driven at 1 kHz, with a maximum total harmonic distortion of 0.7% (FTC) (North American)
    • 7 ch × 160 W at 6 ohms, 1 kHz, 1 ch driven of 1% (IEC) (Others)
  • Maximum Effective Output Power – 7 ch × 175 W at 6 ohms, 1 kHz, 1 ch driven (JEITA) (Asian)
  • Speaker Impedance
    • 6 Ω – 16 Ω (North American and Taiwanese)
    • 4 Ω – 16 Ω (Others)
  • Video I/O
    • 6x HDMI input on rear panel, 1x HDMI Input on rear panel: IN1 (BD/DVD, 4K), IN2 (CBL/SAT, 4K), IN3 (STB/DVR, 4K, HDCP2.2), IN4
      (GAME, 4K), IN5 (PC), IN6, AUX INPUT (HDMI/MHL)
    • 1x HDMI 2.0 output with 4K 60Hz / HDCP 2.2 /ARC support, 1x HDMI sub output. Video Resolution: Pass-through: 4K 60 Hz (YCbCr  4:2:0); Upscaling: 4K 30 Hz
    • 3x Composite input: IN1 (CBL/SAT), IN2 (STB/DVR), IN3 (GAME)
    • 1x Component input: IN (CBL/SAT)
    • 1x Component output, 1x Composite ouput
  • Audio I/O
    • Input
      • Digital – 1x Optical S/PDIF (TV/CD); 2x Coaxial S/PDIF: 1 (BD/DVD), 2 (CBL/SAT)
      • Analog – BD/DVD, CBL/SAT, STB/DVR, GAME, PC, TV/CD, PHONO (RCA connectors)
      • Setup mic-  3.5 mm jack for setup microphone
    • Output
      • Analog – ZONE2 LINE OUT (Sterero);  2x SUBWOOFER PRE OUT
      • Headphone – 6.3mm jack
  • Audio Format –  DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, DSD, Multichannel PCM
  • Misc Features – 3D, Audio Return Channel, DeepColor, x.v.Color, LipSync, CEC (RIHD), RI remote control jack
  • Tuner
    • FM Tuning Frequency Range
      • 87.5 MHz – 107.9 MHz (North American and Taiwanese)
      • 87.5 MHz – 108.0 MHz, RDS (Others)
    • AM Tuning Frequency Range – 522/530 kHz – 1611/1710 kHz
  • Network Connectivity –   10/100M Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • USB – 1x USB host port on front panel
  • Power Supply – AC 120 V, 60 Hz (North American and Taiwanese); AC 220 – 240 V, 50/60 Hz (Others)
  • Power Consumption –
    • Maximum – 6.3 A (North American and Taiwanese); 630 W (Others)
    • Standby – 0.1 W (North American and Taiwanese); 0.2 W (Others)
    • No sound – 80 W
  • Dimensions (W × H × D) – 435 mm × 173.5 mm × 329 mm
  • Weight – About 10 kg

That’s quite a list, and it also support Dolby Atmos but somehow this is not listed in the specifications. If you want a receiver for a 4K Home Theather, TX-NR636 covers all you need including HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2, with all common audio format, but only support YCbCr 4:2:0 output, and not the full YCbCr 4:4:4. In theory the latter should only affect color quality, but in practise some media players like those based on Rockchip RK3288 don’t support this mode so 4K 60 Hz output is not possible via the receiver, only 4K 30Hz. This may not be such an issue, as I expect most video to be shot at 24 fps or 30 fps, I understand most media players will support YCbCr 4:2:0 anyway.

One worry are reports about HDMI card frying after 2 years or so for the older TX-NR626 models, but hopefully they’ve fixed this in this model.

Onkyo TX-NR636 Unboxing

Initially, I planed to purchase the receiver online as it’s a bit cheaper, but I noticed sellers on Lazada (Thai online shop) did not always provide warranty with a clear “Warranty: NO”, so based on the HDMI card issues above, I really wanted to have a proper warranty, and easy access to Onkyo service center. Since the closest one is about 700 km away, I bought the receiver in a local shop (Sahapanich) in Chiang Mai  offering 3-year warranty, and handling possible issues for free during the three year warranty on my behalf. I paid 25,000 Baht (~$770 US), only slightly more expensive than online. But if you are in the US, TX-NR636 only sells for $450 on Amazon or Newegg, and it’s also one of the best sellers in the AV Receivers & Amplifiers section on Amazon, the top sellers being its little brother TX-NR626.

So let’s open the package to see what’s inside.


TX-NR636 AV Receiver and Accessories (Click to Enlarge)

Beside a big black box, we’ll find an indoor FM antenna, an AM loop antenna, color label for speaker cables (very convenient), a massive IR remote control with two AA batteries, a speaker setup microphone, as well as some documentation with the basic manual in English, French, Italian, German, Dutch, Swedish, and Finnish, color labels for speaker cable. “important safety instructions”, a short documentation about RIHD-compatible devices, a document with the GPL and LGPL licenses, and listing the open source software used in the receiver, and a promo documents for Onkyo’s speakers and some information to access to customer support.

You may also want to download the Advanced manual (89 pages), but it’s not really necessary for basic setup and usage.


Click to Enlarge

On the front panel, we’ve got the power button, the LCD display, a directional pad, a volume knob, source switching buttons, some audio buttons (Pure Audio,. Tone configuration), as well as headphone hack, one HDMI/MHL port, the only USB port of the device, and the jack for the speaker setup microphone. You’ll also find a bunch of sticker listed some of the key features of the receiver.

I’m mostly using the power button, volume knob, and LCD display, as well as the setup mic for initial speaker setup. I have not used much of the other buttons.


Click to Enlarge

The rear panel is where most of the connections are. I’ve already listed the ports in specs, but basically from right to left we’ve got: RI remote control jack, S/PDIF ports, radio antenna connectors, Ethernet, component, composite, and analog audio ports, Zone 2 or Subwoofer audio RCA connectors, HDMI input and output ports, connectors for 9 speakers, and the power cord.

TX-NR636 Remote Control and Speaker Setup Microphone (Click to Enlarge)

TX-NR636 Remote Control and Speaker Setup Microphone (Click to Enlarge)

Even If your other device do not support HDMI-CEC, the included IR  remote control (Onkyo RC-880M) allows you to control multiple devices, as it features an IR learning function for the source (e.g. media player, BD/DVD player, etc..) and TV.

Pioneer S-11 Speaker Set

if you’ve spent a fair amount of money on a 7.2 channel AV receiver, normally you’ll want to buy 7.1 or 7.2 speaker set, and possibly two extra speakers for Zone 2 (Another room). A good set of speaker will easily cost as much as the AV receiver itself. Since I just need to use the AV receiver for testing, and I had a limited budget, and limited space in my office, I looked for a cheap 5.1 speaker set with small speakers. The most important metric is the impedance of the speakers, as if the impedance is too low, you may fry your receiver. Onkyo TX-NR636 supports 6Ω to 16Ω, and the model outside the US and Taiwan also supports 4Ω, and this just needs to be configured in the setup. Another important value is the speaker power, but after reading several forum posts and articles, it’s not really critical, unless you plan to crank the volume to the maximum, where you may potentially fry your speakers, but you’ll likely to hear some audio saturation before damage is done to the speakers (TBC).  I’ve set the volume to 65 (out of 100), and it was already really loud, anything higher might start to feel uncomfortable in my small room. For reference, the maximum effective output power is 175 W at 6 ohms, so to be on the safe side, you may want speakers matching or exceeding this value, but I finally went for 150W speakers myself and they are working just fine.

Monoprice 108247 5.1 speaker set would have matched my price and size requirement (Output power is just 120W however) as it sells for just under $100. However, this model is not available in Thailand, and the cheapest options were Denon SYS 5.1  for 6,900 Baht ($211 US), or Pioneer S-11 + S-21W subwoofer set (Aka S-HS100) for 6500 Baht ($200 US), so finally I just bought Pioneer S-11 speaker set without S-21W subwoofer for 2,500 Baht (~$76 US) online.
Pioneer_S11_PackageThere’s one useful information on the package: “The Operating Guide is Packed in S-21W”. So I went to download the guide.

Pioneer-S11_Speaker_SetThe set is comprised of two surround speakers, a front left speaker, a front right speaker, an a center speaker (That’s supposed to be placed horizontally under the TV), four holders and corresponding screws for the four small speakers, and 5 cables: 3x 4-meter cables for the L/R and center speakers, and 2x 10-meter cables for the surround speakers.


Click to Enlarge

The speakers have a 6 Ohm impedance ad 150W maximal power. The small speakers also have the screw thread to attach the holders.

Onkyo TX-NR636 AV Receiver Setup

So now that we’ve got all we need, it’s time to connected everything, and one page of the basic manual explains all you need to know to connect the speakers depending on your configuration.

Speaker Connections (Click to Enlarge)

Speaker Connections (Click to Enlarge)

Supported setups include:

  • 5.1 channels – L/R front speakers on each side of the TV, center speaker right under the TV, two surround speakers on each side of listener, and a subwoofer pretty much anywhere you like.
  • 7.1 channels – Same as 5.1 channels plus two extra surround speakers either on the back of the listener, or above the L/R front speakers
  • 2.0 channels – L/R front speakers only
  • 3.0 channels – L/R front speakers, and center speaker
  • 4.0 channels – L/R front speakers, and two surround speakers on the sides.

7.1 and 5.1 setups can become 7.2 and 5.2 setups with an extra subwoofer. For some reasons, they did not mention any 5.0 configuration, without subwoofer. Optionally,. you can also add 2 “Zone 2″ speakers if you want audio (e.g. listen music) in another room.

So I went with ahead with the 4.0 channels option, but the process is basically the same irregardless of the number of speakers.

Onkyo_TX_NR636_Cable_MessYou want to insert the wire with the red sticker into the red connector, and the other part of the wire into the black connector. It’s quite a cable mess during installation, even with just 4 speakers. I strongly recommend using the color labels provided with the receiver to make sure you connect each cable to the right speaker. Pioneer_S11_Wall_Mount

I’ve also wall-mounted the four speakers in the corners of my office. I drilled holes, added plastic wall plugs, and tighten a the four screws to the wall, and the same height of the top of the TV, as recommended. Then you need to connect the cable to the speakers, mount the holder on the speakers, before sliding the speakers on the screws. Now connect and HDMI cable to your TV, and one or more HDMI cable to your video / audio devices such as computer, media player, Blu-ray player, set-top box, and so on. You can also want to connect the radio antennas if you plan to listen to TV, and an optical S/PDIF cable if you need it.

Now power on the device, and it should enter into the “AccuEQ Room Calibration” setup.

AccuEQ_Room_CalibrationYou be able to select your front speakers type, whether you have a subwoofer,  and connected Zone 2 and/or Height speakers. Press Enter, and the system will ask you to connect the speaker setup microphone on the front panel. Once this is done place the microphone where you normally sit, and at ear level. I’ve read you are not supposed to hold it with your hands.

Press enter again, keep quiet, and the system will automatically adjust the audio settings by emitting noise (sounds like untuned radio) in each speakers. and repeat the process twice. Once this is done, your AV receiver is configured.

HDMI audio pass-through in OpenELEC / Kodi

You still have to configure your media device if you want to use pass-through instead of just listening to stereo audio. Each device is different, but here I’ve initially decided to give it a try with my PC with AMD Radeon HD5450 GPU using Kodi in Ubuntu 14.10.  It turns out it’s not so simple, as in Linux you have two audio options:

  • PulseAudio – Kodi can be used with other applications using audio, but TrueHD and DTS-HD are not supported, only Dolby Digital.
  • ALSA – All audio formats are supported, but only one application (e.g. Kodi) can use audio at any time.

So at first I tried it out with PulseAudio playing a video with Dolby Digital 5.1 (AC3), and I installed pavucontrol, and followed the instructions for PulseAudio,  but my computer would just act crazy, switching between 480i and 1080p every few seconds, and spewing messages in the kernel log, when HDMI pass-through is enabled. Maybe that’s an issue with my GPU drivers installation (Catalyst won’t start). Since I had to test DTS-HD and TrueHD anyway, and did not want to mess around with my PC audio settings, I decided to go with OpenELEC.

There are currently two images for x86_64: OpenELEC-Generic.x86_64-5.0.1.tar  OpenELEC-Generic.x86_64-5.0.1-efi.img.gz. I got a little confused at first, as I could not find a definitive explanation for the two files. The first is an installer image only, and the documentation does that the installer is a little buggy, and you should remove all other drive before installing, or you may lose data, The second image is both a Live image and an installer, so I went with the latter. Installation to a USB flash drive is very easy, just use dd or Win32DiskImage on the main device (e.g. /dev/sdd), and not a partition (e.g. /dev/sdd1), or you may get the message “Missing OS” will trying to boot, at least that was my experience. Enter your BIOS, and select the USB flash drive as primary boot device.

OpenELEC is already configured with ALSA audio, so configuration is very easy. Simply go to System->Settings in Kodi, and select “Advanced” for the Settings Level, and select Audio output.



Now select the Audio output device. HDMI audio is strangely called “HDA ATI, @@@” on my PC. The other settings are shown in the picture above. After enabling passthrough, select the same audio device for Passthrough output device, and enable the audio codecs supported by your AV receiver. In my case I enabled, AC3, E-AC3, DTS, TrueHD, and DTS HD.

Audio Codec Testing

I played my usual list of video samples with Dolby / DTS audio codecs. I set the Onkyo receiver setting with the remote control pressing to Movie/TV button to select the listening mode to “Direct” in order to play audio as it is. For each file, I press the CLR/Display button on the bottom right of the remote to show the signal format.

That’s what I saw on the LCD display for each video:

  • ac3-sound-sample.vob – Dolby Digital  5.1 / AC3


  • hd_dolby_digital_plus_lossless_Dolby_Digital+_7.1.m2ts – Dolby Digital Plus 7.1


  • hd_dolby_countdown_v1_lossless_Dolby_TrueHD_5.1.m2ts – TrueHD 5.1


  • hd_dolby_bit_harvest_lossless_Dolby_TrueHD_7.1.m2ts – TrueHD 7.1


  • hd_dts_animated_logo_lossless_DTS-HD_MA_7.1.m2ts – DTS-HD Master


  • hd_dts_orchestra_short_lossless_DTS-HD_HR 7.1.m2ts – DTS-HD High Resolution

All good! That means everything is working fine, and I can soon test Android, Linux and Windows 8.1 mini PCs with HDMI pass-through to see how they perform. I’ve also tried to use an optical S/PDIF cable I bought for $1, and connected it to the S/PDIF input on my motherboard (not GPU). However, even after selecting an SPDIF video output in OpenELEC, and selecting TV/CD input on the AV receiver, I did not get any audio. If I keep using the HDMI input I still get audio via HDMI. It’s something I’ll have to check-out a little later.

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Kodi 14 Video Playback on Intel Atom Z3735F Computers Running Windows 8.1

January 31st, 2015 29 comments

I’ve already written a short review of Mele PCG03 mini PC powered by Intel Atom Z3735F processor, with 2GB RAM, and 32GB eMMC flash, where I found out that almost it’s not the fastest device around, it’s still usable for most tasks, albeit you can quickly run out of space with only 32GB storage, so if you really plan to use it as an actual computer using applications such as email clients, web browser and office suites, an external USB hard drive, or connection to a NAS is probably a must, or you’ll probably have to run Disk Cleaner fairly often.  Mele PCG03 also have a valid Windows 8.1 license, and a VGA port, both of which are often missing on many other Bay Trail-T mini PCs.

Kodi 14.1 on Mele PCG03 (Click for Original Size)

Kodi 14.1 on Mele PCG03 (Click for Original Size)

I’ve now installed Kodi 14.1, downloaded directly from,  on this low cost and low power computer, to go through my video test files, and see how it performs compared to the many ARM based Android TV boxes I’ve tested in the past. I’ve played the videos over Ethernet from a SAMBA share on an Ubuntu 14.04 machine, unless otherwise noted. I full expect the results to be identical on other Intel Atom Z3735 / Z3736 based mini PCs such as MeegoPad T01 or Pipo X7.

The device was connected to LG 42UB820T, a 4K UltraHD television, but the maximum output resolution supported by the box is 1080p60 (1920×1080), so that’s the output resolution I used for testing.

Let’s get started with videos samples from, plus some H.265/HEVC videos (Elecard), and a low resolution VP9 video:

  • H.264 codec / MP4 container (Big Buck Bunny), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • MPEG2 codec / MPG container, 480p/720p/1080p – OK. But XBMC reports decoding at 24 fps, instead of the video native 25 fps.
  • MPEG4 codec, AVI container 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • VC1 codec (WMV), 480p/720p/1080p – OK
  • Real Media (RMVB), 720p / 5Mbps – RV8, RV9, and RV10 – OK, but at 720p and 1080p video is played at about 22 fps instead of 25 fps.
  • WebM / VP8 – OK
  • H.265 codec / MPEG TS container – 360p and 720p OK, 1080p video is not really watchable (15 fps), and audio cuts.
  • WebM / VP9 (no audio in video) – OK

Followed by some higher bitrate videos:

  • ED_HD.avi – OK
  • 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) – OK, but plays at 24 fps instead of 29.970 fps
  • Jellyfish-120-Mbps.mkv (120 Mbps video without audio) – OK (using USB hard drive)

High definition audio codecs below have only been tested using PCM output over HDMI, as I’ll still waiting for Speakers to go with my AV receiver. So HDMI pass-through is still To Be Tested (TBT), and S/PDIF won’t be tested since there’s no S/PDIF output on MeLE’s mini PC. I expect to update the table with HDMI pass-through in about a week. I’ve now tested HDMI audio pass-through using Onkyo TX-NR636 AV receiver. I selected WASAPI audio device in Kodi, and enabled all codecs below.

Video’s Audio Codec HDMI PCM Output HDMI Pass-through SPDIF Pass-through
AC3 / Dolby Digital 5.1 OK OK No S/PDIF Output on MeLE PCG03
E-AC-3 / Dolby Digital+ 5.1 OK OK
Dolby Digital+ 7.1 OK Some audio but frequent cuts
TrueHD 5.1 OK No audio Audio Formats Not Supported over S/PDIF
TrueHD 7.1 OK No audio
DTS HD Master OK No audio
DTS HD High Resolution OK No audio

I could play Sintel-Bluray.iso without problem, so Bluray ISO are supported. I’ve been told encrypted ISO might be more problematic, but I don’t have any sample to test. 1080i MPEG2 videos (GridHD.mpg & Pastel1080i25HD.mpg) could also play.

Intel Atom Z3735F processor does not support 4K video output, however it can still decode some 4K videos (H.264), but both H.265 and VP9 are out of reach:

  • HD.Club-4K-Chimei-inn-60mbps.mp4 – OK
  • sintel-2010-4k.mkv – OK
  • Beauty_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – XBMC reports playback at about 10 fps, but I looks like 2 to 3 fps to me.
  • Bosphorus_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_MP4.mp4 (H.265) – XBMC reports playback at about 10 fps, but I looks like 2 to 3 fps to me.
  • Jockey_3840x2160_120fps_420_8bit_HEVC_TS.ts (H.265) –  Won’t play at all (stays in XBMC UI)
  • MHD_2013_2160p_ShowReel_R_9000f_24fps_RMN_QP23_10b.mkv (10-bit HEVC) – Slow notion playback, just like other H.265 videos.
  • phfx_4KHD_VP9TestFootage.webm (VP9) – Plays at about 10 fps.
  • BT.2020.20140602.ts (Rec.2020 compliant video) – Won’t play at all (stays in XBMC UI)

I’ve also played some 3D videos:

  • bbb_sunflower_1080p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (1080p Over/Under) – OK (Decoded at 60 fps as it should)
  • bbb_sunflower_2160p_60fps_stereo_abl.mp4 (2160p Over/Under) – Plays at about 10 fps, and frequent audio cuts.
  • Turbo_Film-DreamWorks_trailer_VO_3D.mp4 (1080p SBS) – OK

Please note that My TV does not support 3D, so I only tested video decoding capability.

All my AVI, MKV, FLV, VOB, IFO and MP4 videos could play smmothly, without A/V sync issues, and contrary to XBMC Android, the reported framerate is extremely stable. In most, if not all, Android media players, it’s quite common to see 24 fps videos, being played at  a reported 22 to 25 fps according to XBMC live log window. But in ths test, the vast majority of videos played exactly and constantly at the native framerate.

All the video above where played over Ethernet, but I switched to Wi-Fi, but my reliability test, consisting of playing a full 1080p movie (1h50 / MKV / 3GB). XBMC reported only 1 skipped frame over the whole movie, while in Android TV boxes I usually get 14,000 skipped frames for the complete movie.

I also wanted to test automatic frame rate switching, so I went to Settings->Video, changed the Settings level to Advanced, and set Adjust display refresh rate to match video to On start/stop. And got the following results using the Info button on the remote control of my TV for the video output:

  • 23.976 fps video -> Video Output: 1080p24
  • 24 fps video -> Video Output: 1080p24
  • 25 fps video -> Video Output: 1080p50
  • 30 fps video -> Video Output: 1080p60
  • 50 fps video -> Video Output: 1080p50
  • 59.94 fps video -> Video Output: 1080p60
  • 60 fps video -> Video Output: 1080p60

So it’s mostly working. If I open Intel HD Graphics Control Panel, the following refresh rate are available: 23p, 24p, 25p, 29p, 30p, 50p, 50i, 59p, 59i, 60p, and 60i, and I can set any of these refresh rates, but for example, when I set 59p, and press the Info button on the remote of my LG TV, I only see 1080p60, so it’s difficult to know exactly what’s going on for refresh rates such as 23.976 or 59.94 fps.

Anyway, the conclusion is excluding the lack of H.265 codec and 4K video output support, that’s clearly the best experience I’ve had using XBMC / Kodi on any low cost hardware platform, as all 1080p or lower resolution videos could be played, the vast majority at the native video framerate, H.264 4K videos are playing fine (but outputted to 1080p), and automatic frame rate switching is working. [Update: 4K video can limited to 30 fps, the system can’t handle 4K 60fps at full rate]

Links to various video samples used in this review and be found in “Where to get video, audio and images samples” post and comments.

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MeLE PCG03 mini PC Review and Benchmarks with Windows 8.1 with Bing

January 29th, 2015 11 comments

MeLE PCG03 is an Intel Atom Z3735F mini PC with 2GB RAM, and 32GB eMMC. I’ve already posted some pictures of the device and board, and since Windows 8.1 with Bing NTE (with proper license) is installed, I’ll first test the device with Microsoft OS as reference, before trying Ubuntu or/and Android.

MeLE PCG03 Setup

The computer comes only with a power adapter, so you’ll need to find an HDMI or/and VGA cable for your display(s), and USB keyboard and mouse to get started. Optionally, you’ll also want an Ethernet cable, and since storage is limited an extra storage device be it a USB hard drive, flash drive, or SD card.

Once all is connected you can press the power button on the left side to boot the device. The boot normally takes about 20 seconds, but the first time, you’ll go through the usual Windows 8.1 setup (I assume), including country, time zone and language selection: 中文简体, 中文繁體, English, Français, Deutsch, Italiano, Nederlands, espanol, Português (Brazil or Portugal), русский, Čeština, slovenščina, ,فارسی Polski, українська, العربية  or .עברית If your local language is not listed then you are out of luck.

You’ll also have to create a local account, or sign-in with an MSN account, and you should be done. So the process is pretty much straightforward.

Windows 8.1 Interface (Click for Original)

Windows 8.1 Interface (Click for Original)


Click to Enlarge

The screenshot above is after cleaning up the junk a bit, and adding my own app. The box is connected to my 4K TV, but the maximum resolution supported by the device is 1920×1080, and the lowest 1024×768. You may also connect an extra monitor via the VGA port for a dual display setup. I’ll demo this below in this post.

Mele PCG03 System Info

Let’s get some more details about the system.
As advertised the system comes with a Z3735F processor, 2GB RAM, and the 32-bit version of Windows 8.1 with Bing activated. I also received a Windows Update while testing. The company also told me it would be possible to recover the firmware, but did not provide a link. They’ve just provided their FAQ explaining how to upgrade the firmware, and configure other things like audio and video output.

mele_PCG03_storageThere’s a 28.7GB partition out of the 32GB eMMC, and about 16 GB free space. The screenshot above is after installing Firefox and Crystal Disk Benchmark.


Click to Enlarge

The Device Manager shows the list of devices, but we already knew about the hardware with tear-down. Realtek RTL8723 (BS) is also used in Meegopad T01 and Pipo X7, which should be good news for Android and Linux support.

mele_pcg03_hwinfoI ran also HWiNFO32 to get more details about the CPU, which is incorrectly detected as Z3735D, but the other information should be correct, as both processor are very similar.

In case you wonder about the BIOS, it’s basically the same AMI Bios as other Intel Atom Z3735F devices.

AMI BIOS UEFI 2.3 (Click to Enlarge)

AMI BIOS UEFI 2.3 (Click to Enlarge)

You can watch that video to see all options. This is for MeegoPad T01, but the BIOS is bascially the same, except the one in PCG03 has been built one month earlier.

MeLE PCG03 Benchmarks

PCMARK 8 is a standard benchmark for Windows, and covers lots of area include office use, video conferencing, gaming, web browsing and so on. I downloaded the basic version, and ran the baseline test.


PCMark 8 on MeLE PCG03 (Click to Enlarge)

MeLE PCG03 gots 1,105 points in PCMARK 8 HOME CONVENTIONAL 3.0 test. The software somehow detected an Intel Core i7-5960X…
It’s the first time I’ve run this benchmark so looked for some comparison online. For example an Intel Core i7-920 processor with Nvidia GeForce GTX770 gets 2,610 points. I was expecting a larger gap, but if you look into the details, you’ll find that Casual gaming  is 10 times faster in the more powerful computer.

I measured the temperature on top and bottom of the enclosure right about the benchmark at respectively 39 °C and 46 °C, so that part is under control.

The internal storage is a Samsung eMMC 5.0 flash, and performance does show.

mele_pcg03_disk_benchmarkMeLE PCG03 Usability Testing

Benchmarks are nice, but nothing it worth and hands-on experience, so I’ve shot a video showing the device, some settings including storage and display,  and tasks that may be challenging in competing ARM Linux hardware platforms:

  • Web Browsing in Firefox
    • Loading CNX Software
    • Playing an Embedded Video
    • Playing a 1080p Video in Full Screen mode
    • Playing a flash game  (Candy Crush Saga)
  • Gaming with Asphalt 8
  • Kodi with 4K video playback
  • Dual display support with HDMI TV and VGA monitor

The refresh rate of my camera and the 4K TV does not match, so at time (desktop and web browsing), the video is a pain to watch but hopefully, it will give an idea of the performance and capabilities of this mini PC.

So overall the device is quite usable, but I experienced obvious stuttering while playing 1080p YouTube videos (Embedded or Full Screen), and animation in Candy Crush Saga were pretty slow. The good news was I could play some 4K videos in Kodi (albeit outputted to 1080p), and Asphalt 8 is running reasonably well, although a higher frame rate would be nice. With the wave of Intel Bay Trail mini PC, the VGA port is clearly a strong point of this box, especially dual display is working as it should. If you really intend to use this device as a PC for web browsing, emails (Outlook. Thunderbird),  and an office suite, you’ll likely to run out of space pretty quickly, so an external storage device is a must.


If you miss Microsft BSOD, don’t worry it’s alive and well! :) This happened when I connected the hard drive via a USB hub, instead of directly to a USB port on the device. Maybe a power issue?

That’s all for today. I’ll write a separate post to thoroughly test video playback in Kodi Windows, and then try alternative operating systems such as Ubuntu and Android, and compare how they perform versus Windows 8.1.

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MeLE PCG03 Windows 8.1 Fanless mini PC Unboxing

January 26th, 2015 11 comments

MeLE PCG03 was announced in October 2014 with an aggressive price tag of $49 for large orders for barebone systems, and was said to support Windows 8.1 or Android 4.4. MeLE is PCG03 now is now available with 2GB RAM, and 32GB eMMC, and with a properly licensed “Windows 8.1 with Bing NTE”, but no Android for $149 on Ebay, or Aliexpress, and it should eventually show up on MeLE Amazon store. The company sent me a sample for review, so I’ll start by listing the updated specifications, and taking pictures today, before running benchmarks, trying out Kodi, and trying Ubuntu in other posts.

MeLE PCG03 Specifications

The look of the device and available ports have slightly changed since the first prototype was revealed last year.

  • SoC – Intel Atom Z3735F “Bay Trail” quad core processor @ 1.33 GHz (Bust freq: 1.83 GHz) with Intel HD graphics
  • System Memory – 2 GB DDR3L
  • Storage – 32 GB eMMC + SD card slot (up to 512 GB)
  • Video Output – HDMI 1.4, and VGA
  • Audio I/F – HDMI, 3.5mm earphone jack
  • Connectivity – 10/100M Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB – 3x USB 2.0 host
  • Misc – Power Button, power LED, Kensington security lock, small battery (for RTC?)
  • Power Supply – 12V/1A (12W max)
  • Dimensions – 150 x 120 x 40 mm
  • Weight – 360 grams

The system runs “Windows 8.1 with Bing NTE”, the official Microsoft operating system for mini PCs according to MeLE.

MeLE PCG03 Unboxing Pictures

I’ve received the device by Fedex in the following package.
The number of accessories is quite minimal compared to ARM based Android mini PCs with just a 12V/1A power adapter, and a Quick Start Guide.

Mini PC, Power Supply, and Quick Start Guide (Click to Enlarge)

Mini PC, Power Supply, and Quick Start Guide (Click to Enlarge)

The device’s enclosure is made of two parts with the top made of plastic, and the bottom and rear panel made of metal.

MeLE PCG03 (Click to Enlarge)

MeLE PCG03 (Click to Enlarge)

The front panel has an LED, abnd button (with no purpose), one side comes with a USB 2.0 host port, an SD card slot, and the power button, and the reat panel features most of the ports: kensington slot, power jack, VGA output, HDMI output, Ethernet port, two more USB 2.0 host port, the Wi-Fi antenna, and the earphone jack.
You can check out the unboxing video if you prefer.

MeLE PCG03 Tear-down

My favorite part of the unboxing post is to open the box to see what’s inside, and MeLE PCG03 is made to be opened so everything is pretty straightforward and comes out easily. First remove four screws on the bottom of the enclosure, and two screws on the rear panel to lift up the plastic top.

Top of Board (Click to Enlarge)

Top of Board (Click to Enlarge)

The solution is comprised of a baseboard and a system-on-module. The Wi-Fi module is based on Realtek RTL8723BS. Other chips on the baseboard include ASIX AX88772CLF USB 2.0 to Fast Ethernet controller, Realtek ALC5640 multi-channel audio hub, and Analogix ANX9833 DisplayPort to VGA adapter. Intel Atom Z3735F being mostly a tablet SoC, they had to use a few extra chips to add missing features like Ethernet and VGA output, btu I guess it’s a bit still cheaper than using more powerful Bay Trail-D processor like Celeron J1800. Three headers are unpopulated on the right of the board, but I’m not sure what they are for.

Bottom and Board and "Heatsink" (Click to Enlarge)

Bottom and Board and “Heatsink” (Click to Enlarge)

I’ve removed four more screws to completely take out the board.  There’s an opening on the baseboard to let the Intel processor touch the thermal pad placed on top of the metallic case.

Bay Trail CPU Module (Click to Enlarge)

Bay Trail CPU Module (Click to Enlarge)

Finally, I’ve taken out the CPU module by removing two tiny screws, and pushing on the metallic bits on the side of the connector. I assume this is a proprietary solution so if somehow you could upgrade the module it would have to be purchased from MeLE, but with USB 2.0 and Fast Ethernet, I’m not sure an upgrade would be that interesting any way. Intel Atom Z3735F is the shiny chip in the center of the board, and is coupled with four Samsung K4B4G1646q-HYKO DDR3L chips, and a Samsung KLMBG4GEAC-B031, a Class 2000 eMMC 5.0 flash with 32GB capacity and read and write speed rated respectively at 240 and 60 MB/s. X-Powers AXP288 is the power management IC.


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4K Output and Video Playback Capability Tested on 6 ARM based mini PCs and Boards

January 26th, 2015 9 comments

Since I’ve now got a 4K TV, I’ve decided to test 4K support for six different platforms based on Rockchip, Allwinner, Amlogic, Realtek, HiSilicon, and Mstar processors. For all these platforms I’ll report HDMI 4K output options, user interface resolution, and take close up pictures of the screen while displaying a 4K 1×1 grid picture and video with the image players, and video players such as MX Player or XBMC depending which are available in the firmware.

Test Setup and Procedure

I’m using LG 42UB820T 42″ UltraHD television with an HDMI cable connected to HDMI 1 port of the TV. Please note that my TV only support 8-bit color depth / YCbCr 4:2:0 which may cause compatibility issues with some boxes, at least the ones based on RK3288 processor, for 2160p 50Hz or 60Hz mode. I’ll take close-up pictures of the screen with a Canon PowerShot A2300HD camera by holding it with my hand (i.e. no tripod). This is important, because if the image feels a little bit blurry, this is most probably the reason. The important part are the black and white dot as I’ll explain below.

Six devices advertized with 4K support will be tested with the version of the firmware in the box/board:

Then I’ll report the following:

  1. Framebuffer / User Interface resolution with data from CPU-Z, Antutu, or Screenshot size
  2. Picture display quality by displaying a 3840×2160 test pattern in PNG or (non-progressive) JPG format, using the available image viewer in the firmware, and take a close-up picture.
  3. Video display quality by playing a 3840×2160 video test pattern in MKV format, using the provided 4K player, MX Player and/or XBMC/Kodi depending on what’s available in the firmware, and take a close-up picture.

This is the reference picture when decoding the JPG image directly with my TV’s internal software.

LG_4K_Test_PatternWe can clearly see a 1-pixel black and white grid, and if the boxes properly output 4K, the picture should look similar to the one above. If not there may be only white or black around “4K”, or some non-uniform pattern of black and white dots.

For each box, I’ll make sure scaling is set to 100% to avoid distortion of the image, and my TV aspect ratio is set to “Just Scan” to make sure all pixels are visible on the screen, and the system does not overscan. The status bar must hidden during video playback / picture display or this will change the picture aspect ratio, and affect the test. There’s a red border around the picture, it must be seen, or that seem the player may have zoomed in the video or picture.

If you use MX Player make sure it’s using H/W decode, and not S/W decode, as the latter will render to the framebuffer instead of hardware buffer, meaning the framebuffer resolution is used.

You can download 4K test patterns. The MKV video was created from the PNG file with the command line:

avconv -loop 1 -i 4ktest_red.png -c:v libx264 4ktest_red_border_loop.mkv

I’ll show the picture for all boxes below, but if you just want to read the results scroll down to the summary table. The pictures take with my camera, before I zoom can be found here.

Please note that while we can conclude whether given SoC support 4K, we can’t confirm an particurlar SoC does NOT support 4K properly in case of issues, because it could simply be a firmware bug.

Zidoo X9 – 4K Support

4K Video Output Options – DACOUT_4K2K_30 or DACOUT_4K2K_25

Framebuffer resolution – 1920×1080

Picture displayed with Image Player app.

Video played in MX Player (H/W decode)

Video played in Kodi

4K_Zidoo_X9_XBMCAll 3 pictures have clear black and white dots. 100% mark for Zidoo Z9 for decoding 4K pictures and playing 4K videos.

Open Hour Chameleon – 4K Support

4K Video Output Options – 4K2K – 30Hz, 4K2K – 25Hz, 4K2K – 24Hz

Framebuffer resolution – 1920×1080

Picture displayed with Gallery app. (Note: OHC has a Photo app, but I could not make it to display the picture in full screen mode, so I reverted to the Gallery app)
Video played in XBMC

4K_Open_Hour_Chameleon_XBMCSo 4K does work OK in this Rockchip RK3288 TV box, contrary to what I wrote a while ago, and my mistake was to use S/W decode in MX Player which renders to the framebuffer.

BFS 4KH – 4K Support

4K Video Output Options – 2160p24, and 2160p30

Framebuffer resolution – 1920×1080 or 1280×720 (Selectable in options)

Update: Since the company provided a new firmware ( password: nhit), I’ve tested it again. I’ve left the older test results in the “Old firmware” section, and the improved results in “New firmware”.
The company asked me to leave the following warning when I share the firmware:

This firmware DO NOT Guarantee stable if the box is not 4KH from our company.
WE DO NOT Guarantee stable if the box is not our 4KH.

Old firmware

Picture displayed with Gallery app.


Video played in XBMC for HiSilicon

4K_BFS_4KH_XBMCBFS 4KH is a pretty good box for the price, but based on my testing, although it can output @ 2160p, rendering is done at 1080p for both pictures and videos. The red “4K” looks particularly ugly.

New firmware

The image quality of the PNG file is still very bad, so I skipped this test.

Video played in MediaCenterBFS_4KH_2160p_MediaCenterIt looks as it should be. All good.

Video played in Kodi 14.0-beta5 (pre-installed)

BFS_4KH_2160p_KodiSadly the new firmware does not fix 4K video quality in Kodi/XBMC.

A80 Optimusboard – 4K Support

4K Video Output Options – 2160p30

Framebuffer resolution – 1920×1080

Picture displayed with Gallery app.


Video played with 4KVideoPlayer app
4K_A80_OptimusBoard_4KVideoPlayerThe images look not too bad, but no black and white dots, so the board fails to properly output 4K pictures and videos, even with their 4K player. The firmware dates from September, and testing with a TV box like Tronsmart Draco AW80 might have yielded different results, but I don’t own it anymore.

Eny M8S – 4K Support

4K Video Output Options – 4K2K-24Hz, 4K2K-25Hz, 4K2K-30Hz or 4K2K-SMPTE. Selecting the latter is the same as 2160p24Hz on my TV

Framebuffer resolution – 1920×1080

Picture displayed with Gallery app.


Video played with 4K Video Player

Video played in XBMC.
4K_M8S_XBMCThat one is confusing. I can see some black and white dots in the videos, but not everywhere. So it’s like it supports 4K, but some processing affect the video, or the resolution is not exactly 1920×1080. Pictures looks ugly as with all tests with the Gallery app.

M-195 – 4K Support

4K Video Output Options – 3840×2160 24Hz, 3840×2160 25Hz, 3840×2160 30Hz, or 4096×2160 24Hz. The latter does not work with my TV (which supports 4096×2160), and all I got is a black screen.

Framebuffer resolution – 1280×720

Picture displayed with Gallery app.


Video played with XBMC
4K_M-195_XBMCM-195 can play 4K video just fine, but again the gallery app just renders to the framebuffer.


Here’s the summary table for my testing

Device Video Output 3840×2160 Picture Video
Zidoo X9
Mstar MSO9810
DACOUT_4K2K_30 DACOUT_4K2K_25  OK (Image Player)  OK (MX Player and XBMC)
Open Hour Chameleon
Rockchip RK3288
4K2K – 30Hz
4K2K – 25Hz
4K2K – 24Hz
Blurry, no black and white dots (Gallery) OK (SPMC)
HiSilicon Hi3798M
 Blurry, no black and white dots (Gallery) OK (MediaCenter)*

Poor quality image, no black and white dots (XBMC/Kodi)

A80 optimusboard
Allwinner A80
2160p30  Clear image, but no black and white dots (Gallery)  Clear image, but no black and white dots (4KVideoPlayer)
Eny M8S
Amlogic S812
4K2K-24Hz 4K2K-25Hz 4K2K-30Hz 4K2K-SMPTE  Blurry, no black and white dots (Gallery)  Black and white dots can be seen at some places but not others (4KVideoPlayer and XBMC)
Realtek RTD1195
3840×2160 24Hz 3840×2160 25Hz 3840×2160 30Hz 4096×2160 24Hz  Blurry, no black and white dots (Gallery)  OK (XBMC)

* BFS 4KH updated on February 15, 2015 with new firmware.

So based on the results no platforms support 2160p @ 60 Hz (HDMI 2.0) with my TV. Zidoo X9 is the only one to properly support both picture and video display @ 4K,and two products don’t seem to support 4K properly at all, at least with the firmware I used: A80 OptimusBoard and BFS 4KH. Open Hour Chameleon and M-195 can play 4K just fine, but there’s no app (that I could find) to display pictures at full resolution. Eny M8S (Amlogic S812) appears to support 4K but not all black and white dots are shown, of some data is lost in the way. It’s likely to be a firmware or a setup issue. The Gallery app could not display pictures at high resolution in all hardware platforms, so it’s probably something to avoid with a 4K TV if you want to see your photos with the best quality possible. Devices that can play 4K videos properly should also easily be able to display pictures properly with the right app.

I’ve also noticed some artifacts while pausing the video on (almost?) all devices, but I haven’t been able to reproduce this issue with other videos yet. Here’s what it looks like on Zidoo X9.

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